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Haunted House in July
Black Mold and Mildew Engulfs Entire House

Mark Sosnowitz, M.G., LC/DBM

Haunted House in July

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Stachybotrys chartarum or Stachybotrys atra, also known as black mold, can grow, fueled by the presence of constant moisture, on material with a high cellulose content such as fiberboard and gypsum board. Additionally, wood and wood products are referred to as "particularly conducive" to molds' growth.

Haunted House in July

At a residence in southeastern New York state, mold and mildew were discovered after some boards were taken off at the start of a small renovation job. The remediation work included removing rotted siding that had originally continued all the way to grade, and replacing the bottom portion of boards on this side of the house with stonework.

For many years, landscapers have been repairing and replacing flagstone terraces, patios and wood decks that are badly in need of the work. Usually they are tied into the house structure, and these junctures can break down from age, stress, weather and/or lack of maintenance.

These areas can contain black mold, termites, bugs, rot or water damage and if they do, you have a responsibility to let the homeowner know the situation and what has to be done to fix it.

An experience I had recently, though not a landscaping job per se, will still impart a valuable lesson on how to identify and remediate these problems.

The Backstory
June and July in the northeastern United States is a good time to prep the outside woodwork of a house and paint it: on the average every 5-6 years. The first few days we typically remove the shutters and other items and start to replace any rotten wood and trim.

Every once in a while you get a house that the owner let go a little too long. The one in this story was a 21-year-old residence with cedar siding that hadn't been painted since construction. My company was hired to replace a few boards and paint the trim on the house. The siding itself wasn't terrible considering its age, but upon removal and inspection, all the structural wood and installation had been infested with black mold, mildew, and rotted with soaked rainwater.

Haunted House in July

Part of a deck had to be cut away from the house in order to replace all the damaged wood. The 6" x 12" galvanized wood screws attaching the deck to the house had eroded down to about 70% their normal width.

Haunted House in July

Where wiring conduit and piping entered the house, the holes were sealed with silicone epoxy and waterproofing.

So what happened here to add up to all this devastation?
1) An architect was paid to draw drawings but not paid to stay on for any supervision.

2) No construction manager was hired or used on site.

3) The builder either didn't have a set of specs to build by or the contractor disregarded them.

4) Doors, windows, sills, corners, edges and rooflines had no flashing or proper Tyvek paper installed.

5) The 35'-high house had no gutters.

6) The drainage was all pitched toward the foundation.

7) The roof was installed with no tarpaper between the plywood and shingles.

8) The house had five air handling units complete with ductwork and returns, and all were infested with black mold.

9) The 5 1/2" x 3/4" galvanized screws holding the deck to the house had corroded to the point of replacement.

Here is what we did:
1) We had a professional and licensed cable locator sweep the property for all cables, wires and piping.

2) We had all the air handlers and ductwork scrubbed and put back in brand new condition.

3) We hired and used a black mold remediation company to run the lead point position.

Each section of the house had to be independently supported, demoed and reconstructed from scratch. Most windows and doors were replaced as the rot and extensive corrosiveness had taken them beyond repair.

Haunted House in July

Here, after the affected wood was cut out, the loose material on the ground was removed, the concrete wall was sealed and waterproofed, and new wood was installed. The ground under the deck was dressed with gravel as one of the last tasks.

Four carpenters worked 14 weeks, 6 days per week. Two masons worked 20 days, 2 painters, 20 days each and a roofer with 2 men worked for 15 days.

The Big Picture
It has never been acceptable to patch around areas affected by black mold, hide the issues and problems and move on. But, for many years that's how the problems were dealt with.

Now, with local, state and federal agencies fully engaged in finding, monitoring and remediating these issues and problems, you want them on your side. Just as important you want to do the right job for the client and your reputation.

I photograph each job each day from the very first to the very last day. My camera is the best tool I have and I use it a lot.

If you don't or can't do the demo and reconstruction of the woodwork, find the best possible people available.

Also, use a good, licensed (in the state that the job is in), pesticide company and technician. Take the burden, liability and responsibility and put it all on the people that are specially permitted and insured for the specialty jobs.

Originally serving a "handyman" role, I carry all the necessary licenses and insurances, and I made sure that the sub-contractors were fully licensed and insured for their disciplines.

Remember, you're not just protecting the client, you're protecting yourself, your business and employees.

As seen in the June 2018 issue of LC/DBM Magazine

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October 20, 2019, 8:04 pm PDT

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