At Bay Area Mold Pros, we complete hundreds of mold inspections around the San Francisco Bay Area every year, and at most of our inspections we determine that ground water is contributing to mold growth within the home being inspected. Ground water issues can be addressed with a combination of solutions such as French drains and sump pumps. These systems seek to divert water away from the perimeter of the home, or to remove it (via electric pump) once it has made its way past the perimeter of the home.
One of the most common issues we identify at Bay Area Mold Pros, when inspecting the home’s exterior, is that one or more rain leaders that are draining the roof water are depositing it directly adjacent to the home’s foundation, often on the “high” side of the lot. This condition is exactly the opposite of what we want to see in terms of how rain water is dealt with. Very large amounts of water can be discharged from these rain leaders, since the rain water that they are collecting might be coming from several hundred square feet of roof surface.
The solution to this condition is actually pretty simple. By connecting the bottom of the rain leaders to flexible or rigid plastic pipes, the water from these rain leaders can be re-directed around the home to another part of the property, ideally, at a lower elevation than the elevation occupied by the home. Although this won’t have any affect on the naturally-occurring ground water that surrounds the home, it will prevent the rain water that is coming from the roof from exacerbating the ground water problem present around the home.
At Bay Area Mold Pros we are experts in the construction-related issues which often underlie mold growth problems. Rick is a licensed general contractor and owns his own construction company, Bruce Construction. Tyson holds his own license as a general contractor, and owns his own construction company, Tyson Bruce Construction. Both Rick and Tyson are also Certified Mold Inspectors. But what separates Bay Area Mold Pros from every other mold inspection company in the San Francisco Bay Area is the fact that Rick and Tyson have been building and remodeling homes throughout the San Francisco Bay Area for a combined seventy-plus years. So if you suspect a mold-growth problem in your home in the San Francisco Bay Area, give us a call at Bay Area Mold Pros!
Inspector Insights: What Most Homeowners Miss
For any of us that are buying or selling a home, one of the most anxiety-inducing thoughts is the prospect of overlooking an important repair. Without a professional at your side or years of experience yourself, there are so many crucial considerations that can easily be missed. These overlooked repairs can turn a great investment into a not-so-great investment or a dream home into a veritable nightmare. To help you avoid these oft-hidden pitfalls, we rounded up home inspection experts from Sacramento to Philadelphia. Read on and let these seasoned experts and homecare veterans guide you through the most frequently overlooked repairs that homeowners always forget to fix!
Too many small things can add up to a big thing
Sellers should address minor items that give a poor representation of the home like gutters that are falling off the home, slow sink drains and any quirky shortcut fixes because it wasn’t done correctly the first time. I inspected a home where there were limited electrical outlets in the basement so the seller had set up a network of extension cords that ran throughout the open basement ceiling instead of installing outlets. – Spotlight Inspection Services
Bad Pressure Reducing Valve (PRV): To avoid damage to valves on appliances or fixtures, like a toilet, you do not want the water pressure to be above 80 psi. PRVs typically wear out every 15 years and when they do the water pressure can skyrocket to 150 psi! Get a simple water gauge for less than $10 and test the water pressure to see if your pressure is too high. If it is, a plumber can easily replace the PRV. – At-Ease Inspections
Some of the pre-sale repairs that are most often overlooked are any item that would potentially be covered under the Home Warranty that the seller may be providing to the buyer i.e. electrical, plumbing, appliances, etc. Any item covered under the Home Warranty that is listed as “deficient” in a home inspection report would be considered a “known” pre-existing condition and NOT covered by that warranty. With this in mind, I always recommend that buyers request these repairs to be made so that they can get the full value of the Home Warranty if one is offered. It is always to the seller’s benefit to remove any potential negotiating points from the buyer. – The Home Inspectors
Don’t forget the attic
The most overlooked or ignored spaces in a home tend to be attics and crawlspaces. These areas need to be evaluated before listing because they can hold some of the most unpleasant surprises. Non-professional repairs, structural damage due to leaks, or major moisture & mold problems will bring the smoothest of transactions to a screeching halt. These can be avoided if found and addressed prior to selling. – Integrity Home Inspection
Focus on Foundation
Grading is also commonly missed and is easy for homeowners to correct. Grading is simply adding dirt to the perimeter of your foundation. You look to achieve a slope of 1/4″ per foot out to 6′ from the exterior foundation wall. – Inspection Pros LLC
