Barwon Mould Remediation Help Save our Build. Twice. Part I

So far, the Eco-friendly, Allergy-free House project has been through 2 winters; the first winter, in 2016, before full external lock-up, almost completely disabled, laid flat with exhaustion and headaches, I was living/existing in one of those mouldy rentals from hell; we were behind time with the build; so many things haven’t gone as planned; however, disasters have been averted, and for that I’m grateful. Over the last year, to be almost exact, I’ve been onsite, pottering away in the eco-friendly, allergy free house, without mould symptoms. Soaking up the sun’s rays while indoors; often thinking about one thing: mould. The house has been at a standstill while the outside is prepared: concrete etc. to keep the build clean while indoor work happens. This is what happened leading up to stage 3, where we’re at now:

Keeping my eye on the weather:  we wrapped the top floor of our house in plastic to stop water coming in. We had wrapped the house in Kingspan, a breathable wrap that also acts as a light thermal break.

Plastic used was the water barrier type

Plastic used was the water barrier type

The plastic worked for two storms that pelted the house with relentless rain until, along with strong winds, water came pouring in off the whole western side of plastic wrap as it flapped its way in and out on stormy winds, wetting the concrete and the adjoining floor-level hardwood house frame. It had to be dried and cleaned up, pronto. I thought that would be it, because I aired religiously, had heaters and fans running but when I saw grey fur growing up the wall in the bathroom, which was confirmed by our remediater, Darin, from Barwon Restoration Services.  It gave me such a fright to see mould in the build like that. I pictured myself living in my car… Then took immediate action:

When Barwon Restoration Services came over to give us a free quote, Darin, said our house was by far one of the least damaged buildings he’d seen that winter and one of the cleanest, and that:

“Buildings that sit unfinished over winter can have huge mould problems.”

Darin explained that as the weather turned to August, and mould grew on hardwood of the bathroom, it, being as thin as plywood, and on the north side, the moisture within the building must have been absorbed, and unable to dry, and then, once the weather reached 22c plus, mould grew.

Mouldy

Mould grew fast, and under perfect conditions

It happened so fast, it seemed. (Approximately ten days after water entry. And that mould grew over just 3 days, turning black before we even managed to change it! (I was checking and airing the house on most days, what, with all that rain.) With Darin’s advice, Dan replaced the materials that had mould on them, leaving the bathroom looking clean once again. But was it?

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The bathroom with hardwood materials removed and replaced, rather than an attempt at cleaning them

In my view, it would have been impossible to clean mould that was half way into the wood.

Each area of the house, a biological reading was taken: it was cheaper than a mould test.

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Moisture reader. This is the reading of the corner-but window’s reveal (not water-damaged) that looked the worst, yet it was still low compared to water-damaged areas.

Any area that was black and gave a reading was replaced. Areas that appeared clean but gave a reading were cleaned. Areas of moisture concern were dried out using fans and heaters. We replaced around 12 pieces of wood. And went through so many cleaning rags, 3 vacuums (1 was stolen) 4 bottles of dishwashing liquid and some peroxide in particular areas.

The Clean Up

The mould clean up began. Even Darin said that if I didn’t have such a sensitivity to mould, it would be overkill for most people. More importantly, to me though, what if it wasn’t? Lol, and I thought I was losing my mind over mould then. (It felt like impending disaster.) Oh, and then Dan bought a bottle of Concrobium from Bunnings, cause you know, we all want a product that will just magically make it disappear; it was recommended not to use it based on the idea that the remediation company never used biocides with occupants who have compromised immune systems. The Concrobium went in the bin. Close call, there!

Early on, Darin had been most receptive of the Shoemaker research, doctor’s letters and my explanation of what mould had done to my life and the lengths I now had to go to avoid it. Thankfully, he understood that I wouldn’t be able to live there if mould took over the house. Dan would have an investment but I’d have no home! Between the three of us, we worked out a remediation clean up that wouldn’t make me sick:

Dan and I suited up and did the clean up ourselves. Our only mistake was not taping around the edge of the cuffs of the tyvek suits and Hunter boots, and double set of nitrile gloves, but other than that, we masked up and did alright!:

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Breaking Mould

We didn’t even use Barwon Restoration Service‘s products, instead, based on their advice, using our dishwashing liquid; a particular percentage of peroxide; a huge bag of white throw away rags from Costco; and more dishwashing liquid for the wipe up of the whole upstairs, instead, paying attention to the bathroom and other immediate areas.

It’s a dangerous thing, dead mould.

