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hidden mold / elusive air quality issues


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Hey guys - I left a post earlier about the allergy symptoms my son and I developed, moving into a new house in January. And, I got some great feedback.

So, I've had the carpets cleaned downstairs, got humidity readers. had a deep cleaning of the house, had the ducts and coil cleaned, poked around in any non-paneled walls (concrete, downstairs - no moisture I could see, except a leak in the washing machine - I cleaned around that). I looked in the attic (not under insulation, though). I don't see anything, I don't smell anything, except a lingering new house smell in two bedrooms where floors/paint were done. The house feels stuffier than it should, it feels close, but not necessarily humid. But, the allergies persist and they leave us when we leave the house, for the most part.

Since it's wintertime, there's obviously the possibility of recirculated air from wherever. However, the conditions don't appear ripe for stuff to grow - AND, if it's hidden - how do you find it? How do you find something that you arent' sure is there.

If you're talking mold, the EPA, etc., says looking for it visually is the best way to go. But, if you hire a guy to look for it visually, he's usually a mold remediator from the get go. So, that's tricky. And, some folks try to sell me air purifiers for the hvac. I might have the air tested, but me thinks it simply adds another stage. No?

Any suggestions, appreciated!

Thank you sirs!

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Weren't you the folks who'd gone from baseboard heat to forced hot air? Maybe it's not a question of too much moisture but not enough. Perhaps you're simply not used to the dry eyes, throat and nose that one experiences with FHA heat. Have you tried a humidifier to see if it causes the symptoms to ease?

ONE TEAM - ONE FIGHT!!!

Mike

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Weren't you the folks who'd gone from baseboard heat to forced hot air? Maybe it's not a question of too much moisture but not enough. Perhaps you're simply not used to the dry eyes, throat and nose that one experiences with FHA heat. Have you tried a humidifier to see if it causes the symptoms to ease?

ONE TEAM - ONE FIGHT!!!

Mike

That was dissed and ignored in the other thread too.
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Good stuff, guys. I'm not sure who's dissing anyone though. I'm just driving for solutions. The open windows, for sure. But, hard to do when it's 20 degrees outside.

Right now, he humidity in here is about 30 percent And when we had a warm spell a couple weeks back and it was up around 55-60 - same symptoms. Definitely, the gas heat takes some getting used to. But, allergic reactions to gas heat? There's most definitely an allergic reaction to something in the house that my son and I both have - we never had 'em before, and they dissapate or disappear when we leave the house. So, I'm just trying to find out what it is - what we're allergic to. Who wouldn't?

Thanks for the reference, Jim. And, Kurt - yes, that could be a big part of it. Any other suggestions always welcome. Thank you!

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If not already present look into adding a fresh air makeup on the HVAC with a inteligent controller. This will help wash out the indoor pollutants with fresh air, moderate the humidity. One drawback is drawing in allergens during hay fever season, so make sure you know where the switch is to overide. This is the V - (ventilation) part of HVAC.

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If you couldn't see any mold in your old home and were never ill, and now you can't see any mold in this home, I don't see why mold would be a concern. It's around you 24/7 and you've been breathing it your entire life. I'd bet it is something else.

Are you allergic to pet dander? Perhaps the former owners had a dog or cat. Have you looked down in the bottom of the supply plenum to see if it's full of pet hair? I've looked inside dozens that turned my stomach.

Are the ducts holding water? I've been in about a half dozen houses over the years - some of them brand new - where water leaks had drained into the supply and return air ducts under the floors and stagnant water sat in those ducts producing god only knows what with air passing over the water. That can't have been healthy.

Have you checked with the local P.D. to see if the place had ever been occupied by meth heads? There have been some cases of folks unwittingly buying houses that had been used as meth labs and not figuring it out until they began experiencing symptoms.

Maybe it's cooties.

ONE TEAM - ONE FIGHT!!!

Mike

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Consider the possibility of low-grade carbon monoxide. You can be affected by levels well below that which will trigger a consumer grade detector. Have an HVAC contractor perform a combustion analysis, including measuring draft pressures according to BPI protocols.

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Thanks, guys. Good suggestions. Particularly about the previous house - when I analyze my previous rental digs - leaky roof, crawlspace with water, leaky sink, non-vented bathroom. So, why now? Ideas like the contaminants from the work I had done, gasses, etc., are good ones.

It's the not-knowing that makes it difficult, because one can spend his/her money and time in a million different places, looking for whatever it might or might not be.

So, thanks. I'll keep you posted!

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  • 2 weeks later...

In case you guys are curious....allergies are persisting. We've had warmer weather, so plenty of open windows. Got Jeffrey May's book, so thanks on that. He says most folks who have this problem have gas heat and/or carpet in the basement. I have both. Although the basement appears dry, I'll probably rip up the carpet. I keep scouring and doing home improvement tweaks as I go, but no smoking guns yet. Thanks again.

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In case you guys are curious....allergies are persisting. We've had warmer weather, so plenty of open windows. Got Jeffrey May's book, so thanks on that. He says most folks who have this problem have gas heat and/or carpet in the basement. I have both. Although the basement appears dry, I'll probably rip up the carpet. I keep scouring and doing home improvement tweaks as I go, but no smoking guns yet. Thanks again.

