holy $#@& it's damp!

girlndocsNovember 17, 2010

The 1920 stick-frame concrete-block-foundation house I rent in Western WA has always been a little damp in the fall and winter -- we regularly get condensation on the inside of the window glass, for instance -- but suddenly this year it's ridiculously damp.

Wooden trivets and my wooden recipe box in the kitchen are moldy (they get handled every couple days or so, so not things way back in storage). There's mildew on the spines of some of our books just in the last week. Sugar and salt used to tend to clump but now they're completely unsalvageable. The bedding on the bed feels damp. Sticks of incense are so moist in the box that they bend. The bathroom is so damp I can't get new peel-and-stick vinyl tile to adhere. And there are suddenly big new patches of mold on the ceilings.

The landlord had a roof guy out, and he swears he can't find anything wrong with the roof (which was replaced 2 years ago). He could be a crappy roof guy, though. The only changes to the house this year were that we stripped wallpaper from the plaster in the living room and painted, we finished about half the wood floors, and I installed wood-frame interior storms covered with plastic window sheeting in the living room and bedrooms (where the windows have massive drafty gaps). We've never had a fan in the bathroom or kitchen (it seems funny to me but city code seems to say that an openable window in each room will suffice).

This is our 8th or 9th winter here and it's never been close to this before. What the heck can be going on? It's pretty bad, and being so sudden it worries me a lot. My landlords are pretty apathetic so having a direction to forcefully point them in might be helpful.

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Girlndocs, that sounds awful! It can't feel healthy for you, I can imagine you're about seething in frustration!
A word of caution... Do you have a lease, or after that many years are you on a month-to-month basis? The house next door to me has a leaky MOLDY concrete basement, & a stingy landlord. The previous tenants (1st renters after owner sold to landlord-guy), were perfect tenants - kept the place clean inside & out, paid rent early, etc. The mold got really bad. Her (asthmatic) nephew came to stay for the summer & got very sick & had to leave. They asked the landlord to check it out, pointing out to him that he was legally responsible to make it safe. Landlord inspected, said he'd "look into it but thought it was fine". 2 weeks later they got a letter from landlord... Their lease was up in 1 month & he wouldn't be renewing it, as he needed it vacant so he could do "extensive long-term work" on the house. They had kicked up a fuss, so they had to go. The "extensive work"? He filled (concealed!) the cracks in concrete inside & foundation outside w/something (that crumbled & fell out within a year), painted exterior foundation where he'd filled those. That was it. Current tenants are filthy, dog "goes" in the house, they pay rent late each month - skipping a few - and they've been there 4 years. Because they haven't complained about the mold problem that he doesn't want to really fix.
Hopefully your situation is much different - after that many years your landlord may be more worried about you than his $. There may be channels you can go through to protect yourself - locally w/your City? Meanwhile, can you invest in dehumidifier - to maybe limit risks to your health until it's resolved?

    Bookmark   November 17, 2010 at 5:26PM
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Thanks toolgirl.

after that many years your landlord may be more worried about you than his $ Hahahahaha no. We have sort of a tenuous balance with the landlords -- we stay because it's cheap, and the reason it's cheap is because it's stupidly undermaintained. But then, even cheap, not a lot of people would be willing to put up with the undermaintenance, and before we moved in they had tenant turnover every year or so, so 8-year reliable rent is nothing for them to sneeze at and they tolerate being pushed and badgered about the maintenance issues more than they might otherwise.

Anyway, I'd rather not get deep into my housing situation. I am pretty sure if this is some massively metastasizing issue, it won't get the attention it needs, as they've been slowly killing this poor house for as long as they've owned it. But it would be good to know if there might be something in particular we could urge them to look at before the place falls down.

Dehumidifier sounds like a good idea. I wonder if anyone can tell me what capacity I might need for about 800sf?

