The Advantage is Fear

By
Home Inspector with JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC HOI 394

I was recently contacted by a homeowner who was seeking direction and advice on maintaining his home. He was in a quandary over suggestions he had received related to preventing ice damming. His concern stemmed not from the snow and ice damming that occurred around the area in the winter of 2010 - 2011, but instead from some hired "experts". His story from my perspective is one that demonstrates how fear and ignorance can be used to swindle unsuspecting homeowners.

This homeowner, will call him Mr. D, clearly meticulously maintains his house. It is very clean. Mr. D being someone who likes to keep his home updated realized his windows were older and it may be time to think about changing them. Mr. D found a window company with a booth at a local fair. He set up an appointment for them to come over and give him an estimate on new windows.

Mold inhibitor applied to roof framing and sheathingThis window company also happened to do energy audits. So when they came to Mr. D's house they not only checked his windows, they also checked his attic insulation. While looking in Mr. D's attic, the energy auditor - window guy saw....mold. Mr. D said he was surprised by this revelation. Being a diligent homeowner he regularly inspected his attic and had never seen mold. The window guy - energy auditor - mold expert said mold was definitely there, probably due to the ice damming from the hard winter of 2010.

This information sent Mr. D into a panic. He then, on the guidance from this window - energy auditor - mold expert guy began to work toward resolving his until now unknown issues of mold and ice damming.

Mr D contacted an environmental testing company. They did extensive testing advising Mr. D that he should remove all his insulation and remediate the entire attic. Mr. D was freaked out by this information. He set about having his roof removed down to the rafters since there was mold on the wood roof sheathing, then having the entire roof covering replaced. He added more ventilation on the advice of the window - energy auditor - mold expert guy. One piece of advice that was sound. He had the mold remediation company then treat the attic. They sprayed all the wood with a "mold inhibitor". Looks like thinly applied paint. Finally Mr. D had all his attic insulation replaced.

Sounds extensive. Sounds monumentally expensive. Sounds like a bunch of snake oil salesmen found themselves a sucker.

Mold is common to find in attics as well as other parts of a house. It is important to keep in mind that mold is and always will be an indicator of a moisture issue. It should not be viewed as a scourge needing to be eradicated with extreme measures.

Mr. D's story demonstrates the advantage that fear and misinformation can have for those companies out there waiting for the right fish to take their bait. It's too bad Mr. D hadn't found a home inspector or another disinterested company for advice first. His fears could have been quelled. 

Fear is an unfair advantage. 

 

Posted by

James Quarello
Connecticut Home Inspector
Former SNEC-ASHI President
JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC

 ASHI Certified Inspector

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Rainmaker
846,457
Bob Miller
Keller Williams Cornerstone Realty - Ocala, FL
The Ocala Dream Team

Hi James, reminds me of when I to my hometown in Western NY.  It is only then you notice the toll the weather takes on homes, cars and even people.

Jul 26, 2012 04:23 AM #33
Rainer
13,785
Mike Auger
Patriot Property Inspections, Auger Enterprises, Inc - Warwick, RI
Certified Master Inspector

So true Jim, it happens in every industry, AC guys can be tough too. Like any trade there are good guys and bad guys out there. I keep a running list of folks I know and trust, i also encourage my clients to call and ask (even years afte they hire me to inspect their home).

Jul 26, 2012 05:48 AM #34
Rainmaker
94,498
Edie Czerniak
NextHome Advisors - Cape Coral, FL
My Only Purpose is to Deliver Successful Results

Such a sad story, I hope all works out for him

Jul 26, 2012 06:34 AM #35
Rainer
176,929
Ann Wilkins
Golden Gate Sotheby's International Realty - Oakland, CA
Oakland, Berkeley, Piedmont CA

How sad for Mr D. but also surprised that he didn't get additional estimates.   Heard about the AC report in New Jersey where the news team pulled out a single wire and had five AC contractors come by to work on the AC.  All came up with high bids and fixed items and ordered parts that weren't required.  You really need to have a team of well trusted service people.

