Disclaimer: Before you start reading about my family's personal experience with the mold in our house, please know that I am no expert. The steps and choices we made are all based on extensive research, findings, tests made by professionals, and a whole lot of discussion with experts! That being said... it's really important to do your own research, talk to your people, and get to know your house.
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The home we've owned for 10 years sits in an old neighborhood close to the beach, a few miles from the Virginia Beach Boardwalk. Our house was built in the 1950s, and it was the first house my husband and I bought as a newly married couple.
The house has always had a musty smell that comes and goes depending on the weather. I'd always noticed a difference in the air quality when the HVAC clicked into Air Conditioning or Heating mode during the seasons.
Besides living in a neighborhood where the streets flood after heavy rain, the drainage on our property is subpar. Especially in our backyard swamp. Summer in Virginia Beach was a wet one, with a lot of rain and high humidity. This is the prime time for mold growth. By July I noticed mold spores popping up on the bathroom ceiling. So I went to Google for advice. I also asked everyone I knew who might have a tiny clue on what to do. As a result, we cleaned the surface with vinegar (*NEVER USE BLEACH TO CLEAN MOLD) while wearing a mask and gloves - and the mold was gone.
Well, it kept raining, and the mold came back. And it came back in full force. Popping up in the second bathroom, and finally into two closets. FYI: mold spores really like leather products. The appearance of the mold in the closets was strange, with a straight line from the top third of the closet up. This is where a poorly designed structure of the house comes into play.
With no proper ventilation in both bathrooms - you can only imagine what happens with steam and moisture from the shower. Add in high humidity outside (and in the poorly ventilated attic), a perfect storm of sorts is created. I am sensitive to smells, but couldn't tell the difference between the mold smell and the musty smell we had been living in all summer with our Air Conditioner.
I was most concerned with the health of ourselves, our kids, and the 2 cats. Hence, I dug deeper in my mold research. I also went immediately to Home Depot & Lowes to stock up on dehumidifiers. Then we took our next steps in figuring out the moldy situation.
We quickly crossed off "new roof" from our list, as it wasn't the issue of any of this. Next, calling a restoration company that had great reviews and a good reputation for solving strange problems. Instead of wasting my time or taking my money (their words exactly), they directed me to call Stokes Environmental Associates out of Norfolk and to ask for Quinn Zimmerman specifically.
This was a GAME CHANGER.
After feeling helpless for about a month, and not knowing what house mold types we had, it was this call to Mr. Zimmerman that really got things moving. Stokes Environmental Associates provides consulting services on environmental issues to clients in industry, government, and the private sector. When I called, they were pretty booked up. This is always a good sign that you know you're not alone!
Think of SEA as an inspector of sorts. This is how to test for mold in your house if you can't find the source or have a big problem. They go over every inch of your house and property. Not only do they answer ALL of your ten million questions (thank you, Mr. Zimmerman!). But they will also take extensive tests, measurements, readings, etc. It's a great way to understand the source of the problem(s) you're dealing with.
With results in hand quickly afterward, it was clear that we were dealing with an "environmental disaster" of sorts. Especially in our crawl space with fungus and wood mold. Unfortunately (or fortunately?), the mold spore counts in the house were well above the 3,200 that it is outside, and it was imperative to remove our family (and all our belongings) from our not-so-welcoming home.
So, let's talk present day.
We spent two months interviewing and receiving estimates, recommendations, suggestions, advice from a slew of experts. I learned that there are a bunch of different options and ways to go about things. As the homeowner, it's extremely important to know exactly what is going on with the home. So you know which direction to take.
As I mentioned before, we have learned A LOT about our house. Especially the "guts" of the house. This 1950's house has two additions to it. This means a strangely configured crawl space, two hidden roofs - one very very flat roof, an old drafty chimney, and a few hidden "gems" to make things just a bit more interesting AND very challenging!
Health-wise, the growth of mold spores has been a huge concern of ours. That's why upon receiving the full report, we moved out immediately. I'm very prone to weird smells. And my kids are too. I think the biggest thing that I have had to overcome is worrying (and trying NOT to worry!). My biggest concern was how long the mold has been in the crawl space. Is mold the reason for some of our sick days last year? Who knows?!? There are certainly a lot of common early symptoms of black mold. Exposure can cause itchy skin, sneezing, watery, itchy eyes, headaches, coughing, and skin irritation. Yikes!
It's tough to decipher the relationship between health and mold. But I was lucky to stumble across my friend Megan posting on Instagram (@zesty_ginger). There she wrote how her family was going through a very similar situation. Not only is she weeks ahead on the research I hadn't gotten to yet but has a lot of information about the health effects of mold. I reference back to her posts and stories many times throughout the day. It has also helped me to get a much better sense of the situation we're going through and which routes we need to go. This is all in order to correct it so that we can move back home.
Megan and I just sat down to record an episode about mold for her podcast series on her website: http://zestyginger.com/, and I'll be sure to announce when it's up!