Sickening: Families blame black mold for illnesses at apartment complex

Several families in Sheffield Township say they are getting sick believe their apartments are to blame.

Watch video here:

19 Action News visited Sheffield Estates, where residents claim black mold consuming a vacant unit is spreading into their bodies.

Brandon Robinson, Kassondra Secrist and Corie Igo are all concerned about their children and their own health after discovering the black mold spreading through their building.

The outbreak was so bad that the Lorain County Health Department and Fire Department were called out the apartments last week.

Resident Brandon Robinson spoke of his concerns to 19 Action News saying “we have infants that live in our house, three of them.  They told us it could shut down their respiratory systems it’s so bad…we have to get them all checked out by the doctor, I’m waiting on my results now.” Robinson also says his family suffers from chest pains, headaches, nausea. “I’m always tired which are all signs of black mold poisoning” says Robinson.

After three days in a hotel, courtesy the American Red Cross the families were back at Sheffield Estates because they have nowhere else to go at this time. Most residents aren’t convinced the danger has been completely cleaned up.

19 Action News went looking for answers at the leasing office Friday afternoon, nobody answered the door.

In the meantime, residents say they are packing up and ready to get out of harm’s way.

For more information on NJ or PA related mold issues, contact MasterTech Environmental at 856-942-1244 or click here.

Copyright 2011 WOIO. All rights reserved. Courtesy of 19 Action News in Sheffield, Ohio.
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Is mechanical ventilation necessary in my attic?

Is mechanical ventilation necessary in a New Jersey attic?

In a nutshell: Yes.

Because Mother Nature is partially responsible for the air-exchange in all houses, it is important that we understand how she does her work. Naturally occurring pressures cause an exchange of air in houses. Keep in mind that positive and negative pressures themselves are neither good nor bad, but they can have positive or negative effects. For example, they can cause fresh air to enter a house (a positive effect) or they can cause pollution- or moisture-related problems (a negative effect).

The easiest source of natural pressure for people to visualize is the wind. The pressures from the wind cause infiltration through random holes in the house like soffit vents and gable wall vents. Stack effect is just as common a pressure in causing air to move through houses as the wind, but it isn’t as well-recognized. Stack effect is sometimes called chimney effect and is based on the principle that warm air rises. Warm air has fewer molecules per cubic foot than cool air. Thus, warm air is less dense (lighter) than cool air, so warm air rises up above cool air. If a house is airtight (no random holes), then it doesn’t matter how much pressure there is because of wind or stack effect—there will not be enough air movement between the indoors and outdoors.

Air-exchange rate is the measure of the speed of the exchange of air between indoors and outdoors. Wind and stack effect are the most significant natural pressures that cause air to move through houses. In contrast, diffusion is insignificant. Builders often use plastic sheeting in walls as a diffusion retarder, slowing the movement of water vapor through the wall. Such a retarder will also slow down considerably the movement of air. Because natural pressures are not continuous or predictable, they will only move air through a house in an equally unpredictable manner.

As with natural pressures, accidental pressures can cause pollution or moisture-related problems. It isn’t unusual for there to be a great deal of infiltration and exfiltration whenever the forced-air heating or cooling system is running. Leaky ducts provide accidental ventilation that can be excessive, resulting in high heating/cooling bills.

Diffusion is the scattering of air particles through a material, or from one area to another. In addition to all the ways air enters and leaves a house naturally and accidentally, there are mechanical systems specifically designed to ventilate houses using controlled pressures. This is controlled ventilation—in other words, ventilation on purpose – and it is the only way to exchange the air in houses that is consistent, reliable, and predictable.

Many modern building codes dictate that houses be built purposefully airtight – for comfort, energy efficiency, and moisture control reasons. Actually, a lot of the houses we inspect each week are too air tight. A great example would be a 4 year old home in Sewell, NJ that I recently inspected for mold. This house had both gable wall vents and a ridge vent in the attic, but still ended up with severe mold contamination on the roof sheathing. The problem? No mechanical ventilation. Cool air came in… and stayed in. That same cool air mixed with the warm air in the attic and cause condensation on the roof sheathing. Without proper air circulation, the roof sheathing stayed damp long enough to promote mold growth – and a $7800 mold remediation bill.

