Mold in Homes and Real Estate Sales

Mold in homes is not surprising, but it’s also not desirable, particular if there’s a lot of it.

A few years back, my husband and I went to the Monterey Peninsula for a couple of days to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary.  We had a wonderful time there, but would not return to the hotel where we stayed this time.  The worst issue was the mold in the bedroom along the wall and baseboard.  I brought it to the hotel’s attention and it was “cleaned”, but I think the issue is far from solved.

Mold and Mildew

Mold is often called mildew, and is seen perhaps most often in bathrooms around the shower, tub, or window.  Below is an image of of this substance (tested, verified) in a garage on an outside wall.

 

Mold sample on garage wall

First, I should state that mold is naturally occurring and it is not possible to completely eliminate the spores from your home.  The question is whether or not what is inside the house is the same kind and density as the mold outdoors, or whether something unusual is harbored indoors.

Mildew needs moisture and the right, mild temperatures to thrive – eliminate the source of water and it will go dormant.  Please note that it will not die when the moisture is eliminated – it just goes into a sleepy state.  If water is later reintroduced, the spores will spring back to life.

In my experience, the most common place to find mold in the San Jose area tends to be in bathrooms, particularly around older aluminum windows (which tend to be very cold and collect condensation). Mold on these window frames is easily cleaned by using a solution of water and bleach, and it can be prevented by better ventilation and heat, which allows the window frames to dry out. Likewise it’s very easy for it to grow in showers and tub areas due to the high amount of water present.  That water needs to be able to evaporate, otherwise you’re inviting it to take hold.

Step 1: find the source of the mold

Find growths on sheetrock, wood or carpeting?  First you must discover the source of the moisture.  Most likely, there’s a leak somewhere, either a plumbing leak or around a door, window, roof or flashing.
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Mulches and Fire Danger

Tanbark or mulch in front of a San Jose home

Tanbark wood mulch separated by a dry creek bed, cement path, & brick retaining wall in a low-water San Jose yard.

May Day is a celebration of spring, but “April showers” were few and far between and it’s already starting to feel like summer! With another record-breaking hot year and the Bay Area in severe to extreme drought conditions homeowners concerned about water use and fire prevention are turning to gardening and landscaping for the solution. But a word of warning! Since updating my surprisingly popular post on mulch vs tanbark and the risk of termite infestation, I came across another reason to be cautious when applying it to your perimeter: fire.

Organic Mulches and Fire Hazard

Mulch can work wonders in a garden – it helps soil retain moisture, protects roots, reduces weeds, insulates the ground, can add nutrients and enrich the earth, adds visual appeal, and it’s affordable. It’s on every guide for landscaping water conservation (including Valley Water’s recommendations and San Jose Water’s tips)! Do a search and you’ll find it comes in a broad variety of materials. These can be divided into two groups: organic and inorganic. And organic matter can burn.

The University of Nevada Cooperative Extension has published their (easy to read) findings from a study comparing the combustibility of various organic landscape mulches. I recommend reading the booklet, but here are some of the key points I found most interesting: (more…)

What To Consider When Buying a Hillside Home in Silicon Valley

Artistic sketch of the terrain for a hillside homeHave you always dreamed of buying a hillside home, one close to, or in, the western foothills in Santa Clara County, such as Almaden, Los Gatos, Monte Sereno and Saratoga? Some of the prettiest parts of Silicon Valley are snuggled into the base of the Santa Cruz Mountains. With views of downtown San Jose and the southern San Francisco Bay Area on one side, and rolling, grassy and redwood & oak filled hills on the other, its certainly scenic. Additionally, these areas all tend to have lower crime and good schools.

Hillside homes may be subject to insurance difficulties if they are deemed to be in a high fire risk zone, and property owners need to plan for how to escape in case of emergency. Trees may fall and block ingress or egress, so many mountain residents carry chainsaws. There can be wildlife living nearby, munching on carefully installed landscaping, or threatening household pets or small children in some cases (mountain lions – never leave your children unattended in hillside areas!). In terms of the structure of the hillside home, or the home near the base of the foothills, water is perhaps the risk that is least appreciated but impacts many more homes than most people realize.

Hillside home and water challenges

As a savvy foothill-area buyer, you will want to understand some of the unique issues that this geography may present. The most important of these hillside issues may well be that of water control and drainage.

The Santa Clara Valley, and most of the neighboring Silicon Valley areas, is composed of mostly expansive clay soil. This is an extremely strong substance – so much so that settlers used it, mixed only with a little straw and water, to form adobe bricks for building.

The caveat with clay soil is that when it becomes wet, it expands, and when dry, it contracts. (Hence “expansive clay soil”.) The amazing thing is that the clay is more powerful than concrete. And that is the problem for houses and other buildings if the ground is expanding, contracting, or alternating between the two.

 

Foundation crack efflorescense

 

What can a homeowner do? Its imperative to try to control the amount of water near (or under) the home as much as possible.

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Cracked Foundations, Adobe Clay Soils and Water in Silicon Valley

In Santa Clara County, as in much of California, we have adobe clay soil and it’s expansive.  That is, when the dirt gets wet, it expands, and when it dries out, it contracts. Hence it’s sometimes referred to as “shrink-swell” soils.  (Every state in the union has areas with this problem – a color-coded map on geology.com shows areas with more and less expansive soils.)

Why is expansive soil an issue for homeowners and would-be homeowners in Silicon Valley?

The trouble is that the expanding and contracting soil is far stronger than concrete and the foundations upon which a home sits. A well written and illustrated six page paper can be found online explaining the mechanics involved for those interested in more detail on the hows and whys of expansive soils. (It states that the ground can life as much as 5,500 pounds per square inch!)

What I’d like to focus on here is mitigating the risks and preventing the problems associated with expansive soils.

The trouble is not so much that the soil is wet or dry.  The problem is in the back and forth, the movement. When the soil is kept at an even amount of moisture, it does not expand and contract.

Obviously, rain is seasonal and we cannot control all moisture on or near the house. We can, though, work to move water away from the house and away from the foundation.

Keep rain away from foundations on adobe clay soil!

Winter storms can bring an enormous amount of water onto a home’s roof, and when it channels down gutters and downspouts, there can be a large amount of water exiting in just a few places.  Where does that water go?

 

downspout no extender near foundation

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How deep is the groundwater?

Valley Water depth to first groundwaterValley Water depth to first groundwater

Valley Water depth to first groundwater in Santa Clara County

In most of Santa Clara County, home owners do not own the right to drill a well and pump groundwater under their property. That will be clarified in the preliminary title report (similarly, oil and mineral rights are usually not sold with residential neighborhood parcels here). The depth of the water may be of interest, though, as a high water table may have possible risks.

High Water Table Risks

In come cases there could be problems with springs under the home. When that happens, the groundwater may percolate up under the house during times of heavy rains, causing water in the crawl space and possibly creating foundation damage later.

Another risk is underground water moving environmental hazards to your property. A plume of water could potentially move toxins released at a leaking underground storage tank (“LUST” site) to your property’s area, where you may be responsible for the cleanup! (For info on the leaking underground storage tanks, you’d want to read the JCP or similar report for natural and environmental hazards. That will tell you if there are any LUST sites within 1 mile of the property.)

Does your home, or the one you want to buy in the Santa Clara Valley, have a high water table? One way to learn is to check out the interactive map on the Valley Water website.  Much or most of Campbell seems to have first groundwater at a depth of 50 to 100 feet. Much of the low-lying areas of San Jose and Santa Clara have water at a mere 0 – 10′!

The interactive map that I saw includes most, but not all, of the valley. Enjoy checking it out!

Santa Clara County Depth to First Groundwater

 

 

Related Reading:

Historic Homes, Willow Glen, Foundations and Red Flags

Why are the hardwood floors cupping?

 

 

 

Is your home ready for the heavy rains of an El Niño winter?

waterfallFor four years we have worried about the lack of rain and increased our conservation efforts.  Today lawns everywhere are dead, or hanging on by a thread.

Weather experts now say that there’s a 90% chance of an El Niño winter ahead.  Not only that, but they expect it to be a doozy.

