This week we’re shining a bright light on the darker side of the home design and building industry. The story we share here might be hard to believe.
Trying to communicate potential dangers to our clients when it comes time to make decisions about which contractors to hire can be like pulling teeth because the issues discussed here are legally kept hidden with non-disclosure agreements.
The stories of those who have suffered from unhealthy homes and mold toxicity poisoning never gets told, which prevents other homeowners from learning about potential dangers. This makes it incredibly difficult to bring awareness to an issue that is right under everyone’s nose…literally, the air that you’re breathing inside your own home could be harming you and you don’t even know it!
Here, I share with you the story of one man who asked us to keep his name anonymous. What he learned during the fight for his family’s health was infuriating and terrifying, and even though he signed a non-disclosure agreement, he wants others to learn from his misfortune.
So instead of telling the story (that he’s legally forbidden from sharing) from his point of view, we will instead ask you to perceive this story from your own point of view.
Put yourself in his shoes.
The American Nightmare
Let’s imagine for a moment…
Life is coming up roses. You and your family are the proud owners of a newly built spec home in a beautiful new neighborhood. You finally feel settled. A place all to your own. This is the home where you and your wife will raise your baby girls. The American Dream come true!
You love your new home, and everything seems perfect for a year or two.
Your daughters are now 3 and 4 years old. Walking and talking and growing too fast. They’re both finally out of their terrible twos, though they seemed to have entered another phase. They’re sick all the time. Small colds that they pick up from daycare turn into terrible congestion and coughing fits so bad that a nebulizer is required to suppress their symptoms. Seemingly out of nowhere, and unrelated to their coughing fits, blood gushes from their noses. Bizarre and extreme nosebleeds become the norm. You’re worried your precious little girls are sickly and will need extra care for their entire lives. Oh, please Lord just let this be a phase.
Somewhere around 3 years of homeownership there’s something new in the air…something dingy and mildewy. One big whiff of mold and the lightbulb in your mind turns on. Could the mold be responsible for the girls’ bizarre illnesses?
But something much more pressing captures your attention. Your wife is sick now…really sick. It’s been discovered that she has breast cancer and precancerous cells found in her uterus led to an emergency hysterectomy. How on Earth could this be happening? Is it possible that the mold is linked to her cancer?
You call your builder and demand answers. He shows up smug and defiant, claiming there’s no way that anything is wrong with your house. To prove it, he sends over an environmental specialist, his own vendor he uses to verify that all the homes he’s built are safe.
It doesn’t take the environmental specialist long to determine that there IS, in fact, an issue with your home. A HUGE issue! Mold spores in alarming quantity are measured in a simple air test.
The specialist recommends that you do something about the mold problem immediately, especially with young children in the home.
Upon receiving this news, your builder agrees to ‘fix’ the issue, though his idea of a ‘fix’ turns out to be a series of band aids, masking the issue and never getting to the root of the cause. He claims your air handler is too pressurized, so he pokes holes in it to “relieve the pressure”. Even the contractors hired to do the work tell you that what they’ve been hired to do won’t fix the problem.
None the less, your builder only does what he knows to do, which isn’t enough to remedy the issue. You can see this is leading nowhere. It’s becoming clear that your builder doesn’t actually know how to fix the problem because he doesn’t know what the problem is. It’s also becoming clear that the HVAC system is the reason why the home has issues in the first place.
Where Do You Turn Next?
You’re caught in a tornado of troubles. Your girls are sick, your wife has cancer, and your house is infested with mold. You don’t know where to turn and you realize you need help.
When your friends and colleagues don’t believe that mold could cause such issues or that your builder could be so negligent, a loving family member comes to your aid. She hears you and recognizes that this issue is potentially much bigger than your solo scenario. After all, the same builder designed and built an ENTIRE neighborhood with the same spec design. She suggests going after a class action lawsuit.
You learn quickly that nobody wants to deal with a mold issue. You’re turned down by lawyer after lawyer who all look at you as if you’re crazy.
Finally, after digging and digging you strike gold: a law firm that is willing to take your case AND they feel confident you’ll win. You feel the wind in your sails again.
The lawyers say the only out of pocket cost will be $4,000 to hire an engineer that verifies the HVAC design is the root of the cause. The law firm also requests a statement from a state inspector to prove the houses were not built up to code.
When the state inspector looks at your house, he shakes his head in disbelief. He finds your home to be in violation of many codes and he tells you you’re going to need someone to fix the issues. He clearly is much more qualified than the inspector who gave the final Certificate of Occupancy on your home before you were allowed to move in. You’re learning that not all state inspectors know all the codes. He refers you to Energy Innovations by Harry Boody, Inc.
Finally, you’re getting somewhere. You have the name of a company who can actually determine what is wrong with your home’s HVAC system and can design a solution to fix it, along with the resulting mold issues. Now all you need is at least 8 other homeowners in your neighborhood to sign the class action lawsuit and pay $500 each to cover the cost of the engineer’s forensic analysis and testimony.
When you approach your neighbors, you’re shocked to find that none of them believe you either. You try to explain the issues you’ve had with your home, how many code violations the state inspector discovered, how sick your girls have been, how bad the mold smell is, etc.. You remind them that their home was designed the same way, but they want to hear nothing of it. They have no idea that their homes are either already having indoor air quality issues or that the issues are soon to develop. They send you away, accusing you of trying to scam them for money.
