Breaking The Mold, How to Address it in an Inspection Report

I know that MOLD is a four letter word, and only a few other things found during the course of a home inspection causes more angst for all parties involved.

As inspectors, not only are we the ones that have to bring its presence to the attention of the buyers, but we also have to figure out some way to talk about it in the Inspection Report.

In spite of the fact that if:

it “looks” like mold,

is “wet” like mold,

conditions are “conducive” to mold,

it “smells” like mold,

it is “apparent” on surfaces that molds love,

and it “barks” like mold—-most inspectors are still reluctant to call it “MOLD.”  I am not sure exactly why this is the case—-I guess due to the possibility that it might be some other sort of staining or condition that is not “actually” mold.  And, I could see where that would be a problem if the inspector tells you that you have a huge mold problem and it turns out to be smoke from candles or road dirt being sucked into the house at the edges of the carpeting.

In general, knowing whether a particular fungal growth is actually mold or some other type of fungal growth, is not really all that important since the solution is pretty much going to be the same—-fix the water issue and remove/replace/clean the affected materials as necessary.

To give you an example of how difficult it can be to “language” the presence of mold, take a look at the following picture.

Mold or mold-like fungal growth on roof boards

The white color on these roof boards is a light covering of mold or mold/like fungal growth.  What do I tell my buyer?  It is obvious that it a past condition because the newer roof sheathing showing between the white boards is unaffected.  This is consistent with there being no growth since the sheathing was installed.  The roof was replaced at least 10 years previously as indicated by the overall condition of the roof shingles.

There can be many reasons why this is no longer a problem and at the time of inspection the inspector may not be able to figure out all the “why’s,” and that is not as important as knowing that there hasn’t been a problem since the roof was replaced.  Perhaps the dryer used to vent into the attic.  Perhaps there were no vents in the roof previously.  Perhaps the roof no longer leaks.  Perhaps there had been flooding in the crawl space that had been fixed.  Who knows?

So again what do I say to the buyer?  They want to know if it is a problem now—-whether it is “dormant” or not—-because after all—-it is still present.  Aren’t those tiny little spores going to find their way into the home and ruin their lives?  No inspector can answer that question—-because everyone responds to mold spores differently and there are lots of other variables—-both physical and psychological.  Even Environmental Hygienists can’t really answer that question—-but the lowly home inspector is expected to answer the question regardless.

I can tell the buyer that if moisture conditions are right the mold growth can come back to life.  I can tell them that there are circumstances where the mold will release spores whether dormant or not.  I can tell them that the likelihood of the spores finding there way into the indoor environment is not great—but could happen under some scenarios.  I can recommend that they not store things in the attic.  I can recommend cleaning and sealing of the affected areas by qualified persons.  I could recommend that they run like hell and never look back (personally I wouldn’t do that—-but some inspectors might).  I could recommend further testing so that the testing company could tell them to fix the water issue and clean and seal the affected areas.

Ultimately it is the buyer that will have to decide what is important to them, and how or whether they want to deal with the issue.

It really is not much help that there is so much conflicting, misleading and downright erroneous information present on the web and in the media about molds in the environment.  It lends itself to a lot of hysteria, and where you have hysteria you have a growing industry that is just as virulent as the mold spores themselves.  What will create peace of mind in one buyer may not work at all for another.

Another factor is that the buyer may not care about it and be willing to accept the Eighth Dwarf—Mouldy—-sleeping quietly in the attic, but they may worry about what will happen when they go to sell the home.  What if they cannot find a buyer that feels the same way about their old friend “Mouldy” that they do.  They want to avoid feeling like “Dopy.”  In other words will this stuff that doesn’t matter to them affect the resale value of the house regardless?

Some people feel it is wise to simply have the condition professionally cleaned and sealed.  From a marketing stand point this may make sense, even if it likely has little do do with health and safety.  It is sort of how a band-aid can make a child feel better even when they aren’t really injured.

I wish there was an easy answer to the question—-heck I would accept an easy question for the answer!  I seriously recommend that before anyone goes too far down the road of trying to answer this question, that they carefully read the work of Caoimhín P. Connell, Health Effects of Moulds (Molds): State of Knowledge.

If nothing else—he does serious damage to the hysteria surrounding Mold—-breaking the mold.

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