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Water damage – mold – historic preservation – murals – artwork

Posted · 78 Comments

I was asked to consult on a renovation project of a historical building. The reason I was brought in was because there were difficult problems with murals. While this may seem not so relative to your situation… read on.

First of all, here’s what happened (that could happen to your home or office): The roof leaked and water infiltrated into the structure, into the walls. The roof leak wasn’t dealt with quick enough or completely enough cause someone was trying to save money and not be inconvenienced.

In the meantime, mold loves humid conditions and it grew and grew and grew until, in order to get the mold out and get rid of the smell, the building had to practically have all its wall board ripped out and the walls rebuilt from the inside out. Disinfestations and sanitizing were a daily, repeating process.

Crps of mold under the fabric of this mural

In the case of this project, they thought they had the mold all under control and taken care of. Then they called me in to double check some work that had been done on wall painting (mural) conservation/restoration issues. In the photo you can see what I found when I peeled the mural off the wall. The mold practically growled at me from under the canvas!!!!!

We immediately began the process of removing the murals for clean up. In the process, I only wore my mask for 1/2 the time… and paid the price. My allergies flared up for the next two weeks.

All emergency preparedness kits and packs should include cheap particle/dust masks and also masks with carbon filters sealed in zip lock bags.

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78 Responses to "Water damage – mold – historic preservation – murals – artwork"
  1. Bill Collins says:

    We had this same thing happen to our house. Only our water leaks were caused by our roofing contractor skimping on proper roofing materials and also the poor installation of the materials by “unskilled labor.” The infiltrations of water traveled inside our walls and mold began to grow everywhere.

    My wife went to the hospital with respiratory problems. We’ve spend $100k’s on lawyers and emptying out our home so that basically, in the end, it will need to be torn down and rebuilt.

    After all is said and done, all we want is for our family to be safe and to save the things that mean most: our family memories. Scott’s coaching and services regarding photos, heirlooms and our personal emotionally valuable stuff has meant the world to use. It has been the difference between peace of mind and severe stress and sadness. Thank you from the bottom of our heart! I encourage everyone to stay plugged in to this website and buy “How To Save Your Stuff From A Disaster”! The info in it is EXACTLY what is needed, if and when you get into trouble. We certainly were saved by Scott’s expertise when we had our major disaster.

    Appraisals were also an important issue. I went to Richard Holgate at for help.

    • Scott says:

      General Note to Everyone,
      All the things we did for the Collins are tasks outlined in my book that you can do for yourselves.

      Last evening, I had another person call me. He wants the same type of cataloging, organizing done for his family history items only he’s doing it in preparation for an emergency. Interesting detail, he collects racing bicycles. He has about 30 of them around his house and he wants them protected against corrosion.

  2. What could an artist do to protect their artwork in the case that the owner of the building was neglectful?

    • Scott says:

      Roger, Is it a mural, sculpture, stain glass window, ceramic tiles,?
      Good question since artwork gets damaged when its not cared for. Here are a few suggestions:
      1. Put the artwork low traffic areas
      2. Insure the artwork
      3. In some states, artists have rights tied to copyrights. If the artwork were damaged, you could sue him. If you let him know this is an option for you, the owner may take better care of it.
      4. Varnishing is a form of protection against grime, scratches, etc.

      I’d really need to know what kind of artwork it is and what kind of location its in before I could get more specific.

      Good luck.

  3. Paulette Randsom says:

    I really liked your blog! Super suggestions.

  4. Patrick says:

    I found your blog from a search on Google and read a few of your other posts. I just added you to my Google News Reader. Keep up the awesome work. Look forward to reading more from you in the future.

  5. Gene says:

    I hope your client had good flood insurance. It’s a pity though to see such damage.

  6. Sad – everything turning out OK?

  7. Scott says:

    Well, no, not really if you are asking about Bill Collins’ comment. They are still in legal entanglements. The house is having to be rebuilt. But the family memorabilia, keepsakes, photos, collectibles etc are safe and that gives them peace of mind on that issue.

    If you are asking about the mold damage on the murals in the historical building, the subject of this blog post… all turned out well. The mold is gone and murals look great.

  8. Viru says:

    That sounds really horible. I think water damage is such a destructive thing. I have family living in England that have experienced this and it devestated them for a good while.

    I wish you all the best mate.

  9. Grant Schaeffer says:

    This is such a great resource that you are providing and you give it away for free! I enjoy seeing websites that understand the value of providing value for free. I truly loved reading your post. Thanks!

  10. Stacie says:

    Great point about the masks. It’s important to encourage people to remain safe themselves and look after their health when having to deal with damage to buildings. Good information, very impressed with the range of resources on this site.