I was wondering if the several layers of wallpaper and paint in the living room could have been functioning as a vapor barrier and stripping it all off is allowing more wet air to come in from outside? I don't think it was vinyl wallpaper though, and that was the kind I read about doing that ...

    Bookmark   November 17, 2010 at 8:02PM
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I had the same problem in an old fourplex I lived in...I used a dehumidifier, which was awesome (and scary---that thing would fill once or twice a day in the wintertime!!) It helped hugely. That place was damp enough that books got moldy (eww...) I can't remember the brand--it's in the bowels of our basement now as we've never needed it here---but it was whatever I found on Amazon that was decently recommended and not insanely expensive (I think I spent around $150?) No clue on capacity but it was about 3' x 2' or thereabouts. Big.

I have no idea what caused it as I got out of there after the year was up---but I will say that our current house, which is about the same age (1920s) and form of construction and just a few miles away, has never ever had a moisture problem. And the apartment even had a vent for the stove, which our house now doesn't have!

    Bookmark   November 17, 2010 at 8:56PM
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could it be that by closing up/sealing the windows you have also closed in/sealed in the moisture?

    Bookmark   November 17, 2010 at 8:56PM
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I've found that dehumidifiers are much easier to live with when their drip pans are plumbed to floor drains, so I don't have to dump them daily (or even more frequently).

I don't know about newer ones, but the ones I have (12-20 years old) came with molded garden hose threads on their pans. All I had to do was poke holes in the plastic, screw on the hose, and run the hose to the cellar floor drain.

Obviously that's easier to do in the cellar than upstairs, but if I had to use one upstairs I'd find a way to drain it. If it comes to that, you can get a condensate pump usually used with portable air con units. Little Giant makes one (not a recommendation, just for reference), and I'm sure there are others.

Here is a link that might be useful: Little Giant condensate pumps

    Bookmark   November 17, 2010 at 9:28PM
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Also, maybe all dehumidifiers have this, but mine has a setting that automatically turns it off if the pan is full. That was really, really important since I wasn't always around to empty it. (Seems like a no-brainer, but I don't remember the dehumidifier we had when I was a kid having it....)

    Bookmark   November 17, 2010 at 9:40PM
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could it be that by closing up/sealing the windows you have also closed in/sealed in the moisture? Yep, that's one of my worries, although what can I do really? This is the first year we haven't been cranking up the heaters already. Those windows have been a godsend.

Don't have any floor drains, don't have any air conditioning of any kind, don't have any way I can think of (and I am a creative thinker) to hose-drain a dehumidifier, so I guess I'll have to look for one with the auto shutoff -- thanks for that tip.

People with dehumidifiers, do you find that the air gets *dry*, or is it just not insanely wet?

    Bookmark   November 17, 2010 at 11:58PM
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I would move, on the grounds that it's dangerously unhealthy. I imagine the windows needed replacing years ago and water is probably coming in around the rotted frames. And the foundation could be a wet mess, along with who knows what else.

    Bookmark   November 18, 2010 at 5:58AM
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Is it basement or crawl space? Have you taken a look around there to see if there's a water problem? I'm thinking wet wood in the framing, and now that the house is tighter and warmer, you're feeling the damp. With the draft, there was more air exchange. Can't you rent/buy a moisture meeter to see what the moisture content is in the walls and/or framing? If it's molding the trivets, there's probably a good amount of mold in the walls. You may want to seriously get on this guy. If he boots you out, it might be for the best anyway. And the code enforcement might want to know about it for the safety of the next tenants...

    Bookmark   November 18, 2010 at 6:28AM
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Old houses were built to "breath." They were leaky and drafty. That isn't necessarily a bad thing if you are burning wood or coal in them.

If you want to start patching those leaks (ie storm windows) you really have to go all the way. Really Leaky works OK. Completely sealed works OK. A little of each tends to cause all sorts of moisture problems. Right now, water is getting in from somewhere and your new windows are keeping it from escaping. You either need to find out how the water is getting in or find a new way for the water to get out.