My suspicion is that most of us are not really ready for all that water and the flooding that may ensue, so I wanted to suggest a little preparation for the rainy season (and the deepest hopes that it will refill our reservoirs and aquafers).   Here are a few suggestions from me, based on decades of attending home inspections:

  1. If it’s been more than 3 years since your roof was inspected, get a roof inspection done now, during the dry season. (Use a licensed roofing contractor to do it, not a handyman.) It’s better to do it before you discover a leak, and it’s better to do it before the roofers are booked out a few weeks!  The cost is probably going to be around $100 – $150.  Most homes need “tune up” work every few years, and that’s normal, so have the inspection understanding that some of your vent pipes may need resealing, a few shingles may need replacing, or other small items may require adjustment or repair.  If the roof is younger, that’s all it should be.  The old adage that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” applies here.
  2. Make sure that the grading around your house or townhouse is correct and that the land slopes toward the yard & away from your home.  Grading is incorrect a lot of the time – I probably see my home inspector write that up more than half the time.  It matters because the water that comes down will follow the slope of the soil and you do not want it aimed at your structure.  You want the water to go away from your home.
  3. Your downspouts should direct the water away from the house, ideally 6′ or more.  This is super important, as the entire surface of your roof collects water and pushes it off through just a few openings, and in heavy rains this is a ton of water!  You do not want it lingering near your foundation because our clay soils are expansive when wet and that puts unfriendly pressure on foundations and may cause cracking and the exposure of the rebar inside to moisture.  That rebar is important for the foundation’s strength, and if it rusts, the integrity of the foundation is at risk.  So protect the whole system by getting the water away from the home.
  4. If you have a drainage system, make sure that the grates over it are cleared of leaves to allow the water to filter into it.
  5. If you have a sump pump, consider upgrading from the standard type that operates on electricity only to one that works with a battery backup.  In really big storms, we can lose power and then the regular sump pump won’t work, just when you need it most!  If you already have a battery backup, consider keeping a replacement battery on hand.
  6. Most Silicon Valley homes have power lines rather than underground utilities.  Have a look at yours, if applicable, and see if there are tree branches too close to the lines.  Often P, G & E will trim them for free if you spot a problem and let them know.
  7. Do keep spare batteries, water, food, medicines, and other essentials on hand in case of a prolonged power outage.  I recommend getting cell phone or other electronic device battery backups.  Again, if you’re out of power for 3 days, you may need something to juice up your mobile phone!  I have a couple of these “bricks” but my favorite is called a PowerStrip and it has a solar charger.
  8. If you are in an area which is heavily wooded, or the access to your home is heavily wooded, consider purchasing power tools to clear trees that may fall on your route.  Being able to get in and out is crucial in case of an emergency.

Due to an avalanche of spam comments, I have had to turn off comments on this blog, but if you think I have missed anything, please email me and I will edit this article to help others be better prepared for the rains that we hope and pray are coming soon.

 

 

 

Santa Clara Valley Water District – rebates for conservation measures

Waste no waterThe drought is ongoing, and the state and the Santa Clara Valley Water District are both pressing all of us for greater conservation.  Silicon Valley residents will be tempted by local water agencies (and PG & E) offering some pretty tempting rebates, some of which have been recently and temporarily increased, for improvements made to your home and yard which lessen the amount of wasted water. For instance, changing toilets and faucets to “low flow” models will net consumers a little cash back. But it’s much more than that.  How about getting your washing machine’s gray water to a second use in the yard?

Some of these updates may not be optional in the future, so consider getting them while the rebates are still available.

Please click on the link below to view the available programs:

http://www.valleywater.org/programs/rebates.aspx

San Jose Water Company’s rebate page: https://www.sjwater.com/for_your_information/save_water_money/rebates_incentives

Also, view the SCVWD “Fact Sheet” for more info on what’s happening with our water. (This is a pdf on the Town of Los Gatos website).

 

 

 

 

Why are the hardwood floors cupping?