  11. Stella says:

    I have a art piece thats been in our family for years and years. The same thing that you talk about in this post has happend to it. What do you recommend I use or where should I take it to get it fixed?

    • Scott says:

      I need to know exactly what kind of art you have. Is it an old oil painting, new acrylic painting, sculpture? Also, in order to refer you to someone, I need to know where you live. You may email me directly at if you like.

  12. Clemsan says:

    Oh my! Is it okay now? I mean the building and your allergies? We all know the destruction of things because of water and it is indeed a horrible one. I think the occurrence of mold is because of the chemicals that are being used for the murals. Scott, I am learning a lot from you. Thank you so much. Now I know what to do with the artworks we have. Thanks for your answers to my questions.

    • Scott says:

      You are welcome for the answers to your questions. The mold was taken care of and the “allergy” mold flare up only lasted a couple of weeks. All’s well. Actually, I know better (I had a mask with me but only kept in on part time)! But it was a good lesson to relay to all of you as an object lesson.

  13. Lynne says:

    What a pity, hope you managed to restore murals to their former glory. I’m trying to rid my painted and tiled walls of mould, any ideas?

    • Scott says:

      Thanks for your comment. Mold is important to “nip in the bud” and make sure its under control before you repaint. There are many off the shelf products good for everyday walls and floors but that should never be used on furniture, artwork etc. So, when you start applying your industrial strength mold killer, protect all your lovely antiques, fabriques… and clothes!

  14. Artists or artwork owners should always be ready in all conditions like this, to prevent further damages.

  15. Is repainting the difficult part of restoring damaged painting???

    • Scott says:

      No, the ‘retouching” or inpainting process is 99% of the time a technical color matching process. We try to never have an influence on the creativity aspects of an item we are working on… and that can mean color, texture, shine. We never get into repainting as that would “kill” the original nature of the work of art.

  16. Mike says:

    Scary stuff… Everything fine now?

    • Scott says:

      Thanks for asking. Yes, everything turned out perfect. Actually, the most damaging problem for the murals was the careless attitude of the general contractor. As I have written about in other posts, handling and care can damage things faster and easier than anything else.

  17. Really interesting to read. So you actually took the entire mural off the wall and then took care of the mold from there??? How do you place it back on?

    • Scott says:

      Luke, yes, we took the mural off the wall, obviously, to expose the mold. Then with the artwork safe, we took industrial measures to get rid of the mold. After the wall was clean and repainted, then we took the original historic murals (that were painted on fabric) and reattached them to the wall kind of like you would hang wall paper.

      I see you are a professional photographer. Have you looked over some of the other postings that talk about photography? There is also a chapter in my book that addresses protecting and saving important photographs. See products.

  18. Wendy Servman says:

    We had a similar water leakage problem in the kitchen, it was due to the poor standard of construction. Every time it rained we had a leakage problem. We could never manage to cook in the kitchen when it would started leaking. I had all kinds of collectibles that got damaged and a cardboard box of stuff that got ruined. It was tough. Then we called a local ServPro and got it taken care of. Thanks for your suggestions about the collectibles.

  19. It is very sad, I think you have the insurance for it.

  20. mirna says:

    Really interesting… My friend is an sculptor and she is doing all kinds of renovation projects on historical buildings, if you will be on Croatia travel you will see that there are a lot of old churches that should re renovated and historical buildings too … Love to read this !! Thanx
    .-= mirna´s last blog ..LAV MARINA =-.

  21. Robin Smith says:

    Well, it’s a very good post. This is a very common problem that we do face often… but we don’t know how to handle the situation of protecting our people’s possessions that may not be worth much.

    Public Insurance Adjusters are working for that and they take the responsibility and risk. In the insurance claim process there is a huge chance of misguidance in any step. So we should always aware of that an adjuster provides a valuable service. (

    • Scott says:

      We have set up a website to help adjusters and the insurance industry be more aware of professional services like ours. Go to
      We provide expertise witness, legal testimony, evaluations and reports, surveys and assessments and, of course, we provide restoration/conservation services. We do a lot of work for AIG (Chartise), State farm, AllState, many others and through many independent adjusters.

  22. Tina says:

    Great post, house mold can be a very serious issue. Some of the illlnesses it may cause are headaches, loss of hair, especially on the head, excessive coughing, or possibly even memory loss or strokes. The more someone breathes in these toxic mold spores, the greater chances you’ve got of having long-term effects.

    • Scott says:

      Tina, very good points. Thanks for your comments on this important subject. Remember that even if you don’t feel that mold bothers you very much… exposure to it can get into your system and “sensitize” your organism for easier contamination in the future.

      Get the fans out! Move the air! Get some help! Need to talk to someone about your stuff? Give me a call at 805 564 3438

      You may be interested in our Facebook page at “Save Your Stuff” where you will also see other pages lists where we post interesting stories and tips.

