Our Note This is a sad story of mold exposure, ruined health and financial devastation and a dream of home ownership torn away for a family. The missing part of the story is that regular home inspections do not include environmental issues. Firms like Envirospect? do the kind of environmental assessments that can protect consumers from these problems.
Back in 2009, Deborah Rumberger saw homeownership
as the key to providing stability for her two young daughters, then 13
and 7. A few days before Halloween that year, after months of house
hunting, she found the one: a 100-year-old Victorian home in Helena,
It wasn't easy. For starters, her budget didn't allow for
a ton of options within a safe neighborhood. "And I just wasn't
interested in a lot of the homes I could
afford," she says. It's why she initially thought the two-story
property she would later purchase for $173,500 was too good to be true —
but she pushed her doubts to the back of her mind and bought it anyway.
first night, after an exhausting day of unpacking, she tucked her kids
into bed and crawled under the sheets. Instead of sleep, however, "I got
so sick I thought I was going to die," Rumberger recalls. Her heart
started pounding and her mouth went dry. All night long, she kept
wanting to get up, but she felt so stiff she was barely able to move.
The next morning, a thought made her go white: There's something wrong with this house.
That same day, Rumberger started calling everyone she
could think of to try to get out of her mortgage: the realtors, the
bank, the title company, everyone. "Nobody cared," she says. "They
chalked it up to buyer's remorse or stress from moving."
By the end of November, after about 30 days in her new home,
Rumberger was constantly exhausted — more than the usual fatigue that
comes with working and raising two children. One night her chest hurt so
badly that she went to the emergency room, convinced she was having a
heart attack. Another time she rushed herself to the hospital when her
limbs went completely numb. By January, she noticed troublesome changes
in her daughters, too. Her eldest was acting depressed, complaining of
an itchy scalp and had frequent nose bleeds. Her youngest had sinus
problems for the first time in her life, along with acid reflux and
Terrified over what was happening to her
family, and convinced her house was the problem, Rumberger continued
contacting her realtor, her bank, her title company, her inspector and
her doctors. Finally, that spring, she found help in a neighbor named
Clara Holliday. Holliday introduced her to the homeowner who lived in
the house before the family that sold it to Rumberger — and that's when she learned about the home's 20-year history with flooding and mold.
Rumberger learned through this previous homeowner
that the second-floor plumbing had once been re-routed through the
attic. The problem was the attic wasn't heated, which can lead to frozen
pipes. Frozen pipes can crack and leak when they expand in warmer
weather, which Rumberger suspects happened during a particularly bad
winter in 1989, when no one was residing in the home.
Pantazes, co-founder of EFynch, a handyman community in Baltimore, says
he's seen basements result in mold just days after a significant
flooding. Rumberger, however, was living in the home 20 years after unresolved flood damage.
The old homeowner urged Rumberger to search her home for mold, starting with the tub in her bathroom.
didn't have to search long. "I peeled back the plastic lining and it
was filled with mold," she says. Next, she pulled down nearby drywall
and tore up part of the carpet. Everything was covered in toxic black
"At first, I felt relief and thought 'aha!' I knew
something was going on," she says. "But at the time, I still didn't
understand how damaging and dangerous toxic mold is."
Dr. Ann Shippy, a Texas-based physician and author of Mold Toxicity Workbook: Assess Your Environment & Create a Recovery Plan, says
every one of Rumberger's symptoms — fatigue, weakness, headaches,
morning stiffness and joint pain — is textbook mold toxicity. "Mold
produces chemicals, like microtoxins and microbial volatile organic
compounds that have seriously dangerous side effects," she explains. "A
lot of people think you're only affected by mold spores if you're
allergic to them, but mold makes chemicals that build up in your body."
This is why Rumberger's two daughters didn't feel sick until a couple of
months after the move — it sometimes takes time to notice the symptoms
of mold toxicity.
After discovering the mold in her bathroom, Rumberger
convinced a home inspector to come over that very same day. A moisture
mirror, which helps identify mold behind the walls, showed evidence of
growth all over the house. Her homeowner's insurance didn't cover prior
mold or water damage, so she was looking at an $80,000 price tag to
remediate her home from top to bottom. "When I heard that, I knew it
wasn't a possibility," she says.
She wasn't ready to give up on
her dream house, so Rumberger decided to do the remediation on her own.
She rented a negative air pressure machine (which draws the mold spores
out of the house), along with suits, goggles and other supplies for a
total of $500.
But once she got to work, stirring up the mold
made the family's symptoms even worse. By June, they started camping in
the backyard, only going inside to use the restroom. "By July I couldn't
even go inside the house, because it felt like there were so many
spores that they would attack anything moist, including us," she says.
to Dr. Shippy, she's right: "When you open up a wall with mold, you
send a lot of a very powerful chemicals into the air that you breathe
into your lungs, so they go straight into circulation." Just like
doctors have found one of the most effective ways to get medication into
someone quickly is though the lungs (verses digestion, which filters
through the liver first), this makes these chemicals in the air even
Camping lasted a month, until they got rained out. With no nearby
family to turn to, they moved into the local YMCA. They'd spend the next
year sleeping in cheap motels, at her co-worker's house and late,
renting two bedrooms over a garage before finally ending up in the
apartment where they live today.