Make sure your electrical was done professionally
In many homes a clear indication that a permit was never taken for the completion of a roughed-in basement is the location of the furnace isolation switch, it should be at the entrance to the “Room” where the furnace is located. Before a basement is finished the room is the whole basement and the switch is located close to the bottom of the stair, it should be relocated adjacent to the door into the smaller mechanical room that usually is constructed. Amateur electrical work in basements quite often results in wiring connected in reverse polarity (HOT and Neutral Reversed) which is not identified because it still functions as required but is a safety issue. Non Professional work on electrical panels often results in un-closed open holes where the wiring was considered to be located or removed at a different time and then forgotten rather than having a closure plug installed. Again a safety concern and a possibility of vermin entry which could result in a short at an inappropriate time. These issues throw up a RED flag for an inspector and cause them to look a little closer. – At Home & Play Inspections
The best way to know what repairs you need to make before selling is by getting a pre-listing home inspection. The most common repairs that are overlooked by homeowners take place in the kitchen and bathrooms. Plumbing fixtures and valves are often corroded which are called out during a home inspection. Plumbing fixtures can be conducive to moisture-related issues and should be inspected and repaired as needed before selling your home.
Also, the grout or caulking between the sinks, shower walls, counters, and plumbing fixtures is often deteriorated. These items should be resealed. Repairing these small details will show potential buyers and inspectors that there is pride in ownership when providing a positive reflection of the home. The devil is in the details. – The Inspectors Company
Inspect your HVAC system
The homeowner should check the HVAC system for any leaks as well as check for adequate insulation in attics and crawl spaces. Attics are the main source of energy loss in any home and it is important to make sure your home is up to code. You will see saving on your energy bill right away if your attic is brought up to code. – Insulation Pros Colorado
If you’re getting ready to sell your home, one of the last things that you want is to have a prospective client discover a problem in your home that could de-rail an accepted offer. Although most buyers now obtain home inspections as a part of their contingencies, a few of these buyers also obtain mold inspection reports, and unfortunately, many of these homes have mold-growth issues. If these problems are discovered early enough, they can be addressed prior to listing a property for sale, and the home can then be listed with a “clean bill of health” regarding mold issues. So if you’re considering selling your home, do yourself a favor and get a certified mold inspector to conduct a thorough inspection of your home before your first buyer ever sets foot in the home. – Bay Area Mold Pros
Scope Your Sewer Line
I would imagine that most people are aware of what’s broken in the interior of their home and don’t need to read an article to find out. But as the article title suggests, the “Repairs You Need to Make Before Selling” are probably the ones you’re not aware of and some of those are in the areas you don’t see very often, if at all. When was the last time you had your sewer line scoped? Your dryer vent cleaned? Your roof inspected? And, if your house is on a raised foundation, are you aware of what lies beneath? Getting a pre-listing inspection will take the guesswork out of what you need to repair (or disclose if you’re not willing to repair) before putting your house on the market. – Sacramento Home Inspections
Rain and groundwater management
Rain management is one of the most overlooked and estimated issues with many of the homes we inspect. Something as simple as a gutter full of debris can lead to leaks in the home, standing water in the crawlspace. This problem compounds as the gutter debris travels into the downspouts and through the storm drain lines. The rules are simple, make sure any water that lands on the roof makes it into a gutter, any water that enters the gutter flows freely to a downspout, and is discharged at least 6 feet away from any building components. These simple steps can prevent $1,000’s of unexpected and unnecessary damage over the years. – PacWest Home Inspections
Water intrusion issues due to a lack of proper storm/groundwater control. This can cause a lot of damage especially if the home is on a crawl space or basement, if the crawl space has not been inspected within the last year we would highly recommend getting a pre-listing inspection prior to putting the home on the market. The majority of the deals we see get terminated is due to damage present under the home. If you own a home with a crawl space ask yourself when is the last time it has been visually inspected if the answer is over three years or you can’t remember it’s time to get an inspection done. – AHI Residential & Commercial Inspections
Cracks in your hardscaping
Home sellers usually forget to repair hairline step cracks along the exterior concrete (masonry) block walls. Hairline cracks below 1/16” in width and are not structural defects. However, the step cracks can provide entry for moisture intrusion to damage interior wall materials and runaway future home buyers for assuming these are structural defects. – Pro Inspect Solutions