If you have an attic without mechanical ventilation, you may be asking for trouble, In my opinion, it is absolutely necessary and it could save you money in the long run on utility bills.

Seems like a no-brainer, right? For more info on attic vents and attic mold in New Jersey, go to MasterTech Environmental.

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Health Effects of Mold in New Jersey Homes and Businesses

Most people do not realize just how dangerous mold can be if you live in a contaminated home or work in a contaminated building for prolonged periods of time. Elevated levels of mold can cause some health complications that most people are not aware of and of course, some home sellers (whose homes for sale are sometimes contaminated) are skeptical. They want proof, when there is quite a lot of evidence that proves that the mycotoxins produced by mold cause diseases in human beings.

The inhalation of a large amount of mold spores can cause significant health problems like allergy symptoms, asthma, colds, coughing incessantly, bleeding in the lungs (particularly in infants or pets), trouble breathing, and even cancer. Problems with the central nervous system of a person are also known to be a problem. Problems with vision, chronic or excessive fatique, mood swings, hives, headaches, sinus problems, tremors, trouble speaking, vomiting, and vertigo have been known to occur. A recent study even shows that children who are exposed to molds and workers who are exposed to them in working environments are more likely to develop asthma. A condition that affects the lungs like hypersensitivity pneumonitis is developed by inhaling the mold spores (or anything like dust or other fungus spores) for prolonged periods of time.

If the air conditions that cause the condition are not improved significantly or the person is not removed from the situation, the lungs can become irreparably damaged and cannot function. This is one of many serious conditions that can be caused due to prolonged exposure to mold. Basically, there are more health complications associated with mold than you can shake a stick at and most people do not realize that there are this many problems associated with mold growing in their homes. They think that it is not that big of a deal and can afford to put off getting it removed from their homes or that they can not afford to relocate until it is removed.

The fact is that if you are a healthy adult, you might be able to hold up for a short period of time in these conditions before it starts to take its toll on you, but your baby, elderly relative living with you, or your pet very well may not. It is best not to take chances with your or your familys health. Do whatever is necessary to get out of the mold contaminated home or apartment or have it removed as soon as possible.

For more information on mold in New Jersey, contact MasterTech Environmental at 856-220-5334.

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Homeowners Insurance: Is Mold Covered?

Whether mold is covered by homeowners insurance often comes down to the source of moisture and the wording of a policy.

Mold strikes fear into the hearts of those who’ve heard horror stories about toxic mold, expensive mold remediation, and denied homeowners insurance claims. Yet mold can be found anywhere, including in most homes in New Jersey.

Mold needs moisture to thrive. Problems can arise for homeowners when the presence of persistent moisture goes undetected or unresolved, leading to widespread mold growth. Moisture can result from (amongst other things) high indoor humidity, flooding, or a leaky roof or dishwasher.

Whether mold damage is covered by homeowners insurance often comes down to the source of that moisture. Take an hour or two to review the language of your policy, especially as it pertains to water damage. Look for mold exclusions or limitations. Call your agent if the wording is unclear.

Mold and homeowners insurance:

Most basic homeowners insurance policies exclude coverage of damage caused by mold, fungi, and bacteria, yet that doesn’t mean a mold claim will be denied automatically.

In most cases, if mold results from a sudden and accidental covered peril, such as a pipe bursting, the cost of remediation should be covered. That’s because technically the pipe burst is the reason for the claim, not the mold itself. Claims are more likely to be rejected if mold is caused by neglected home maintenance: long-term exposure to humidity, or repeated water leaks and seepage.

It’s hard to put a precise dollar figure on mold damage because most insurers don’t separate mold claims from water-damage claims. About 22% of all homeowners insurance claims result from “water damage and freezing,” a category that includes mold remediation. A 2003 report on mold put the cost of the average mold insurance claim between $15,000 and $30,000, at least five times the average non-mold homeowners claim at that time.

After a rush of mold claims in the early 2000s, most states adopted limitations on mold coverage. Amounts vary, but a typical homeowners policy might cover between $1,000 and $10,000 in mold remediation and repair. Most policies won’t cover mold related to flood damage. For that, homeowners need separate flood insurance, which averages $540 per year through the National Flood Insurance Program.

