As this issue of the Reporter went to press, the Consumer Product Safety Commission was scheduled to release in October the results of a study to determine why drywall from China is causing problems and what kind of remediation programs might be effective. To check on the release, visit the government Web sites dedicated to the problem:
May shares newsletters with ASHI
IAQ IQ 33, August/September 2009: The Home Inspector, Mold and Legal Exposure
Home inspectors aren’t off the hook when it comes to mold.
Several years ago, I was hired by an insurance company to review a home inspector’s report and some indoor air quality (IAQ) reports from testing done at the same property. It’s a long story, so let me give you some of the history.
During the home inspection, access to the attic was blocked, so the inspector excluded the attic in his inspection and report. Some members of the family experienced health symptoms after buying and moving into the house. The attic contained mold growth, and extensive air and dust sampling was undertaken throughout the whole house. The test reports told me that the house air did not contain the spores from species of molds that usually grow in attics, which isn’t surprising, given that generally, air flows from an attic to the exterior due to the stack effect. The tests did uncover, however, the presence of Aspergillus mold spores on the first floor. Aspergillus, a highly friable and allergenic mold, often grows in basements where the relative humidity is elevated, and a health department report mentioned that the basement in this house suffered from water intrusion and was moldy.
By the time I saw the home inspector’s report and the IAQ test results, the property had undergone a “makeover.” The family had already sued the home inspector. His insurance company buckled under, and in the face of his protests, paid the family $100,000. With that money, the family tore off the attic and the entire second floor of the house, and rebuilt half the structure. They were still sick, however, so now they were going after the real estate agent.
I was hired by the real estate agent’s insurance company.
My review of the home inspector’s report and IAQ test results got the real estate agent and his insurance company off the hook because it was pretty clear that the culprit was basement mold. I wish I had been called in earlier so I could have helped the home inspector as well. His only fault? He did not recommend further evaluation of the attic in his report. If you cannot access any area of a house where mold may grow, such as an attic, basement or crawl space, it’s always a good idea to recommend further evaluation.
In another, more recent case, a Texas couple sued their home inspector because he failed to identify mold growth in the HVAC unit in a house they purchased.
HVAC equipment, as well as air-to-air heat exchangers, often becomes contaminated with mold growth because biodegradable dust and moisture are present on interior surfaces. In this case, the home inspector had not opened the blower cabinet during the inspection, so he failed to see the stains and watermarks within. If you see water stains or marks inside a blower cabinet and the filter is the usual inadequate, “see-through” kind, there’s an excellent chance that the cabinet, if not the entire system, is mold-contaminated.
Even if the filter is a pleated-media type, with a MERV rating of 8 or higher, if the filter holder is not airtight, air can bypass the filter and deposit biodegradable dust within the cabinet and on the coil.
Exposed fibrous lining material within the cabinet or on the inside of the access panel also often houses mold, growing on captured dust.
So, I think you should always open a blower cabinet. (ASHI’s Standards of Practice,8.1, states that “The inspector shall open readily openable access panels.”) If you see watermarks, if the filter is inadequate or if the filter holder is not airtight, raise the “mold growth may be present” flag. Recommend further evaluation, both orally during the inspection and in writing in your inspection report.
In fact, whenever there are signs of a moisture problem — whether a wet basement or evidence of an extensive or ongoing leak that may have dampened building materials inside a wall or ceiling cavity — recommend further evaluation. At the very least, warn of the possible presence of mold.
The Texas case is moving along and has been assigned to the 172nd District Court, Judge Donald Floyd presiding.
Reprinted with permission. ©2009 Jeffrey C. May. May Indoor Air Investigations, LLC, www.mayindoorair.com, 978-649-1055
Jeffrey and Connie May are authors of “My House Is Killing Me” and “Jeff May’s Healthy Home Tips,” both available through the ASHI online store.