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

White-Washing Moldy Walls

Dear Barry: I recently had a flood problem in one of the apartments that I manage. The unit was vacant, and several weeks passed before the moisture condition was addressed. Now there is mold on much of the drywall. Everyone I ask has a different opinion about mold. Some say I should hire a contractor who specializes in flood damage. Others say I should get a professional mold inspection first. And one person says I should simply clean the mold with bleach and repaint the walls. What do you say?  Don

Dear Don: The problem with mold today is that is can no longer be viewed as purely pragmatic issue. The overriding consideration has become liability. The days when mold could be washed with bleach and covered with paint are over.  Mold is now a legal problem, as well as a health consideration.

At the same time, the health affects of mold cannot be dismissed. Some people have been severely harmed by mold exposure. On the other hand, there are cases where moldy walls could be washed and painted with no adverse health consequences to anyone. But much more is at stake than the likelihood of health problems. For example, what happens when a future occupant of the building learns that there once was mold in the building and demands documentation to verify that the mold was tested and that removal was done in accordance with environmental standards and with follow-up air-testing. In that case, you would wish that you had done more than apply bleach and paint.

This is the situation that now exists because of past lawsuits and widely publicized hysteria about the dangers of mold. It is from this standpoint that one must consider matters of mold, especially with rental property.

On this basis, a thorough mold evaluation by a qualified expert is recommended, prior to repairing and refinishing the interior of the apartment.

Home Inspector Dismisses Water Damage & Mold

The House Detective:  by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry: : We recently purchased a home and hired a home inspector to find all the defects. During the inspection, I noticed that the wallpaper in the master bedroom was discolored and was peeling at the edges. When I asked the inspector about this, he dismissed it as insignificant, but I continued to feel uncomfortable about it. Last week, I peeked behind a peeled edge of the wallpaper and found green mold. If I’d known about this, I’d have asked the sellers to have it removed. Shouldn’t this have been disclosed by our home inspector?  Jeri

Dear Jeri: When you asked the home inspector about the loose and discolored wallpaper, he should not have dismissed the issue. His answer should have been something on the order of, “I don’t know for sure if there is a problem, but the condition of the wallpaper indicates that there could be a moisture related issue below the surface. Therefore I recommend that the wallpaper be removed prior to close of escrow to determine whether there is a problem in that area.” That kind of disclosure would have led to discovery of the mold and would have saved you the cost of mold remediation and wall repairs.

You should contact the home inspector about your new findings and ask that he take a second look at the wall. A common response from many home inspectors in this kind of situation is to claim that the mold was concealed from view and that mold is not within the scope of a home inspection. Both defenses are true and valid. However, competent home inspectors never dismiss evidence of possible moisture damage. That was your home inspector’s primary error.

Should We Tell Our Home Inspector About the Mold?

The House Detective:  by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry: We’re about to buy a six-year-old home that originally had a mold problem. Fortunately, the builder removed all of the affected materials from the building. If we buy this home, are we required to disclose the initial mold issue to our home inspector, or should we wait to see if he notices any evidence of mold?  Jack

Dear Lars: What possible advantage could there be in withholding information that would assist your home inspector in evaluating the property you are buying? The inspector is your hired consultant; there for your exclusive benefit; to provide you with essential decision-making data. Any information or other assistance you can provide toward full evaluation of the property is to your advantage. If the property has a history of mold, let your inspector know about it. That way, pertinent moisture conditions and related defects can be carefully considered and evaluated during the inspection.

Testing your inspector, rather than lending your trust and assistance can have costly consequences. Here’s a true story that illustrates the point: The buyers of a home had been told the property was located within a flood plane, but they never mentioned this to their home inspector. The inspector observed no evidence of potential flooding and therefore made no disclosure of it in his report. The buyers therefore dismissed the issue of possible flooding and proceeded with the purchase. After the close of escrow, the first heavy rains caused ground water to flood the interior of their home. They blamed the home inspector for this “surprise” and filed a lawsuit for nondisclosure, even though they had withheld prior knowledge of flood potential on the day of the inspection.

If you alert your home inspector to the history of mold infection, then potential moisture sources such as plumbing leaks, roof leaks, and ground drainage problems can be given particular attention during the inspection. By withholding that disclosure, there is greater likelihood that a significant issue could be missed.

Be aware also that home inspectors do not make determinations regarding the presence of mold. Since the property has a mold history, you would be prudent to hire a mold expert to affirm that there is no residual mold infection in the building.

Should Home Inspectors Disclose Mold?

The House Detective:  by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry: In one of your articles, you faulted a home inspector for failing to disclose mold that was present in a home. As a professional home inspector, this misinformation concerns me. Your readers should be told that mold and all other environmental issues are not covered under the standards of practice for the home inspection profession. No home inspector is required to investigate or report on such things, and your readers should be informed of that fact. Please clarify this in an upcoming article.  Wayne

Dear Wayne: Environmental hazards such as mold are not within the scope of a home inspection, and home inspectors are not expected to report on such issues. But that does not let home inspectors off the hook completely. So let’s have some clarity on this issue.

In cases where mold is visible on accessible surfaces — beneath a kitchen sink, on a bathroom windowsill, in a plumbing access, or the corner of a closet — what should a home inspector do? Should the inspector ignore that condition and say nothing about it, simply because mold is not within the scope of the inspection? To do so would constitute professional negligence. Instead, the inspector should point out the “stains” and recommend further evaluation by a mold specialist. If that point was not clear in the article that you read, then this one should provide that clarity.

Buyers Find Mold Behind Wallpaper

The House Detective by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry: We purchased our home about a year ago. After moving in, we noticed a dark spot on the bathroom wallpaper. When we peeled up an edge, there was mold and lots of it! It turned out there was a slow leak in the wall, caused by the seller who did his own plumbing repairs. A plumber fixed the leak, and the sellers’ real estate agent sent a handyman to get rid of the mold. He removed the base of the cabinet, sprayed some stuff on the wood and drywall, and then closed it back up. But my daughter and I are allergic to mold and have been having symptoms ever since. With the sellers’ agent having knowledge of this mold problem, do we have any recourse?  Shelly

Dear Shelly: Mold cannot be fully remedied by any kind of spray. Professional expertise is necessary to address mold in a responsible and effective manner. No handyman should be doing this kind of work, and a professional agent should know this. The proper solution for mold infection is total removal of all affected materials: drywall, wood, etc. The sellers and their agent need to arrange for a mold survey by a Registered Environmental Assessor. Mold samples should be sent to a lab to determine the types of mold that are present. Air testing should also be done to determine the types and amounts of mold spores that are airborne in your home. Once a mold report has been issued, the contamination should be eliminated by a qualified, professional expert.