Monster Mildew

Dear Natural Handyman,
My daughter and her husband who live in Northern Indiana have a terrible moisture problem. They live in a tri-level house. They are noticing gray-black discoloration of the ceilings in all of the three rooms on their upper level. Touching the areas, they are moist. Their windows also have condensation.

Looking in the attic, there are areas where the insulation is wet, and mold or mildew shows on the rafters. I suppose a roof leak is possible, but the moisture is so widespread, my inclination is against such. Would poor attic ventilation cause this severe a problem? They also have a humidifier on their furnace. Would such create this problem?

What must they do? Pull out the insulation? Replace the damp ceiling drywall? Is it possible to kill all the mildew, etc in the attic? A health concern if they don't? Can a general remodeling contractor properly assess the problem? Or do we need to contact someone more specialized? Help!!
KLV from Columbus, IN

Mildew is always a potential health hazard, though susceptibility to mildew from an allergic standpoint varies widely from person to person. An inspection of the attic and roof is certainly important, though such widespread dampness is not usually caused by localized roof leakage. I would recommend turning off the humidifier immediately.

Do they have natural gas heating? If so, leakage in the vent pipes or heat exchanger can release large amounts of moisture into the air. Also, a blockage in the vent, such as a birds nest, can also cause the exhaust to be forced back into your home. Don't take this lightly, because this is also a potentially deadly carbon monoxide hazard. Have the system thoroughly examined immediately.

Unvented gas appliances such as space heaters and stoves also emit large amounts of moisture into the air.

If the insulation is truly soaked, it must be torn out. In your area, it will never dry out during the winter and will continue to cause problems. By all means check the attic for proper ventilation. Depending on the existing ventilation, a powered fan might be necessary at least part of the year. High levels of moisture in a basement or crawlspace rise into the living space and can cause problems.

Depending on your (or their) skills, most suggested remedies are of the do-it-yourself genre. Whether or not any specific contractor has the knowledge to assess your problem will require a little homework on your part. You may not have any local contractors with expertise in ventilation, but that does not mean that they cannot solve your problem You may have to take a "hands-on" approach and educate yourself to be sure the problem is completely solved!

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