Featuring America's Home Inspector: Nationally Syndicated Columnist, Barry Stone

Home Inspector Makes Suspicious Mold Disclosure

The House Detective:  by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry:  Our home recently fell out of escrow, and the circumstances were very suspicious. The buyers hired a home inspector who reported that we have mold. We were unable to see any mold, but the inspector said it was only visible with a special flashlight. We agreed to remove the mold ourselves, but the buyers said they wanted it done by a professional. Lo and behold, the home inspector was also in that line of work – for a fee of $1500. While we were negotiating this, the buyers cancelled the sale. What do you think of this situation?  Valerie

Dear Valerie:  The fact that the home inspector was ready to remove mold that no one else could see is highly suspect. Furthermore, it is a conflict of interest for a home inspector to perform repair work on a home that he has inspected. To do so violates the codes of ethics of every home inspector association.

The main issue for now is to determine whether you actually have mold in your home and what to disclose to future buyers. To answer the mold question, you should hire a professional mold inspector for an evaluation. If mold is found, you can have a qualified contractor do the remediation. And make sure that the one who does the removal is not the one who did the inspection.

If it turns out that you do not have mold, you can use the mold report for disclosure to future buyers. You can also use the report as evidence if you file an ethics complaint against the home inspector.

 

New Home Inspector Feels His Oats

The House Detective:  by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry: In one of your articles, you said, “The essential purpose of home inspection is to disclose property defects.” If that is true, why don’t home inspectors use the top tools of the trade, such as thermal cameras, borescopes, and moisture meters? In my opinion, most home inspectors are retired general contractors with a lock on Realtor referrals. I am a new home inspector, but I provide a far more thorough inspection than my competitors who don’t use specialized testing equipment. The problem, however, it getting real estate agents to refer me to their clients They all seem to use the same few home inspectors who have been here forever. Can you offer any help on this?  Mark

Dear Mark: When I said that the essential purpose of a home inspection is “to disclose property defects,” I did not mean that the purpose is to disclose every possible property defect. If home inspectors intended to disclose every possible defect, thermal cameras, borescopes, and moisture meters would definitely be needed, as you suggest. But even then, the inspections would not be complete. To provide disclosure of all possible defects, inspectors would need to take air samples for mold, to place test canisters for radon gas, and to sample various materials for possible asbestos fiber and lead content. But that’s not all. Home inspections would not be complete without a structural analysis of the foundations, which would require that the inspectors be licensed structural engineers or that they subcontract with a structural engineer on every inspection. Inspectors would also need to take core samples of property sites to ensure geological stability and to evaluate subsurface water drainage characteristics based upon soil composition. This, of course, would require credentials as a licensed geotechnical engineer. Homes would also need to be tested for electromagnetic fields, for soil contamination, and for off-gassing of synthetic compounds such as urea formaldehyde.

This list could be expanded almost indefinitely if the essential purpose of a home inspection was to disclose all possible property defects.  In truth, home inspections are preliminary visual inspections, not techically exhaustive evaluations. A home inspection is analogous to the routine annual phyical that you receive from your doctor. Family physicians don’t do EKGs or CATSCANs as part of an annual exam. Instead, they look for indications that such tests might be necessary.  If critical symptoms are observed, they refer you to specialists. In the same way, a competent home inspector is looking for conditions that might warrant further evaluation by specialists such as plumbers, electricians, geotechnical engineers, or registered environmental assessors.

It might surprise you to know how very thorough many home inspectors are in their forensic duties; how able competent home inspectors are to find significant defects without the use of sophisticated testing devices.

As for referrals by real estate agents, there are many reasons why agents recommend particular home inspectors. Some refer the inspectors they believe will provide the most thorough disclosure, while others refer inspectors who are not so thorough and are perceived as less likely to scare away their buyers. Either way, it takes persistent marketing to develop a base of agents who will routinely recommend you to their clients.

Dog-Gone Landlord Makes Moldy Excuse

The House Detective:  by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry: A few weeks ago, my landlord installed an old, unvented gas heater in my apartment. Whenever I use it, the place becomes as humid as a steam room, and mold has appeared on some of the walls. I’ve complained, but my landlord says the mold is caused by my dogs. Does that seem plausible, or is the mold caused by the heater?  Elizabeth

Dear Elizabeth: Mold is caused by excessive moisture. The exhaust from a gas-burning fixture is mainly carbon dioxide and steam. Most gas heaters are vented to the outside, but an unvented heater expels exhaust, including steam, inside the building. If the mold began after the heater was installed, then the cause is obviously moisture condensation from the steam that is emitted by the heater.

As for your landlord’s canine excuse, that’s a dogged ploy if I ever heard one. Who ever heard of mold being caused by dogs? The unvented heater is a health and safety hazard and should not be used. Furthermore, if combustion problems ever occur with that kind of heater, you could have carbon monoxide instead of carbon dioxide, and that could be deadly. Your landlord should address this matter immediately. First, the gas heater should be replaced with a vented heater, and the replacement should be done by a license heating contractor. Then, the mold should be mitigated by a qualified expert.

Clothes Dryer Steaming Bathroom

The House Detective:  by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry: : Our laundry is located on the second floor, directly adjacent to the bathroom. Whenever I run the dryer, the bathroom becomes very humid if the door is shut. I’ve also noticed something like black soot on the bathroom walls. I wash it off, but it always comes back. What could be causing the humidity and the soot, and what can I do to resolve this?   Debbie

Dear Debbie: Here are two possibilities: The vent duct for the clothes dryer may be connected to the bathroom vent duct in the attic. This would allow steam from the clothes dryer to enter the bathroom through the ceiling vent.

Another possibility is disconnection of the dryer vent inside the wall or ceiling of the bathroom. This would cause the moisture from your clothes to vent into the wall or ceiling cavities, raising the humidity in that room.

Another concern is that the “soot” on the walls could actually be black mold, caused by the excessive moisture condition. If so, this would raise health concerns for your family.

To evaluate and resolve this situation, three things need to be done:

1)  A licensed contractor should investigate the path of the dryer vent to determine whether it is disconnected or not properly vented to the exterior.

2)  The wood framing should be inspected to determine whether moisture exposure has caused fungus infection and dryrot.

3) The area should be evaluated by a qualified mold inspector to determine if mold is the problem and if mold remediation is needed. Air samples should be taken from wall cavities to determine whether there is mold behind the drywall.

Valdals Create Mold Problem

Dear Barry: Construction of our new home was recently completed, but four days before the closing, vandals broke into the house. They stopped up all of the drains and turned on the faucets. The builder found the mess in the morning. He immediately replaced the carpeting and some of the drywall, but he dismissed the possibility of mold. We are confident that he can repair all of the water damage but are concerned about future health issues in the home. Because of this, we may walk away from the transaction. Do you think we are overreacting?  Ken

Dear Ken:Your concerns about mold are reasonable, but this should not become a deal-killing point of contention. Mold may or may not be an issue in this situation, but the matter needs to be determined, one way or the other.

Mold typically occurs when there is a prolonged moisture condition. In this case, the moisture may have been addressed before mold had a chance to develop. A mold report would provide the answer to that question, and the builder should be willing to go that extra step to resolve your final concerns in the aftermath of the vandalism. Instead of dismissing the issue, he should hire a qualified mold inspector to evaluate the property and provide a comprehensive mold report.

Aside from the health effects of mold, there is another consideration in this matter: the issue of future disclosure. Flooding of the home is now a part of the property’s history. When you eventually sell the home, this will need to be disclosed to future buyers. A clean mold report can prevent that disclosure from raising major concerns. On that basis, the question of mold needs to be answered by a qualified professional.