Strange Odor Leads to Unpleasant Discovery
I arrived on site and met with my client. I wore street clothes as she didn’t want any of her neighbors or board members of her homeowners’ association knowing she is having a mold inspection performed. She said she bought her condominium about seven months ago and noticed an odor which she thought was wet paint. The odor is still there and she wanted to see if it was mold related. When I walked in, there was definitely an odor, and to me it smelled of sewage. I told the client that odors can be tricky since some molds don’t have an odor, and it also depends on the state of some molds as to when they have an odor, and obviously some odors aren’t mold-related. I explained that I would use special moisture detection equipment such as a moisture meter and hygrometer to detect if there are any issues, coupled with any visually suspect conditions.
The condo looked very clean, I didn’t see any visible mold-like growth, and no actively wet building materials were noted. I was determined to find out where that odor was coming from and, although maybe some of our competitors would call it quits at this point and just pull an air sample and outside control, I dug a little deeper. First I stomped on the flooring materials slightly and noticed a not-so-solid sound. I asked the client if she knew of a crawlspace below her unit. She said there is one and the access is in her Master Bedroom closet. I also noted an access panel that I presumed was behind a shower in her Bathroom. I asked if she minded if I removed the access panel and she said I absolutely could. When I opened up the access panel I was hit with the odor and it was much stronger. I saw some slight rust on some materials under the tub but everything was dry and I didn’t see anything suspicious but then I saw the subfloor had a hole to the Crawlspace below. I decided to suit up in my Tyvek suit and half mask and head on down. She asked if that would cost extra. Knowing the client wasn’t able to drop a lot of cash on this inspection I told her I could absolutely include the extra area in the original price, plus my desire to figure out the source of the odor was peaking my interest. She was very appreciative of that and of my thoroughness.
I went down there and noted the usual suspect conditions (no vapor barrier, building materials in contact with exposed soils, carpet in contact with the soil) but I didn’t see anything that would cause that odor until I went directly under the room I was inspecting. This is where I found a leaking sewage line with about 15 lineal feet of standing black water. When I got back up to the client’s condo I explained what I had saw and she was so relieved that I found the source of the odor that she has been living with for 7 months. I told her I didn’t see any mold-like growth but told her how I strongly recommend the air samples as there could certainly be hidden mold growth since not only does she have standing water in her Crawlspace, but the water is category 3, or black water. Having had mitigation / remediation experience I told her what the process will look like to extract the black water and how all the building materials should be removed and a vapor barrier installed. I also drew on my previous property management experienced and told her most likely that the Crawlspace would be the HOA’s responsibility, although she should double check in her governing documents.
This project reminded me of why I do what I do, to help people and find problems that can be fixed which will lead to happier, healthier clients. I gave her my card and asked her for a review which she said she would absolutely give me one.