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Finding a Mold-Free Rental: 8 Places to Look for Signs of Mold

 

Over ten months ago, my husband and I began seeking a mold-free rental for our family in central Illinois. Our goal seemed pretty simple at the time. We needed to find an environment with no mold so we could turn around the immune damage we had already sustained.
We thought we were different than other moldies that were “worse off.” We assumed that we could find a better environment and stay ahead of the curve so our health could turn a corner. But that’s not what happened.

 

When we moved out of our house, I quickly learned what it’s like to become “unmasked” to molds, chemicals, VOCs, EMFs, and environmental toxins. For us, that meant hypersensitivity and hyperreactivity entered our lives, and as we looked for a safe dwelling to rent, we got more and more discouraged.

 

Our hope was to find a decent unit with no visible mold. It had to be new enough to have no mold in the HVAC, and old enough to be low VOC (new building materials “off-gas” chemicals for years). However, our hopes did not mesh with reality as I physically reacted to every rental we viewed, and we found mold in all but 2 of the 40+ we toured (I get reactive airway symptoms around mold, which turns into anaphylaxis if I don’t get away from the trigger). The two rentals without visible mold were high EMF and VOCs (my head feels like it’s being squeezed in a vice grip in those environments).

 

We looked at apartments as low as $650 a month, and condos as high as $1300 a month. The price point made no difference, and some of the moldiest were the most costly.

Our mold journey is still in a state of upheaval, and I’ll post an update on us once a few more details come together, but for now I thought I’d share some of the things we’ve learned to check when viewing rentals. Our eyes have been opened to how prevalent indoor fungal growth is in the Midwest.
 

 

Mold and water damage like to hide, so it can take some detective work to get a rough idea of the fungal load in a home. We are definitely not experts, but have had a lot of practice. 😉 Through trial and error, we have developed our own personal system when looking for visible issues at each rental.

 

First we do an inspection of the outside of the rental checking for:
  • proper gutter placement
  • the sump pump drain pipe running out far enough away from the home
  • proper slope of the ground (away from the house)
  • no signs of water wicking/intrusion/damage

If the outside looks ok, then Micah goes inside to do an initial look-see while I wait outside. It must pass his visual and olfactory inspection before I enter. He uses a flashlight since water stains and fungus can easily hide and look like dust in dim lighting.

These 8 things (below) are the major places we check that play into our decision-making. Trying to find a place that will be a healing environment for our family has proven very difficult, and there are many more things to think through when hypersensitive to mold and chemicals. There are more great tips in this post by my friend Christa.

  1. Smell: The initial smell upon entering a home can be very telling. Any notes of mustiness, earthiness, or generic stench can signify a deeper problem. Air fresheners also make it a no-go due to chemical sensitivities. (And often they are covering up some of the previously mentioned scents).
  2. Ceilings: We check every ceiling for signs of water damage, and especially closets. Since closets are usually closed off from the rest of the room, a leak above the closet can easily go unnoticed.
  3. Plumbing: In our experience, one of the most common locations for water damage is in the cabinets under sinks. Micah checks for visible mold or water damage under every sink, whether it’s the kitchen, bathroom, or utility room. Any exposed plumbing gets a once-over as well, checking for evidence of leaks or fungal growth.
  4. Bathrooms: To get a good idea of what is flying around in the air, Micah looks inside the toilet tanks. We have learned this will often give a visual picture of the environment. If there are mold spores in the air and/or the bathroom isn’t properly ventilated, mold will often grow on the parts inside the tank that stick up above the water. He also checks around the base of toilets, on the top edge of the shower/tub surrounds and on any calking in and around the shower/tub.
  5. Kitchen Appliances: Underneath the dishwasher is a very common place for water damage, and around the refrigerator and freezer seals can grow mold.  The refrigerator drip pan can also be a culprit, but isn’t always readily accessible.
  6. Utility Room Appliances: Micah checks the water hookups behind the washing machine, as well as under the hot water heater and furnace, and also looks down all utility drains.
  7. Windows and Doors: Check windowsills for water damage and inside window casings and sliding door tracks for mold.
  8. Basement:  We looks over the unfinished basement or crawlspace, checking for cracks, patches, evidence of water intrusion, or fungal growth on studs, pipes, foundation material, joists, decking, etc.

Mushrooms growing in a utility room

If Micah finds something questionable, he either tells the landlord it won’t work for us, or takes pictures to come outside and show to me. If it seems like the rental might be a good a possibility, my main goal of going inside is to see if my body reacts negatively. If I do react to a place, we leave pretty quickly. If it’s questionable, we ask to spend some time in the unit with the HVAC running to see how things go after an hour or two.

 

There have generally been very clear reasons *not* to rent most of the units we’ve viewed.  Only two places passed the initial test and we spent extra time there to run the HVAC (which ended in disappointing allergic reactions).

 

Many people shake their heads and wonder why we don’t just pick a place already and bleach what’s visible to clean up the mold. We have found some cleaning tools to be useful with cross-contamination from brief exposures to mold and mycotoxins. But when it comes to living in an environment with hyperreactivity to tiny particles we cannot see, it’s like asking someone with a severe peanut allergy why they won’t go to 5 Guys restaurant after the cleaning crew has been through and cleaned up after a day of customers. The customers spread peanut oils and dust on every surface they touched (the chairs, under the table, in the bathrooms, on the doors), and there may be peanut dust in the HVAC system. Some people react to peanuts just by being near them, and that’s the level of sensitivity we’re currently dealing with. When just being near a trigger causes airways to swell, it’s not a small thing to pick a place and try to make it work.

Where are some areas in your living space that you’ve found mold?

 

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