Homeowners don’t know what homeowners don’t know! And sometimes, what you don’t know can hurt you…physically and financially.
This week, in the fifth post of the Sick Home Series, we’ve teamed up with Christine and Mike Macke who are ready to share their story. They’re determined to educate others so the nightmare they had to live through is never experienced by another unsuspecting homeowner.
What You Don’t Know Can Sometimes Hurt You!
You might be wondering how on Earth a brand-new house could possibly make its homeowners sick! This concept may seem ludicrous, however the very act of building a new house is the perfect environment for mold to establish itself.
Think about it…the building materials of your home are exposed to the elements during the construction phase. Try as builders might, it’s literally impossible to prevent your home from being exposed to rain, snow, and humidity. All it takes is a little bit of moisture and the right temperatures for mold to develop because mold spores are EVERYWHERE and can grow on virtually any substance.
This means that anyone who has ever built a new home or has exposed building materials during a renovation runs the risk of mold contamination. It’s far more common than you might realize, however nobody is telling the tale of the risks, the repercussions, or the remediation.
Let’s Start at the Beginning
It was March 10th, 2014. Christine and Mike Macke were finally moving into their completed $1.2 million, 7,000 square foot dream home. This home had been a long time in the making and was to be their forever home.
Their previous home sold, and they paid off the mortgage on their new home to be debt free. You can imagine their excitement: a true dream come true! However, a short 2 months after moving in they noticed an unpleasant odor coming from the master bedroom and bathroom area. It didn’t take them long to look up and find the source of the smell.
The domed ceiling above their beautiful
jacuzzi jetted garden tub was black with mold!
How did that much mold establish itself in 2 months’ time?
How do you even get rid of mold once it establishes itself?
Who is responsible?
They immediately started looking for answers to these questions. Logically, they first called their builder and HVAC contractor. The builder’s remedy was to simply clean and paint over the black spots on the ceiling. The HVAC contractor tinkered with the vents and claimed the problem was ‘fixed’, though they never mentioned what they thought the problem was.
Unfortunately, the problem was far from fixed. Christine and Mike could no longer visually detect the mold and so therefor had no knowledge that the problem had in fact been masked. For an entire year they believed the mold had been remedied until they returned home from a vacation to find the ceiling black with mold again.
They called their builder a second time, after all, he was the one who allegedly knew how to fix building material issues. This time he claimed that the domed ceiling in the master bath made it impossible to get proper ventilation, so he dropped down the ceiling to eliminate the unconditioned air pocket, painted the ceiling, and called it good.
When it clearly wasn’t good and the mold showed up AGAIN, the builder returned to add a dehumidifier.
In their 4th year of home ownership, the mold returned a 4th time. Christine and Mike got wise that their builder needed some assistance in cleaning up the issue, so they called an environmental scientist. Together the environmental scientist and builder determined that the mold issue was the Mackes fault. They claimed that the Mackes had too many pets, kept too many doors closed, kept their thermostat too cold (at 72 degrees), and recommended that the Jacuzzi tub be “off limits” from June to October.
Can you imagine being told that a mold issue that was handed to you with your brand-new house was somehow your fault?
The builder refused to take any more responsibility. Hiring the environmental scientist had backfired. Christine and Mike realized they were on their own now with no experts to guide them and no viable solutions on the table.
They reached out to several attorneys but were advised that without knowledge of the causative factors it was unclear as to how to proceed. So, they called LRC Indoor Testing & Research, from Raleigh, who did an air sample spore test to verify that, yes, they did indeed have proof of a mold issue. Six different HVAC companies came out and said there was nothing wrong with the current HVAC install, but they could fix the problem.
This was all terribly puzzling. How were they going to fix a mold issue with no clear answer as to the root of the cause? And how would they choose who to hire?
Things Get Worse Before They Get Better
It was the holiday season and while sitting in church on Dec 31st, 2018, Christine’s arms and legs went from a tingly sensation to completely numb.
Was she having a heart attack?!
She was taken by ambulance to the emergency room where the doctor determined that she had a pinched nerve in her neck and sent her off to a chiropractor.
Well, Christine did NOT have a pinched nerve in her neck, however this inaccurate diagnosis did send her directly to the one person who finally had some accurate answers. Her chiropractor identified her symptoms to be a result of classic toxic mold syndrome. She gave Christine a list of lab work and fortunately Christine’s general practitioner was willing to order the labs which required 30 vials of blood. The chiropractor then sent Christine straight to the office of Dr. Natasha Thomas, M.D.
