by Glenn Haege, America’s Master Handyman
A commercial running on my favorite radio station starts with the sound of water, then a sleepy voiced woman says, "What’s that?"
An equally sleepy man says, "Oh no, one of the pipes must have burst, but I don’t know where." Cue the announcer: "Call ABC Plumbing Royal Oak …"
Let me ask you one question: Who wakes up whom and asks what’s wrong when nobody’s home at your house? Nobody, right?
This is the holiday season. Like the song says, multitudes of us are going "over the river and through the woods" to grandmother’s house. Multitudes more will be going on cruises and minivacations. Snowbirds are heading South.
When all these wonderful things happen, there is no one to ask, "What’s wrong?"
How big a deal is this? Let me introduce exhibit "A." This could be your bathroom after you’ve been away for a couple weeks. I’m sorry you can’t see this picture in color. It is a delightful collection of blues, greens, blacks, grays, yellows, browns and oranges.
Little monsters didn’t spray graffiti and it is not some kind of weirdo wallpaper. This is a picture of a bathroom turned mold garden.
When the homeowner returned after two weeks he found that a water pipe had burst and flooded the area. Upon reporting the disaster his insurance adjuster wanted to have the walls washed down and repainted.
Luckily the homeowner was an independent kind of guy and said, "No." He fought the insurance company for two solid months. During this period Connie Morbach of Sanit-Air in Troy, (888) 778-7324, was brought into the fray. Among other things she took this picture. She also took mold and air samples.
Morbach warns that if this should ever happen in your home insist that air quality be checked by an independent testing company of your choice, not the insurance company’s.
On this house, Morbach had her colleague, microbiologist Terry Baker, of T. Baker & Associates in Flint, grow mold cultures and identify various species. His findings included the following cast of characters: Penicillium chrysogenium, and Gliomastix murorum, as well as Bacillus, Mucor, Stachybotrys, Stapylococcus, Corynebacterium, Micrococcus, and Cladosporium spores, and Gram negative bacteria.
The only thing all those names tell me is that I wouldn’t want to be down wind of the place. Stachybotrys is probably the best known. It is a slimy black mold associated with crib deaths, dermatitis, immunosuppression, and hemorrhaging among other things. Many are considered carcinogenic.
Remember the insurance company just wanted to wash and repaint the walls.
The clothes in a closet adjoining the room had a fuzzy green hue. The owner said he was going to have them all dry-cleaned. Morbach told him that the only place those clothes should go was a toxic waste dump.
The entire area had to be sealed air tight while folks in moon suits and facemask respirators came in, tore out the drywall, sanitized everything with anti-microbials and encapsulated the entire area. All waste had to be double bagged before being transported to the dump.
The reason I am writing this is to demonstrate what water damage can do to your house in just two weeks.
It doesn’t have to be a burst pipe. Remember last winter? Heavy snow can cause water to invade the house through the roof, or cracks in the windows or walls. A sudden snowmelt can cause sewers to back up. A toilet can overflow. All are invitations to disaster.
According to Morbach of Sanit-Air time is critical. Severe damage can usually be averted if discovery is made and drying started within 48 hours of the occurrence.
This means that it is best to have a trusted friend or neighbor inspect your house two or three times a week. If you are on a cruise or some place where they can not get in touch with you, they should be empowered to start drying immediately.
The water has to be stopped and the area drained and dried. Large fans should be set up to assist in drying. If water has gotten between the walls, they have to be opened and drained. Water soaked drywall should be removed.
You might be tempted to turn off the water at the meter to keep your house safe. This is not a good idea if you will be away for more than a week. Your house needs water. Without it, the furnace humidifier cannot function. Desert dry air is very hard on floors and furniture. The seals in toilets and dishwashers have to be kept moist.
Before you go, set the thermostat to sixty degrees in older houses and fifty degrees Fahrenheit in newer ones (not more than ten years old). Sweet-talk a trusted friend into inspecting the basement and every room of the house a couple of times a week. Once a month they should flush the toilets and pour a glass of water into the dishwasher. Tell them not to leave until the toilet water tanks have completely refilled and they can hear that the water has stopped.
Hopefully nothing will happen and they will have had a totally boring job. You still owe them a big favor when you get home. Oh, one thing more, have a nice trip.