Peroxide is dangerous too, because dead spores break up into fragments, can become embedded in your belongings, and, given the right, moist environment, can possibly desecrate your life. We then used sabco cloths and a HEPA vacuum to clean up any remaining spores.

(This is a true story; it’s happened to myself and many others who either have faulty HLA’s (human leukocyte antigens) and/or have lived in a water damaged building (WDB).

For education’s sake, my HLA’s are 4, 7, 2 and 8, which, using the Australian version of  ‘My House Makes me Sick HLA calculator‘ and the results of my blood test, computes to this:

4-3-53 – Multisusceptible/Chronic Fatigue

7-2-53 – Mold Susceptible

7-3-53 – Mold Susceptible). 

Had I have known that this was only the first of many clean ups to come, I’d have thrown myself on the floor, curling up into foetal position, hands over my eyes so I couldn’t see the HEPA vacuum looking back at me. This was the 2nd and the last mould clean up I took part in. Spraying peroxide and wiping each area with only one wipe of a clean cloth, then another one with straight up detergent was a royal pain in the backside. However, we were able to save money doing this part ourselves. The reason I refuse to do it again is I now know how sick mould can make me.

We used air washing, using cross-ventilation and sea winds to clear the house in the coming weeks.

Feeling a bit like a superhero with a biology degree in mould, through the build, I was able to purchase a water reader for around $80, very basic; and a thermal imaging camera. I spent many hours at the house, checking for air leaks where water vapour could get through, or worse, water… I lost sleep over the build everytime it rained, unless I was there. So I went and stayed there, spending many nights checking for water entry when it was raining, I thought I was going nuts, so it was good to get biological readings on any suspect timber over the next few months. Finally, it was at lock up and all windows and doors were flashed, keyed and securely in.

A clean build is a safe build

A clean build is a safe build. So is one that’s at lock up!

Mould Entry no.2

It was September 2016, nearly a year ago.

Come November, one morning, after sleeping there during wet weather—yet again—I did my usual rounds, clattering ladder  behind me, moisture reader and thermal imager in the front pocket of my overalls. To my horror, one of the hardwood window ledges had a pool of water on it. No moisture reader needed! I couldn’t believe my eyes. This area faced south; where the heavy rain and south westerlies come in.

window leak

(Our UPVC (the ‘u’ stands for ‘un-plasticised’) windows were made in Germany but when they arrived, one window didn’t quite fit, so we had one from an Australian company placed into that space. It looked the same. Until it leaked.) It took a few weeks to get the window removed so the area could be remediated. I think I counted the minutes of those few weeks.

We had to prove where the water was coming in so they could take responsibility. That’s the thing when working on a house yourself, if something goes wrong, you need to trace it back to the person responsible and everyone says it’s everyone else’s fault. We didn’t know if it was the flashing, the structure of the timber or the window itself. The thermal imaging camera gave the answer to that question: the thermally-broken chamber was taking in and holding water, which then leaked out slowly into the building via the window reveal:

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Once again on advice from our remediatior, we waited until just before sundown, when the temperature drops outside, leaving any trapped water within the building envlope at a higher temperature.

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Image taken after another rainy night. This time the chamber is full on the left. It would leak out slowly onto the wooden reveal

The inside of a window’s thermally broken chamber looks like this:

A piece of thermally broken window frame used for testing

A piece of thermally-broken UPVC window frame, used to test for suitability

(Image is not the brand that leaked, rather the one I’d tested for suitability early on in the planning stages.)

One wrong product or chemical used in the build could make it unlivable. Mould, impossibly so.

Once it was established how the water was getting in and who was responsible, the window was removed. By then it looked like this:

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The mould that was visible was not half as worrysome as the mould that couldn’t be seen

During remediation, the above area was sanded back. To replace the materials, it was a matter of pulling apart the outside wall of the house. Darin came over and promptly sealed off the area using Grunt plastic. But not before he generously assisted Dan in boarding up the hole in the south facing wall: the area needed to be as air tight as possible for the pressurised room where the window had leaked. It was only a little mould. Should be fine being only small amount, right? We all thought so.

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This room has been wrapped, pressurised and set up with a HEPA air scrubber, ready for cleaning

Also of concern: The hardwood reveal in the corner-but window (next to the above window) had black dots all over it. Due to my recent CIRS diagnosis, we needed to know if it was mould: it gave a reading of 180. Anything over 60-80 wasn’t good. Rather than clean that area, we opted to replace that piece of hardwood also. This way, it was a sure thing! Better to be safe than sorry, and we were on a budget: a mould test wasn’t out of budget but we did have to chose where to spend money: materials and HEPA scrubbers or testing and remediation of materials and HEPA scrubbers?

