Creepy Crawlspaces

  

by Macie Melendez

As you all well know, building performance isn’t always glamourous. Home and building performance professionals often do the behind-the-scenes work. The insulation in the attic. The sealing of cracks in the walls. The new duct system. Sometimes we get thrown a bone and get to make homeowners happy with brand-new energy efficient appliances or new, double-pane windows. But we’re still often standing in the shadows behind granite countertops and new coats of paint. And you know what? This industry is filled with people who don’t mind being in the shadows because they know the work they do helps people live in healthy, efficient, comfortable homes.

One such person is Jessica Azarelo, owner and operator of Attic Queen—a home efficiency and indoor air quality company with the motto, “Home efficiency starts in your attic.”

As the Attic Queen herself points out on her Instagram, over 400 million people have Googled, “Is my home making me sick?” and she often tells her clients, “Yes! It absolutely can.” She knows from personal experience after finding animal skeletons, dead rodents, mold, and even mushrooms in the attics and crawlspaces of peoples’ homes.

“As the Attic Queen, I refer to attics as my happy place,” says Azarelo. “But I can fill you in on a little secret and say crawlspaces are not my happy place at all.” Since it’s almost Halloween, I decided to speak to Jessica about why crawlspaces are often necessary places for energy improvement and healthy homes, but also why she dislikes them so much. (Warning: It’s graphic!)

“I’m sure you’ve heard of monsters in your closet…maybe you have even seen them! But monsters in crawlspaces are way worse! Snakes, spiders, termites, bugs, live rodents, and savage wildlife are amongst some of the most common things you’ll see,” she says. “Let’s not forget the silent killers: mold, mildew, and feces—animal, insect, and even human.” While you might be thinking that there’s nothing this woman isn’t afraid of, you’d be wrong. Her breaking point? Snakes! “I have a severe fear of snakes and I’ve been blessed up to this point I’ve not tangoed with one just yet,” she says. “And I’m hoping it stays that way!”

In light of the holiday, I had to ask: What’s the scariest crawlspace you’ve ever been in? Her response did not disappoint. It was a home in Tampa, Florida. “When I first met with the homeowner and she opened her front door I noticed an unpleasant smell,” Azarelo begins. “During the conversation, she mentioned that there was a plumbing leak under her mobile home as well as an issue with the AC ducts that also ran throughout the crawlspace. Over time, the moisture issues in the crawlspace began to affect the interior of the home—the indoor humidity levels were increased as well as staining and buckling began on their floor. At one point she brought up her granddaughter who mentioned the house started to smell like an ‘old persons home,’ which I’d consider to be an accurate statement as it was the same smell I had been welcomed with upon first meeting.”

So, what was the Attic Queen to do? The first step in fixing this major problem was cutting through and removing all of the old belly liner, which secured all of the insulation in the undercarriage of the mobile home. As she did this, in many areas, the old, moisture-logged batt insulation fell down.

“The homeowner was under the impression that the AC and plumbing company had fixed all of the leaks, and we quickly determined that was not the case,” explains Azarelo. “There was one major leak I discovered that was exposed once the belly liner was removed. It was an oozy, brownish slime with an odor I could smell through my respirator.” But that’s not all. “There were vibrantly colored mushrooms directly below, which looked pretty cool but caused much concern due to the conditions in the crawlspace. Not far from there was a partially decomposed squirrel body, and not much further from that was a fully exposed animal skeleton.”


The large AC ducts made it hard for Azarelo and her team to get around in certain spots, but she did discover an unnoticed, slow leak that seemed to have been happening for a long time. “The duct had thick vines growing from the ground that wrapped around the duct. As I cut away the vines, all I kept thinking about was that a snake was going to attack me at any second!” she says. Fortunately, that did not happen. “However, as I was wrapping up the extraction for the day, pulling out the last pieces of batt, I felt a burning sensation in my cheek. After making it through the first day almost free of the monsters in the crawlspace, I had been bitten by a spider.”

When Azarelo returned to the home to complete the job, the homeowners greeted her with a warm welcome and big smiles. They were happy to report the “old people smell” inside the house was completely gone and that the woman’s husband, who was a Vietnam veteran, had seen improvement in his breathing issues. They were also excited to save money since she had addressed some energy efficiency issues.

While saving people money does make Azarelo happy, she says helping people feel better and fixing homes that make people sick is really the reason she loves what she does. “It’s reasons like this that get me out of bed every day, get suited up, equipped with my bright red lips, and do the best I can with my team to make the next home as healthy and happy as possible.” She adds: “Not all superheroes wear capes… they wear respirators!”

You can follow the Attic Queen on Instagram @atticqueen, Facebook, or visit her website at www.atticqueen.com.


#crawlspace
#healthyhomes

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