In June 2010, around the same time Rumberger was
forced to move her family into their backyard, she decided to take legal
action. "I held off for a while, because I thought 'we don't want to do
litigation, we can fix this,'" she remembers. But, financially, she
didn't see any other way out.
Rumberger filed against four parties
she believes knew about the mold before the sale. "It took almost six
years, I had five or six lawyers during that time and it was almost as
hard as the mold exposer," she says. Even though they settled to the
mutual satisfaction of all parties, Rumberger doesn't think she'd do it
"We were able to get out of debt, but let's just say we're
still tenants and our lifestyle didn't change much," she says. The only
positives Rumberger saw from the settlement was being able to afford
some much-needed medical treatment and finally being able to put this
experience behind her once and for all.
Then, in December 2010, Rumberger also convinced her bank to suspend
the mortgage payments she still owed and sold the house (with full
disclosure about the mold), ultimately incurring an almost $80,000 loss —
about the same amount as the initial remediation estimate, but with a
lot more headaches.
The new owners finished
remediating the mold, completely rebuilt the interior and turned it into
a three-unit rental, which Rumberger still drives by today. "For the
longest time, we'd just avoid that road and wouldn't drive down it," she
says. But now, on occasion, she gets the urge to see the house in which
she thought she'd grow old.
As for Rumberger and her daughters,
they still live in the same apartment they moved into a year after
fleeing their Victorian dream home. They've been renting it for more
than five years and, even if it was financially feasible, Rumberger
doesn't see herself buying again. "We lost a lot of years of our lives
and still have some health issues," she says. "But it's just one of
those things we have to come to terms with and move beyond."
Pantazes says if an inspector doesn't see mold with their own eyes,
they don't have to disclose it. But that doesn't mean potential buyers
can't look for their own clues, such as patches in the walls,
discoloration, walls that bow and bend and just general poor home
maintenance. "Little signs will show you if the owner is a person who
took care of their home," he says.
Another thing Rumberger says
shouldn't be underestimated: your gut. "My older daughter didn't have a
great feeling about the house, but we just shook it off." Today, she
wishes she listened to her daughter's instincts, which might have spared
them the entire ordeal. "Our American Dream became a nightmare, but the
biggest lesson I learned is when to hold up, when to fold up and when
to run away."
Recalled Appliances, and Believe it or Not the CPSC Does Not Have a Search
Let’s take one of the most recommended household appliances, the dehumidifier
as an example
inspectors, mold testers and remediators and medical practitioners advise to
use a dehumidifier to avoid mold. Mold grows the most when humidity is above
45% RH. Less moisture in the air, less mold in the home and a healthier
dehumidifier makes sense when you look at it that way. Who wants a child to
have more Asthma attacks? Who wants mold and odor in the basement? GREAT
You know the
old fire and water theme? Well, here is the rub with dehumidifiers. There are
millions of them in service that could catch your home on fire. Now you would
think you could just and look up dehumidifiers and know which ones to purchase.
Will Not Believe the List of Recalled Dehumidifier Brands
Well, here is
a list of the brands that have at least one model under recall:
Danby, De'Longhi, Fedders, Fellini, Frigidaire, GE, Gree, Kenmore, Norpole,
Premiere, Seabreeze, SoleusAir ,SuperClima. LG, Goldstar, Comfort-Aire, CEM,,
brands were accumulated from a less than five minute Google search. There are
more brands with recalls, but this was a long enough list to make a point.
should check their home for recalls on their appliances. It doesn’t happen very
often. Nobody wakes up in a morning and says I am going to spend the day
searching the CPCS site, one recall at time to see if my appliance is listed.
The solution is to use the event of the home inspection as the opportunity to
do this important chore. Recalls are not always about fires and injury. They
can also be the result of defects that if know can result in the manufacturer
paying for repairs instead of a homeowner.
How to Check Your Home
The best way
to do this is to use a Home Inspector that offers the ReCallChek service at no
additional cost as a part of the home inspection.
is in the process of having a home inspection conducted.
If you are concerned about your safety or have an appliance then needs repair,
the second-best way is to do to a RecallChek portal such as
www.ApplianceRecallCheck.com and enter model and serial numbers yourself for a
small fee for all of the appliances in your home.
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Meeting with and insurance adjuster can be a very scary thing for a couple
of reasons. The insurance companies are in the business of making a profit, not
paying claims. They get to keep what money is left after claims to pay their
bills and executives.
