Dom DeLuise's Home Humidity Cure

November 22, 2006
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Room dehumidifiers have been running around the clock to help bring moisture levels down in the home. The interior is still noticeably more humid than the outdoor ambient air.

PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. - Sure, celebrity homes can develop poor IAQ. A couple of years ago, the stachybotrys in Ed McMahon's home was blamed for the death of his pet dog. So it wasn't a total surprise when The NEWS' got a call from Aprilaire's Nikki Krueger to let us know that Dom DeLuise's home had a mold problem. Would we like to come out for a site visit and write an article about it?

She didn't need to ask twice.

DeLuise's movies have included those with pals Burt Reynolds (The End, Cannonball Run, Best Little Whorehouse in Texas) and Mel Brooks (Twelve Chairs, Blazing Saddles, History of the World: Part I). He has also written children's books, done a lot of voice work, and was "Cookie the Cook" on Shari Lewis' Charlie Horse Music Pizza children's TV program. He is beloved by multiple generations.

When the mold problem was revealed, "I wasn't horrified," DeLuise said. "Listen, I've had a rat under my house. I'm a problem solver, and once we found that out about the mold, we just had to fix it."

The problem came to light about three months ago at the inception of a decorating project. "Somebody, my decorator, said ‘You have to have these couches cleaned,' " DeLuise said. "They had a real musty smell. Then there was a little bit of growth on the [dining room] table."

Aprilaire's Nikki Krueger (right) asks Mimoun Abaraw, product manager for Aprilaire humidifiers and dehumidifiers (left), and "On the House" co-host Jim Carey for suggestions on how to address the IAQ problems in the DeLuise home.

THE MOISTURE MYSTERY

The problem was visible mold growth in the dining room, living room, and wife Carol Arthur DeLuise's office. (Among her many roles, she was Harriett Johnson, the schoolmarm who composed a letter to the Hon. William J. LePetomaine [Brooks] in Blazing Saddles.)

The DeLuises called in Safeguard EnviroGroup (SEG) Inc., Glendora, to diagnose the problem. In August, Brad Kovar, an industrial hygienist and project analyst, reported on "several water intrusion issues including a possible roof leak, seepage from a planter box along the exterior wall, elevated humidity, and seepage in window casings that had resulted in water-related damage to various building materials in one or more areas of the building." An investigation was needed "to assess potential microbial amplification."

In short, there was water damage and mold growth. They needed to find out how much and what kind.

SEG found that overall the building was in good shape. The roof, flashing, gutters, and downspouts "appeared to be free of excessive debris and in good condition," Kovar said in his report. "The roof was recently replaced with new flashings installed." And the problem couldn't be condensation from the air conditioning system; there isn't an air conditioning system. There's a Carrier Weathermaker Infinity furnace, but no a/c.

A pattern soon emerged. Areas of the home with visible mold growth and water damage were all on one side, specifically along the exterior walls of the dining room, living room, and office, on the walls and along the windows.

The suspect: moisture that had seeped in from a concrete-filled planter box along an exterior wall of the living room. Sprinklers were directed toward the home's exterior walls on that one side. "Sprinkler systems should direct water away from the exterior walls of your home," Kovar said.

INDOOR CONDITIONS

In addition, a lot of cooking goes on in the home. DeLuise is going strong as a celebrity chef, and right now he has a weekly feature during the "On the House" radio program with brothers Jim and Morris Carey (the Carey Brothers). The home also is close enough to the Pacific Ocean to make moisture levels generally higher.

Finally, like many homes in the area, this one doesn't have air conditioning. Temperatures are beautifully temperate for most of the year, and the furnace is needed only occasionally. Its variable-speed operation and low noise levels make it well suited for its location near the office.

Temperatures recorded in the rooms being investigated ranged from 75.5°F in the dining room to 78.2° in the living room. RH ranged from 60.3 percent in the office to 66.9 percent in the dining room. Outdoor conditions were 74.9°, 65.3 percent RH.

"At the time of the investigation, the observed temperatures indoors were within the ASHRAE acceptable levels for habitable spaces and the observed relative humidity levels indoors were above the ASHRAE acceptable levels for habitable spaces," said Kovar.

An experienced chef like actor Dom DeLuise knows: You must cook with the freshest ingredients possible. Kidding! That's his pet parrot Charlie. Charlie loves to do tricks with DeLuise.

FUNGUS AMONG US

When conducting a mold investigation, it's important to establish baseline readings. This helps the investigator compare indoor levels against normal outdoor mold levels.

"Nonviable outdoor (baseline) and indoor air samples were collected using Zefon Air-O-Cellâ„¢ cassettes and high-volume air samplers at a flow rate of 15 L/min for 5 minutes," Kovar explained. Air samples were taken from within wall cavities. Air and surface samples were sent to a lab for mold "identification and enumeration."

The scientists from KCI Laboratory, Glendora, found varying amounts of chaetomium, penicillium/aspergillus, and stachybotrys in the three rooms. The amounts were higher than outdoor baseline levels.

"Indoors, penicillium is commonly found in house dust," reported Kovar. "It grows in water-damaged buildings on wallpaper, wallpaper glue, decaying fabrics, moist chipboards, and behind paint. Dependent on the genus, species, and sensitivity levels of individuals, penicillium and aspergillus are considered allergens, pathogens, and toxins.

"Stachybotrys thrives on water-damaged, cellulose-rich materials such as sheet rock, paper, ceiling tiles, cellulose-containing insulation backing, and wallpaper," he said. "The presence of this fungus in buildings is significant because of the mold's ability to produce mycotoxins, which are extremely toxic." Any amount indoors beyond a trace is considered unacceptable.

"Chaetomium is allergenic. ... It readily digests cellulose and is frequently isolated from decomposing plant materials, especially woody or straw-like materials. In water-damaged buildings, it is frequently found on sheetrock and paper products."

Mold remediation included cleaning and the removal of contaminated materials in the living room and dining room of the DeLuise home. Earlier analysis found stachybotrys and aspergillus. The home's mold levels are back to normal.

SOLVING THE SITUATION

After receiving this report, DeLuise said he approved the remediation work to bring mold levels down by removing and/or cleaning damaged materials. Then he called his HVAC industry contact, Aprilaire's Krueger, who has also done a segment for "On the House," and asked her about short- and long-term moisture-removal solutions.

Room dehumidifiers were supplied to help bring moisture levels down. "They filled up right away and had to be emptied in minutes," DeLuise recalled.

In short, "We got the dehumidifiers and we've been emptying them out for weeks," he said. "The whole staff has been concentrating on taking care of that," the moisture and mold problems. "The rug was cleaned, couches were cleaned. It's been about three months since my house was turned upside down."

DeLuise and his wife have lived there 38 years - "same house, built up and out some," he said. "We've been adding things over time."

Krueger and Mimoun Abaraw, product manager for Aprilaire humidifiers and dehumidifiers, visited the DeLuise home with The NEWS' in September to view the progress, find long-term humidity-control solutions - and take celebrity pictures with The Dom.

According to Mimoun, the proposed solution will include the installation of a Model 1720 whole-home dehumidification system, which is actually a light commercial model but suitable to the size of the home. He detailed a return-air installation cut into the flex duct. The company also is proposing an air filtration system. Both the dehumidifier and air cleaner will be installed by an Aprilaire-recommended contractor. Ductwork runs under the flooring and up into the walls.

The NEWS' will follow this project during the installation of the whole-house dehumidification and air-cleaning systems. Stay tuned!

Publication date: 11/27/2006

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