Damage done by an inch of floodwater:

Replace carpet, flooring $2,700
New baseboard molding $2,250
Replace drywall $1,350
Cleanup, materials $1,000
Bookshelves, lamps $500
Total $7,800 –

Source: National Flood Insurance Program

Is extra mold coverage necessary?

It might be possible to purchase a mold rider as an add-on to your existing homeowners policy. Ask your agent. A rider will offer additional mold coverage. Cost and your personal risk-tolerance are the driving factors behind a decision.

Premiums will vary based on where you live and the value of your house. You could pay from $500 to $1,500 a year for a rider on an existing policy. Prices tend to climb in humid southern climates, and in Texas and California, where there have been high-profile mold cases. New Jersey Mold Insurance prices have been relatively consistent over the past 10 years.

In general, older homes in humid climates where mold thrives will be more costly to insure than newer constructions in a dry climate. In particular, homes built within the past five years are likely constructed with mold-resistant wood, drywall, and paints. Newer homes are also less susceptible to water infiltration. (At least they should be)

If your insurance carrier isn’t willing to provide a rider because the risk is too great, specialty companies such as Unitrin might sell you a standalone mold policy. Brace yourself for a hefty price tag. Annual premiums for a standalone mold policy might range from $5,000 to $25,000. Weigh the cost against risk factors including the age and value of your home, its construction, and the prevalence of mold issues in your area.

Moisture prevention is the key

The surest way to avoid having a claim denied is keeping mold at bay in the first place. Preventing mold and eliminating mold when it does occur are critical to protecting the value of your home.

To help prevent mold growth in your home, I suggest taking the following steps:

Lower indoor humidity with air conditioners, dehumidifiers, and exhaust fans.
Inspect hoses and fittings for leaks on appliances, sinks, and toilets.
Use household cleaners with mold-killing ingredients (where applicable).
Opt for paints and primers that contain mold inhibitors.
Clean gutters to avoid overflow and check roof for leaks.
Avoid carpet in wet areas like basements and bathrooms.
Remove and dry carpet, padding, and upholstery within 48 hours of flooding.

For more information on Mold Related issues in New Jersey, contact MasterTech Environmental at 856-220-5334 or email us here.

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10 Ways to Prevent Costly Mold Damage to Your New Jersey Home

It’s no wonder homeowners fear a mold diagnosis: Besides the health problems mold causes, the cost of an extensive mold remediation project can reach five figures.

You can’t totally eliminate mold from your home no matter how vigilant you are, because mold spores are always present in indoor air, particularly in more humid areas of the country such as the Southeast and Northwest. What you can control—by spending an hour or two inspecting key areas of your house and investing in a humidity monitor—is the moisture that allows spores to colonize.

Eliminate clutter
1. Pare down your stuff. “Clutter creates microclimates where humidity is higher than the ambient humidity in the room,” says Jason Yost, owner of Solutions Indoor Environmental Consulting in Terre Haute, Ind. “Mold develops because clutter blocks airflow, and your HVAC system can’t process air properly.”

2.  Don’t obstruct air return and supply grilles with furniture or draperies. Surfaces adjacent to grilles cool to temperatures well below your thermostat setting and well below the dew point for the room, meaning condensation is likely.

Control the indoor climate
Mold problems often emerge in summer, when outside air tends to be humid. (If you have a window air conditioning unit, baseboard heating, or other localized devices and suspect you have moisture problems, consult an HVAC or mold inspection professional for guidance.)

3. Keep the thermostat set at a moderate level in summer. Set it too high, and the air conditioner won’t run often enough to dehumidify your air effectively; set it too low, and you create cold surfaces where water vapor can condense.

To maximize energy efficiency, most electric utilities recommend setting the thermostat around 78 degrees F; this setting is also optimal for preventing moisture problems.

4. Never keep windows or doors open while the air conditioner is on. This introduces humid outside air into a sharply cooler environment, which can cause condensation. When you go on vacation, don’t bump the thermostat up to 85 degrees—or, worse, turn the air conditioning off entirely. That tiny utility bill savings would be dwarfed by the cost of a mold remediation if your indoor air weren’t sufficiently dehumidified. (Eighty degrees is recommended; if you have a window unit, leave it on at the lowest setting.)

