Three months ago, we moved into our new home. At first, everything was fantastic. We were in a lovely, established neighborhood with lush landscaping, meandering side streets, and enormous trees whose leaves, come spring, would shuffle in the wind. About two months ago, I started to feel ill. It was subtle at first, but as time passed, my symptoms got worse. Meanwhile, my husband and I started noticing a musty odor in the closet behind my office on the second floor. Like my illness, the smell started off subtle but worsened as the weeks progressed.
We didn’t connect the musty smell in our home with my illness. They seemed to be separate issues: I was ill and needed to figure out how to get better, and we also needed to deal with the musty odor in my office. They were two things, not one. My illness quickly became so debilitating that it was impossible to deal with the odor. It was much easier to close the closet door and hope that the mustiness would either take care of itself or that I would get better and be able to deal with it at some point down the line.
Last week, I was filling out pre-appointment paperwork a physician sent me, which included several questionnaires designed to screen for various chronic conditions. Several of the questionnaires asked about mold and mold allergies. I don’t know why I didn’t connect the illness and the mold in our home before filling out that paperwork, but the connection was obvious. Not only did I have a mold allergy, I knew I had a mold allergy. In January, my immunologist tested me for allergic reactions to twelve different molds. I had the most severe allergic reaction possible for Alternia, Cladosporium, Fusarium, Epicoccum, Helminthosporium, Curvularia, Pullaria, Stemphylium and Rhizopus.
Part of the reason I didn’t make the connection between the musty odor and my symptoms is that I didn’t realize an allergy could make a person so ill. I associated allergies with sneezing or itchy eyes. I didn’t realize mold allergies can cause flu-like symptoms, fatigue, hair loss, skin problems, headaches and other issues that can worsen with repeated or continued exposure.
My husband and I finally acknowledged that we needed to locate the cause of the mold as soon as possible and stop it at its source. After talking with several professionals, including a mold remediation specialist and a roofer, we learned that the problem most likely originated in our second-floor ceilings due to improper venting and lack of airflow between the ceiling and the roof. We knew what we had to do. We bought respirators rated for work around mold, got some tools together, removed all our belongings from the office space and closet, and began taking the closet down to the rafters and studs.
The professionals were right: The mold was evident on the rafters, which is where moisture that could not escape through the roof appears to have collected. All the nails used to secure the drywall to the rafters are rusted — more evidence that moisture was collecting in that area. The insulation and decking don’t appear to be affected, which is a good thing. But the fact that every rafter was affected means we might have to pull the drywall off the walls as well to see how far the mold extends. It also means we have to at least remove the ceilings from the entire second floor, since it’s all constructed in the same manner and has a high probability of being colonized by mold.
We bought this house because we didn’t want to have to do extensive renovation work, as we have with our other homes. I guess that just wasn’t in the cards for us. In a way, I am happy that this house has mold because its presence has helped me identify the source of what I believe has been a contributing factor in my chronic health issues. My mold allergy helps explain why my health became more compromised after moving to Seattle, where molds flourish both indoors and outdoors, and where cold, damp weather exacerbates symptoms. Now that I have awareness, I am developing an action plan — both for the house and for my health.