Residents Live With The Effects Of Chronic Water Damage

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VESTAL, NY (WSKG)—This summer much of the region saw destructive flooding, and more minor flooding has brought water into basements.

That is not necessarily new for residents who have been forced to live with the results of water damage, including mold.

“The Whole Thing Is Collapsing”

Stacie Skelley lives in a bungalow surrounded by tall trees and shade. She bought the Delaware County home in 2015, when she was two years from retirement as a Navy master chief. She tries to keep to herself, but everyone in town knows her Boston Terrier, Bo.

Skelley is 58 and she laid out the house so she could age there. The small kitchen is meticulously designed, with a rich wood counter that she made sure was at a height compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), in case she needs that someday.

Stacie Skelley’s home in Delaware County, New York. (Phoebe Taylor-Vuolo/WSKG)

Still, there is at least one thing she does not have control over.

Skelley’s house is being degraded by water. Between snow melts in the winter and consistent rain this spring and summer, the utility closet where she stores her boiler and hot water tank is rotting.

“The whole thing is collapsing, and the floor is fallen away,” said Skelley. “And there’s black mold there.”

Skelley’s utility closet floor. (Phoebe Taylor-Vuolo/WSKG)

Skelley has Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, or COPD, and worries about living in a house with mold problems.

But her disability payments will not cover the repairs, and her retirement from the Navy is not coming until next spring. In the meantime, she has struggled to find a way to deal with the utility closet.

“Not fixing something, that you know needs to be fixed now, because the money just doesn’t allow for it at this moment,” said Skelley. “And the timing for housing grants or assistance is just never right when you need it.”

Chronic Mold May Equal Chronic Health Effects

For many reasons, some residents end up living with water damage, including mold. Persistent exposure to mold can cause short and long term health effects, especially for people with preexisting conditions.

“They end up with an exacerbation of their asthma, or if they have underlying Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, or emphysema, it can be particularly dangerous because they’ll have an exacerbation of disease,” said Yvonne Johnston, Director of Binghamton University’s Master of Public Health Program.

There are many species of mold, and they come with a range of health effects. If a person is allergic to mold, they might have symptoms like sneezing, coughing, and sinus issues.

Some molds can cause lung and skin infections in people who are immunocompromised. Certain molds even release toxic chemicals called mycotoxins, causing a variety of health issues.

Because of these risks, Johnston said residents should try to find a way to address mold in their homes as quickly as possible after water damage or flooding.

Residents who are immunocompromised, have underlying lung conditions, or are dealing with serious mold damage, should try to find someone to do remediation work for them, Johnston added.

Mold exposure mainly happens in three ways: breathing spores in, getting mold on the skin or eyes, and ingesting it accidentally.

Johnston said residents who are dealing with mold damage themselves should wear a long-sleeved shirt, gloves, eye protection and an N95 mask. She added people should make sure to take a shower afterwards, especially before eating.

Rising Repair Costs

Properly dealing with mold and water damage is already difficult and costly. But because of supply chain issues this year, Johnston said it could be especially hard for people to get their houses fixed.

“There’s high demand for workers, there’s high demand for products. How are you going to get on someone’s schedule?” Johnston asked. “It’s going to take twice as long to get your house repaired under these circumstances, and it’s going to be very expensive.”

Stacie Skelley points at her damaged utility closet. (Phoebe Taylor-Vuolo/WSKG)

Most contractors have told Skelley they are booked through 2023. One said it would cost $7,000 to fix the utility closet. Local non-profits have told her there is a waiting list for financial assistance.

In the meantime, she uses a household spray to deal with the mold.

Bigger Than One Wet Summer

Skelley’s house was built to be seasonal, and was not properly fixed after flooding in 1996. A series of quick-fix repairs by previous owners have left it with structural issues, piers that need leveling, and a lack of proper ventilation.

The natural environment around her home adds to the problem. Even without major flooding, Skelley said, it is an almost constant struggle to keep the house dry.

“The challenges of living here are heating, cooling, dehumidfying,” Skelley said. “Keeping your building from constantly degrading in an environment that is conducive to eating wood houses.”

The problems are bigger than one wet summer, they are chronic. It is frustrating for Skelley.

“I just want ten years to rock on my porch, before I pass away, and I will have enjoyed those ten years,” said Skelley. “I’m not looking for anything more than that.”

At this point, she is just focused on whether the water pipes in the utility closet will make it through the winter without bursting.