Button Up Vermont Workshop

Last week I attended a Button Up Vermont workshop, hosted by Efficiency Vermont, geared toward those affected by the recent Irene flooding.  Efficiency Vermont is an organization committed to teaching Vermonters how to reduce energy costs, choose more sustainable energy sources and to increase the use of local energy. Many flood victims are forced to rebuild portions or all of their homes, choose new heating systems, choose new insulation, buy new appliances and much more; therefore, Efficiency Vermont is aiming to guide people to energy efficient choices.

The workshop announcement sparked my interest for three reasons. (1) Since the workshop was geared towards post flood recovery, it would discuss cleanup such as mold and moisture concerns, which is currently one of my main concerns. (2) We do need to buy a new heating system, and we are trying to decide between oil or wood pellets or both. (3) Also, I was curious to hear what they would say about windows and historic materials. Would they advocate replacement or maintaining what is existing?

To my delight, one of the first things the presenters discussed was mold and moisture. Fun, right? Much of it was geared toward wood and fabric, not concrete. But, I think here is where I solidified my idea to scrub the basement walls. More on that particular endeavor another time. It was generally helpful in the sense that it made me feel better as we had done many of the right things so far. And, it was a good reminder of what we still needed to accomplish. Many people had questions about dirt floor basements or mold on furniture.

Regarding heating systems, it is something I know little about (first time homeowner here!) so I appreciate any discussion on the different systems. Efficiency Vermont offers rebates and incentives to buy certain systems (that goes for appliances, too).

Now, about windows. I am relieved and proud to hear that Efficiency Vermont said that new windows are not worth it; the payback required for the ridiculously expensive windows is much too long. Hooray! That was exciting for me, a historic window lover.

The main part of the workshop (it was more like a lecture, than a workshop) was the discussion about insulation, specifically spray foam insulation. Yuck. I do not like any of it, partially because I have a hard time believing that it’s not toxic in some way (off gases?) and partially because I think it’s ugly. All insulation is generally hideous looking, but something about spray foam creeps me out. Am I crazy? Anyway, while I know energy efficiency is related to insulation, I tend to care less about wall insulation because I want my house to breathe. So if that means a drafty house, I am okay with it. (I know, I expect a lot of disagreement here.) I was disappointed by the emphasis on this insulation, but a lot of people do have to replace the insulation on their first floors, so the discussions were appropriate for the setting.

Overall, I’m glad I attended the workshop. After all, maintenance is preservation and preservation is maintenance, right? Has anyone else been to something similar? What did you think?

Mold Removal + Concrete

As you know, water or moisture can cause the most damage to buildings. Whether from a leaking roof or something as disastrous as a flood, water can be considered the root of all building problems. Water and moisture often lead to mold growth, sometimes in visible locations, but also in unseen locales throughout your building. One of the most important tasks after water damage is to remove all items from the building that have been touched by the water: sheetrock, insulation, rugs, furniture, everything.

Following the removal of flood water and then the removal of mud, we removed all items from the basement. It took days to remove all of the mud and over one week to get the basement to where it looked dry.  We washed our belongings, sanitized them, and have yet to return anything to the basement.

Now we are dealing with mold issues on the concrete basement walls, generally in locations at or below where the muddy water settled for a few hours. Originally we thought bleach would do the job, but it’s been a few rounds of bleach (one of those rounds was undiluted bleach!) and the white, fuzzy mold on the walls keeps appearing.

We have heard conflicting information, too. First, we heard that bleach would remove the mold and that the other products were all marketing. Then we heard otherwise. So, like a good homeowner and preservationist, I turned to my books and online resources. I learned that the chemicals in bleach are inactivated by organic compounds.

Darn. But, that explains why the white fuzzy mold keeps returning.

The concrete walls in our basement are certainly not of the non-porous variety. They are 83 years old and quite porous. In a handful of locations, I can see the aggregate that composes the concrete. It is not like today’s concrete, that’s for sure. Thus, the dirt and whatever else has migrated into my concrete walls is deactivating the bleach, and allowing the mold to grow.

We’re stumped.

All of the literature I have read, whether it’s from the National Trust or a university or any random website, simply talks about the importance of mold removal and safety precautions. The articles discuss the importance of drying out the basement and air circulation and a dehumidifier, of course. But, I need to know what to use in order to remove the mold and keep it away. I have yet to find a resource that mentions specific products proven to remove mold from concrete.

Can you offer a suggestion? What should we do?

I think our next step is to suit up and scrub the walls. But, with what? I’ll keep looking, but if you have an idea or even better – a proven solution – I would love to know.

Thank you!