Foreclosures And Hidden Mold

Dec 6, 2017

A funny thing happened during a recent inspection that opened my eyes to the relationship between foreclosures and mold.  The client had purchased a home roughly four years ago.  She was concerned when a visiting relative complained of having symptoms of her mold allergy while in the property.  The client called a mold company to come in and do air testing.  Picture her shock when she discovered highly elevated levels mold in her basement.  She called our company to get a second opinion and I was on the case.  

And what a complex case it was.  Our air samples confirmed that there were elevated levels of Chaetomium in the air, but there were no visible signs of mold growth.  I cut holes in the basement walls, but couldn’t find mold growth on any drywall.  This didn’t make any sense.  Typically, when you see these levels, there is a moisture source and there should be some kind of evidence of mold growth somewhere in the basement.  

Finally, in exasperation, I asked if they purchased the home as a foreclosure.  When the answer turned out to be “yes”, our investigation dug deeper.  After further investigation (and more wall cutting) we discovered what had happened.  The property appeared to have had a past flooding event from an upstairs bathroom.  This water continued down into the basement and mold growth developed on the drywall, wood framing, and ceiling.  

What happens so many times in a foreclosure is that contractors start to cut corners.  Sure, they removed the drywall that contained some of the mold, but they never bothered to remove the physical mold on the basement ceiling joists and wall studs.  They just covered it up with new drywall.  What could go wrong?  

Mold growth on wood studs

Mold growth on ceiling joists

What did go wrong was that the inside of the walls and ceiling had hidden mold growth.  Because the basement drywall was dry at the time of the inspection, it made it next to impossible to locate the growth.  The current owners walked in and saw a great house at a great price in a great location.  What they bought was a basement with hidden mold.  

In addition to the above example, there can be other sources for moisture to get into a distressed property.  During foreclosures, mold can grow because the home can be unoccupied for several months.  When these properties are occupied during a humid summer, there is air conditioning that removes moisture out of the home.  But during many foreclosures, the electricity is shut off; this stops this dehumidification of the air and cuts power to the sump system.  The end result can be moisture in the home and then mold growth.

If you see a little mold in a distressed property, chances are there is a great deal more hidden somewhere else.  Try to detect any moldy odors by the walls.  Pull up the corner of carpeting and see if there are any dark stains on the carpet tack strips.  Be very cautious if you see any water lines on unpainted walls behind furnaces or water heaters.   

An interesting point regarding air sampling.  In this project there was no indication of a problem because there was no visible mold, no water stains, no mold odors.  The only thing that alerted us to problem that prompted us to dig deeper was air sampling.  Although in some circles air sampling via spore traps gets dismissed, there are many projects where it proves to be very useful.

And above all, hire a professional mold inspection company to inspect a distressed property.  When you are worried about hidden mold, be sure to include air sampling.  Our clients were happy to finally find the source of the mold, but it did come at a cost.  Foreclosures and mold can both be tricky, but it pays to take the proper precautions and save yourself the headaches later on.