After the room was remediated, cleaned and I’d stayed away for a few weeks, I returned and all was fine. I was symptom free. The window reveal had been painted in clear Safecoat. (I did, however, return the night the air scrubbers were cleaning the house. I would have to say that was the most intense mould reaction I’ve ever had. And I got it walking into the property, from the front yard. The air being expelled from the house was blown in my face by the wind. My face and hands felt like they were on fire. I actually thought the house was sure to be ruined considering the reaction of my skin!)

However, a few months later, I noticed the paint was bubbling up. This meant there was moisture, possibly mould, in the wood. Still! All other reveals were fine. Our indoor remediation had not been for nothing: it was an important learning experience: it’s better to the replace mouldy materials than remediate them, where possible.

Darin: 0498 777 131
John: 0412 777 193

Next, in Part II: Our back deck, shockingly, needs remediation: we have to replace our whole back deck after the hardwood supporting beams are now black with mould—as is the MgO board, which was yet to be sealed or waterproofed.

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Note how the back of the house is sealed with plastic. It’s called ‘containment’

More

Toxic Mould Support Australia: Remove, Don’t Kill Mould – Part 1 – Building Materials

Michellina Van Loder is a Professional Writer, Journalist and Blogger. This is where she shares her tales about trail blazing her way out of the Labyrinth of Chemical Sensitivities and Mould. This is also where you will find the latest Research on related topics.

This One Sure Thing: My Ausclimate Dehumidifier

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For me, there are so many areas of life that are shrouded in doubt: when will I recover? When I go out, am I going to get chronically ill from exposure to fragrance chemicals? Is today a day where I will continue to feel good, or will an unexpected chemical exposure knock me flat, possibly for days? Can I create/build a safe place to live? How do I go about creating a healthy place to sleep when most mattresses and furnishings keep making me sick?

(Yes, another mattress post coming up :( )

But there’s this one sure thing that has improved my living space, my sleeping practice, my health and quality of life. And, besides practising chemical avoidance, and the new glutathione nasal spray that I’m trialling along with the Pullaria mould drops that (amazingly and blissfully) help with symptoms during rainy weather, there’s not a lot of things that have helped me in my recovery so far.

Except for this one sure thing that just keeps on putting out for me…

my dehumidifier from Ausclimate!

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I bought my machine back in 2013 when I moved from the mouldy house to this beach house rental. In 2014 my health became worse, and now, in 2015, compared to those previous years, my health has improved (obviously not enough to escape this housebound existence, yet!), but through all this I’ve had my trusty dehumidifier to assist through rainy, damp weather. My chest and sinuses hurt terribly when it rains, so it’s important I can remove moisture from the air. And I can tell you: I sure breathe a lot easier!

After asking around my Australian MCS community, I decided on Ausclimate because I found out that Allan, one of the guys who runs this business, used to do water damage restorations after the Brisbane floods, and he has a tonne of knowledge on mould prevention and remediation. Also, this company sells a lot of them up north where moulds are more prevalent and the weather varies from dry, to humid, to very humid, and I figured: if these machines can cope with so much intense moisture, then this just might be what I am looking for. And I was right. (There is one other brand that I know of that other people with MCS have used in Australia, and that’s Delhongi, but there were two things that put me off: 1 being a strong plastic odour when new (at best, a sure sign of having a petrochemical exposure; at worst, a sure sign that I could become sensitised to plastics in the future); and 2, the styrofoam float that they have inside of them (although, I’ve heard of others solving this problem by covering it in foil). So really, my search started based on the desire for something that could do the job on a heavy-duty level and didn’t emit plastic fumes when running.

I’m really happy the product I bought met these needs.

The model that I have is the NWT Large Home model, which can dry a whole 50 square metre area in around three days, taking out a whopping 35 litres of moisture from the air or furnishings. It can dry out mattresses, carpets (for those who have them), and even dry the washing. (If a room is larger than 50 square metres then it would take one of the larger models to dry it.) It has a handy timer, and an electronic display that gives a reading of the relative humidity levels of the room, and it kindly switches itself off when it’s full. It takes six litres of water before I need to empty it, which I then tip into a watering can that I keep outside my front door so I can water my bonsais later on.

When I first bought my Ausclimate dehumidifier, I ran it for ages because the bucket just kept filling up, so I kept it running until it was no longer drawing water from the air. It took nearly a week. However, nowadays, I rarely run it for longer than 10-12 hours at a time. If it hurts to breathe I always put it on, which is nearly always during and after rainy weather.