  23. James says:

    Nice post. Your info is right on. We deal with people all the time that have questions about the things you blog about. Thanks for sharing your expertise. We’ll refer people to your site.

  24. Tammy Cannoli says:

    This happens to us sometimes. Thanks for telling people how to be ready. I’ll sign up for your updates and get a copy of your book. Thanks.

  25. This is an awesome review and helpful too. I work for a cleaning service and we see stuff all the time that we shouldn’t touch or clean because its too fragile or valuable. We all should read this to save the most valuable things in our offices and homes.

  26. Jean says:

    As a person who works in this field, we should also protect ourselves first. Exposure to mold could cause a lot of disease. Prevention is better than cure.

  27. Barry Molina says:

    The roof leak wasn’t dealt with quick enough or completely enough cause someone was trying to save money and not be inconvenienced. I see that happen all the time. Here’s a good example of how conditions can get out of control… don’t mess with mold. Take care of it right away!

  28. Vanessa Botana says:

    I enjoyed reading the blog plus the comments being submitted by the viewer. I’ve got a water damage roof problem. Thanks for the dialog on the subject. Even though your blog isn’t really an abatement teaching site… it made me realize that I have family treasures to worry about that could be more valuable than the roofing that needs repair! If I let it get out of hand, I could loose things that the insurance company won’t cover. That would be a disaster…

  29. Fred Brickman says:

    I also have this problem in my office. I’m searching for some ideas to prevent this leakage but your article came up which gave me other things to think about that are very important. I can understand your feelings for this situation and thank you for your insights. It appears that this whole blog has got interesting articles and I’ll keep looking around. Cheers from the UK.

  30. Janet Slipper says:

    This is my first visit here. I’ve found so many interesting ideas in your blog, especially its discussion and comments afterwards. Thanks for keeping the comments on discussion and coherent. I really appreciate a well run, maintained blog, with great content! I’ll pass the word along to others I know will love your info at my club.

  31. Andi Amios says:

    Water damage can be one of the most stressful circumstances. It can create a health risk due to mold in wet walls and wet flooring including wet carpet… all things that must be dealt with immediately. It is very important to remove all standing water as quickly as possible and then to begin the process of water damage removal. Move LOTS of air! And DON’T turn the heater on unless you want lots of mold!

  32. Elliott Mcclain says:

    I really loved reading your blog. It was very well authored and easy to understand… very interesting. Thanks for the free downloads, btw. Your publications are interesting and helpful.

  33. Stefany says:

    I’ve found so many interesting ideas in your blog, especially its discussion and comments afterwards. Thanks for keeping the comments on discussion and coherent.

  34. Darin says:

    Although various strains of mold can have serious consequences, a large part of the fervor is unfortunately founded in perception rather than reality. Not to say that mold cannot harm people, but the media has vastly over-exaggerated the health risks.

    • Scott says:

      I will agree with you generally speaking. Most mold doesn’t harm people. But, last year we had an insurance job helping a household that had infiltrations of water that resulted in mold in the inner walls of the home and then growing on the contents in the house. We handled the collectibles and artwork, heirlooms and memorabilia that the customer didn’t want the “pack out” company to handle. While everyone in the family was fine, the wife went to the hospital and battled the severe allergic effects from the mold for months. So, I guess you can never tell until someone is afflicted. Precautions are always smart. So, readers… inexpensive masks can be purchased at a local hardware store. Be sure to buy ones with charcoal filters for best protection.

      Btw, Darin, who does your company use when handling fine art, collectibles and family history items. We work for pack out companys and insurance companys all over the US taking care of mold, water damage, smoke and fire damage.

  35. Isabella Fagarian says:

    Most interesting and informative post I have ever seen on this water damage and mold subject. There is very little when it comes to saving items from water damage that are valuable. Thanks for your insights and availability to help those involved with trying to help and repair. I work for a “pack-out” company and we often get valuable things to handle but the owner of the company puts the fear of God in everyone to be careful. Really, we shouldn’t be handling OR TREATING these things… and every once in awhile we do ruin items. But we get to blame it on the water damage. But its sad when the items we break or ruin are emotionally important to a family! Insurance just can’t pay for those types of things. Thanks again for your expert opinion.

  36. Kat Florins says:

    This post is really informative. I come back often to see the many things you write about. Lots of variety and keep up the good work with the videos. Thanks. Good stuff.

  37. Scott says:

    if you like the short videos I put out, go to YouTube and look up “Preservationcoach” and “bestartdoc”

  38. I’ve heard the same thing has happened to several of my friends – and sadly, the damage can be pretty intense. It’s sad that it can cause such health problems – I had no idea until I read the article. Is there anyway to prevent this from happening?

