Your house is supposed to provide you shelter and protect you from the elements. One family says a common building material ruined their home and their health.
It’s used in hundreds of thousands of new constructions: synthetic stucco. It’s a material meant to protect a dwelling from water damage. But in the last decade, thousands of people from all parts of the country have filed lawsuits saying the material caused their home to rot from the inside out. One family says it’s not only ruined their home, it’s ruined their health.
It’s a beautiful 36-hundred square foot home in a posh neighborhood in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. “This was our dream home. We were going to spend the rest of our lives in this home.” But Joy and Don Calhoun are no longer living here. They’re roughing it in the back of the family-owned paper plant. “Not the perfect environment to raise a family in”, they say. But it’s all the Calhoun’s have left. Joy, Don and 10-year-old Nicki have run from their 400 thousand-dollar home. It was taken over by silent invaders, they say, that have made them very sick. An air quality test found the air inside is so toxic, we at EXTRA had to put on special suits and respirators, even goggles, just to take a peek.
“This looks like a regular house.” But looks are deceiving. Inside the walls is a horrifying sight. Black mold and rotten wood. “There were slugs crawling around on the back of the plastic.”, says Don. In fact, the entire house is covered with ugly spores that began appearing soon after it was built in 1986. The outside of the Calhoun house just turned green. “Yes, and it did it the first year and it did it the second year, the third year.”, says Don.
How did this happen? The Calhoun’s blame the synthetic stucco they chose for the exterior when they built their home. It’s called EIFS, for Exterior Insulation and Finish System, a material used in thousands of new houses. The Calhoun’s had no idea they’d have a problem with EIFS. “I thought it was a superior product.” Synthetic stucco is actually Styrofoam board, covered by mesh and a textured waterproof surface. It’s glued directly onto the home’s exterior. The problem is synthetic stucco doesn’t breath and there’s no drainage system, so if any moisture gets inside the boarding, the wood rots.
Three years after moving in the Calhoun’s say they began suffering bizarre medical symptoms. “I felt nauseous, vomiting, diarrhea, heart palpitations.”, Don says. “My wife has chronic sinusitis, nose drainage. Her nose bleeds everyday. My daughter, Nicki, had allergies, what we thought were allergy symptoms.” Doctors were puzzled by the unrelated symptoms. Then a magazine article offered a clue: a condition called “sick building syndrome.” “I looked at my wife and said these are the same symptoms we’ve been dealing with for the past ten years.”, recalls Don.
The Calhoun’s had themselves examined by Dr. Eckardt Johanning, widely considered the leading expert on the syndrome. “They have problems that in time and place are related to that particular building.”, says Dr. Johanning. He told them to move out immediately, which they did, leaving all of their belongings – pictures, toys, shoes, and even Don’s precious baby grand – everything that had been contaminated.
The Calhoun’s would learn there were some 15 different molds growing inside their walls, including stachybotrys, an extremely toxic mold researchers have linked to other cases of “sick building syndrome”.
The family is now suing the synthetic stucco manufacturer “Dryvit Systems” for an unspecified amount. There are currently hundreds of synthetic stucco lawsuits in the courts, but the Calhoun’s are among the first to claim the product led to health problems.
Dryvit refused to be interviewed, but in a statement, said “There is no causal link between these claimed illnesses and the type of materials Dryvit sells.” In fact the American Medical Association does not recognize “sick building syndrome” as a distinct medical condition. But that hasn’t stopped the Calhoun’s, who are living in limbo. “We have 20 years of our lives there. We don’t know if we will be able to get it back. It’s tough.”, says Joy.
There have been so many problems with synthetic stucco nationwide that lawmakers in the Chicago area are working to ban the EIFS system altogether.