5. Make sure your air-conditioning unit is properly sized for your house. Some HVAC contractors recommend oversized units for quick cooling, but this might remove less humidity from the air. Consult Energy Star to find out what size unit you really need.

6. Supplement an old air-conditioning unit that isn’t removing as much moisture with a dehumidifier. 

Monitor moisture
To see if you need a dehumidifier, measure humidity—the amount of water vapor in the air compared with the total amount it can hold. Start with an under-$20 monitor from various online retailers, Yost says. More sophisticated and expensive models—ranging from $45 to $300—have remote sensors that simultaneously track several rooms all over the house, which is useful if you have basements, crawl spaces, or other areas that you don’t visit often.

An ideal indoor reading is between 35% and 50% relative humidity; in very humid climates in the height of summer, you may get readings closer to 55%. But if you reach 60% relative humidity, it’s time to look for the source of the moisture. Above 70% relative humidity, certain species of mold can begin growing on surfaces even if water isn’t visible.

7. If you get a high humidity reading, check your air conditioner first.

Is it set to the proper temperature?
Is it cycling on and off periodically?
Does it blow cold air when it reaches the set point?

8. Check that the condensate drain pipe (the narrow white pipe sticking out the side) is dripping regularly. If it isn’t, the pipe is blocked, water may be accumulating inside the unit, or the unit isn’t working correctly. If you suspect a problem, call your HVAC professional.

9. If the air conditioner isn’t the issue, look for signs of standing water or chronically damp soil in your crawl space or basement or near your foundation.

10. If you have a crawl space, make sure you have a plastic vapor barrier covering the dirt floor and that it’s intact. Moisture below the house affects the humidity indoors by infiltrating unsealed penetration points, such as where electrical conduits and plumbing enter the house. Water can even diffuse through plywood and finished flooring—and you won’t necessarily see wet spots when this happens.

Find a qualified pro
If you can’t find the moisture problem on your own, or you aren’t sure how to correct a problem you do find, it’s a good idea to call an indoor air quality consultant. Look for credentials from a respected industry organization, such as the American Society of Home Inspectors or the Indoor Air Quality Association. A house call will likely run $250 or more.

Keep in mind the mold field is largely unregulated, so there are few industry norms for pricing.

Mold and insurance
Mold remediation isn’t necessarily covered by homeowners insurance, which typically pays only if the problem results from a sudden emergency already covered on your policy, such as a burst pipe. Insurance usually doesn’t pay if the problem results from deferred maintenance or floodwaters (unless you have flood insurance).

Water emergencies
A note about emergency situations: If you have a flood or a leaking or burst pipe, act immediately to remove the water and run a dehumidifier—don’t wait for an insurance adjuster, inspector, or water extraction/mold remediation company to arrive. But take photos or video of any damage for your insurer.

The main thing to remember is to monitor moisture before problems develop—and if something seems wrong, don’t hesitate to call for professional help.

For more information on Mold Related issues, contact MasterTech Environmental at 856-220-5334 or email us here.


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Nothing poses a greater long-term risk to your home’s value than a wet basement. If left unchecked, basement moisture can ruin floors and walls, encourage mold, even damage roofing. Some wet basements are easy to cure, simply by making sure gutters stay clear and by diverting gutter water well away from the foundation. But if the problem comes from other sources—water flowing toward the house on the surface, seeping in from underground, or backing up through municipal storm drains—you’ve got to take more aggressive action. Here’s help with figuring out what may be causing your water trouble, and eight basement waterproofing strategies to try, from the simplest and least expensive to the most challenging and costly.

1. Add underground piping
If downspouts are dumping too close to the house, you can get water the recommended five feet or more away from the foundation by adding roll-out plastic or metal gutter extenders. But they aren’t the neatest or most effective long-term solution, especially if you’re likely to trip on them or run over them with a lawnmower. Permanent underground piping is invisible and capable of moving large quantities of runoff much farther from your house. For about $10 a foot, a landscaper or waterproofing contractor will dig a trench and install piping to carry the water safely away.

