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 we made and the 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.
The mold invasion hits home
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 1950’s, 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 a 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 (the prime time for mold growth). By July I noticed mold spores popping up on the bathroom ceiling. Thanks to Google and asking everyone I knew who might have a tiny clue on what to do, we cleaned the surface with vinegar (*NEVER USE BLEACH TO CLEAN MOLD), while wearing a mask and gloves – and the mold was gone.
More mold, more problems
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 were 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 & 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.
As I was most concerned with the health of ourselves, our kids, and the 2 cats, I dug deeper in my mold research and went immediately to Home Depot & Lowes to stock up on dehumidifiers as we took our next steps in figuring out the moldy situation.
Getting to the root of the problem
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, which 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 the 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.
Our house today
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 that 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, which 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!
With our fantastic and oh-so-wise contractor Michael Pearson, or as our kids affectionately call him “Contractor Mike,” we have been able to make many solid and informed decisions and have gone all in to remediate and renovate our beach cottage. Three months into the progress, we have made great strides, but we do have a long way to go.
Mold and your health
Health-wise, the growth of mold spores has been a huge concern of ours, and it’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!) about 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) and her Zesty Ginger Facebook Page about 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 and it’s helped me to get a much better sense at the situation we’re going through and which routes we need to go 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!
Got mold, too? A few practical tips:
- Don’t automatically panic if you see mold in your house. Not all molds are created equal and some could be good (hello, Penicillium), so don’t panic if you see some green mold around the house. Definitely clean it up with ammonia (but only on non-porous surfaces), vinegar, grapefruit seed extract, or another disinfectant, but no need to evacuate just yet!
- If you think you have a problem, bring in the experts. They’ll let you know whether or not you have a severe problem, and what steps to take.
- Invest in a good filtration system, like a HEPA filter to improve the quality of your air and protect your family from potential skin conditions and asthma due to mold and other toxins.
- GET TO KNOW YOUR HOUSE! Schedule routine maintenance for your house, this includes your HVAC, the crawl space, your attic, etc. You want to know what’s behind and under EVERYTHING.
- Talk about your mold concerns in order to find solutions. You are not alone! Chat with supportive family and friends on FamilyApp, or in other settings. Talk to friends, and take action when you need to.
You can follow along with our mold journey on my Instagram account @tessa_duquette