Members of the Davis family have suffered with one respiratory condition after another—from allergies to pneumonia and bronchitis to sinus infections—for most of the two years they’ve lived in their home near Spotsylvania High School.
When an inspection confirmed what parents Ryan and Alexis Davis suspected, that mold is causing the health issues, the young couple finally had the answers they sought.
But not the money to fix the problem. They’ve had some financial struggles in recent years and didn’t qualify for a loan or payment plan to cover the estimated $2,200 cost of removing the mold.
When the Davises asked Dan Derbes, owner of AdvantaClean in Alexandria, if they could work out some sort of financial arrangement, he told them not to worry about it.
He’s had the business in Alexandria for only 14 months and can’t afford to do many jobs for free. But Derbes also couldn’t let the family—which includes a dad who served in the Navy and volunteers as a firefighter, a mom with a problem pregnancy, a toddler boy and a baby girl on the way—get any sicker.
Derbes, who also served in the Navy, said his environmental service company would do the work free of charge.
“It all touched me in the same way, that they’re somebody I want to help,” Derbes said. “I want them to have a clean and healthy environment, that’s what it’s all about.”
Wednesday afternoon, Derbes and two employees pulled their orange and white trucks and trailer into the Davis driveway and started working. They sealed off the source of the problem, the unfinished basement where water from a leaky kitchen sink and dishwasher had pooled in the ceiling, above the washer and dryer.
In the dark, dank environment, mold spores had blossomed. They created a musty smell, telltale black spots and an unhealthy environment for all those living in the home.
Levi, who’ll be 3 next month, constantly has sniffles and a runny nose. He and his father have had bronchitis, and the dad’s allergies have worsened. The mom had a sinus infection that developed into pneumonia, which lasted for three weeks.
She was recovering from it the day Derbes inspected the house. She’d show him a room, then say she had to lie down for a while.
The mother also has had several problems with her pregnancy. She’s due March 22, but worries the baby will come sooner because she’s already having contractions, as well as high blood pressure and severe migraines.
“It’s probably just the stress of this house,” she said.
When the Davises bought the home in November 2014, they knew it needed work. It lacks central heat and air conditioning, but the young couple—he’s 28 and she’s 22—figured they’d eventually use equity from the home to make some changes.
Now, they realize the house is in much worse shape than they imagined, especially with the plumbing, and both believe the previous owners must have known about the problems.
Ryan Davis specifically asked the home inspector if they needed a mold study, and was told no. The dad also said the inspector wasn’t all that thorough; he didn’t even go up on the roof to examine it.
“If we had known even half the issues with this house, we would not have bought it,” Alexis Davis said. “It looked clean.”
Ryan Davis said he feels naive, that he should have known better. Brooke Rosol, his wife’s aunt who urged the couple to have the house inspected for mold, said it was their first home. How was he supposed to know what problems lie beneath a fresh coat of paint?
He does commercial electrical work in Washington and leaves his Spotsylvania County home at 3 a.m. on weekday mornings. He’s also working on an associate’s degree at Northern Virginia Community College and studying to become a career firefighter. He volunteers with a local fire company every other weekend.
Alexis Davis is a loan officer. She grew up in Woodbridge while he graduated from Chancellor High School.
One of his volunteer firefighter friends fixed the kitchen plumbing responsible for the leak. That’s the first step in getting rid of a mold problem, Derbes said. The next is to contain the area, which Derbes’ team did on Wednesday, as they sealed off the room with plastic.
Two large pieces of equipment, called air scrubbers, drew out the mold spores and cleaned the air, then his team vacuumed the various storage bins and boxes in the basement to remove mold from them.
Workers also planned to pull out the insulation in the basement ceiling, vacuum around it and apply antimicrobial solution, an agent that should prevent the growth of future mold spores.
“After the highest concentration of mold is removed from the basement, the spore count in the rest of the house will decrease,” Derbes said. “The real answer is to keep humidity below 60 percent, and mold won’t grow.”
After all the anxiety from the house and its mold, the Davises admit they were a little shocked—in a good way—to learn a company would do the work in their home for free.
“I don’t know how we’ll ever thank Dan,” the mother said.