Water, Mould, and a Ceiling on the Floor!
September 11, 2008 3:29 PM   Subscribe

My bathroom ceiling fell down today, only to reveal a huge water leak and an even nastier mould farm. Help!

Yes, I've already had a plumber here, and he located the big, honking leak. Bad news is, it apparently has been going on for quite a while based on the amount of water and extent of mould.

The shower located on the second floor leaked into the ceiling of the first floor half bathroom of our single family house. I had noticed a particularly funky stench for the past couple weeks in the half bath, but chalked it up to my pre-schooler getting the floor wet when washing her hands. Turns out I should've looked up, instead of down. That hint became glaringly clear as it started to rain on my head this morning just as I was about to walk out the door for the day.

The mould was not only all throughout the sheetrock, but all over the old plaster/lathe above it, and has blackened the wood rafters. (The house is about 76yo and the plaster had dropped about 2" down onto the sheetrock in a pile of mouldy mud.) The stench in there is positively unbearable.

The plumber cleaned everything out the best he could, but told me that it would be at least 10-14 days for the ceiling to dry out. He said that even then, I'm probably going to have to have the entire thing replaced (about 30% of it is currently missing), and I have no idea if the walls were affected - it's a long narrow bathroom, so there's a chance the wall could've been hit from behind. I haven't even contacted a sheetrock guy about estimates for that portion of fun.

Do I bother calling the insurance company? I tried calling the plumber's secretary to find out how much this little adventure is going to cost me, but she was already gone for the day. I can't imagine it's going to be cheap, since they need to replace four faucet handles and stems, plus their labour and parts. They also weren't able to complete the job today and will have to come back on Monday to finish.

I read the other threads about the potential for the insurance company raising our rates/canceling the policy. My only concern is that I have asthma, and three of the four family members have allergies. I'm not sure that I want to add mould to the list.

I should add that we did put a claim in back in January when a large portion of a tree fell on the house during an ice storm. I think the total claim was only about $2300 after the deductible. It's Traveler's Insurance, if that makes a difference.

posted by dancinglamb to Home & Garden (11 answers total)
I have no real answer to your question, but get it cleaned out immediately! A good friend of mine lost her sense of smell completely after living with mould.
posted by rhinny at 3:46 PM on September 11, 2008

I'm an idiot and missed that you'd already cleaned. Make sure it's all gone!
posted by rhinny at 3:47 PM on September 11, 2008

If I were you, I'd go to your local home depot and rent a "high velocity air circulator" to get that thing dryer faster. Just put it right below the disaster and point the airflow right at the wetness. Less wet means less chance for mold to thrive, and it's a good way to shore up the damage. Good Luck!
posted by No New Diamonds Please at 3:47 PM on September 11, 2008

Yes - get that air flowing. Do it now.

Have you identified the mold?

I am not sure what you should do insurance-wise. But I think you should get at least two good opinions about what needs to be done and what it's going to cost. If the cost is high enough that you want to file a claim, perhaps you should talk to city/state consumer advocates and the OAG to see what your rights should they try to cancel you after paying.

How bad is the wood? If you can easily scrape off the mold and do something to actually kill the mold you can't see (there are various botanical and chemical products for this, and experts who will help you for mere hundreds of dollars), you might be able to avoid rebuilding anything.

Have you had someone in to ensure that you do not have compromised wood between you and second story? Not trying to scare you, and I doubt two weeks could cause that much trouble.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 3:57 PM on September 11, 2008

A dehumidifier is what you need - but I'm afraid that, even with one, it can still take ages for wet plaster to dry, or at least that was my experience. Bleach should cause the mold some problems...
posted by prentiz at 4:03 PM on September 11, 2008

I'll drag one of the big Vornado fans up from the basement and put it in the bathroom. My only thought there is about having electric in the vicinity of what is clearly a wet condition, kwim? The shower is obviously not being used until it's repaired so there's no more leaking, but everything is still pretty damn wet in there.

