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Don’t Condemn All Grow Houses: Mould Expert

By Hempology | November 8, 2007

The Intelligencer

03 Nov 2007

Jeremy Ashley

Don’t Condemn All Grow Houses: Mould Expert

It can be the ultimate condemnation for a home.

Long after drug officers have carted away dozens of planters, disassembled specialized hydroponic lighting systems and hauled sophisticated irrigation systems out of a house once used as a cultivation site for marijuana, a stigma is most likely to linger.

“People always say, ‘Oh, that was the grow house, it’s too bad that house will have to come down’ or ‘Those poor people who bought that place’,” Belleville real estate agent Gail Miller said.

“It’s sad, but a true fact in some cases – once a home has been labelled a ‘grow house,’ it’s hard to change people’s minds about it.”

Over the past several years, police drug enforcement teams have shut down a number of so-called ‘grow houses’ in the Quinte region – many times parading the seized goods and detailed pictures of damage to the grow house at press events.

Destruction caused to homes that fall into the category of grow houses is undeniable, but the most serious – at least from a potential purchaser’s point of view – is severe mould and water damage caused by having hundreds of plants confined to a poorly-ventilated area for months on end.

Unfortunately, explained local mould specialist Michael Chatterton, there is a widely-held view such damage is irreversible and the home is doomed to the wrecking ball.

“But, there is nothing further from the truth,” he said while standing outside a home near Belleville that is currently being rehabilitated.

“I’ve been in some pretty bad houses and have yet to see one have to come down because of mould growth. In my opinion, from the cases I’ve seen throughout my career, the vast majority can be rehabilitated.”

Chatterton, who works with property restoration firm WinMar, is one of the few local experts trained not only to identify mould, but to determine the specific cause of the ailment.

Whether the structure can be rehabilitated depends on several factors – - mould growing deep into the internal structure of a property is strikingly different than the same growth on the cosmetic finish of a home, such as drywall or carpeting.

“If the mould is removed properly and the cause is identified and addressed, then the house should be fine.”

Under a microscope the fungi closely resembles a rooted forest, “so when it’s growing on drywall, it has to be ripped out because it’s established itself … when it’s wood – like studs in a home – most times we can remove it using a safe blasting process without any additional issues,” he explained.

“Mould needs humidity, temperature and air flow – so if you don’t have those three things, you don’t have mould growth. You have to have very specific conditions to have mould growth.”

By taking air quality samples in a home, Chatterton is able to break down different components and identify specific types of moulds that may be growing in a residence.

Different moulds are relevant to different sources – a different type of mould comes from grass clippings stored in an enclosed garage than would originate with a leaking faucet.

“The balance of the air quality has to be comparable to the outdoors,” he said. “You have to get it to a climate where it’s not able to grow.”

Chatterton said having an air quality sample taken by a professional should be at the forefront of people’s minds when purchasing a home – whether or not it has been used as a grow house.

It’s an opinion shared by Miller. “Aside from grow houses, I think having an air quality sample in some homes – particularly those with cellars or in low-lying areas with drainage issues – should be prioritized by those looking to buy a home.”

That said, Miller said most would-be homebuyers don’t have the patience to be educated on mould rehabilitation.

“People are so emotional when they’re looking for a home, that first inference of something negative with the home – such as a mould problem or the fact it once was a grow house – turns them away immediately.

“Once you mention the word, they walk out – most don’t want to allow the time or the effort to learn about the issue and how it can be addressed. “

Having a positive report in hand from a certified specialist such as Chatterton saying the site has been rehabilitated is the key to selling, she noted.

Primarily the onus is on the seller to disclose whether the property has ever been used for any criminal activity, such as for growing and processing marijuana, Miller said.

“If it was ever a grow house, it has to be disclosed – there is a section on the seller property information statement that asks the question.

“Now, can somebody lie on that form and get away with it? Well, in theory, they could. But if it was ever found out after a sale, there would be a course of legal action a buyer could take ( against the seller or real estate agent ).”

Typically in the case of grow houses, the premises are seized by the Attorney General through proceeds of crime legislation, then sold to a contracting firm for rehabilitation.

With the current booming housing market in Quinte, the value of most former grow houses – especially ones in highly favourable residential locations – are not affected, Miller said.

“Especially when you take into consideration the costs incurred by rehabilitating the home, usually there isn’t too much of a drop in the value of the property,” Miller said.

“In my opinion, the worst thing about buying a former grow house is the stigma attached to it – whether or not it has any merit.”

For more information about mould and the air quality in homes, visit the website of the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation.

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