When Homeowners decide to list their home, it is important to listen to their Agent’s suggestions to make the process smoother. At Continental Home Inspections we have often found instances where the Seller has been diligent in their efforts, but all too often accessibility to systems and components may oftentimes be overlooked. Blocked electrical panels, crawlspace locks, attic access, and stored items in attics and crawl spaces can result in items being missed and deemed inaccessible. This can result in re-inspection fees, which may also ask the question “who will pay for the re-inspection?” A checklist and a walk-thru of the home prior to the Inspector’s arrival can not only save both parties time but also money. Continental Home Inspections
I would recommend anyone who is selling their home to check/verify the following: trip & reset each of your GFCI (ground fault circuit interrupter) outlets (these outlets are the ones with a test/reset button). Verify your electrical panel is obstruction-free: nothing stack in front of it or blocking access. Make sure each of your locks on your doors actually works and locks the door when engaged. Check each of your sinks will retain water when the stopper diverter is engaged. Finally, verify that your air filters are CLEAN and if not replace them. – Top 2 Bottom Home Inspection
The most commonly overlooked items we have come across are electrical related. The exterior GFCI should be covered with the proper exterior covering and must be operational. The GFCIs throughout the house should also be operated in the kitchen, bathrooms, garage, and unfinished basement. These are some of the most common safety issues we encounter. – Echo Home Inspections
Originally published on Redfin
Most of our home inspections completed by Bay Area Mold Pros include an attempt to determine if moisture is present behind bathroom wall tile. Moisture often makes its way past wall tile, often through the space between the tile when grout is missing, or when the grout was improperly applied, or was never properly sealed. Homeowners are often surprised to learn that conventional grouts aren’t really waterproof, unless they have had a proper grout sealer applied, and re-applied when necessary.
Once water has made its way past the tile, it contacts whatever tile “substrate” was used. For decades, this substrate was made of mortar, and was “floated” onto the wall, generally onto chicken wire that had been nailed with spacers over some type of building paper. In the San Francisco Bay Area, this building paper was often the same “tar paper” used for roofing, and was also “asphalt-impregnated building paper” that was often used under exterior siding and stucco. These mortar substrates often lasted for decades, and indeed, many still survive throughout the area. Our family home in San Francisco, built in 1936, still has its original Art Deco bathroom wall tile in both the shower and above the bathtub. All of this tile was installed over a mortar substrate.
But mortar substrates require a certain skill level to apply them properly, and many modern tilers prefer to install tile over other simpler (and less costly) substrates, such as cement board and Hardi-board. When properly installed and waterproofed, these newer substrates will last for years, and although not as stable as mortar, they are very stable. But starting in the 1950’s, many builders started using standard drywall as a tile substrate, and over the ensuing years, these tile jobs have mostly failed. My wife and I purchased a home in the San Francisco Bay Area in 1980, and the shower tile was so “mushy” near the shower pan that you could move it by simply pushing on it with your finger. I gutted the bathroom and determined that the tile had been applied directly over 1/2″ drywall, which was completely saturated with water was falling apart.
I replaced the original 1/2″ drywall with a product that was fairly new in 1980, “green-rock.” This 1/2″ drywall was faced with green (rather than white) paper, and did not have the standard gypsum contents present in standard drywall. At the time, lumber yards and the newly introduced “big box” stores were selling this green rock as “waterproof drywall.” You can see where this story is headed, within a few years, this green rock had failed, and the shower needed to be gutted again. Several years went by and green rock was replaced by “purple rock,” which was again touted as waterproof drywall. But neither purple rock nor its predecessor, green rock, were ever meant as tile substrates, and should only be used as backing behind a properly installed tile substrate.
The wall tile depicted in the photo above was present in a home that I inspected last week in the San Francisco Bay Area. The lowest courses of the wall tile were loose, and when I pushed on one of the tiles, it simply fell off the wall, revealing what I suspected was behind it, standard drywall. Once water has made its way past the wall tile and comes into contact with the drywall, the drywall will suck up the water like a sponge, and will then fail. Mold loves paper, and because drywall has a paper face on both its front and back side, it makes a perfect host for mold growth. So when drywall tile substrates fail, it is very common for mold growth to occur.