Another issue, particularly after a
catastrophic event like hurricanes, earthquakes and fires is because there are
not enough local adjusters to handle all of the clams in the affected area. To
deal with that lack of local staffing, adjusters are brought in from across the
nation. Often they are uncomfortable because there are not enough hotel rooms,
they are overworked, poorly fed and yes, do not have local ties to your
community. They will never need to face an insured person they decline or treat
unfairly EVER again. And, oh yeh, ….the supervisor that looks at the payouts
from the company will be doing their next annual review
I have known many adjusters and companies that will give their insured every
last penny that they are owed, and sometimes a little extra just because they
are good companies and great professionals who will always do what is right.
However, as of this writing, there are reportedly some unpaid legitimate claims
from Hurricane Sandy, a hurricane that happened on the east coast years ago.
Bottom line, some companies are very fair, some
not so much. In any instance, the adjuster has your life in their hands.
If you can get a copy of your policy, READ
IT BEFORE MEETING WITH THE ADJUSTER
Take the information that you find in the
policy and categorize your loss by the type of event that caused the damage. If
that sounds complicated, let me explain.
For almost every insurance policy, you
need “Flood Coverage” to cover flood damage. If you do not have that rider, all
may not be lost if you understand the areas where you do have coverage.
Wind damage is often covered. As an
example, if the roof blows off, that part of the loss may be covered even
though you did have some flooding.
Water damage from leaks other than flooding
is covered. Let’s say you have some flooding in a basement or lower level. You
also had shingles blow off of your roof and water damage in the upper level.
That damage may be covered.
In summary, read your policy and know how
each portion of your damage occurred.
If you are not treated fairly, there are
several paths you can take. Most policies allow for grievances to be filed for
review. Another option is engaging a “Public Adjuster” these are professional
adjusters who work on behalf of the homeowner that hires them. They review the
loss and the policy and advocate for what the policy should provide the insured
Hurricane Harvey is leaving his mark across the Gulf States. Flooding is still going on in a wide area and moving north. Waiting is one of the hardest tasks in life, especially when waiting for a disaster to end or to see if any of your precious belongings or treasures survived a disaster. This one will not end for years.
After the waiting is over, the first thing that we all want to do is get back to our homes after a tragedy. The smartest person taking the very best advice can’t negate the desire, (the very NEED) to see what is left after the natural tragedy.
We understand that, but hope you can follow these suggestions to avoid even more tragedy than what has occurred up to the point where a return into the home is possible.
· Do not enter unsafe structures
· Cut off electrical power until checked by an electrician
· Do not enter the home if the water has not subsided
· Do not enter the home until the gas is shut off
· Leave the gas line and gas appliances off until checked
· Do not use water damaged appliances until checked
· Wear gloves, mask, eye protection and good shoes
· Precious pictures and books can be preserved by freeze drying
· Take photographs of the damage for insurance use
No matter what the cause of water damage, quick action can protect your investment and treasures. Yes, I remember I just begged you to be patient and wait until it is safe to go into your home. That does not go well with telling you that quick action can minimize your loss. This is difficult, but health and safety trumps saving possessions.
childhood pictures, the rocking chair you remember your grandmother rocking in
or every important document you have like the deed to a home……..gone! ….
or so very wet and damaged that it can’t be saved.
is the reality for many people as the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey is sliding
off of the map and into the history books. This hurricane and others, along
with fires and auto accidents happen regularly to people just like you and me.
Tragic events happened last week, and will happen next week. As you read this,
you may even be one of the people whose life direction, including your home and
possessions were blown way off course by the wind and water swirling across the
Atlantic from the African Continent and leaving a destructive path in the
you are a victim of the Hurricane Harvey, or any other tragedy, here is what we
want you to know: We hold you in our thoughts and care that you are facing a
loss and the challenge of recovery.
many deaths already attributed to the storm have ripped open and left a gaping
hole in the hearts of loved ones that were a part of the lives of those that
died. We know and feel the losses you have had. Many of us have had to face
tragedy, and we are thankful that people do care and stand for the kind of help
that is a part of the American soul. We care too.
the next several days, we are going to do what we can to help. We will use this
social media platform to talk with you about the next steps. I recall the book
title “Bad Things Happen to Good People.” It is true. We have seen that too
want you to know what you can do to save precious belongings, how to make sure
that your insurance does for you what it should, and what you can do to help
keep your family healthy.
you for giving us the opportunity to give you whatever help we can. We are experts
in housing and environmental issues and are here to serve our clients in good
times and bad.
That means a lot to all of us. We know that
the next tragedy could be ours and we believe that you would do what you could
to help us. It is what makes this a good and decent nation at its very core.No Matter How Devastating a Disaster is, the Sun Will Come Out Again
Our Hope is that the Wait is Short
No Matter How Devastating a Disaster is, the Sun Will Come Out Again
Our Hope is that the Wait is Short