Seattle Home Inspector's Blog


Break the mold!

     I know that MOLD is a four letter word, and only a few other things found during the course of a home inspection causes more angst for all parties involved.

Mold on stuff you don't want to know

     As inspectors, not only are we the ones that have to bring its presence to the attention of the buyers, but we also have to figure out some way to talk about it in the Inspection Report.

     In spite of the fact that if:

it “looks” like mold,

Mold on a wallis “wet” like mold,

conditions are “conducive” to mold,

it “smells” like mold,

it is “apparent” on surfaces known to love mold,

and it “barks” like mold----most inspectors are still reluctant to call it “MOLD.”  I am not sure exactly why this is the case----I guess due to the possibility that it might be some other sort of staining or condition that is not “actually” mold.  And, I could see where that would be a problem if the inspector says you have a huge mold problem and it turns out to be smoke from candles of dirt from brake linings being sucked into the house (found sometimes on houses really close to busy streets). 

     In general, knowing whether a particular fungal growth is actually mold or some other type of fungal growth, is not really all that important since the solution is pretty much going to be the same----fix the water issue and remove/replace/clean the affected materials as necessary.

     To give you an example of how difficult it can be to “language” the presence of mold, take a look at the following picture.

Mold on roof sheathing

     The white color on these roof boards is a light covering of mold or mold/like fungal growth.  What do I tell my buyer?  It is obvious that it a past condition.  How can I tell?  Take a look at the newer roof sheathing showing between the white boards.  There is no similar growth on this newer sheathing.  This is consistent with there being no growth since the sheathing was installed.  The roof was replaced at least 10 years previously as indicated by the overall condition of the roof shingles.

     There can be many reasons why this is no longer a problem and at the time of inspection the inspector may not be able to figure out all the “why’s,” and that is not as important as knowing that there hasn’t been a problem since the roof was replaced.  Perhaps the dryer used to vent into the attic.  Perhaps there were no vents in the roof previously.  Perhaps the roof no longer leaks.  Perhaps there had been flooding in the crawl space that had been fixed.  Who knows?

     So again what do I say to the buyer?  They want to know if it is a problem now----whether it is “dormant” or not----because after all----it is still present.  Aren’t those tiny little spores going to find their way into the home and ruin their lives?  No inspector can answer that question----because everyone responds to mold spores differently and there are lots of other variables----both physical and psychological.  Even Environmental Hygienists can’t really answer that question----but the lowly home inspector is expected to answer the question regardless. 

     I can tell the buyer that if moisture conditions are right the mold growth can come back to life.  I can tell them that there are circumstances where the mold will release spores whether dormant or not.  I can tell them that the likelihood of the spores finding there way into the indoor environment is not great---but could happen under some scenarios.  I can recommend that they not store things in the attic.  I can recommend cleaning and sealing of the affected areas by qualified persons.  I could recommend that they run like hell and never look back (personally I wouldn’t do that----but some inspectors might).  I could recommend further testing so that the testing company could tell them to fix the water issue and clean and seal the affected areas.

     Ultimately it is the buyer that will have to decide what is important to them, and how or whether they want to deal with the issue.

     It really is not much help that there is so much conflicting, misleading and downright erroneous information present on the web and in the media about molds in the environment.  It lends itself to a lot of hysteria, and where you have hysteria you have a growing industry that is just as virulent as the mold spores themselves.  What will create peace of mind in one buyer may not work at all for another.

     Another factor is that the buyer may not care about it and be willing to accept the Eighth Dwarf---Mouldy----sleeping quietly in the attic, but they may worry about what will happen when they go to sell the home.  What if they cannot find a buyer that feels the same way about their old friend “Mouldy” that they do.  They want to avoid feeling like “Dopy.”  In other words will this stuff that doesn’t matter to them affect the resale value of the house regardless?

     I wish there was an easy answer to the question----heck I would accept an easy question for the answer!  I seriously recommend that before anyone goes too far down the road of trying to answer this question, that they carefully read the work of Caoimhín P. Connell, Health Effects of Moulds (Molds): State of Knowledge.