    Bookmark   November 18, 2010 at 8:30AM
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With my dehumidifier in our soggy apartment, it didn't feel dry at all---just not moist. (I'm in the SF Bay Area, so I think our weather/seasons are similar to yours, just not quite as cold.) Get a dehumidifier where you can set the moisture level (again, maybe they all have this now?) and if it feels dry, you can adjust it a little higher.

I do remember with that apartment, I got into a huge fight with the tenants in the next unit (who were pretty weird to begin with) because I reported the moisture issue to the landlord, hoping she'd address it. (In that case, she'd bought and redone the units a few years earlier, and her kids had lived there while they were in college, so I had been hopeful that she cared about the condition of the place and her investment in it.) They flipped out because they had been "keeping it a secret" out of fear that she would then kick the tenants out in order to fix the mold/mildew that had developed in the walls. ?!?? Needless to stay, I didn't stick around to see how that would pan out... (This is also in a city with pretty pro-tenant, and strict, rental laws, so that scenario was rather unlikely!)

    Bookmark   November 18, 2010 at 12:15PM
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Dehumidifiers are noisy! The landlord should either address the problem now, or let them out of the lease, now.

    Bookmark   November 18, 2010 at 6:16PM
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Whether you rent or own your home or apartment, a dehumidifier is a good investment. It can save on your health and your property. I just bought a new Frigidaire 50-Pint Dehumidifier in the last month and itâÂÂs what is known as a âÂÂLow Tempâ unit which means it will work down to about 40 or 45 degrees without freezing up. Get a 50 or 70 pint unit instead of the 25 pint size and adjust the humidity level to suit your situation. If there is a mold problem in the house I would consider moving as the mold can cause irreversible health problems⦠Just my 2 cents worth.

Here is a link that might be useful: GoingGreen2Day

    Bookmark   November 19, 2010 at 4:19AM
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I would move, on the grounds that it's dangerously unhealthy. That's nice. Look, I'm sorry to be rude, but if it were an option, I'd be considering it, not hanging around here while my incense collection melts and my books mildew.

Is it basement or crawl space? Have you taken a look around there to see if there's a water problem? We don't have a basement but to my knowledge the crawl space has been dry for several years. The property has poor drainage, though, so I better take another look. Note to self: look into moisture meter.

Really Leaky works OK. Completely sealed works OK. Interesting. What exactly would be needed to go to "completely sealed"? I'm guessing roof insulation, vapor barriers in the attic and crawl space ... and ...? Probably beyond our scope but good information to have.

    Bookmark   November 19, 2010 at 5:01PM
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I don't think that poster was trying to be rude; if there really were a toxic mold problem (which, from what you've said, there isn't---you've just been talking about mildew, I think), that would be the right advice. It is actually illegal in my city for a landlord to rent a unit with known black mold that they are not addressing because the health consequences of living there are so extreme. And I'm guessing it's not that you live in a community where there truly are no other rental properties that will accept you, but that you like the combo of rent, space, etc. that you have with your current place, other than this particular problem, so it's a problem that's worth trying to solve.

Sealing an old house completely is complicated, though---and probably not something you want to undertake. You'd need to caulk the attic rafters, insulate, seal outlets, etc.---we recently got a bid on doing our small house that was $6K (since California just started a rebate program to encourage people to do this---but even with the rebate, still way beyond our means!) Cheaper if you DIY of course, but not necessarily simple, and definitely not the kind of money/time I'd spend on someone else's property. I'd see how far the dehumidifier gets you, and if it isn't enough, have a conversation with the landlord about how much work he wants to undertake to address the source of the problem. There are long-term impacts of moisture on the house itself, after all, so maybe he might change his mind about tackling it if he had a clear path forward?

    Bookmark   November 19, 2010 at 5:58PM
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Living in a temperate rain forest is liable to be rather damp.

    Bookmark   November 20, 2010 at 11:19AM
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