INSPECT FOR MOLD
Water stains on ceiling, walls, floors and window sills
Water leaks and seepage from exterior and from interior
Standing water near or under sinks and in air conditioning and refrigerator drip pans
Condensation on windows, walls and pipes
Ask the builder about design safeguards against mold
Consult design and construction resources, such as Building Science Corp. at buildingscience.com
Have the residence inspected before occupancy
Pamela and Jacques Castelain of Naples have lost a chunk of their life savings on a home because of an uninvited guest: mold.
The couple also has suffered ongoing illnesses, had numerous pets die, abandoned the residence and received two mold remediations.
“This was supposed to be a retirement dream home,” Pamela Castelain said about their 3,700-square-foot pool villa, which is clear of mold but unlivable because of renovations since remediation. “It’s been a nightmare.
“It has taken me away from my business,” said the former owner and real estate broker of Castelain International. “It’s destroyed our finances. It’s destroyed our entire lifelong work. The house has been a disaster for us.”
Indeed, the Castelains are among the Southwest Floridians whose residences have been overcome by mold, which experts said develops and spreads because of moisture intrusion and produces allergens, irritants and toxic substances.
“It’s a year-round event,” said Irv Kraut, president and senior environmental inspector at the Estero-based Clean Air Inspections and former consultant to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Kraut said Clean Air Inspections, which diagnoses mold, conducts 10 to 15 inspections a week, mainly in Lee and Collier counties. He said the five Clean Air inspectors, all of whom have science degrees, rely on infrared thermography, visual observation and test samples of the air and surfaces during an environmental assessment of a residence’s interior. Cost ranges from $1,200 to $2,400, with the latter including DNA testing necessary when occupants have serious medical issues.
Clean Air Inspections has completed multiple assessments of the Castelains’ four-bedroom, 3 1/2 bathroom home, constructed in 1998. “If Irv and the mold cleanup companies hadn’t stepped in when they did, we would probably be dead,” Pamela Castelain said.
She said her husband was healthy when they occupied the new home. Since then he has endured multiple surgeries, including eye and nose procedures to treat and remove mold, and temporarily lost his memory and ability to walk. Though they vacated the property in July 2005, she is in treatment for mold in her ears and is partially deaf in one ear. Eight pet birds and their dog died.
Minimal mold damage is considered to be under 10 square feet, said Byron Whittamore, project manager of Fireservice Disaster Kleenup in Fort Myers. Maximum damage requires containment the creation of a temporary structure such as plastic covering and mold removal by HEPA vacuums. Remediation for a 2,000-square-foot residence usually takes one or two weeks but sometimes longer, he said.
Kraut said inspectors are busiest when it is the rainy season and when winter residents return to their Southwest Florida homes. “A large percentage of people, they’re absent,” Kraut said. “Nobody’s really watching their house, and they’re counting on their thermostats to work correctly.”
Often people who are gone during the summer set the temperature inside the residence too high, instead of at the 75 degrees Kraut recommends, because they are trying to save on their electricity bill. The higher temperature results in high humidity, not the desired 30 percent to 50 percent the EPA suggests, and mold develops. When the humidity is too high, Whittamore said mold surfaces on kitchen utensils and leather belts, hats and shoes.
The source of moisture intrusion varies, experts say. For example, Fred Sylvester, owner of Accredited Building Consultants in Fort Myers, said it can occur from faulty painting, roofing, siding and air conditioning and window installation.
Naples condo owner Scott Denney said improper installation of the air conditioning unit at his Fort Myers Beach condo rental resulted in a mold outbreak. He and his roommate had to leave the premises for a month while the entire two-bedroom, two-bathroom unit was cleaned. The HEPA vacuum cleanup cost more than $40,000, he said.
We got three of the worst (mold) strains you could have, said Denney, whose experience led him to have a mold team inspect his Naples home purchase beforehand. It messed up my vision. I have ringing of the ears.
Pamela Castelain said faulty plumbing and a punctured refrigeration line were the culprits at their home, even though she said their home was inspected more than seven times by professionals in assorted construction fields before and after occupancy. A second, more recent bout of mold occurred because of an air-conditioning problem.
Such mold episodes are becoming disturbingly common, according to experts.
Other than hurricane-related damage, most of it is due to construction defects. There should not be water intrusion. It is a big problem, said attorney David Mishael, who has a practice near Miami. He has handled mold litigation cases throughout Florida since 1996 and said they typically last at least two years and more likely four or five.
You have a lot of builders trying to build homes as fast as they can, and they’re trying to cut corners, Mishael said. Everybody’s trying to make a buck on this housing curve, and you’re seeing houses slapped together faster than ever.
Mold outbreaks in newer construction are not uncommon. Fort Myers residents Mimi and Gary Goderski have scheduled Clean Air to inspect their three-bedroom, two-bathroom pool home built in 2000 because Mimi Goderski suspects mold is present in the master bedroom and kitchen. They have been removing what appears to be mold from walls in the master bedroom, she said, and they detect an odor from the kitchen cupboards.
Mimi Goderski is confined to a wheelchair because of multiple sclerosis and has an existing pulmonary condition. I have severe breathing problems. But the breathing problems have become worse, she said.
Sylvester said today’s construction designs do not always include the necessary details to prevent mold growth, noting that most of the mold problems he sees are in high-end development. We frequently don’t see architects doing the design work, he said. We see draftsmen. A lot of them aren’t up on the details, and/or the clients don’t want to pay for the construction details.
I think you find less problems with spec homes than with massive developments, Mishael said. Yet the high inventory in today’s housing market means newly built spec homes sit unattended for lengthy periods, susceptible to water intrusion before occupancy.
Meantime, real estate agents said they rarely encounter homes with mold. Michael Schneider-Christians of Century 21 Sunbelt Realty Inc. in Cape Coral said that about three years ago he handled a waterfront home that had mold after water seeped through a bedroom windowsill and into the carpeting and behind the baseboard. It was minor, he said. It was easy to fix.
Joan Tucke of Keller Williams Realty in Fort Myers serves the Fort Myers Beach area, where Whittamore said structures are prone to mold because of saltwater corrosion around windows. Tucke has had two recent cases, one a downstairs apartment with water build-up along the baseboard. She has a pending sale on a canal home that was tested and found to have moisture in a wall, with a potential for mold growth. She said the new owners are planning to correct the problem, adding, A lot of properties are sold as is.
Building and mold experts recommend that home seekers ask builders about construction details and ask owners of existing properties about mold history. A mold and/or other inspection of the property is advisable.
Source: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency