Saving Etta - The Story of Saving a House Built in 1900 | Pretty Handy Girl

Saving Etta: Chapter 6: Mold and More

Saving Etta - One Woman's Journey to Save a House Built in 1900 | Pretty Handy Girl

This is the true story about a house built in 1900 that is in serious disrepair. It’s also the story about my journey toward becoming a general contractor and my attempt to save a home from being bulldozed. I hope you’ll follow along as I embark on a journey into the unknown perils and rewards of flipping a home in downtown Raleigh, NC.

If you are just joining the story, you may want to read all the Saving Etta chapters.

Be sure to follow me on Facebook and Instagram as I share live updates about this project I’m calling Saving Etta.

“Hello.” My husband Mike answered.

“So, what did you think of the house?” I quickly asked.

“It looks horrible. . .” he paused.

“. . .but, I know you’ll turn it into something amazing.” he finished.

I laughed knowing his pause was timed to make me squirm.

“So you’re behind me 100 percent?” I asked.

“Yes, as long as you don’t swing that sledge hammer too far behind you.” Mike joked.

“Don’t worry, I’ll let you take a swing when it’s time for demolition.” I said.

The next morning, I woke up and quickly scanned my emails as I usually do in the morning. “UPDATE” jumped out at me as I saw the email subject line from Lori, my realtor. I quickly opened the email, fearing the worst but soon relaxed. The sellers were asking for another week to close. At first my knee jerk reaction was to say, “Hell no.” But, I knew that reaction was the planner in me feeling thrown off schedule. After a minute I realized this delay would be to my advantage. Having an extra week before closing would allow me time to finish up the pantry (and a few sponsored posts.) I quickly replied that I’d prefer to close on Thursday instead of Friday, figuring this would give me extra time over the holiday weekend to use Mike and the boys for cleaning out the house. My sons had already shown huge enthusiasm for helping and asked me daily when they could see the inside of the house (we had only shown them the outside at this point.)

Scrolling further through the emails, I saw the lab results had come back from the mold samples. Opening up the attached PDF file, I struggled to read the results. The words were pure gibberish to me.

“Cladosporium . . . . rare |  Chaetomium . . . . high | Stachybotrys . . . . *high* “

I had no idea what the results meant, but after a quick google search I learned that Stachybotrys is the dreaded toxic black mold and Chaetomium is a close second in severity. Neither were acceptable for “DIY Removal.” This was a far cry from my experience with mold in our kitchen and laundry room three years earlier.

I called Lori immediately and discussed the ramifications of the test results. We agreed to get a quote for professional mold remediation and then approach the sellers about lowering the purchase price.

Two mold remediation companies were lined up to meet me at the house. Lori offered to meet with both of them to save me the drive downtown. But, I knew I wanted to be there to make sure the estimators were aware of the full extent of the mold remediation. Plus, I wanted them to know a full rehab was not necessary. I reasoned with myself that at least some of the demo would be done for me, even if I had to pay for it.

Lori’s voice was loud with a hint of a Southern drawl, “I can’t meet you at 3:30, but Bryan can.”

I’d never met Bryan and wasn’t sure what to expect from the namesake of the realty group Lori worked for.

“He’s a character. You think I’m hyper, wait ‘til you meet Bryan. He’ll be driving a big white SUV.” she said.

I was slightly disappointed Lori wouldn’t be there to walk through with the mold experts. Lori had a way of making even the worst situations feel like they weren’t a big deal. However, I knew I had to start taking control of the process. Once the house keys were in my hands it would be up to me to save Etta.

I grabbed my “picnic basket” and headed downtown. Previously, I timed the drive from my home to Etta’s doorstep and knew it would take 25 minutes on the dot. Thankfully there wasn’t too much commuter traffic mid-day.

As I drove by the entrance of Boylan Heights (another historic neighborhood in downtown Raleigh), I realized the route was becoming second nature to me. The familiar buzz of downtown activity was a welcome sight. People walking dogs, jogging, pushing strollers and riding bikes was a different vibe from our quiet suburban neighborhood. Usually in the ‘burbs the only people outside were the dog walkers and an occasional jogger. Everyone else parked their big family vehicles in an attached garage and quickly closed the door after carting kids around to school, soccer, ballet, and karate. In Etta’s neighborhood, there weren’t garages. Neighbors hung out on their porches and talked to each other or walked a few blocks to the old corner store. The scene was decidedly more relaxed and neighborly.