     If nothing else---he does serious damage to the hysteria surrounding Mold----breaking the mold.



Charles Buell


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Comment balloon 26 commentsCharles Buell • March 23 2009 06:22AM


Mention the "M" word and folks start headin' for the hills as fast as their two legs can carry them. We typically do not see that much mold in the attics, but severe dustings are quite common in the crawlspaces...

Boy, you are up early today Charles. 

Posted by TeamCHI - Complete Home Inspections, Inc., Home Inspectons - Nashville, TN area - 615.661.029 (Complete Home Inspections, Inc.) over 9 years ago

Yes----taking my kid to the airport:)

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) over 9 years ago

Thanks for the good post.  Time to call for some air sampling and remediation in my opinion.

Posted by Gabe Sanders, Stuart Florida Real Estate (Real Estate of Florida specializing in Martin County Residential Homes, Condos and Land Sales) over 9 years ago

Some HI's have it in their mind they will be run through the legal system by calling something mold when there is a chance it might not be mold. Personally I don't have a problem using the "M" word. If it looks like mold I take a photo and tell my clients it looks like mold. I've never had anyone I work for complain.

People tend to run for the hills like Michael said but it's just the fear of the unknown.

Posted by Vince Santos, Southeast Michigan Home Inspector (StepByStep Home Services LC) over 9 years ago

Looks like a feature to me!  The first picture looks like a skunky animal!! 

Posted by Barbara S. Duncan, GRI, e-PRO, Executive Broker, Searcy AR (RE/MAX Advantage) over 9 years ago

boy, there's nothing that makes an inspection report more fun for a buyer and his buyer's agent than.... "maybe".

Posted by Alan May, Helping you find your way home. (Coldwell Banker Residential) over 9 years ago

Gabe, in this kind of scenario Air Sampling is always going to show spores---might as well by-pass the testing and just remediate if that is what you want to do.  Around here they would come in and clean the surface and then spray the whole attic with sealer.

Vince----that is my experience as well.

Thanks Barbara---you really don't want to know what the first pretty picture is:)

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) over 9 years ago

Charles, I liked the way you approached this topic. Utimately it is up to the buyer to decide.

Posted by Tad Petersen / Home Inspector, Mpls (Safeguard Home Inspections, Inc.) over 9 years ago

Alan, agreed----and sometimes the only answer that can be given is "may be."  In the case of mold it really doesn't matter what "kind" it is.  It is indicative of a past or present problem?  The buyer needs to merely answer the question of whether they are "OK" with its presence, wants it cleaned up, and/or whether the cause has been fixed or can be fixed

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) over 9 years ago

Ah, yes!  That nasty little "M" word!  If you were here in DC, you would be on my list of inspectors I'd recommend.  You have a great approach to giving a buyer the information needed to make an informed decision about what to do. 

Posted by Patricia Kennedy, Home in the Capital (RLAH Real Estate) over 9 years ago

Tad. thanks

Pat, thanks----I am packing as we speak:)

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) over 9 years ago

Charles, I'll have to give Caoimhín P. Connell a good read when I get back. I have an inspection in an hour and I've already been told the house has the four-letter word in the crawl and attic. Goodness, goodness, goodness. Imagine that, a house in the Pocono's with a MOLD problem, like that's not common place for this region. Great article, like your approach, will be keeping it in mind when I writing up the dreaded report this afternoon

Posted by Suesan Jenifer Therriault, "Inspecting every purchase as if it were my own". (JTHIS-Professional Home Inspection Team) over 9 years ago

Charlie - MOLD can be a nightmare and a huge deal breaker!

Posted by Carol Culkin, Overland Park (Reece & Nichols) over 9 years ago

Charles - This is where a good inspector comes in handy.  I know you have to watch what you say and how you say it, but a good inspector can talk openly and honestly about mold with the client and at least give them the facts they need to make that decision.  Some inspectors can be a nightmare with this sort of stuff.  An agent in our office, just had an inspector (first time she had used him) talk her clients out of a house because he was so negative about everything.  He was definitely being a contractor more than an inspector (turns out, he also had a contractor's license, so he was more than willing to "help" fix the problems).  Mold is a bad word in this part of the country too.  I cringe when I hear it.