Also great:
  • If it’s smoky outside, I run it in the bathroom when showering, instead of running the exhaust fan, which lets the woodsmoke in, making me sick. This way my bathroom cannot grow mould because I’ve robbed it of a damp, humid environment. (It’s really nice having a mould-free bathroom because, so long as the air is clean outside my house, I can use my bath to relax! And, until I lived in this house, I’ve not been able to do this for a few years now.) (I try to run my exhaust fan for 20 – 40 minutes after I shower but if I can’t, it’s comforting to know that the room won’t become mouldy.)
  • When there was an accident with the fridge accidentally defrosting while leaking water over the layers of foil covering our kitchen floor, we sprung into action, ripping up the foil and running it to dry the pine floor underneath. Within 24 hours. we were able to lay fresh layers back over the floor to stop in outgassing into my living spaces.
  • I’ve not had any condensation on my windows during winter since I’ve had this baby because I set the dehumidifier’s timer to run for a few hours in the mornings. This definitely reduced my exposure to moulds this last winter.
  • I use it to dry clothes in my bathroom when the air is polluted outside.
  • I have military control over the humidity level in my home. I try for a humidity level of 45 or at least under 50. And as soon as it gets to 55, the humidifier goes on.
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My Hygrometer Helps with Military Control

Draw Backs
  • The removable water chamber has corners that are difficult to clean; if left with water sitting in it for too long, there’s a build up of algae, (kind of like in a fish tank). I’ve solved this issue by using a toilet brush to give it a good scrub and don’t leave water sitting in there when not in use.
  • Ausclimate Dehumidifier cannot be used to dry the dog in time before she climbs on the furniture or my bed. I still have to use a towel and hairdryer for my pooch :) (But it does help immensely with wet doggy odour.)
  • It would be great if the Ausclimate Dehumidifier and the InovAir Purifier (or Austin Air Purifier—I have both machines) could be rolled into the one machine; that way I, and others could save on electricity. But this is not going to happen because dehumidifiers draw in water from the air and purifiers draw in dust and VOCS. Now, what do  we get if we confine dust and moisture in a small dark area? We get a petri dish for mould! Ew!
  • It doesn’t work in the outdoors… Look, I’m just being silly now because I can’t find any other faults.
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These 2 garden-settee cushions were accidentally left outside in the rain for two hours: they dried overnight

Aftersales Service

Because Ausclimate offer after sales service, and they want their customers to be happy, I was thrilled to receive a follow up call in regards to how my machine was working for me and my health condition. During my conversation with Allan, I took the chance to make some more enquires about mould control in buildings; and here’s what I found out:

Dust mite cannot grow if the relative humidity is kept below 50%

Vacuuming keeps mould and dust down

It’s important to have the right size machine for the correct size room

Dust mite and mould spores can have a pretty intense relationship and multiply quickly given high relative humidity levels, so it’s even more important for people with allergies or illnesses that are impacted by dust and mould to keep a tight reign on room humidity levels. If you can tolerate using a vacuum, giving the place a quick vacuum regularly is a great way to minimise mould too; less dust equals less food for mould to attach itself to. (I can no longer do the vacuuming, and, if the weather is not good enough to stay outside, I have to stay in the bathroom for a couple of hours while my boyfriend does the vacuuming because it takes a while for the air to clear. We seal the door shut with masking tape while I’m in there, while the rest of the house is wide open with two fans and one InovaAir purifier are left running for that time period.) We have a Dyson *Allergy* vacuum, but I would never recommend that product for anyone who actually has allergies. It blows out air that makes me sick for days; it reeks of dog hair, mould and dust. And, yes, we’ve tried washing the filter. It’s possible that this machine has mould in it from the other house. But if so, what’s the point of having a washable filter if you can’t wash mould out of it?)

It’s not nice being so ill each day that after a while ‘being ill’ is a sure thing; but it’s great to finally be experiencing periods of good health. And it’s even better now that I have my dehumidifier. Thanks Ausclimate!

Ausclimate Contact Details
Allan, NSW office: 0427 693 273
Russell, QLD office: 0422 008 777
Ausclimate_MoistureProblems
(Ausclimate image used with permission)

 

Michellina Van Loder is a Professional Writer, Journalist and Blogger. This is where she shares her tales about trail blazing her way out of the Labyrinth of Chemical Sensitivities and Mould. This is also where you will find the latest Research on related topics.

Information, products and views presented by guest bloggers @The Labyrinth are not necessarily the same as those held by this blog's author, Michellina van Loder. Reviews are my own personal opinions (unless stated otherwise); and satire is used throughout personal posts. Any health topics discussed are not to be taken as medical advice. Seek out medical attention if needed and do your own research; however, you're welcome to use mine as a start.
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