So the lesson here is straightforward, never allow wall tile to be applied to any type of drywall in a water-setting, which includes shower enclosures and the walls above bathtubs. These installations require proper tile substrates and proper waterproofing. They also require appropriate sealing of the grout, and proper maintenance, which may include re-application of the grout sealer. And if the tile surface is properly maintained, it can last for many years. The tile in our family home is now 84 years old…and is still going strong!
The majority of my mold inspections take place in San Francisco, where most of the neighborhoods were built many decades ago. Starting around the 1920’s, the tiled stall shower became very common in homes and apartments throughout San Francisco, and surprisingly, many of those showers still have their original tiled walls!
Bathrooms are often the first room that I visit on my inspections, both because this is where homeowners often see visible mold, and because this is where my meters often detect moisture problems. The shower depicted in the above photo is actually fairly common in terms of the problems it presents.
The tile is cracked and broken, the grout is missing in places, and mold is visible on both the cracks and the grout. These showers were all built with “custom shower pans,” meaning that the pans built on site, where mosaic tile was installed on a mortar substrate. Under the mortar it was common to “hot-mop” the area (essentially install a hot tar roof). After these shower pans were hot-mopped, both the walls and the pan then received a layer of mortar substrate. This mortar was typically floated over chicken-wire, which was stapled or nailed to some type of building paper.
These tiled showers have lasted for decades, but in almost all cases, the grout joints have failed and water has made its way past the tile and into the mortar substrate. At Bay Area Mold Pros, we use a variety of meters to detect this moisture, including thermal imagers. One of the problems within the mold inspection industry is interpreting just what this moisture means, in other words, we know we have moisture, but has this resulted in mold growth?
The best way to answer this question is through the use of air samples. Although some amount of surface mold is often visible on the grout joints of these old showers, it is oftentimes just that…surface mold. In other words, the moisture that has made its way past the tile may not (yet) be resulting in mold growth that is making its way into the air. That’s where air samples become so important.
Air samples provide a snapshot of the air that’s present in a particular place at a particular time. The cassettes used to collect these samples contain a lab slide. The mold spores attach to the slide, and the lab techs then place these slides under high powered microspores and analyze them. These techs will break out the mold spores present both by number (mold spores per cubic meter is the industry standard), and by mold type. Even though people within the industry often refer to the “species” of mold collected in air samples, the lab actually breaks the mold spores down to the “genus” level, which is more than adequate for the purposes of identifying the severity of a mold growth problem.
The bottom line…these showers need to go! After 50, 60, 70, or even 100 years, the shower has outlived its usefulness, and it’s time to replace it. Many homeowners opt to have seamless panels installed to replace the old tiles walls, thus avoiding the problems associated with grout.
For those who choose to have new tile installed, it’s crucial to have the grout “sealed” after installation, in order to address the issue of water making its way past the grout. Properly installed tile and grout will provide years of service for homeowners, thus avoiding the need to have Bay Area Mold Pros visit your home again.
Even though winter now appears to be over in the San Francisco Bay Area, we received so much rain over the past six months that many homeowners experienced water-intrusion problems for the first time. Most of the homes in the greater Bay Area are built on perimeter concrete foundations and have “crawl spaces” under the first-floor framing. Until recently, no measures were taken by builders to prevent naturally occurring groundwater from making its way under any nearby homes (and into the crawl spaces of these homes).
Once groundwater has entered the crawl space, it is very difficult to dry it out. When water is present in building material (or soil), it will start to move from the wet area to the dry area. So the moisture under the home will attempt to move into the living space above, and the more water that is present, the more likely that this transfer of moisture will be successful. In homes with hardwood flooring, it is common to see the “cupping” of the hardwood slats, this is a clear indication of moisture that has made its way from the crawl space, past the hardwood flooring, and into the living space above. And once this happens, this moisture will almost certainly result in the growth of mold spores, and a call to Bay Area Mold Pros!
