Mould & condensation in our new home, help!
April 18, 2012 9:01 AM   Subscribe

Help! Mould & condensation in both bedrooms of our new home. We are first-time homebuyers and mostly newbs. Do we have any legal rights as buyers, and best way to fix the issue?

We bought our first home last June and settled in. Everything was mostly going well until the winter -- wherever there were items pushed up against the walls (bed, bookcase, etc.) we started noticing a ton of condensation, which quickly started growing mould. The bedrooms / walls face our back yard.

There was a pre-sale inspection done of the house during the winter which found no mould or condensation, but due to the extent of the issue I'm guessing the previous owners cleaned up everything before the inspector came in. The inspector seems on the level and he would have noticed this issue if it was present - he gave us his number and is easy to contact.

The house was made in the 1930's.

So, two fairly big questions:

1. As buyers, do we have an legal rights against the previous owners? (We live in Toronto, Canada).

2. Is there any way to fix this issue outside of ripping out the walls and putting a new vapour barrier & insulation in?

I plan to buy some anti-fungal spray / cleaner today and we've moved as much as we can away from the walls to increase circulation which has helped. Any other advice is appreciated.
posted by theNonsuch to Home & Garden (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
It doesn't cost much to have an environmental consultant come in and test for toxic mold; I paid around $300USD for it. Start there, to see if this is a real concern, or just surface mold because the house is too damp.

If if turns out you have toxic mold, you'll want to start working on remediation (likely with your homeowners insurance company involved), and if not, you'll want to start working on getting the outside walls insulated to prevent this kind of condensation in the future.
posted by davejay at 9:17 AM on April 18, 2012

Can't help with the legal aspect. With the mould and condensation remember that the fundamental reason it is there is because the humidity level is too high in the house. That can only be fixed with good ventilation or a dehumidifier.
posted by Sturdy at 9:18 AM on April 18, 2012 [3 favorites]

Oh yeah, Sturdy's comment reminds me: I once had a huge amount of condensation form on the outer walls of one bedroom, because I had been running a humidifier that evening -- on medium -- due to a cold. I live in Los Angeles, not humid at all, and didn't think such a thing would happen, but it did. And I cleaned it up and it never recurred (as I didn't run the humidifier again.) So yes, it wouldn't take much extra humidity to create condensation under the right conditions.
posted by davejay at 9:20 AM on April 18, 2012

For our most recent sale (also in Ontario) we were required, as the sellers, to sign a disclosure form that listed any and all problems with the home. It was a four-page listing of issues with yes and no responses for things like knob-and-tube wiring, fire damage, flood damage, mould issues, was the house ever a grow-up, those types of things.

If your seller signed a disclosure like that and failed to disclose a known mould problem you may have some legal recourse. Even without that form you may have recourse. But, of course, you are going to have to talk to the lawyer that handled your purchase and get proper legal advice.
posted by pixlboi at 10:21 AM on April 18, 2012

Do you have aquariums? My 55 gallon raised the humidity in my place during the winter from about 35% to 50%. Which is perfect so I'm happy but if you started high, it would be bad. So first thing: get a humidity meter or three (they're cheap) and measure your interior humidity. If its high, a simple bathroom fan might solve your issue. Or a dehumidifier as mentioned above.

Also do you have any insulation in those walls or is there some other reason you're only seeing the condensation on a few walls?
posted by fshgrl at 10:36 AM on April 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

We've just gone through a long round of mold remediation in the basement of our newly-purchased house. I don't know Canadian law, but would expect that you don't have much chance of legal recourse against the sellers here.

Given the age of the house and the fact that the problem occurs in winter, and only on exterior walls (is that correct?), poor insulation seems a very likely bet as the source of the problem. (Condensation occurs where there's a temperature differential, as when warm moist air touches a cooler wall.)

In any case you almost certainly want to look behind the walls to make sure there isn't mold hiding back there now. (There almost certainly is. Sorry.) If the problem is really bad you might want to look into moisture-resistant insulation (we replaced our fiberglass with expanding foam) and wall surfaces (there's "greenboard" which is a moisture-resistant form of drywall.)

Shorter-term half solutions would include better ventilation, using a dehumidifier (which is energy-expensive), or repainting the walls with mildew-resistant paint (there's an additive they can put in any kind of household paint; it's usually used for bathrooms but you can put it anywhere).

It's going to be a huge pain in the ass to fix. Sorry about that.
posted by ook at 11:16 AM on April 18, 2012

As buyers, do we have an legal rights against the previous owners?

If you want to know your "legal rights" you should be consulting an attorney who is licensed to practice in your jurisdiction. The answer largely depends on what was in your contract.

Were you represented by an agent of any sort? Curious about why said agent suggested that you rely on a winter season inspection for a closing in June.

Is there any way to fix this issue outside of ripping out the walls and putting a new vapour barrier & insulation in?

Your most reliable answer will come from the professional you should be contacting to come and see the actual damage.
posted by John Borrowman at 11:29 AM on April 18, 2012

You first need to figure out if it is just surface mold. If so, then bleach and water or a professional spray will clean the contamination. If the mold infestation is in the walls, full remediation is in order, unfortunately.

If the mold is anything other than surface mold, you also might want to check if remediation is covered by your insurance company.

Also, did you have ice dams this winter? That could have caused water to back up under your roof and enter your wall spaces. This almost certainly would be covered by insurance but your desciption sounds related to humidity levels and airflow.

For future state, a dehumidifier is a great recommendation, but don't forget about the importance of overall airflow. Fans running even on low speed in the impacted areas will help eliminate condensation.

Now, in regards to your ability to seek recourse from the sellers. In the USA, it is not illegal to clean up mold, but serious mold needs to be disclosed as a prior problem. Mold on the caulk in the bath? Not really a disclosure issue. Mold on the back wall behind all the furniture? Probably a disclosure issue. Your agent can provide guidance in this regard, based on what is normal and customary in Toronto. So you need to check the seller's disclosure to see what it says (if anything) about mold. If it says there was mold, then generally you are out of luck as that fix needed to be negotiated at the home sale.

If the disclosure says there was no mold, you would have to prove that the sellers hid the problem from you - typically this can only be proved, depending on the damages being sought, in small claims court or through litigation. The onus unfortunately will be on you to provide evidence that the sellers hid the mold contamination from you - you can image how difficult that could be. However, some sleuthing of permits may, a big may, show that prior mold remediation was done on your property. Then perhaps you'd have a case. But even if you have a case, there is the potential that the sellers cannot provide recompense to you for the damages.

If it remotely comes to any of the legal issues above, certainly seek legal counsel as I don't know how Canadian real estate law works.
posted by lstanley at 1:04 PM on April 18, 2012

lstanley's comments are similar to what I was told by an attorney in California about my rights. Canadian law may be much different. The US EPA has some good reports on how to safely clean up mold.
posted by slidell at 8:37 PM on April 18, 2012

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