Then your builder somehow catches wind about the class action. He bribes your neighbors, paying them NOT to sign the lawsuit. A lot of people take the offer.
Not enough homeowners in your neighborhood are willing to step forward to qualify for a class action and so the lawsuit is called off.
Your case is dead in the water. You’re furious…and scared. Your family and your home are both still sick. Where do you turn to now?
Go It Alone
The only option left is to go it alone. You vs. the builder in a personal injury lawsuit. By the grace of God, your family provides financial support and the lawyer you hire is competent enough to communicate the negligence of the builder and his HVAC contractor.
In the meantime, you’ve hired Energy Innovations by Harry Boody, Inc. and Harry performs an extensive forensic analysis on your home, pointing out exactly where the builder and his HVAC contractor went wrong and how he unknowingly built your home to be a guaranteed health issue from the start.
You learn that the ductwork installed is too small, and the HVAC units are oversized.
Your home has been taking on moisture from below because the crawl space was never sealed. Since your HVAC system was incapable of pulling the excess moisture out of the air, mold had grown inside the air handler and was then distributed throughout your entire house every time the air supply came on.
Harry determines that your home requires a total redesign of the HVAC system. However, your homeowner’s insurance doesn’t cover any of the repairs. There’s simply nothing in the books to file for mold damage, as if mold issues don’t even exist. You’re stuck having to foot the bill for remediation too.
You move your family out of the house for 6 months while the work takes place. All the ductwork is ripped out, but the spacing allotted between the 1st and 2nd floors is far too small for the new appropriately sized ductwork. Harry’s only option is to put the ductwork that services the first floor under the house in the crawl space, but only after the crawl space is completely sealed.
The ductwork that services the air for the second floor has to be placed in the attic, which is not ideal because ductwork should NEVER be in a non-conditioned space of the house. Harry’s solution is to design a riser within the attic that creates a sealed and conditioned space for the ductwork to pass through.
Lastly, a brand-new appropriately sized unit is installed, your entire home is thoroughly sanitized, and you and your family can finally move back home.
All Is Well Again, or Is It?!
You’re grateful to have the HVAC issues finally taken care of and the mold is gone. But now you’re in the middle of a litigation issue with the builder and his insurance company. You have all the evidence you need with the state inspectors’ statement of code violations and Harry’s forensic analysis pointing out exactly where the builder had gone wrong.
Sure, you want financial reparations, but you also want the builder to learn from his mistakes. You don’t want him to construct another health hazard home for future families to experience what you’ve gone through. Unfortunately, you learn that some people are just not willing to take responsibility for their actions.
Neither the builder nor his insurance company read Harry’s forensic analysis. The builder did not take the opportunity to learn what had been done wrong so he could learn from his mistakes in order to build healthier homes in the future. In fact, he treated the entire issue as though he hadn’t made any mistakes.
He treats you as though YOU are the problem. Only focused on how much money he has to shell out to make you go away.
There is no further investigation. Your case is treated as an isolated incident, as though the entire rest of the neighborhood hadn’t been built the same way. The settlement is decided, and you are forced to sign a non-disclosure agreement.
A Wise Man Learns from the Mistakes of Others
As frustrating and unbelievable as this story is, it does have a happy ending. The family was able to get the HVAC system replaced with an appropriate design and size for their home. This week is the 2-year anniversary of having a healthy home and we’re happy to report that the little girls are feeling much better. They haven’t experienced any nosebleeds or severe coughing fits that require a nebulizer, even throughout the entire pandemic.
When asked what he would say to warn homeowners about the potential dangers of an improperly designed and installed HVAC system, our anonymous friend said, “I’m not sure I can successfully warn anybody. I tried with everything I had to point out the issues to my neighbors who were guaranteed to have problems and still, they didn’t listen. Until something bad happens, people tend to ignore a problem.”
Ignoring issues can be a symptom of ignorance. If homeowners are unaware of potential issues that are persistent in the home building industry, it's not possible for them to take preventative action.
Be the light that shines into the darkness.
Change the industry by sharing your story.
Don’t let the topic of mold toxicity stay buried. Don’t let the negligence and ignorance of the industry remain concealed. Inspire others to share their stories without the fear of judgement. The more we talk about these issues the more people are coming forward and admitting their health issues with mold, either in their own homes or at work.
If you suspect that your home may have mold contamination, contact EnviroBiomics, Inc. for appropriate home testing kits, and then join us on March 1st for our next blog detailing solutions and prevention techniques for a mold-free home.
I intend you approach home ownership with ears that hear stories rarely told. Take them to heart on your own journey.
Inspired by you,
Jenny Pippin, CPBD, FAIBD, CGP
Pippin Home Designs
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I am Jenny Pippin, founder of Pippin Home Designs and creator of my own inspired living. I grew up as an ordinary southern girl, working in the fields of my family’s tobacco farm. It didn’t take me long to realize I had greater gifts and so I chose to step into my power and create my own path in life, inspired by my heart’s true passion. (More on my personal story HERE!)