There are several things that homeowners can do when they have groundwater in the crawl space of their home:
Consult a drainage expert. There are many contractors in the San Francisco area who specialize in drainage issues and the installation of French drains. These systems divert water around and away from a home, and they are very effective at addressing this problem. Sump pumps installed in crawl spaces can also be very effective at controlling this excess moisture.
Vapor barriers. Once the “standing water” issues have been addressed in the crawl space (through either a French drain or sump pump), a vapor barrier can be placed over the soil or concrete in the crawl space, and this will essentially prevent the moisture within the soil from making its way into the home above. There are numerous companies in both San Francisco and San Mateo Counties who specialize in this work.
Run a dehumidifier. Homes that are experiencing the transmission of moisture from a wet crawl space into the living space above will have elevated humidity. One of the best ways to control this humidity is by running dehumidifier machines in the most problematic rooms of the home.
So the bottom line is this…if you have groundwater that has made its way into your crawl space, you need to address it, and if you don’t, you’ll be calling Bay Area Mold Pros to inspect your home for mold…because you will have mold!
I received an emergency phone call today from a client living in Los Altos. The client’s home is almost brand new, so I was a bit surprised when I arrived to find some workers ripping out drywall and insulation from the entryway ceiling.
The homeowners had discovered that a third story aluminum window had been improperly installed by the general contractor who built the home, so the contractor agreed to open up the exterior wall last week and to then re-install the window “flashing,” which is the material placed around the window flange to ensure a waterproof seal.
Unfortunately, once the exterior wall had been opened up, we received an unusual drenching of May rain that soaked the exterior of the home and made its way into the now open exterior wall. The homeowner phoned the contractor, who opted to not come out, because it was raining!
Within the next few hours, what started as a rather small problem, in one location, spread to the entire first floor of the house thanks to gravity.
Anyone who has ever suffered through a water leak within their home can tell you that where the water actually becomes visible is often quite far from where the leak originated. You can blame it on gravity. As soon as a water leak occurs, the water will start traveling downhill, and will always choose the easiest path on its downward journey. That’s why homeowners often say that water is leaking out of their recessed ceiling lights, these openings in the ceiling drywall are simply the easiest way for the water to escape.
The water is this Los Altos home travelled from the open exterior wall into the wall framing itself, and then travelled down the wall to the second story, and then travelled down the wall to the first story where it came into contact with a concrete slab. From there it travelled under the floating hardwood floors and then along the concrete slab, until it had travelled into every room on the ground floor of the home.
I measured the moisture content of all of the hardwood flooring, and it was all saturated with water. All of these floors will now need to be removed and discarded. Once hardwood floors have been saturated with water, they become cupped and unusable.
So the lesson here…if you have a leak…deal with it right now! Don’t wait until the rain stops (or any other excuse), because gravity is relentless. And the water that you think is contained to a small area will continue traveling until it reaches the end of its path. And the end of the path might just be your entire home.
In modern construction, concrete perimeter foundations are generally poured in such a way that the top of the foundation wall (where the “mudsill” is placed), is at least 8 to 10 inches above “grade.” This allows for an adequate amount of space from both any surrounding soil, and from any ground water. But in older construction, it was common to pour foundation walls that were level with the surrounding soil (on grade), and sometimes even lower than the surrounding soil.
This condition leads to both potential termite problems and water damage. When the mudsill (which is the horizontal framing atop the foundation that the ground floor studs are fastened to) comes into contact with the surrounding soil, it provides a clear path for termites to move from the soil into the framing. And any surrounding ground water can also be easily “wicked” into the mudsill, where it can then be transferred to the other framing.
Both of these conditions are potentially very problematic. The “quick fix” for this problem is to simply pull the soil away from the structure, crating as much distance from grade to the mudsill as possible. When this can’t be done, it is sometimes necessary to extend the foundation up to provide the necessary space between the framing and grade.
In the attached photo, the foundation vent is seen almost directly “on grade.” Foundation vents are commonly placed directly above the mud-sill, so it is fairly easy to determine the spacing between grade and framing by simply looking at how close these vents are to the surrounding soil. When these vents are placed as depicted in the photo, they are generally indicative of potential termite and water-intrusion problems.