Jul 26, 2012 07:16 AM #36
Rainmaker
2,509,583
Rebecca Gaujot, Realtor®
Vision Quest Realty - Lewisburg, WV
Lewisburg WV, the go to agent for all real estate

I hate stories like this... and sad the homeowner didn't get another inspector, like you, to help in determining what really needed to be done.

Jul 26, 2012 08:01 AM #37
Rainer
166,335
Marshall Brown
Mid America Inspection Services, LLC - Fargo, ND
BSEE, CHI

Your story, and the one above about the door with lead paint on it, are a sad commentary on some trades people and just like unprofessional home inspectors give their trade a bad name that can be really hard to shake.

A different story on a local handyman. There is a guy in my town called Handy Randy. I got his business card off a bathroom wall at the local connivance store. I had him install some heat tapes on my roof to help stave off ice dams. A couple of weeks later I wander out to go somewhere and he's on my roof. He was driving by and noticed one of the wires was loose and just thought he'd fix it. My house is a three story Victorian, you don't just jump up on it. This is the type of story I wish everyone had about the trades people they deal with!

Jul 26, 2012 12:10 PM #38
Ambassador
1,334,752
Charles Buell
Charles Buell Inspections Inc. - Seattle, WA
Seattle Home Inspector

The bottom line here is that if you have air movement or moisture vapor movement from the indoor space to the attic space you can have moisture issues in the attic.  More important than addressing the purported mold in the attic is what is being done to seal the envelope---the barrier between the indoor space and the attic space and balance the pressure differentials between the indoors and the outdoors.  Without these aspects handled you can throw all kinds of money at a variety of "solutions" and not accomplish a damn thing.  While the fancy gagets might help---they should not be "essential" to take care of an issue that is actually fairly simple---but all too often completely neglected at the time of construction.  A furnace for example that is creating a negative pressure on the interior of the home is a problem in and of itself and needs to be corrected.  As we get away from combustion appliances that require indoor air for combustion/dilution and move to direct vent type appliances, we will have less of these kinds of problems.  Exhaust fans should not put a house under negative pressure either,if they have a proper means of replacing the air they are exhausting.  Typically, except under a few instances, the house should almost always be under slight negative pressure due to stack effect and wind.  Ductwork in attics is a bad idea as well---unless it can be guaranteed that they can neither loose air to the attic or gain air from the attic.  Again the ductwork would be one of the things that should be considered as a breach of the barrier between indoor and attic spaces.  If increasing the attic ventilation helps introduce more moisture into the attic there is a huge breach of the envelope barrier somewhere.  Just find it and fix it.  Moisture in the crawl is an obvious issue and that should be addressed regardless of other issues.  Moisture in the crawl space is not an "attic issue" it is a crawl space issue---again fix the problem.

Jul 26, 2012 01:56 PM #39
Rainmaker
1,551,362
Marte Cliff
Marte Cliff Copywriting - Priest River, ID
Your real estate writer

That is so sad. Yes, some people are so fearful that they don't stop to think - or get a second opinion.

Jul 26, 2012 03:33 PM #40
Rainmaker
690,288
James Quarello
JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC - Wallingford, CT
Connecticut Home Inspector

Jerry, Yes they do.

Ginny, That is, in my opinion, the problem, the fear factor. Way too much bad information circulating about mold. 

Amanda, Thanks. It is an unfortunate tale. 

Wayne, If you fish long enough, you're going to catch something.

Lyn, Some contractors need to honor the trust they are given. 

Justin, Lead abatement is not as stringent as asbestos abatement. The cost does seem a bit steep. 

Rafi, Elevated levels? Without standards for mold how do you determine what constitutes an elevated level? 

