Water, Mold and Me (and you!); One Man’s Cautionary Tale

I’m not one to worry unnecessarily, and mostly I consider myself an optimist – a lucky pinball bouncing my way through life. But every once in a long while, I find myself into that small space between creeping intuition and the subtle edge of paranoia, and find myself faced with something that requires a little less happy oblivion, and a lot more level-headed action. Such was the case when my lucky pinball took a bad bounce, and I flooded my downstairs neighbor’s condo. And that was only the start of it.

This article is about how it happened, what I learned, and what every homeowner needs to know about water damage, and…yes…mold!

Here’s how it all went down.

I figure any man should be able to fix his own toilet. How hard could it be? It’s not like electrical work, where you could DIE or something. It’s just pipes and water, right? Turn off the water supply, and have at it with some cartoon-sized wrenches, man-style. Well, that’s what I thought, anyway, and that’s how I went about it. At first.

The trouble was, I was dealing with some 30-year-old pipes and couplings, and – apparently – these had enough mineral build-up in them that sometimes, when you think you’ve turned the water supply completely off, and then, say, left for work, you’ve actually only ALMOST turned it off, and small amounts of water will then continue to trickle slowly but surely throughout the day from the pipe you disconnected from the toilet, so it could dry out during the day, so LATER you could apply a wrench to the situation when you got home….until your roommate calls you in the middle of the day, of all times, and tells you the downstairs neighbor just called and says there’s water coming out of her bathroom light fixture.

Be still my bouncing pinball.

After racing home, realizing the situation, and CRUSHING the off-spigot ALL THE WAY closed with all of my man-might, it was time to call the insurance company. After weeks of the usual back-and-forth stuff, my insurance company cut a check for some repair work, which was to involve just a carpenter, to tear out floor, walls, drywall, subfloors, etc., and rebuild. Realizing the error of my ways, I did hire a professional to do this work, and it came out smashingly…I thought.

Enter mold problem, stage left.

Herein lied the problem. Apparently the carpenter guy I hired thought we were good, after he sopped up the wet mess of construction materials, and replaced them all anew. Little did either of us know, however, that we were not good. At all. Apparently the extent of my man-might, as previously applied, had not only closed off the cutoff spigot, it had also created a hairline fracture in a plumbing coupling that lived about halfway down the wall between upstairs and downstairs condos.

But we woudn’t know anything about this for six months or so. Not until the downstairs neighbor started complaining about an “earthy” smell, and reported a “mushy” section of drywall that had just started to appear on the wall in the corner of her bathroom.

LONG story short, the hairline fracture in the coupling had been seeping ever-so-slowly for months, and apparently some kind of mold spores had been present, and what I learned was a “colony of mold” (!) had spread like a slow-motion wildfire INSIDE THE WALLS.

The insurance company was called again, and I was strongly advised to have this taken care of professionally by a “mold remediation expert.”

What the mold guy said.

It wasn’t until I brought in a professional that I learned the extent of the problem, and the real threat to not just me, but to my neighbor plus family. According to the water/mold guy hired with insurance money, little things called “mycotoxins” are emitted by touch and even in gas form from most common types of mold, and these can cause anything from an allergic reaction to serious respiratory problems. He strongly recommended I not try to assess/handle a water damage situation in the future, without a water/mold professional to at least look at it – whether it be from a plumbing problem, leaky foundation, or flooding activity. He just sees too many of these situations unfold this way.

And by “unfold,” in my case, that meant having my homeowner’s insurance rate almost QUADRUPLE for having two claims in one year, instead of having it handled properly in the first place. Turns out this isn’t just the mold/water damage guy’s opinion (and my experience), it’s also the insurance company’s position that these things need to be taken care of the right way the first time. (Guilty, party of one? Guilty, part of one, please?)…I also shudder to think of what might have happened from the insurance perspective if my neighbor’s daughter had’ve maybe came down with some type of “breathing problem” as a result. (Can you sense that leading edge of paranoia now?)


Hire a professional. Hire a professional. Hire a professional. (And don’t hire me to do your plumbing!)

So this is my cautionary tale. I tell the story in order to pay it forward, hoping to put a concrete cap on this small spot of bad luck my lucky pinball got stuck in. I figure if I take the time to write this up and share it, I can help at least a handful of homeowners out there, and do the whole “good human” thing.

Bottom line: if you’ve got a water problem, especially any kind of possible seeping water problem, or God forbid encounter a mold problem, just do the right thing and find a water/mold guy first! And don’t hire me to fix your plumbing. But you weren’t going to do that anyway, were you? Good you. Bad (hoping to return to goodness) me.

That is all!