I’m still surprised when conducting my home inspections at how often I find examples of incorrectly installed flashing. “Flashing” is normally installed around window and door openings, and is made of a variety of material, but flashing is also required on many roof applications. Whenever a pitched section of roofing abuts a wall (or other vertical surface), flashing must be provided.
When installing roof shingles, the flashing is normally referred to as “step flashing,”and each course of roofing material has a piece of step flashing installed over the current course of roofing material and then against the adjacent wall. Step flashing is normally comprised of pieces of “L” sheet metal, but the key to a proper installation is to have the upper portion of the “L” flashing placed against the framing or sheathing of the abutting wall, and this is the important part…under the siding or stucco cover.
To save time and effort, some installers fail to remove the wall cover, and instead, place the L flashing against the wall cover. This defeats the purpose of the flashing, which is to prevent any rain water from getting behind the flashing and into the framing. The attached photos, taken at a 1930’s era home in the East Bay, depict how the flashing is actually placed on top of the stucco. This has resulted in gaps between the flashing and the stucco, and this is a direct pathway for rain water to enter the framing.
Directly below this roof section is a badly cracked and damaged section of stucco that is clearly water-damaged. And this damage is a direct result of the improper flashing. This home has mold growth problems related to a variety of issues, but one of the most obvious (and serious) issues concerns this roof flashing. And until this flashing is removed and re-installed correctly, this section of roof will continue to leak every time it rains!
The tenants living in this home in Oakland came home to a flooded basement. They notified their landlord, who sent a plumbing crew out within a day to shut off the water and to repair the broken supply line.
The landlord then had the water pumped out of the basement and brought in fans to dry out the space, assuring the tenants that this would, “…prevent a mold problem.” Well, the standing water dried out, but the tenants believed that they could smell mold and they decided to call out Bay Area Mold Pros for an inspection.
I immediately detected a very strong smell of mold growth, and I took several moisture readings with a variety of meters. I found that both the framing atop the foundation, and the drywall covering this framing, were saturated with water. I could see mold growing on both surfaces, and took air samples throughout the basement.
The lab found high levels of mold spores in every major category, including a fairly high level of marker spores, identified by the lab as Stachybotrys.
This case illustrates what can happen when an inadequate remediation occurs. Many homeowners believe that they can perform their own mold remediation by simply drying out an area that had been subjected to a water-intrusion event. But it’s not that simple. Effective remediations include not just a drying-out process, they involve an appropriate cleaning of all affected surfaces, as well as a proper cleaning of the air through the use of both air scrubbers and machines which utilize negative-air pressure to transfer the mold spores to a location outside of the home.
Property owners who try to save the costs of professional remediations are engaging in a “penny-wise and pound-foolish” approach to what can often be a serious problem. It’s much better to handle any potential mold growth problem as quickly and as effectively as possible as soon as the problem is discovered. Half-measures and money-saving schemes will likely results in what happened in this home…a science project!
I was called out to a 1930’s era home in San Francisco this week to perform a mold inspection of a large flat. I could see obvious signs of water damage around almost all of the windows, and when I started using my meters to determine if the plaster next to the windows was wet, the tenant told me, “Don’t worry, those are all new windows.”
As I moved from room to room in the flat, I could see that none of the original solid wood double-hung windows were still present, they had all been replaced by a combination of vinyl retrofit windows and solid wood retrofit windows. These retrofit windows were all installed in the original sold wood window frames, and although all of the new windows appeared to have been properly installed, the plaster adjacent to each of the windows was wet.
What many homeowners (and some contractors) don’t understand is this…when a new window is installed in an original wood window frame, the condition of the window frame itself will largely determine if rain water will eventually make its way into the home. And not just the window frame, but the surrounding wood trim as well. If the wood trim (typically a piece of 1 by 6 redwood on old San Francisco homes), fails, then rain water has a clear path to enter the wall framing. And if water makes its way into wall framing, you’ve got serious problems!
I took several air samples within this flat, and as expected, the mold spore counts were found to be elevated by my lab. There were additional issues within this unit, including water detected behind the tile above the bathtub, and elevated humidity in the basement below the unit. The real challenge for the client in this process is the fact that she is a tenant, and not a homeowner, so she must now rely on the property owner to “do the right thing” by starting to address the myriad construction issues discovered during the inspection.