Nothing against Jeff, but I predict that you could rip up the carpet and get rid of the gas heat and your symptoms will still persist.

Get rid of the basement carpet anyway, though. It's a dumb place for carpeting.

Do you have potted plants?

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Yeah, I don't particularly care for the carpet anyway. My post up above tells the other stuff I've done. I also found an improperly vented bathroom fan in the attic, which I've had fixed. I poked around up there and didn't see any signs of condensation, moisture, mold. Didn't see anything - neither did the HVAC guys. I did just get a couple peace lilies, as they're VOC-crunching plants per NASA.

Anyways, same problem as before, trying to weed through the process of elimination. Checking things off the list, but not feeling closer to a solution.

For what it's worth, the humidity in the house never seems off the charts, as one guy said, it tends to be on the low side. It's been a really warm winter in nashville this year. But, the allergies appear to be consistent w any kind of weather and they definitely subside (for me and my son) away from the house.

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Are you allergic to any plants? Maybe it's not inside at all; maybe there's something outside the home that's producing pollen or some kind of spore that's being carried into the home on your clothes when you pass through/by it. Have you spoken to an allergist? Seems like an allergist should be able to pinpoint what it is that's causing it and then you can concentrate on finding that specific thing there.

ONE TEAM - ONE FIGHT!!!

Mike

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. . . I did just get a couple peace lilies, as they're VOC-crunching plants per NASA. . .

Actually, I was thinking that the plants might be related to the problem. An elderly couple once hired me to try to find out what was causing the wife's allergies. They were convinced that it was mold, but the mold inspector couldn't find anything. I noticed that they had about 60 potted plants in the house. They got rid of the plants and the health issues went away. I suppose it's possible that the potting soil contained mold or that the wife was simply allergic to one or more of the plants.

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No, it's not the plants. I only got them last week, and they're to crunch VOCs - and even then, there are only three of them.

Symptoms: For my son, it's mostly runny nose, some coughing. For him, it's like turning a switch - going to school, the symptoms are gone, coming home, they come back.

For me, I've got drip in my throat, some runny nose, some scratch eyes, lots of dry coughing - particularly in the morning. For me, it also appears to be house induced, dependent on how much time I spend there.

Neither one of us had these in our previous house - I was a traveling musician before and spent loads of time in places both posh and er, um, really dodgy. And, never had these symptoms before.

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It's like troubleshooting any other mechanical system. Eliminate all variables and add them back one at a time.

1. Establish a "clean room" in the house. In this room, there should be no carpets and no furniture. Wash down the walls, floors, & ceiling. Seal the heating register shut to allow no furnace air into the room. Install a brand new portable space heater for heat and place a good quality thermometer/hygrometer in the room to provide temperature and humidity data - which you will record.

2. Buy a new mattress and a new pillow and cover them with new sheets. Sleep in this room for a few nights to see if your symptoms go away. If they do, then you can start to add back variables.

3. Begin by instaling a HEPA filter in the furnace and place another one at the heating register for this room. Then unblock the register and see what happens to your symptoms when hightly filtered furnace air is added to the equation. Note that this will radically change the humidity as well, so you're really adding two variables. If your symptoms return, you'll have to get a humidifier and a humidistat to isolate humidity.

3. If you're symptoms don't return with the addition of highly filtered furnace air, then begin adding things to the room, one at a time. Begin with your pillow, then your sheets, then your mattress. Eventually, you'll find the culprit.

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Jim -

I like your thought process and that's pretty much what I've been trying to do, though not as extensively as with the "clean room". Recently, I've been sleeping in the living room, in different conditions, to see how that goes - but following your advice, re; the controlled environment is better.

Doug

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I'm probably into a combo of things now - trying to do the controlled environment, seeing about air exchange unit, sealing the ducts. Also going to rip up that nasty carpet.

It's a pandora's box, now - but you're inspectors - so should I go with stained concrete OR bamboo (with a water vapor barrier underneath)?

The aesthetics are a wash, so I'm thinking future air quality- eliminating possible sources of crud.

Thanks!

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Well, my thinking is if I had some issues with the carpet in the basement whatever it is could get blown around the house. I was also thinking if I sealed the duct work that could help, in case I was pulling from the attic or elsewhere - although I don't know if that's the case.

About the only thing I can say for certain, after all this, is that the allergies are there, regardless of weather - but they are worse when one has to use either the heat or the ac.

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I should probably restate the obvious, to add to this thread. One reads a lot of stuff online and in books and what not about possibilities and it's good stuff, but much of it presumes one has unlimited funds.

But, if you don't, you have a dual problem - a) going through things one by one to try and pinpoint in a way that makes sense and b) doing those things in sequence and over time and in a way that's affordable.

So, so far, it's been opening the windows, cleaning the house, getting a dehumidifer for the basement, getting hygrometers to monitor humidity, cleaning the ductwork, fixing bathroom venting in the attic, and visual inspecting every nook and cranny I can get my eyes on. And, the problem is consistent, yet to discover a smoking gun. So, on we go down the list.

Thanks all, again, for the feedback.

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