Where There’s Mold, There Must be Water

Home Inspector with JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC HOI 394

Not all black stains are mold

Oh no, Mold!!!A rampant concern in the real estate industry and with homeowner’s, both existing and potential, would unquestionably be, from my experience, mold. I have had to talk more than a client or two down from the proverbial cliff after finding some organic, fungal type growth in their potential new house. The freak out factor for the word mold is undeniable...

And for all intents and purposes without merit.

Mold on gypsum board ceilingFortunately it seems more and more potential homeowners have become savvy to the misinformation being spread like fungus over ancient leftovers in the back of the refrigerator. Junk science and anecdotal evidence prevails in the mold industry, typically ignoring the variables associated with indoor air quality and health issues. Most disconcerting of all is the real issue is usually not discussed, moisture. For mold is nothing more than a symptom, just like a runny nose.

On a recent home inspection the buyers were mildly concerned with “some mold” in one of the two closets located in the master bedroom. The house was some what older, 1945, and had, according to the buyer’s, experienced some storm damage in the recent past.

The ceiling and upper portions of the walls inside the closet were sparsely coated with what appeared to be at a glance mold. Upon closer scrutiny, a few facts became apparent.

Ghosting or thermophoresisThe most obvious was the lack of any definitive water stains, thus basically ruling out water leakage from the storm damage. Further the walls and ceiling are plaster. Plaster does not so readily absorb water like gypsum board.

Part of the closet is located at an exterior wall. The room is second floor so the ceiling is covered by a roof. And this closet, unlike the other closet in the room, has a baseboard heater.

Why is the location of the closet important?

Because in an older house, the walls and ceiling may not be insulated or very poorly insulated. The stains are more than likely due to a phenomenon often referred to as ghosting. The technical name for any science geeks would be thermophoresis. What the stains are not is mold, although there may be some type of fungus amongst the dirt. Since mold requires first moisture, next food and lastly a favorable temperature, there is really no way for this collection of dirt particles to be anything other than that, dirt.

Thermophoresis or ghosting in one form or another is quite common. What has almost certainly occurred in this closet over the years, is household dirt, specifically small particles typically soot of some form, have rode the thermal current created by the heater and stuck to the cold surfaces at the upper portion of the closet. The stains are nothing sinister or unhealthy. What they are telling us, like many stains they have a story, is that the house needs insulation and air sealing.

No sampling, testing or moon suited persons will be necessary. A little soap and water followed by a fresh coat of paint should be all that's needed. 

Posted by

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

 ASHI Certified Inspector

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Re-Blogged 2 times:

Re-Blogged By Re-Blogged At
  1. June Piper-Brandon 12/29/2014 10:02 PM
  2. Praful Thakkar 01/04/2015 10:00 PM
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Mike Belobradic
Johnston & Daniel Oakville - Oakville, ON
Your Trusted Advisor in Oakville Real Estate

Good post. We recently had a local mold expert into the office to speak with us. There are many different companies touting many different remedies, but at the end of the goal, the goal is to address the situation and put minds at ease.

Dec 29, 2014 10:15 PM #6
Nicole Doty - Gilbert Real Estate Expert
Zion Realty - Gilbert, AZ
Broker/Owner of Zion Realty ZionRealtyAZ.com

I am very fortunate that in my Arizona market we rarely run into mold problems. 

Dec 29, 2014 10:44 PM #7
Ricki Eichler McCallum
CastNet Realty - Corpus Christi, TX
Broker,GRI,ABR, e-Pro, TAHS

Great information.  I am sure those people were happy to find out it was not mold.

Dec 29, 2014 10:51 PM #8
Jill Sackler
Charles Rutenberg Realty Inc. 516-575-7500 - Long Beach, NY
LI South Shore Real Estate - Broker Associate

"The freak out factor for the word mold is undenialable…"

Such a great, informative post and so worthy of a feature. Sure to be a hit with overwhelmed consumers.

Dec 29, 2014 11:01 PM #9
Ginger Harper
Coldwell Banker Sea Coast Advantage - Southport, NC
Your Southport~Oak Island Agent~Brunswick County!

I think...keep your head and get it checked out.


It can be solved..

Dec 29, 2014 11:10 PM #10
Paula McDonald
Beam & Branch Realty - Granbury, TX
Granbury, TX 936-203-0279

Mold is a big thing in my area.  I can usually smell it right away. 

Dec 29, 2014 11:17 PM #11
Randy Kirsch
Right Trac Financial Group, Inc., NMLS# 2709 - Manchester, CT
(NMLS# 1012303) Your Dedicated Mortgage Consultant

Good to know that there are other causes for black stains other than mold.  Great post Jim.

Thanks for sharing.

Dec 30, 2014 12:05 AM #12
Lenn Harley
Lenn Harley, Homefinders.com, MD & VA Homes and Real Estate - Leesburg, VA
Real Estate Broker - Virginia & Maryland

I wouldn't freak out when observing minor mold growths.  However, finding the cause (water penetration) and remedy must be complete.