Dr. Thomas knew to look deeper into other seemingly unrelated symptoms that Christine had been experiencing: brain fog so bad at times she feared she was developing Alzheimers, digestion issues and bizarre new food sensitivities, and strange pains throughout much of her body, especially in her hips. Dr. Thomas was able to see the missing mold link between all these issues. To determine the severity of Christine’s mold toxicity she ordered an MRI accompanied by NeuroQuant® 3D Image Processing. These tests were able to detect brain atrophy in areas indicative of mold toxicity that explained Christine’s brain fog.
Dr. Thomas was also able to explain that Christine’s 4 years of mold exposure had caused a tremendous amount of inflammation in her body, resulting in tendinitis, bursitis, arthritis, leaky gut syndrome that prevented her body from receiving proper nutrition, and inflammation so bad in her hips that it required double hip replacement surgeries.
Yes, all of these horrific, painful, and often times scary health issues were caused by the mold in their home. The mold they had been desperately trying to get rid of since they discovered it 4 years prior.
Though Mike refrained from complaining about his issues (and will not be discussed at length here), he finally agreed to see Dr. Thomas as well. Mike’s health had turned out to be affected even worse than Christine’s!
In March of 2018, Christine and Mike moved out of their house that was killing them and moved into a rented apartment, taking nothing with them that hadn’t been thoroughly sterilized. Unable to find a rental that would allow pets, the garage of their ‘sick home’ was repurposed as a holding area for their beloved cats and parrots.
Energy Innovations by Harry Boody, Inc. to the Rescue
Fortunately, Dr. Thomas was not only trained in remediating a body with mold toxicity, she also knew who to call to remediate a problem house. She insisted the Mackes call Energy Innovations by Harry Boody, Inc. right away. (Learn more about the unique abilities of Energy Innovations by Harry Boody, Inc. HERE.)
Harry arrived in April 2018 and stayed for six straight days, performing his forensic analysis of the infested Macke house. What he found was shocking!
The home was in violation of 65 mechanical codes!
Harry learned that the builder had successfully built a very tightly constructed house, but the HVAC company did not install a system that was able to handle the tight building envelope. This happens more often than it doesn’t these days. Harry points out that, “this is becoming a serious problem that the HVAC industry has not yet realized.”
The construction drawings of the home showed that the builder had wisely ordered an Energy Recovery Ventilation (ERV) system that possibly could have prevented the entire mold issue. (Read more about ERV’s and proper HVAC design to prevent mold growth HERE.)
The HVAC company COMPLETELY FAILED to have the ERV installed, even though the Mackes paid for it and the builder ordered it! When asked, the builder stated that since spray foam insulation had been used in the walls, it was decided that an ERV was not necessary. In actuality, the tightening of the building envelope with upgraded insulation made the installation of an ERV even more critical.
To make matters worse, the HVAC company installed duct work that was too small for the volume of air inside the home, rendering the Macke’s house deficient in both air flow and ventilation.
Harry’s forensic analysis discovered yet another major blunder. The installation of the HVAC units had been switched! The Macke house had 3 HVAC units, one 2-ton unit and two 3-ton units, however they were ducted to the wrong areas of the home. The small 2-ton unit serviced the larger 3-ton area of the home, and the larger 3-ton unit serviced the smaller 2-ton area of the home. (Read what happens when an HVAC unit is not properly sized for the area it’s servicing HERE.)
The bathroom with the mold issue happened to be located in the larger 3-ton area that was receiving the negligent air flow from the smaller unit.
And this was the nail in the coffin for the Macke house.
Mold spores that had likely landed on the raw building materials of the home while in the construction phase were able to grow and proliferate inside a home that had mistakenly been designed and built to foster mold growth.
This Would Never Happen to Me
I know, this is the part where you’re probably thinking this HVAC company sounds TERRIBLE! They must have been a small, no name, crappy company possibly with a poor reputation. The Mackes probably hired them to save some money and ended up making a poor judgement call. Surely, that would never happen to me.
Actually, the opposite is true. The HVAC company the Mackes hired was the largest, most popular, and most well-known HVAC company in the area, that had been in business for many years.
