Right about now everybody in the northwest thinks, “I should have replaced the roof last summer.” Once winter winds hit – including a rare tornado a few weeks ago – the eye automatically gives the roof repeated if peripheral checks.
A property manager or resident may want to do the same and identify emerging problems quickly as mold takes no more than 72 hours to begin to form in wet, warm spaces of buildings.
Here are a few trouble signs:
- Small dark spots have appeared in the sheet rock or odd-looking spots in the corners of the ceiling.
- There is water or condensation collecting in your interior covered or domed light fixtures.
- A recently painted wall or trim area keeps turning gray in the same stubborn spot.
- Wallpaper is peeling away from the wall or ceiling.
- The wall or ceiling feels damp or cold in a spot.
- Rain, snow and more rain have been unusually plentiful.
- Check incomplete basements if the ground water is saturated. Water is a problem because it takes the path of least resistance and will go around or into something if that is the easiest way to flow.
- There is a moldy smell indoors or in cellars, crawl spaces or attics.
- The HVAC system ducts smell musty and moldy whenever the unit turns on.
We discovered a few years ago that a perfectly maintained roof can develop a problem almost spontaneously. A tennis ball popped into one of our main gutters soundly blocking the drain entrance.
We have no idea how long it was there, as it was a perfect fit and not visible until you climbed a ladder. Redirected by the tennis ball, the water split around it, half continued into the gutter while the other half spewed through one of the attic vents underneath the overhang.
When it soaked through enough to make a palm-sized ceiling stain, we luckily noticed and corrected the problem.
Rain is not the only issue with roofs and gutters. Most of us think of snow as being rather benign, but it has a lot of weight and height and can reach areas without flashing. If it melts slowly, great. If not, it can leak through poorly sealed skylights (aren’t they all in this category?) or saturate the area above any flashing meant to direct water away from the skylight.
Our advice? Pre-season hire a professional roofer or property manager to do a check of caulking, sealing and flashing. You will pay a lot less for repairs than the spontaneous fellow who waits until there is a leak. Off-season it is easier to make roof repairs as there is less danger of falling or sliding.
Of course, during rainy periods dripping will be evident in the crawl space or attic area and easy to diagnose. If there is evidence of rotting wood or insect infestation, these are also signs that there has been some water damage.
Incidentally, pests like carpenter ants only enter damaged or rotting wood, so if you have these critters moving in, water damage may be the real problem.
Also check stored belonging that are made from materials such as leather. Leather grows mold quickly as anyone with a leather jacket living in Florida will attest to. We had bought some used saddles in Houston and stored them only to find they had all been damaged by mold.
One serious long term outcome from an undiagnosed water event is often that it creates a luscious environment for mold growth. Yes, it’s not often you see those words in the same sentence, but mold in a warm, wet location spreads quickly. To prevent mold:
- Dry wet spots within 24 to 48 hours.
- Reduce sources of condensation and reduce humidity.
- Vent clothes dryers, stoves, and kerosene heaters to the outside where possible. (Combustion appliances produce water vapor and increase humidity unless vented outside.)
- Use air conditioners and/or de-humidifiers.
- Shower with the fan on or the window open.
- Turn on the exhaust fans or open windows when running the dishwasher, clothes washer or dish washing.
- Turn on the exhaust fan when cooking or using the oven.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) does not regulate or test for molds as part of its work, however, it does recommend tenants notify their property managers of any water problems and leaks as quickly as possible.
After a water event, reports by residents of health problems are generally the first sign most property managers have that hidden mold may be growing in the building. As so much of our American building stock contains materials with cellulose, mold can grow almost anywhere.
The surfaces of these areas generally dry quickly, but mold can develop in several trouble spots like the back sides of paneling, wallpaper, dry wall; the undersides of carpets, wood flooring, linoleum and carpet pads; inside ductwork, in the roof materials above ceiling tiles and around pipes in walls.
The problem with mold is that once it catches hold it needs to be completely removed. Even the disruption caused by investigating for mold can distribute mold spores throughout a room without precautions.
Cautions about Mold Exposure
Because it is a complex procedure, mold analysis, remediation and removal should always follow professional guidelines. The American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA), the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH) and other professional organizations have many protocols and offer them on their websites.
Remediation work should include a final cleaning to remove all mold spores. Dead mold can still cause health events and problems in susceptible people, so it is necessary to kill and remove the mold.
Exposure to mold and mold spores should be strictly limited. For a DIY project, the EPA recommends:
- Avoid breathing in mold or mold spores. Wear an N-95 respirator, available at many hardware stores and from companies that advertise on the Internet. (They cost about $12 to $25.) Some N-95 respirators resemble a paper dust mask with a nozzle on the front, others are made primarily of plastic or rubber and have removable cartridges that trap most of the mold spores from entering. In order to be effective, the respirator or mask must fit properly, so carefully follow the instructions supplied with the respirator.
- Wear gloves. Long gloves that extend to the middle of the forearm are recommended. When working with water and a mild detergent, ordinary household rubber gloves may be used. If you are using a disinfectant, a biocide such as chlorine bleach, or a strong cleaning solution, you should select gloves made from natural rubber, neoprene, nitrile, polyurethane, or PVC. Avoid touching mold or moldy items with your bare hands.
- Wear goggles. Goggles that do not have ventilation holes are recommended. Avoid getting mold or mold spores in your eyes.
This may sound like overkill, but as the old saying goes? An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.