Hidden danger: How unseen hurricane damage could be lurking in your home

Diane Wilson Image
Wednesday, May 8, 2019
Unseen hurricane damage could be lurking in your home
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Hidden mold and water damage that could cost you thousands to repair may be hiding inside your home.

RALEIGH (WTVD) -- Hidden mold and water damage that could cost you thousands to repair may be hiding inside your home. Besides costly repairs to your home, the mold could also be a health hazard.

If your home suffered any damage during Hurricane Florence or Michael, this could impact you.

Since the hurricanes, Jay Papp an independent adjuster with Claims Adjusting And Appraisal Services, Inc. has been in North Carolina doing property insurance claims. While looking at homes with damage, he said he would not see any visible water damage on the walls, and that could present a problem.

"The directive I got is if you don't see it, you can't document it, you can't write for the damage."

However, Papp said his specialized equipment would still get a high moisture reading behind the wall. It wasn't until the wall was opened up, he spotted the issue which was a plastic sheet behind the drywall. Papp said the plastic sheet would trap the moisture and there would be mold and water damage hidden behind the drywall.

"I'm from NY. I've never seen a sheet of plastic behind drywall until I came to North Carolina," Papp said.

Papp looked into it further and learned from 1968-1997, North Carolina Residential Codes required a vapor retarder on the interior walls. Because of this prior statewide code, after the hurricanes the NC Department of Insurance put out this notice making sure adjusters and insurance companies look for this hidden damage, the notice states in part:

In adjusting hurricane damage claims for homes within the 1968-1997 applicable residential code period, it is important that the inside of the walls be checked more carefully than newer construction to ensure that moisture hasn't seeped into the walls that will eventually result in mold and interior wall rot. If adjusters do not look for moisture build-up trapped inside the wall, then this damage could be missed, causing mold and rot to proliferate and resulting in bigger problems for homeowners in the future.

To detect moisture behind the walls may require the use of specific equipment, such as a deep scan moisture meter or a FLIR heat image camera. Adjusters cannot simply rely upon a visual inspection because evidence of the interior moisture damage may not be present on the walls for a long period after the claims have been settled and paid. It is imperative that adjusters be aware of the problem and follow inspection protocols to ensure that properties are thoroughly cleared.

Papp is calling it hidden inter-wall damage. He said he discovered it in many homes that he was hired to examine for damage after the hurricanes. He said many homeowners may not even know they have the damage.

"If you had water staining all along the ceiling and the ceiling was repaired, but the wall wasn't fully inspected there still could be moisture inside that wall," Papp said. "We want to prevent water inside the wall to prevent mold and to prevent health issues."

Before homeowners tear out a wall, there are steps to take to see if their home could be impacted. First look up at the ceiling and see if there are any small stains around the crown molding or where the ceiling meets the wall. Papp then suggests looking along the window trim, door headers, light fixtures and switches, and wall plugs and look up from the floors.

"If there is water on the bottom, there is water on the top, the entire thing needs to be opened up," Papp said.

Papp also warns about homeowners using a moisture reading device that can easily be bought at hardware stores.

"This meter was designed for a very particular purpose, to detect the moisture within whatever it is put up against. The moisture is not in the drywall; it's behind the drywall."

He uses special cameras and devices to get an understanding of what's really going on behind the wall. Papp's best advice is that if you have any concerns, don't wait and don't start tearing walls out yourself instead he suggests to hire a professional to look at your home to see if moisture damage is lurking behind the walls.