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Mold drives family from 'dream' home

Expert says repairs could cost more than $100,00

Published on 07/06/08
By Prentiss Findlay
The Post and Courier

Benjamin and Joy Allen's dream home in Etiwan Park on Daniel Island has turned into something of a nightmare. Above: Terrence Tully with Moisture Control Experts must wear a respirator in the house while he examines it for mold.

Rotten wood is visible between the exterior and interior walls of the house.

Benjamin Allen moved his family to Daniel Island in 2005 from the Washington area, where he worked in national security for the Bush Administration.

The Allens had their home tested for mold after they noticed it growing on the home's exterior.

Anyone entering the home of Benjamin and Joy Allen on Daniel Island must wear a protective mask.

At first it appears that a family lives there, like they just stepped out for a while. The kids' rocking horse and stuffed animals are there. The kitchen is well-stocked. But a large rectangular hole has been cut into a wall.

"This is the worst I've found on Daniel Island," said Terrence Tully, owner of Moisture Control Experts of Summerville. The wheezing respirator he wears muffles his voice as he talks about the family's mold problem.

The Allens paid Tully  to test their home for mold May 26 when they noticed it growing on the outside of the house. When the results came back, they abruptly left what they considered their dream home on the advice of their doctor. They have been living with friends since May 30.

Tully discovered mold, which essentially is a fungus, on the inside of walls of the Allen home. That was bad news because the walls are made of porous material that allows mold spores to spread to the rest of the house via the heating and cooling system.

Moisture seeped into the home's walls, creating a wet environment conducive to mold because, Tully thinks, window flashing was not properly installed. Flashing is material that fills the space between the edge of a window and vinyl siding that prevents wind-driven rain from getting inside walls.

Tully said fixing the mold problem could cost more than $100,000. He has done limited testing at the Allen home because of the expense, cutting into some walls to evaluate the situation. "You don't know what you have until you start opening it up," he said.

If the Allens move back home, Tully said that anything porous in the house must be removed. That includes furniture, bedding and carpeting. Insulation must be removed from the interior walls. Windows and doors must be fixed to prevent another moisture problem. And the area must be fogged with a chemical to kill mold, he said.

In the meantime, the Allens are living day-to-day. Their daughters, Madeleine, 3, and Ellie, 4, cry themselves to sleep because they don't understand why they left their home, and why they can't have their stuffed animals, Joy Allen said.

Because of their disrupted home life, the daughters become upset when their mother leaves for her job as a music therapist at Trident Regional Medical Center.

"They're normally not like that," she said. "They're scared. They're absolutely scared. They don't want to go to bed at night. They want their rooms."

A next-door neighbor of the Allens, David Pittman, said the Allens' apparent problems with their D.R. Horton-built house have caused him to be concerned about his D.R. Horton-built house.

"We need to determine if we have problems with the house. We've spoken with an attorney," Pittman said.

Another neighbor said she had problems with her D.R. Horton house but could not discuss them on the record because of a confidentiality agreement she signed with the company as part of a settlement.

Representing D.R. Horton, attorney Kyle Dillard of the Greenville office of the law firm of Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart released a statement saying the builder was first notified of the Allens' concerns in a letter from their lawyer, Patrick McDonald.
Dillard's statement said the company has arranged for the Allen house to be inspected, at D.R. Horton's expense, by a third-party professional engineer.

"Once the engineer has provided us with his opinions and recommendations, we will discuss with Mr. Allen's lawyer how to most appropriately address Mr. Allen's concerns. Horton is hopeful that Mr. Allen's concerns can be resolved in a timely manner to the mutual satisfaction of both parties," he said in the e-mailed statement.

The Allens said they purchased the 1,580-square-foot home, their first, for $419,000 and moved here in August of 2005 from the Washington D.C. area.

Benjamin Allen, 33, who is disabled from multiple sclerosis, said he was a special assistant for national security in the Bush Administration.

The Allens live at 100 Jordan Court in the Etiwan Park neighborhood. The home was built eight years ago, and two other homeowners lived there before the Allens purchased it.

"This was going to be our dream home. We scraped together every penny we could for this home," Joy Allen said.

They owe about $390,000 on the mortgage, Benjamin Allen said.
Joy Allen, 32, provided a copy of a June 5 letter from their family physician, Lucy Davis, of Palmetto Primary Care Physicians on Daniel Island. In the letter, Davis said it was her medical opinion that the Allens should move out of the home until the source of a water leak is repaired and all current mold is removed.

"The possibility of this causing detriment to their health or worsening current health problems of Mr. Allen and his daughters is great," Davis wrote.

She described the levels of mold and mildew infestation uncovered as a result of a May 26 inspection of the house as "very concerning."

Hayes Microbial Consulting of Midlothian, Va., analyzed the mold spore samples that Tully collected May 26 in the Allen home.

Steve Hayes, owner of Hayes Microbial Consulting, said mold problems can happen because of moisture in walls. The heating and cooling system sucks mold spores from inside the porous walls and spreads them in the house, he said.

Hayes said that 99 percent of mold-related health problems are caused by allergies.

"It can be really debilitating. It's nothing to ignore. It's been proven that mold is an asthma trigger," he said.

The Allens said their youngest daughter has had serious respiratory problems. They have taken her to emergency rooms several times, including on Christmas Eve, and have been living from one doctor's appointment to another, they said.

"Her medical condition has been awful," Benjamin Allen said.

Reach Prentiss Findlay at 937-5711 or

--Mold growth, which often looks like spots, can be many different colors, and can smell musty. If you can see or smell mold, a health risk might be present.

--Fix any leaks in your home's roof, walls or plumbing so mold does not have moisture to grow. If mold is growing in your home, you need to clean up the mold and fix the moisture problem.

--Sampling for mold can be expensive, and standards for judging what is and is not an acceptable quantity of mold have not been set. The best practice is to remove the mold and work to prevent future growth.

--Keep the humidity level in your home between 40 percent and 60 percent. Use an air conditioner or a dehumidifier during humid months and in damp spaces, like basements.

--Clean bathrooms with mold-killing products.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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