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This Mold House redux: Living in the Twilight Zone

NolaVie editor Renee Peck wrote This Mold House for The Times-Picayune for four years after Hurricane Katrina. She is reposting a number of her favorite columns in conjunction with the 10th anniversary of the storm. This article originally was published in The Times-Picayune InsideOut section on July 8, 2006.

Over the past nine months I have vastly improved my vocabulary. Let me demonstrate:

"John raised his whole-house R values to minimize his solar heat gain."

"Susie couldn't decide between insulated concrete forms or structural insulated panels for the walls of her new house -- which stood below flood elevation and therefore had to be raised with a slab separation process."

I now know that a "housewrap" is not something you wear downstairs in the morning to make coffee, and that a "slab cap" doesn't go on your head.

Being framed, flashed or strapped is suddenly a good thing.

Yet the more I learn about post-Katrina rebuilding techniques, the more I realize I don't know. My dreams are replete with floating fluorescent lamps and peel-and-stick roof membranes.

Readers and colleagues are likewise paddling upstream against this rush of new knowledge, often treading in alphabet soup along the way. "Um, who qualifies again for an ICC grant?" someone will ask. Or, "Have you heard when the LRA money is going to be distributed?" Today's bar-stool ice-breaker: "So, what's your BFE?"

Even when we understand the new lingo, most of us have had mixed success at implementing post-hurricane construction technologies. Sure, we want energy-efficient, wind-resistant, waterproof homes -- but where can you find a contractor who will look for, let alone install, pre-fabricated insulated wall panels? I talked to half a dozen contractors before I found one conversant with paperless drywall -- which we then bought at a big box store.

The wait for a shoring company to elevate a house, I've heard, is approaching three months. And have you priced windows that meet Miami-Dade County impact-resistance levels -- the new industry standard?

A friend and real-estate developer who is rebuilding five flooded shopping centers has a weekly meeting with his team of contractors. "The entire agenda each week is devoted to why things didn't happen," he told me.

Another friend, living upstairs and battling hordes of mosquitoes that are somehow infiltrating her paper-and-duct-tape covered windows, finally gave up and bought an old-fashioned mosquito net to hang over her bed. "I just don't care any more," she said with a sigh.

Nine months ago, I set out to rebuild my flood-damaged house with all the latest materials and techniques I was writing about. On the plus side, I managed to find professionals to:

  • Spray the exposed studs with borate to combat mold and termites;
  • Fill open exterior walls with mold-resistant spray-foam insulation;
  • Install paperless drywall, which doesn't provide a cellulose feast for mold;
  • Clean the air ducts and coat the interiors with mold-resistant fungicide.

On the minus side:

  • I allowed a pair of new roofs (one post-hurricane, one post-tornado) to go up without proper contract or inspection. Both leaked.
  • When the "experienced" gutter installer showed up on a Sunday afternoon with only his girlfriend to assist him, I quelled doubts just because I was so happy to finally have the work done. The gutters leak.
  • I reconnected the air conditioning while the drywall was still being sanded -- filling the newly cleaned ducts with a thick carpet of dust and requiring cleaning all over again.

I've looked for hurricane rebuilding tips everywhere I can. An early resource was The Louisiana House, a showcase for building solutions for our climate being constructed on the Louisiana State University Campus in Baton Rouge. It's open Friday and well worth the trip.

Meanwhile, I'm still asking neighbors, friends, readers and stray workers about what new roofing material they're using, where they're finding double-hung insulated windows, how to get scratches off marble.

The one question no one seems to be able to answer: Why is it all taking so long?

 

Renee Peck is editor of NolaVie. Email her at [email protected]