Cupped Hardwood Floors

Cupped Hardwood Floors

In Almaden, Los Gatos, Monte Sereno, Saratoga and anywhere near hills in Silicon Valley, there are homes with cupped hardwood floors.  Cupping is when the sides of the plants curl upward a little.  If you view cupped floors in lighting at an angle, the “lines” between the pieces of wood are more prominent, as shown in the photo to the right. Should you walk across them barefoot, you will feel the elevated sides.  When it is severe, there are very distinct ridges.

What causes cupping?  It can be caused by installing hardwood that hasn’t cured or sat in the home for a few days first.  But often that’s not the issue.  Most of the time, it seems to result from water in the crawl space below. As the moisture evaporates, it moves up through the home and through the hardwood flooring.

This doesn’t happen everywhere, but is most common in hillside locations, places that are flat but have hills nearby (as water can travel underground and then pop up, potentially under your house), locations with high water tables (such as Willow Glen, many areas of Almaden such as Almaden Springs, or Los Gatos), or properties where the grading is wrong and water gets pulled toward the home instead of away from it. Although in many parts of the U.S. the soil is sandy and the water drains through, in most of Santa Clara County, we have expansive clay soils.  With clay it’s harder for the water to soak through, but also when the soil gets wet it, it expands and pushes on the foundation and anything else in its way.

Are your floors beginning to cup?  If so, it’s a red flag to pay attention and find the cause of the cupping before the damage is permanent, or much harder to fix.  Check your crawl space for dampness and efflorescence (this requires going all the way into the crawl space).  If you aren’t able or don’t want to go into the crawl, make sure to hire someone competent to evaluate the situation.  Having a damp crawl space is not good (and if you find it in summer after a 3 year drought you do have an issue!).  I would suggest getting an ASHI or CREIA certified home inspector to check it out and advise you on the cause of the cupping and what to do to remediate it.  It may be that a hardwood flooring professional would also address this very well – I cannot speak to that but it may also be worth considering.

 

 

 

How’s that water conservation coming? Do you know how to check?

The State of California is in the 3rd year of a serious drought.  There are areas in CA where there is no water going to homes at all unless it’s being trucked in (at a very high cost).  We are all being asked to conserve as much as possible, with 20% being targeted not just in Silicon Valley but in all areas of California.  How are your conservation efforts coming?  Do you know how to check your water usage as compared to a year ago?

If you have San Jose Water, you won’t need to dig into your 2013 water bills to see how you’re progressing with water savings.  The San Jose Water statement comes with a great breakdown so you can see if you’re cutting back as much as you think.   Here’s an example:

 

water bill historical usage

 

What’s nice is that the gallons per day is shown, so that even if the number of days varies, you can get a pretty solid sense of use.

In this case, year over year, the family is saving an average of about 137  gallons per day, which is about a 25% savings from the same period a year ago. A lot of it’s coming from more careful use of sprinklers in the yard.  Not bad, but they are trying to improve it more.

What about you?  How much have you been able to cut back as compared to last year?   We can all pitch in!

 

 

 

Cupertino View Homes

Large Cupertino view home now available!   10387 Amistad Court, Cupertino California

Fabulous 5 bed + den, 4 bath home with lovely valley views from several rooms!  Room to accommodate two or more generations or live in help if so desired.  Lower level includes 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms and bonus room or retreat.  Upstairs are the main living areas (living, dining, family, kitchen, nook), master bedroom suite, one more bedroom and a large den or office.  Living room, office, balcony and master all enjoy views.  Good sized, private yard.  Located on quiet cul de sac in lower foothills, a very easy drive.  Best schools, including Monta Vista High School!

Please enjoy a gallery of this fine home, and click to see larger photos.

 

 

This property is co-listed

10387 Amistad Court, Cupertino California is co-listed with Mary Tan and George Tan of Coldwell Banker in Cupertino, tel # 408 861-8832.

Please stop by our open house this weekend!

This fine home will be open Saturday, 3/31/2012 from 1:30 – 4:30 (hosted by Mary Tan) and Sunday, 4/1/2012 1:30 – 4:30 (hosted by me, Mary Pope-Handy)

More information on  10387 Amistad Court, Cupertino California – a beautiful view home in the prestigious Cupertino foothills!

We're sorry, but we couldn't find MLS # 81211438 in our database. This property may be a new listing or possibly taken off the market. Please check back again.

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