I pulled up in front of the house and parallel parked my minivan behind a white SUV. I knew I needed to search for a more suitable work vehicle soon, but for now the van would have to do.

Lifting my bag of tools out of the car, I spotted the slightly sunburnt man getting out of the SUV in front of me.

He introduced himself as Bryan Moore. “Hi, I’m Bryan. I think we’re meeting the buyer here in a minute.”

I looked around and looked at him quizzically. “What?” I asked.

We both descended into an awkward silence for a minute and then I understood. “Oh wait, I’m the buyer.” I explained.

He looked at my tool bag and stuttered, “Oh I’m sorry. I saw your tools and thought you were the mold expert.”

We both chuckled and I explained that I always carry a tool bag in case I need to poke into a wall or remove an outlet cover, etc. As a girl scout, I learned to always be prepared.

“Ah, gotcha.” he replied suspiciously.

A big box truck pulled up behind us and a young man dressed in khaki’s and a polo shirt hopped out of the driver seat. Bryan and I introduced ourselves to him. The mold remediator and I walked toward the front door as Bryan climbed back into his SUV to wait for us. Pulling on my dust mask, I looked back at the mold rep who had no mask whatsoever.

“Don’t you want a mask?” I asked shocked.

“No, I’m used to it.” he replied.

Seriously I thought to myself. Why chance it? This young man probably has a young wife and either one child or one on the way. I shook my head and we walked into the house. He tested the walls and floor with his moisture meter. The lights flashed and beeped as he neared the corner of the front parlor.

I could picture the missing fascia board on the outside of the house above this corner. Such a shame, just one minor repair would have saved this room.

Next I lead him toward the back of the house. He took notes and pictures all while poking the meter into various spots in the floor and walls.

“Hmm, mostly dry here.” he said looking up at the big stain on the ceiling.

“That water stain appears to be from the air handler. It seems the condensation overflowed and caused this mess. Obviously the float switch is broken.” I explained.

He nodded and let me lead him around and show him all the damaged areas. He took more notes and pictures. Then said he would need to take some measurements and that I could wait outside if I wanted. I gladly retreated toward the front porch.

Outside I took a big breath of fresh air. Bryan was still in his vehicle deep in conversation. When the mold rep exited the house with clipboard in hand, Bryan continued talking on the phone. We chatted briefly about the mold remediation process and what safety measures their crew would take. He told me I’d have a quote by the end of the week and my stomach sank.

“Is there any way I can get a quote sooner?” I begged. “We need to know the damage so we can ask the seller for a price change.”

He said he understood and promised to do the best he could.

Before I left the house, I had one more thing I wanted to do. I motioned to Bryan that I needed one more minute. He nodded, never breaking his conversation on the phone.

I entered the front door and boldly walked toward the freezer chest in the back utility room. My stepmom’s words lingering in my head, “You better check that freezer for dead bodies.” I laughed because I was used to the overactive imagination of Diane Chamberlain’s brain. She is a famous fiction author for good reason, her mind can run away with an idea.

Saving Etta - The Story of Saving a House Built in 1900 | Pretty Handy Girl

I adjusted my mask and slowly lifted the freezer lid. Immediately I dropped the lid, nearly gagging.

. . . continued in Chapter 7.

If you are just joining the story, you may want to read all the Saving Etta chapters.


10 replies
  1. Linda Weeks
    Linda Weeks says:

    …I dropt the lid, and nearly gagging, saw a sight that sent me, sagging,
    into the wall behind that freezer, knocking at my chamber door, It was a bird, as big as I am, squawking like the King of Siam, who grabbed the door and slammed it shut! knocking at my chamber door. “Who art thou?” I questioned, feeling icky, and somehow, then, my hands grew sticky. “What manner of bird, encased so coldly, knocking on my chamber door?”
    “Goodness sake,” the bird said, loudly, “Can’t a girl take a shower around here without somebody knocking on MY chamber door?”
    Quoth the Raven, Nevermore……………………

  2. RurhN
    RurhN says:

    Love the way Etta looks. When I watch restoration progs. on TV, I would love it if buildings could be rehabbe’d, but still look ancient. They seem to lose a level of atmospherics when they look almost like new buildings. Hohum! Trust you are enjoying at least some of the process! Cheers RuthN


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  1. […] story, you may want to read Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Chapter 6 | Chapter 7 for more of the back […]

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