2. Plug gaps
If you see water dribbling into the basement through cracks or gaps around plumbing pipes, you can plug the openings yourself with hydraulic cement or polyurethane caulk for less than $20. Plugs work when the problem is simply a hole that water oozes through, either from surface runoff or from wet soil. But if the water is coming up through the floor, or at the joint where floor and walls meet, the problem is ground water, and plugs won’t do the trick. For that, see Solutions #5 though #7 below.

3. Restore the crown
If the gutters are working and you’ve plugged obvious holes, but you still see water dribbling into your basement or crawl space from high on the foundation walls, then surface water isn’t draining away from the house as it should. Your house should sit on a “crown” of soil that slopes at least six inches over the first 10 feet in all directions. Over time, the soil around the foundation may have settled. All you need to do to build it back up is shovel in more dirt. One cubic yard of a water-shedding clay-loam mix from a landscape supply house costs around $30 (plus delivery) and is enough for a two-foot-wide, three-inch-deep layer along 57 feet of foundation.

4. Reshape the landscape
If you can’t add soil without bringing it too close to the siding—six inches is the minimum safe distance to protect against rot and termites—then you may be able to redirect surface water before it reaches the house by creating a berm (a mound of dirt) or a swale (a wide, shallow ditch). In small areas, berms are easy; a landscape contractor can build one for a few hundred dollars. On bigger projects, berms make less sense because you’ll have to truck in too much soil. In that case, dig a swale (about $1,000).  Once landscaping grows in, berms and swales can be attractive features in your yard.

5. Repair footing drains
If water is leaking into your basement low on the walls or at the seams where walls meet the floor, your issue isn’t surface water, it’s hydrostatic pressure pushing out water within the ground. The first thing to do is check whether you have footing drains, underground pipes installed when the house was built to carry water away from the foundation. (Look for a manhole or drain in the basement floor or a cleanout pipe capped a few inches above the floor.) The drains may be clogged, in which case you can try opening the cleanout and flushing the pipes with a garden hose. If that doesn’t work, a plumber with an augur can often do the job for about $600.

6. Install a curtain drain around the house
If you don’t have footing drains or can’t get the existing ones to function, there’s one more thing you can try before you invest in a costly interior or exterior basement waterproofing system: Install a curtain drain to divert water that’s traveling underground toward your house. A type of French drain, a curtain drain is a shallow trench filled with gravel and piping that intercepts water uphill of your house and carries it down the slope a safe distance away.

7. Pump the water out from the inside
If you can’t keep subsurface water out, then you have to address it on the inside. To create an interior drain system, crews saw a channel around the perimeter of the floor, chip out the concrete, and lay perforated pipe in the hole. The pipe drains to collection tank at the basement’s low spot, where a sump pump sends it away. Starting at about $3,000, an interior system may be the least expensive and disruptive option if you have an unfinished basement with easy access, or a lot of mature landscaping that digging for an exterior system would destroy.

8. Waterproof from the outside
Installing an interior drainage system gets the water out but doesn’t actually waterproof the walls. For that, you need an exterior system: a French drain to relieve hydrostatic pressure and exterior waterproofing to protect the foundation. It’s a big job that requires excavating around the house, but it may be the best solution if you have a foundation with numerous gaps where water is getting through. It also keeps the mess and water outside, which may be your choice if you don’t want to tear up a finished basement. The downside, besides a price tag that can reach $20,000, is that your yard takes a beating, and you may need to remove decks or walkways.

For more information on Mold Related issues in New Jersey, contact MasterTech Environmental by phone at 856-220-5334 or email us here.

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You don’t need to be a house inspector to know that puddles in the basement or a lake on the front lawn are signs of drainage trouble. But not all drainage problems are so obvious. Some can be hard to spot unless you know what to look for. Here’s how the pros read seven of the more subtle signs of potential water damage, and why you’ll save big bucks if you tackle these problems now instead of later.

1. Malfunctioning gutters
Rain cascading over the edge of a gutter means that dead leaves and debris are blocking the flow. But that’s not the only sign of malfunctioning gutters. Mud spattered on siding or paint peeling off the house in vertical strips are other indications. If left unchecked, overflowing gutters can rot siding, ruin paint jobs, even cause structural damage.