It's gotten cool enough that I was able to turn off the a/c and open the windows. There is a window in there that I can keep open during the day. I close it at night because, well, I just don't need no stinking burglars on top of everything else

I did go back in there tonight to try and get a better look. I'm not sure how much of it is actually mould, and how much of it is mineral deposit from the water (we have really hard water). I also want to see how the wood looks as it dries out. I was thinking that I might try and get up on a ladder and take pictures, but the thought of getting up in the rafters with any potential creepy crawlies really icks me out.
posted by dancinglamb at 7:21 PM on September 11, 2008

I had this very thing happen to me. Call your insurance company. They will pay for the cleanup and repair. Also for mould removal if necessary. I had a brand new bathroom and ceiling in a few weeks time. The insurance company even gave me a list of contractors to call. I lived in Illinois at the time and used USAA as my insurance carrier.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:15 PM on September 11, 2008

If I can offer a contrary opinion, do NOT call your insurance company if you can afford to pay this out of pocket.

Water damage and toxic mold are harbingers of doom to an insurance company, and you may find your coverage dropped and because companies share data, you may find it very difficult to get insurance in the future.

This is based on the experience of a friend who had a dishwasher overflow and ruin his kitchen floor. The insurance paid it, but did not renew his policy, and because of the CLUE record of water damage, he is now insured by Llyod's of London (!) at a rate which costs him as much per year as it would have cost him out of pocket to fix the damage himself.

Once mold appears, many insurance companies will not cover damage as they contend that since it takes awhile for mold to grow, the damage is related to lack of maintenance rather than one-time or accidental damage, as I understand it.

Do some googling of "water damage mold insurance" and see what you think. You could always try an "anonymous" call to your insurer to make a general inquiry about water and mold damage, and the likely outcome of a claim.

Note that you should probably have the mold dealt with professionally, or use professional techniques to remove it yourself. Like asbestos, it's not something to fool around with haphazardly. Good luck, and I'm sorry about your troubles.
posted by maxwelton at 8:56 PM on September 11, 2008

dude. this SUCKS. i'm sorry.

get at least two opinions/bids about how long it will take and how much it will cost to fix. make sure that mold eradication is part of their plan, because that shit is persistent and can cause a lot of health problems.

i'd say, wait to call insurance until you get some estimates. if it will be something you can easily afford without getting into debt over it, pay out of pocket. if, however, it's going to be an arm and a leg that you simply cannot afford, have insurance pay for it. that's what insurance is there for.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 7:11 AM on September 12, 2008

I am a sample of one, but my experience was that the insurance did not cancel, did not raise the rates. Rather, they were happy because I did not try it on my own on the cheap. They thought that if the cleanup wasn't done by one their contractors, the probability of mold appearing later was higher. I did have a $1,000 deductible that I had to pay.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 7:35 AM on September 12, 2008

I spoke to the insurance broker's office today. They said to get estimates from the sheetrock guy, and possibly a mould remediation company (Dollar signs! I see lots of dollar signs!). The woman said that I can try and call the insurance company directly, but that they will likely tell me that they won't determine whether they will pay for mould remediation until they review an actual claim (as opposed to just answering yes/no on the phone).

She did tell me, however, that they won't pay for the *plumber* (or his materials), but will pay for any damage that was incurred - basically they would pay for the sheetrock guy and possibly the mould removal.

Regardless, the broker said to take pictures, keep receipts and make a decision on my own. Additionally, I was told that there was always a chance that the insurance company could refuse to renew my policy (it's a small claim, so pay out of pocket vs. it's not that much, so they probably won't cancel, but who knows). Basically, I could've gotten all that information if I had my dog run a Google search. I guess I'll just try reaching the adjuster that I dealt with last January when the tree fell on the house. I think he is probably decent enough that he might give me the scoop somewhat off the record.

I do have the fan going, but I'm thinking that the whole ceiling really needs to be opened up for the rafters to dry out correctly. I don't want to do it myself since I don't know where the electrical wiring runs (and there's still that issue of the creepy crawly ick factor, as well).
posted by dancinglamb at 4:53 PM on September 12, 2008

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