Posted by Matt Stigliano (Kimberly Howell Properties (210) 646-HOME) over 9 years ago


In my reports, as I am sure many of you do, I don't pull punches when it comes to safety or health items. In some of the pictures you posted, if the seller didn't kow that they had a problem they deserve the little slap in the face the report will give them. It amazes me how many sellers don't check out their house before they put a for sale sign in the front yard!!! 

Posted by Dan Callahan (Callahan's Home Inspections) over 9 years ago


Please tell us what the first picture is!!! Curious minds can't rest until you do!

Posted by Dan Callahan (Callahan's Home Inspections) over 9 years ago

Good topic to post about. I think mold is a topic many in the RE world try to avoid but with a good explanation of it causes and how to remedy the situation, most feel a little better.

Posted by Randy King (Prokore Inspections) over 9 years ago

Charlie - Mold, the latest, greatest home inspection problem.  Next it will be fiberglass insulation and then finished hardwood flooring.  They always have to have something.  I think the article you linked to was very good. 

That said, I don't think your first picture was mold at all but the infamous, little seen, and enigmatic, Witch's Hair Horseshoe Crab resting comfortably on the bottom of Puget Sound, or maybe one of your now famous crawl spaces.  At one time it was considered extinct, but was since found.  I think the other place they pop up is Loch Ness -- so you KNOW how enigmatic they are! 

You have an excellent flash on that underwater camera, by the way!  I hope your coveralls kept you warm enough.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 9 years ago

Suesan, I think you will find his information very helpful.

Carol, yup

Matt, that would be against almost every association and licensed state's standards of practice.

Dan, true, the problem comes with those grey areas where there is still so much debate about what is actually a health concern and what is a perceived health concern.

Dan, are you REALLY sure that you want to know?:)

Randy, good quality "information" is the key to most things wrong with houses.

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) over 9 years ago

Jay, way to sneak in there:)  Caoimhin is pretty amazing----very friendly to talk to as well when you have a question.

DRUM ROLL PLEASE----the mystery fungus?  Cat poop in a crawl space----now don't you wish Jay was right-----and that I had kept it to myself?

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) over 9 years ago

I do Charles, I do wish you had kept that to yourself.  Frankly it looked like something that should get petted, instead it was something left by a pet.  LOL.

And I see where it would be most difficult for you to get it might be mold into a report. 

Posted by Tammy Lankford,, Broker GA Lake Sinclair/Eatonton/Milledgeville (Lane Realty Eatonton, GA Lake Sinclair, Milledgeville, 706-485-9668) over 9 years ago

Tammy----and I WARNED everyone too:)

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) over 9 years ago

Charles, it is all the unknown fungal growth.  I never put the M word in my reports (thanks to an attorney's advice), but I always discuss the possibilities with the buyer/client.  Since I am allergic to Mold (black mold to be specific) I head for the truck and come back with a mask moments after I recognize the smell.  This is usually a big tip to the client. Not many of them miss this hint.

Posted by Jack Gilleland (Home Inspection and Investor Services, Clayton) over 9 years ago

Jack, can you tell me why your attorneys recommend this?

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) over 9 years ago

Charlie, I had a good inkling what that white chia pet was. I have seen them way too often myself.

I don't really believe mold is that complicated. It is just another facet of home inspection information that we are looked on to report. Those individuals that scare people are doing so because they believe, wrongly, that doing anything other would leave them open for a lawsuit.

Your roof example demonstrates how we must take the clues presented to us and inform our client. Often in an attic you can examine the roofing nails and determine if a ventilation or moisture problem may in all probability been remedied. But ultimately all we can due is speculate using what ever experience we have and from the information at hand.

Posted by James Quarello, Connecticut Home Inspector (JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC) over 9 years ago

James it can be fun sometimes sorting out all the clues to see what is actually going on.

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) over 9 years ago