It's monsoon season in Arizona and this year has been quite the doozy. It's winding down now but for two and a half months, starting the second week of June (which was early), it rained almost every day! Monsoon rains are not normal rains like we've experienced elsewhere. These rains usually come with thunderstorms that include severe wind gusts and torrential downpours. Have you ever seen horizontal rain? Unfortunately, most people - including builders - aren't aware of the dangers of mold and how easily it contaminates and thrives in the built environment. Worse, toxic varieties of mold love cellulose! Cellulose is basically any kind of wood product (eg. plywood, particle board, cardboard, sheet rock paper backing) - in other words, common building material that most modern housing is built with: floors, walls, ceilings, cabinets, doors, etc. There are some pretty bad horror stories of people moving into brand new houses, getting sick, and having all their stuff contaminated. And it doesn't matter if it was a multi-million dollar house. Mold spores are everywhere! All mold needs to grow is food (eg. cellulose) and water and it prefers dark, still air (eg. inside walls and cabinets).
I recently took this picture and the one at the top of the page of two different houses being built a few miles from Sabbatical Ranch. There was no one around in either case. Sadly, these partially built houses will almost certainly have mold problems as a result of building in the rain. If you look for a place to rent or buy, how can you know if it was built with mold precautions taken to ensure it's not toxic from the start? Or if it's not new, that it's never had water damage? You should obviously do a thorough inspection. An easy thing to check is sinks: if the shelf in the cupboard underneath a sink is warped, it's had water damage. Bring a flashlight to look at the underside of the counter around the sink and tools to access things like hot water heaters, water pipes, AC ducts and condensation systems, attics, and crawl spaces. You can certainly have tests done, but those don't usually reveal the whole picture. You can also see how you feel in a place, but you may or may not feel immediate reactions for a variety of reasons. It seems it's not a matter of if water damage will occur in a building, but when. Problems with the conventional built environment are so monumental that many people are in denial. This is slowly changing as more and more people are suffering, and understanding is spreading. One example is that the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers felt the need to publish a Position Document on Limiting Indoor Mold and Dampness in Buildings. As awareness grows, more and better options will become available. That's how the free market works. We had multiple experiences with unconventional housing on our one-year mold-avoidance sabbatical with mixed results. One seemingly popular alternative is straw bale. We had the opportunity to stay in a straw bale house, but after inspecting it we decided to stay outside in our tents. We stayed for about a week - using the kitchen and bathroom inside - and found that the more time we spent inside, the worse we felt. A little research confirmed that straw bale houses can easily develop mold inside the walls. After months of research I came to the conclusion that it may be possible to build mold-free conventional housing, but it would be very expensive and that expense could easily be a waste if any one of dozens of things go wrong. We call them paper houses because they're so fragile/vulnerable (not even The Three Little Pigs built with paper) and we haven't even mentioned the toxic VOC off-gassing from all the synthetic material that is also commonly used in conventional buildings (eg. carpet, paint, insulation, plastics, composite materials, furnishings, cleaners). But I also discovered there are some good unconventional options! Maybe eventually paper houses will be a thing of the past.
Monsoon season usually lasts from about mid-June through mid-September. The rain has made for slow building for us. We take advantage of mornings when it's cooler and usually not raining and then we have to cover everything to keep it dry. In future posts I'll reveal what we're building. It's one of the things visitors will have the opportunity to learn.