Jul 26, 2012 10:31 PM #41
Rainmaker
690,288
James Quarello
JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC - Wallingford, CT
Connecticut Home Inspector

Rob, Like you said there are times when an attic could be under higher pressure than the living space. In reality this condition rarely exists and if so it is temporary. To say mold in the attic is going to enter the living space is for the most part a stretch. Excessive moisture in the attic is related to bypasses. Too much conditioned air, and yes it can be moisture laden from that damp crawlspace, is escaping into the attic. One does not generally need equipment to identify these common issues. 

You refer to a blower door. I am not a fan, no pun intended, of these machines. When is a house ever going to be @ 50 pascals of vacuum? When you start forcefully sucking air out of a house, make up air has to come from somewhere. Under normal conditions many of the leaks these machines find are created by the machine and do not generally exist other wise. 

I have seen roof sheathing similar to the picture you posted. Question, do both sides of the roof look this way?  

Jul 26, 2012 10:46 PM #42
Rainmaker
690,288
James Quarello
JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC - Wallingford, CT
Connecticut Home Inspector

David, Scammers sleep fine, they no doubt see nothing wrong with what they do.

Bob, the weather out here can be extreme.

Mike, So true. I have clients call me for advice all the time as well.

Edie, Mr. D is fine, just a bit poorer.

Ann, That sounds like an interesting story. I think what we have become is a society full of parts changers instead of trouble shooters. 

Rebecca, It is too bad, but Mr. D will be fine.

Marshall, Thanks for telling a positive tale. I'm sure there are a good number of Handy Randys around.

Jul 26, 2012 10:54 PM #43
Rainmaker
690,288
James Quarello
JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC - Wallingford, CT
Connecticut Home Inspector

Charlie, Yep :)

Marte, Exactly. Fear can paralyze. 

Jul 26, 2012 10:56 PM #44
Rainer
226,469
Rafi Footerman
Mid Jersey Inspections - Edison, NJ
Home Inspector, Mold Inspector, Radon and More!

When taking air samples, a sample must be taken outside to use as a comparison.  If the mold levels of the individual molds are similar to or lower than those found outside that home, then it is considered to be normal.  However, if the levels are higher than outside or if there are types of mold found indoors that are not found outside, they are considered to be elevated.  It's actually simple and quantifiable.

That being said, there are those looking to take advantage.  This morning my client told me a mold guy quoted him $1500 to come and take sample in a home under 2000sf!  I told them I could sample every level and the outside for $400, but didn't see any indicators of mold present and don't recommend it.  I should find that mold guy and offer to work for him at half the price.  

Jul 27, 2012 01:09 PM #45
Rainmaker
545,319
Jon Quist
REALTY EXECUTIVES TUCSON ELITE - Tucson, AZ
Tucson's BUYERS ONLY Realtor since 1996

Sounds like the owner should have hired a qualified and disinterested third party.

Jul 28, 2012 04:52 PM #46
Rainmaker
690,288
James Quarello
JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC - Wallingford, CT
Connecticut Home Inspector

Rafi, Since I at one time did molding sampling, I am familiar with the procedures and methods of determining when a "problem" is said to potentially exist. These procedures and methods are exactly why I no longer do mold sampling. They are anything but scientific and quantifiable. 

The outside / inside comparison is flawed. I have personally seen samples where the indoor counts were in the 10s of thousands of spores, with a conclusion by the lab that this is "normal" based on the outdoor count. Yet another sample has counts in the low 1000s, but is twice the outdoor count for that specific species and this is said to be a "problem". The scale is sliding with the test results generally being non reproducible. That is bad science. 

Also every house I every sampled that was said to have "elevated levels" showed no signs of moisture isssues. 

By the way sampling of visible mold is almost never recommended by several agencies, one being the CT Dept. of Public Health. 

Jon, Yep.

Jul 28, 2012 10:06 PM #47
Rainer
226,469
Rafi Footerman
Mid Jersey Inspections - Edison, NJ
Home Inspector, Mold Inspector, Radon and More!