If it's really bad, we'll pass thanks.

Dec 30, 2014 12:12 AM #13
Bill Reddington
Re/max Southern Realty - Destin, FL
Destin Florida Real Estate

Mold can certainly be an issue. Last mold test was positive for a bunch of different molds. The cure was cleaning the carpet and sealing a sliding door. Wonder how many live with mold daily. Yes there is bad mold but every home has some mold spores in them.

Dec 30, 2014 12:40 AM #14
Kevin Mackessy
Blue Olive Properties, LLC - Highlands Ranch, CO
Dedicated. Qualified. Local.

Renters are especially quick to scream mold, because they act like a black spot on the wall will get them a free pass out of a lease.  Often times it is nothing. 

Dec 30, 2014 05:39 AM #15
Jay Markanich
Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC - Bristow, VA
Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia

What fun is a follow up without the moon suit?  Or not running to the car to get yours?

This is exactly what I tell people - moisture is the issue, mold the the symptom.

Few believe me.  The power of the urban legend lives!

Maybe I should text that out.

Dec 30, 2014 08:16 AM #16
Praful Thakkar
LAER Realty Partners - Andover, MA
Andover, MA: Andover Luxury Homes For Sale

James Quarello I am going to save this - for my clients!

Sometimes, the mold can be more serious than what the inspectors can see - perhaps behind the dry wall. How do you find that out?

Dec 30, 2014 09:08 AM #17
James Quarello
JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC - Wallingford, CT
Connecticut Home Inspector

Kat, What "expert" would you be referring to? Most of the companies that deal in mold, are going to tell you its a problem and take someone's money. That's my point, its the moisture, or in this case a lack of insulation. 

Susan, The public has been fed snake oil.

June, Connecticut is not much different climate wise.

Tom, As you know, its the water!

Richie, I'm certain that is true...depending on who's presenting.

Mike, These "mold experts" are in most instances anything but. They can be very easily exposed by anyone with a little building knowledge (i.e., a home inspector). 

Dec 30, 2014 09:51 PM #18
James Quarello
JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC - Wallingford, CT
Connecticut Home Inspector

Nicole, There really are no "mold problems". Its a moisture / water issue, that's the point.

Ricki, If It was or wasn't is irrelevant. My focus is ALWAYS on the moisture / water, which is the cause. If this was indeed mold, I would have looked to discover the source of the water. I would not be advising testing and or remediation. Just to simply fix the water issue. It's relly that simple.

Jill, I hope so. There is a great need for real information on mold.

Ginger, Yes, it can be solved. 

Paula, It's an over blown thing.

Randy, The real point is, mold or not, one must be looking for and fixing the cause. 

Dec 30, 2014 10:01 PM #19
James Quarello
JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC - Wallingford, CT
Connecticut Home Inspector

Lenn, Yes. If a house is over run with mold, there would have to be some serious water issues. Not something your average home buyer would want to take on.

Bill, Ummm, no. There is no "bad mold". A mold test was positive? Well of course it was. Reading your response I would suggest you look into finding some good and unbiased information on mold. I recommend this article for starters http://www.forensic-applications.com/moulds/sok.html

Kevin, Yes I have heard that on several occasions.

Jay, Funny what and who people are inclined to believe. 

Praful, More serious? Again, mold in NOT the issue, its the water. Go to the link I posted above.

Dec 30, 2014 10:13 PM #20
Charles Buell
Charles Buell Inspections Inc. - Seattle, WA
Seattle Home Inspector

Jim, this is a really good post and I wish more people would just relax about mold and get valid information not spewed by someone in the business of testing and/or remediation.  I have seen remediations done where the cause of the moisture was not addressed and guess what?  It is a form of job security I guess.  Like you said, mold is not the issue---mold is not the problem.

Dec 31, 2014 09:19 AM #21
James Quarello
JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC - Wallingford, CT
Connecticut Home Inspector

Charlie, Exactly. The focus is too often on the symptom. I listen to people tell me how they were ill because of mold. When you ask how do they know, most of the time it's assumption. And why is this leap of logic made? I think we can guess. 

Dec 31, 2014 10:50 PM #22
Dagny Eason
Dagny's Real Estate - Wilton, CT
Fairfield County CT, CDPE Homes For Sale and Condo

So, the first picture was of moisture based mold, and the second is dirt based ghosting ?

Jan 04, 2015 09:04 PM #23
James Quarello
JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC - Wallingford, CT
Connecticut Home Inspector

Yes, the first is from a leak, the second is more or less just dirt. 

Jan 05, 2015 02:09 AM #24
Dagny Eason
Dagny's Real Estate - Wilton, CT
Fairfield County CT, CDPE Homes For Sale and Condo

Thanks so much for always having great input, James!    

Jan 11, 2015 09:40 PM #25
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