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The furry monster living in your closet could hurt you

Caramie Schnell
Special to The TrailA specialist works to remove mold contamination in a home.
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Before Vail Resorts had to spend millions trying to remove mold from company employee housing complexes, large-scale mold issues were relatively unheard of in our part of the woods. This isn’t California or Florida, after all.

Despite the valley’s relatively dry climate, the dreaded four-letter word still inhabits more crevices than we know.

“Mold is a big issue in Colorado,” according to Carl Grimes, an indoor environmental consultant based in Denver.

“We can’t just say we live in a semi-arid climate so we don’t have a problem with A, B, or C,” Grimes said. “We can accidentally or unintentionally create indoor micro-environments very different from the outdoor climate.”

Mold naturally grows outdoors and can enter a house through open windows or heating and ventilation systems. Once a spore lands on a place where excessive moisture is present (in a bathroom or in a water-damaged area, for example) the spores multiply into mold.

It sounds gross, but there’s no need to panic. Yet. There is a current hysteria when it comes to mold, according to Raj Manickam, executive officer at the local SteamMaster company in Minturn. The fear is being fueled by enhanced media attention, along with a sudden increase in lawsuits alleging mold has made people sick, he said.

“The most common experiences that people have with mold exposure have to do with allergies, respiratory problems, asthma, things of that nature,” Grimes said.

Last month, a family in California settled a case for $22.6 million with 17 different companies the family claimed were responsible for the use of moldy lumber in the construction of their home. The family said their 5-year-old son, who is still in diapers and unable to talk), suffered major brain damage from the mold.

The owner of SteamMaster, Gary Gilman, is a certified mold remediator. In addition to 24-hour water and fire damage help, his company also helps repair mold damage. As part of the company’s pursuit of educating people about mold, Gilman and Manickam have given presentations to local realtors about mold problems.

“We tell them how it affects them in a real estate transaction,” Manickam said. “It’s not the end of the world, don’t panic (if a home has a mold problem). There’s other ways to deal with it. Be up front about it, you have to tell the truth, otherwise it might bite you in the end; you might end up with some litigation afterwards if you’re not truthful about it.”

SteamMaster has also hosted classes for construction companies like Shaw Construction and Viele Construction, Manickam said, since oftentimes the source of mold problems in relatively new buildings is the use of wet lumber and other building materials. In older buildings the common causes of mold are broken pipes, poor heating and air-conditioning systems, leaking appliances such as dishwashers, water heaters, showers, and poor building maintenance. “There’s a home we were at in Vail near the Gondola where they had running water going underneath the house,” Manickam said.

In cases where water damage is present, it’s important to establish the exact location of the damage; whether it’s behind a wall or underneath the floor. SteamMaster uses infrared thermal imaging cameras to make sure the area is completely dry. This helps to prevent secondary damage caused by mold, mildew and other bacterial growth. Many soon-to-be homeowners are using the cameras to help determine if a property has mold before its purchased. The camera can show signs of plumbing leaks, insulation failures and where cold air might be leaking in. VT

Caramie Schnell can be reached for comment at cschnell@vailtrail.com.


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