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Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Womens Home is Nightmare due to Mold

Renee Hernandez says it was going to be her dream home. She bought it from the Preservation Resource Center, which had it renovated after Katrina. The PRC specializes in preserving historic buildings.

But Hernandez says dangerous mold in the house forced her to move out – on doctors orders – a year ago.

“You can’t live here because of the mold,” she said. “It causes you to have, um, you can’t breathe. You have severe nightmares. You have insomnia.”

The PRC’s “Operation Comeback” advertised in a brochure that the buyer could “move into this 1,800 square foot converted double without having to lift a finger.”

But Hernandez said all she found when she moved into this so-called “turn key” renovation were problems – everything from mold to leaking windows, insufficient insulation and unrepaired structural damage in the roof from an attic fire.

“This was my dream. And what I was sold was something totally different,” she said. “I was sold a house that has to be re-gutted and soda blasted and brought back.”

Hernandez hired an expert, consulting engineer Michael Gurtler, to inspect her house.

“It’s unlivable due to mold, and it’s unlivable due to a comfort issue,” Gurtler said.

Gurtler said his detailed inspection reveals the renovation work is inferior and unfinished, and the house is unsafe.

He said workers failed to reinforce all of those charred roof rafters that were damaged in a fire before they put the new roof on.

“That makes it virtually impossible to go back and fix some of the structural components,” Gurtler said.

Gurtler said these images from his infrared camera show patterns of heat, evidence of hot air or moisture. He said he found evidence of lots of moisture – water – in a number of window casings.

“All of the right side windows leak badly,” Gurtler said.

He said some doors are so poorly sealed you can see through to the outside when the doors are closed.

“There’s nothing that blocks any wind intrusion,” Gurtler said. “There’s nothing that blocks any wind-driven rain.”

Gurtler said the contractor also failed to install 9 inches of insulation in the attic as current code requires.

“What you have is less than 6 inches and in some cases 3 inches of cellulose material,” he said.

Hernandez has a memo showing the PRC disputed her complaint that the air conditioning unit is too small. Instead, the nonprofit advised her to take a few steps of her own to make the house cooler.

“They sent me a letter back stipulating you need to buy trees. You need to put up blinds,” Hernandez said.

Among a series of recommendations the P-R-C Sent Hernandez?

- Install shutters, interior shades
- Consider planting shade trees
- Add more insulation

But Gurtler said Hernandez is right about the air conditioning unit.

“The air conditioning system is grossly undersized,” Gurtler said.

Worse than failing to deliver comfort, he said the AC fails to dehumidify the house.

“And a combination of the leaking windows and the lack of dehumidification have led to mold contamination in the house that renders the house completely unlivable,” Gurtler said.

Tongue and groove wall boards were among the historic features of the house, but Hernandez said the contractor made a mess of them. She said they’re supposed to be installed vertically, but some are nailed on horizontally.

“What they did was, they just nailed any board they could up here,” Hernandez said.

Gurtler said the nails are supposed to be hidden on the tongs of those boards so you don’t see them, and he said the contractor should have installed sheetrock behind the boards.

“The gaps in the barge boards and the holes and all the other problems in the barge boards allowed hot air and moisture to come into the house that elevates humidity in the house, makes it impossible for the air conditioning system to keep pace,” Gurtler said.

How would he characterize this house?

“Uninhabitable and unsellable to anybody at any price.”

The PRC declined our request for comment, but court documents responding to Hernandez’s lawsuit say the “PRC performed all of its obligations … in good faith and with justification.”

The PRC says “… it fully satisfied and honored those obligations and duties” it may have owed Hernandez.

The contractor that did the work for the PRC, Protocol Construction, said Hernandez’s complaints were due to the “acts and/or omissions of others….”

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