There’s been a lot of news about homes going into foreclosure, but less news about the after effect this has on the actual homes. Behold, the mold haven.
Our company gets contracted by companies like Fannie Mae sometimes to go into foreclosed homes and clean it up. We change the locks, clean out the house, pump water out of basements, and try to get the house fixed so they can sell it.
The “cleaning up” part of the job usually involves cleaning out the junk people leave behind. In the eviction homes I’ve done, we have to put people’s stuff on the front lawn. Usually it’s just trash, but it legally has to be on the front lawn to allow them to come and get it before we can throw it away. This house I worked on early this week was the first I’d done where it looked like they left in a hurry. Whatever happened, happened fast.
Everything I put out on the front lawn was moldy, but there were two leather sofas, a microwave, good dishes, and a baby’s crib (that one made me sad). Usually in evictions if the police come and someone’s still in the house (they usually have already left), they’re cool and tell people to take their time. But this didn’t look like people left taking their time. They even left about $800 in electric motors in the garage, a lawn mower, golf clubs, tire rims, a snow blower… it didn’t look like a good situation when they left (I guess an eviction is never good though).
After all this stuff gets hauled to the front lawn, we get to work on the actual home. Changing the locks was pretty quick to do; the bigger problem in this home, and in lots of foreclosed homes, was the 2 feet of standing water in the basement. Here’s why this happens…
90% of homes have sump pumps. And I actually have 2 sump pumps (one is a backup because I know how bad it is when a sump pump breaks). To put a sump pump in, you find the lowest part of a basement, and dig a 4 foot deep hole that’s about feet wide and you drop the pump in there. There’s a float in there as well. Bear with me here. Homes have drain tile around them. When it rains, the drain tile water from around your home drains into the sump pump. The floater moves in the basin where the sump pump is and so the pump kicks on and pumps the water into the backyard far enough away that the water won’t come back.
But in a foreclosed home the power gets turned off. And if the power is turned off, then the water that is funneled to the sump pump just builds and builds because the pump can’t work without power. And pretty soon you’ve got flooding in your basement. 2 feet of flooding in the case of this home (and now you can see why the home was so moldy all over, there was 2 feet of standing water in the basement!).
To get the sump pump back on, the power in the house must be turned back on. Before turning it back on though, I needed to wade to where the sump pump was and plug it in (they homeowners unplugged it in vendetta against their lender, I think) and then get the power on. When I walked down the stairs, before touching the water, I dipped my electrical tester into the water to make sure that the water wasn’t energized. Even though the power was out, you never really know. There are exposed outlets and circuit breakers that are under water in a situation like this so you’ve got to be careful (bluecollarworkman tip #1: If you have water built up in your basement or crawl space, do NOT go in unless the power is off!).
After I got near the sump pump, plugged it in, made sure it looked okay, and walked away, I called the electric company and got them to put the power on in the house. They were waiting for my call and so with the power on, the sump pump started working and that basement eventually got cleared of all that standing water.
As for all the mold everywhere, we would’ve had to scrub it if it was just on one wall, but the entire house was nasty, all moldy, so there was no saving the drywall or anything at all. The house needed a complete gut. The company I work for bid on that job, but the lender who owns the house is looking around for the lowest estimate right now. I’m actually glad that we haven’t gotten the bid yet because all the mold in that house made me sick that first night. I was nauseous and felt like garbage because of all of that mold!
Note: In case you were wondering how I got to talk to the electric company so fast without sitting on the phone waiting for 4 hours (and how I got the service I needed immediately), it’s because they have commercial and residential lines. When a company, like us, calls the commercial line, it goes right through. When a person, like you (or me when I’m off the job), calls the residential line, we have to wait hours to talk to anyone. And get bad service. It’s ridiculous.