Best case: Leaves are clogging the downspout, and you just need to clear them out or hire a pro to do it (about $75).

Worst case: Gutters are undersized or improperly pitched and need to be replaced or reinstalled. That could run a few thousand dollars, but it’s still cheaper than new siding.

2. Downspouts that dump near foundation walls
Each inch of rain that falls on 1,000 square feet of a house produces more than 600 gallons of runoff, enough to fill 10 bathtubs to the brim. Dumping that much water too close to the foundation can send it right into the basement, where it can ruin furnishings and flooring and damage mechanical equipment.

Best case: You can add gutter extensions (about $10 for a 10-foot length) to carry the water at least five feet away from the house.

Worst case: The downspouts drop straight down behind large shrubs or other obstacles. An installer may be able to relocate the downspouts (about $150 for each one moved). If not, you’ll need to uproot landscaping to add extensions or underground piping—a sacrifice worth considering if you’ve got water infiltrating the basement.

3. Water stains in the basement
Depending on where the stain appears, you can tell whether the problem is caused by surface water, which can be easy to deal with, or water traveling underground, a more complex situation.

Best case: Stains are high on the foundation wall, indicating that the water is coming (or once came) from an overflowing gutter or surface water directed at the house.

Worst case: The stain extends in a line around the basement, indicating a high-water mark that may recur when heavy rains hit, either because of underground water or because the basement floor lies below the level of municipal storm drains that back up. In that case, an interior drain system and sump pump (around $3,000) are essential for getting the water out if the problem can’t be resolved some other way.

4. Cracks in the foundation
Hairline cracks, as thin as thread, are just cosmetic. Bigger cracks may or may not spell trouble. It depends on the width of the crack, how deep it penetrates, and whether it’s growing.

Best case: A crack appears where the builders finished installing one load of concrete and began pouring the next. Such cracks usually don’t penetrate all the way through. And even if they do, as long as they’re stable you can patch them with hydraulic cement or polyurethane caulk for less than $20.

Worst case: Cracks are continuing to widen, indicating that a drainage problem may be ruining the foundation. Call a structural engineer (not a contractor or waterproofing expert) to diagnose the problem, assess the risk, and suggest a repair.

5. Flaking and deposits on walls
If you see areas of white or gray crust on the basement walls, that’s efflorescence, mineral deposits left behind by evaporating water. Or the wall may be flaking off in big patches, a condition called spalling.

Best case: The efflorescence points to a place where moisture is condensing. It doesn’t cause structural problems, but you may want to scrape off the crust if it looks ugly.

Worst case: The wall is spalling because water is getting inside the masonry. Spalling can be just superficial, but if it’s deep and widespread, it may be a sign of freeze/thaw damage that could progressively weaken the foundation.

6. Mildew in the attic
The attic might seem like a strange place to look for drainage problems, but mildew on the underside of the roof can be a tipoff to serious trouble at the ground level.

Best case: Bathroom fans are spewing hot air directly into the attic, where it condenses on the cold back side of the roof and causes mildew. Venting the fan through an outside wall or the roof (about $200) solves the problem.

Worst case: Moisture from the basement or crawl space is rising through the house and condensing on the underside of the roof. In that case, you’ve got to find and stop the source of the dampness under the house. Then you may have to replace roof sheathing and shingles, a job that runs $6,000 to $9,000 for the typical house.

7. Migrating mulch
When soil doesn’t drain properly, rain may run off in sheets, carving gulleys in the landscape, dumping silt on pathways, and carrying piles of mulch or wood chips where they don’t belong.

Best case: For a few hundred dollars, you can hire a landscaper to create a simple berm (a soil mound) or swale (a wide, shallow ditch) to redirect the water flow away from the house.

Worst case: You notice the problem when your concrete patio cracks, or paving stones start popping up, because the gravel or sand base material has washed away. After redirecting the water, you’ll need to excavate the patio and start again.

For more information on Mold Related issues in New Jersey, contact MasterTech Environmental by phone at 856-220-5334 or email us here.

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