The Mackes hired them because they believed they were hiring the best, and because they didn’t know what they didn’t know. They didn’t know there were so many issues within the HVAC industry. They didn’t know that the HVAC industry at large is slow to catch up to the high-performance trends within the industry. They didn’t know that the specialization of home building professionals tends to differentiate the components of a home that should be working as a fully integrated system. They didn’t know they needed to advocate for themselves more. They believed, as most homeowners do, that professionals know what they’re doing and can be relied upon.
This is not intended to scare you. It is intended to inspire you and bring some awareness into the dire situation that currently exists within the HVAC industry. And you don’t have to take our word for it. Check out the article Why Won’t the HVAC Industry Do Things Right to learn more from an HVAC company who has done their homework and also intending to shine a bright light on the darker side of the industry.
By the time Harry Boody came onto the scene and found an HVAC company able to follow his detailed HVAC design drawings, the entire Macke home had been contaminated. In order to begin “healing” this sick home, the entire preexisting HVAC system needed to be replaced: the units, ductwork, vents, everything. To access the ductwork, ceilings in 4 rooms had to be torn down. All of this work had to be done under negative pressure using special containment barriers to prevent further contamination of the home.
Since it’s nearly impossible to remove mold spores from upholstered furniture, it all had to go. The carpeting, the blinds on all the windows, even the mattresses in 3 bedrooms were disposed of. Anything that might be contaminated with mold had to be replaced.
Then, the entire home was fogged using a special antimicrobial solution, and every surface of the home was washed down with 150 proof vodka to kill any lingering spores.
The competent HVAC contractors vetted by Harry himself, installed a brand-new system with properly sized units for the appropriate areas of the home, 2 ERV systems, and 2 air purification systems with UV lights.
Seventeen months from the time Harry Boody came to the rescue, the Macke’s home was finally mold free and habitable again. The Mackes moved back in in the fall of 2019 and are happy to report they are now breathing easy in their forever home.
Cost for Remediation
$450,000!!! And that’s not including ANY of the Macke’s doctors’ bills, relocation expenses, or the replacement cost for refurnishing their home.
But, wait, it was officially determined by Energy Innovations by Harry Boody, Inc. that the original HVAC company was at fault, so didn’t they have to pay for remediation costs?
Unfortunately, that was not the case even though the Mackes did hire a lawyer and filed a lawsuit. The mechanical intricacies of HVAC design were beyond the knowledge of their lawyer who struggled to communicate the depth of the issue and appropriately defend their rights as a homeowner.
The Mackes were forced into a settlement simply because their lawyer was not willing to take the issue further. They settled for $200,000 and had to take out a mortgage to pay for the remaining remediation costs of $250,000. Finding a mortgage company that was willing to lend them money for mold remediation was another major issue.
A blind eye towards mold issues tends to be the norm in the culture we live in currently. For reasons beyond us, mold in specific, and indoor air quality issues at large are overlooked by nearly every sector in American culture. Homeowners insurance refuses to pay for anything mold related, as if it simply is not an issue. Many builders and HVAC companies don’t yet know how to design to prevent or mitigate for mold. Many doctors don’t know to look for mold toxicity in their patients. Even mortgage companies are unlikely to lend to homeowners with mold issues.
Canary in the Coal Mine
Sadly, this story of negligence and mold toxicity does not stand alone, it is not an anomaly, and it does not pertain only to new home builds.
It is the canary in the coal mine, though, and every homeowner would be wise to heed the warnings of the Macke story.
When asked, “What would you tell other homeowners who want to avoid the issue of mold contamination and poor indoor air quality?”, Christine replied, “Find someone who knows what they’re doing! The HVAC company we used was huge and still, they didn’t know what they were doing wrong.”
When asked, “How can you tell who knows what they’re doing?”, Christine said solemnly, “That seems to be the biggest issue.”
We believe that with the proper support, resources, and education, homeowners can learn to ask the right questions to find the answers for a healthy home.
Pippin Home Designs is committed to inspiring and educating as many homeowners and industry professionals as possible to build awareness of potential issues. It's our intention to help keep the home design and building industry moving steadily forward to building healthier homes.
I intend you find the right building team of knowledgeable professionals from the very beginning!
Jenny Pippin, CPBD, FAIBD, CGP
Pippin Home Designs
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!)