CT does not recommend sampling as a first step, but there are times that even they support it.  While some of their points are valid, I don't agree completely.  By sampling visible areas and proper air sampling, you can plan a better remediation as the plan is not always the same.  For example, if Aspergillus is found on the swab and Chaetomium is found in the air sample, there likely is a hidden moisture issue that needs to be addressed.  I was called in for sampling and clearance testing and the remediation failed twice for different reasons.  Eventually, they did a more intrusive investigation and found and fixed the hidden issue.

They are correct about no air standards for mold and I understand your concerns.  However, the unusual circumstances you described should be taken into consideration by a knowlwdgeable professional.  I have an expert that I can speak with tohelp with those interpretations.  Some types of mold are an issue at the lowest levels while others are more normal at higher levels.  Without knowledge of the differences the numbers alone are not always clear.  This points to the need for good professional and not those looking to take advantage to make a buck.

Jul 28, 2012 10:58 PM #48
Rainmaker
690,288
James Quarello
JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC - Wallingford, CT
Connecticut Home Inspector

Rafi, Most often a remediation is not necessary and most remediation is, in my opinion, over done and costly. Mold is not asbestos, but the procedures for clean up often mirror those for asbestos.  Also you are ignoring the most import point. Mold is not the problem, it is an indicator of moisture. That is the problem that must be addressed. As for the mold, simply clean it up. Moon suited workers are usually not necessary as is the testing. 

Further how can there be clearance testing for a substance that has not defined standards? Again the methods are employing bad science. 

Also what molds are issues? Who has stated these species to be problematic? 

The bottom line with IAQ is this; Damp environments contain a soup of irritants and allergens. Mold being one component. Sampling and examining for this one component and then making judgments on the quality of the air is once again bad science. 

Jul 28, 2012 11:33 PM #49
Rainer
226,469
Rafi Footerman
Mid Jersey Inspections - Edison, NJ
Home Inspector, Mold Inspector, Radon and More!

We may have to agree to disagree on some areas.  You are absolutely correct that mold is an indicator of an issue that needs to be addressed.  If that problem is not addressed (leak, poor ventillation, high humidity...) remediation is not effective and is a waste of time and money.  A true professional will state this and havce that either as a part of the remediation or make their remediation plan contingent on the unserlying issue being addressed either first or as part of the plan.  Clearly, you have not had the luxury of working with anyone on this level.

On the other side, mold is proven to be a health issue of varying amounts to most people.  At a minimum, it makes most people's allergies worse (there is a reason the news reports outdoor mold levels along with tree and hay fever pollen).  For others (my wife, many friends, and some clients) their reactions are more severe.  While their are no govenmental standards, there are many organizations that publish standards and protocol to follow (IAQA, ESA).  

There is a responsible middle ground that I am afraid you are missing.  Mold is NOT the big scary enemy.  It does not always require professional remediation, in fact every home has mold yet very few have significant issues.  There are those cases where remediation is necessary as part of a larger plan. It's like antibiotics.  Some people take them for a cold yet they do nothing.  Ear infections will frequently go away without medication, but there are times when antibiotics are needed.  If a doctor always prescribed them you would question his competence.  If he never prescribed them, he'd probably lose patients (not in a good way).

 

Jul 29, 2012 04:17 AM #50
Rainer
293,425
Nan Jester
Exit Real Estate Gallery Jacksonville Beach, FL - Jacksonville Beach, FL
Realtor, Exit Real Estate Gallery

Best to get inspectors who have a known reputation and are vetted by friends or family. Very scary.

Aug 02, 2012 06:18 AM #51
Rainmaker
690,288
James Quarello
JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC - Wallingford, CT
Connecticut Home Inspector

Rafi, You bring up some good and very debatable and controversial points. One I will comment on is that yes mold is an irritant as are dust mites. Mold does not make allergies worse, you either are allergic or not. If there are excessive amounts of irritants in the air, like those warnings you spoke of, people will react. The bottom line is a lot of assumption are made based on bad science. 

Nan, Good advice, but I can tell not always followed. 

Aug 02, 2012 09:14 PM #52
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