  39. Ilsa Grace says:

    That picture is disgusting. It’s crazy to think what could grow in your building/home if it’s not taken care of. I never thought it could make you sick, either- until we found mold in our home. Is there anything you can do to prevent it from infiltrating art, walls and ceilings?

  40. I agree with Scott, if they had done something in the first place, it could have not led into a more complicated problem.

  41. John Tan says:

    Because it ignores the loss, Ilsa. In this case, it is through the entire building.

  42. Pat Chorttle says:

    I don’t think many people are aware of how bad mould can get and how hard it is to control. It’s not a case of just cleaning it away, most people will neglect to get to the root of the problem so it will just keep returning.

  43. janice says:

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  44. JohnBL says:

    I found your blog when I was looking for a different sort of information but I was very happy and glad to read through your blog. The information available here is great. Thanks for sharing.

  45. Julia says:

    I find this information very useful as we are architects but rarely find good info about preserving art in buildings. Thank you for the information that you post. I signed up for the RSS feeds. Good job!

  46. Rommel says:

    Water damage can just be hiding in your house and you can only notice it when it is worst. So doing this kind of inspection is really important. Here at our local I only trust the Water Damage St Louis on doing water damage restoration in our house.

  47. Dexter Holcomb says:

    Thanks for sharing this information. The building had to practically have all its wall board ripped out and the walls rebuilt from the inside out… wow, what a job! Good thing they knew who to call for the artwork!

  48. Jada says:

    I read your post and want to say that your post is very helpful and informative about water damage and some ideas about preservation and restoration. I will come back for reading more from your articles. Thanks

  49. I find this information very useful as we are architects but rarely find good info about preserving art in buildings. The information available here is great.

  50. Thomas says:

    What did you use to remove the mold from the murals?

    • Scott says:

      Because the murals were adhered to the wall with a wall paper paste, the mold, which was eating the paste, was only on the back of the canvas (which was glued to the wall). Therefore, it was a matter of scrapping off the paste to remove the mold. Note: we protected ourselves very well with masks and gloves etc.

  51. Carl Sams says:

    That’s a shame for these guys. I worked in a David Adler House in Chicago with real painted walls over plaster, I’ll tell you that would make me cry if that were to happen on that kind of a home!

  52. Walter Camera says:

    Thanks for sharing this with everyone. I don’t think many people are aware of how bad mould can get and how hard it is to control. Good thing these guys knew who to call for the artwork!

  53. Todd says:

    Due to recent flooding here in Minnesota, many people were unable to save some of their belongings. Mold thrives in moist areas and can be a major health hazard, especially for those with allergies and an already weakened immune system. Prevention of mold is always the better alternative if possible. Sometimes professionals are required for mold clean-up.

    • Scott says:

      Good points Todd. Also folks, be aware that a “pack out” company – the guys that get your stuff out of the house or business and do the clean up after a disaster – are not equiped or trained to take care of every kind of object in your house. For instance, these company’s should NEVER treat mold or do ANYTHING to fine art or valuable items. Require them to get specialists for the valuable or sensitive items (like antiques).

      Also, folks, be careful of off the shelf products for mold or cleaning when you are looking at fine art, books or antiques. Make a call to a professional conservator first. They’ll give you free advice.

  54. Great suggestions and examples and I’d like to add, as a professional, working on restoration projects – don’t forget to always wear your personal protection equipment.

    • Scott says:

      Thanks William. Your advice is very important. I’m asked often though, if all mold will make you sick. The answer: no. BUT, there are 10’s of 1000’s of types of mold and you can’t tell which once will get a reaction from you. So, wear at least protective masks and gloves. Infact, just for safe measure, I always use a carbon filter mask, which are sold in the same section with the dust masks at the hardware store.

  55. Greg Smith says:

    Some valuable advice in this post. These kind of damages can be very difficult to remove if you don’t take care of the problem right away. For instance, we got some mold on some prints and put them into storage. The little white fuzz turned into black, red and yellow spots that the art conservator said would have come out a lot faster (therefore cheaper) if we had had the work done right away. So, follow the advice in this article.

  56. Kenny Arcuri says:

    Mold is a tough thing to get rid of completely but so important. Don’t ignore it or take short cuts, folks. Scott’s info is right on. We just went through it.

  57. Julie says:

    Nice post which The roof leaked and water infiltrated into the structure, into the walls. The roof leak wasn’t dealt with quick enough or completely enough cause someone was trying to save money and not be inconvenienced. Thanks a lot for posting.

  58. Emma Neeley says:

    Really your blog is very interesting… I’ve been reading a bunch of your articles. This one on water damage is also something that happens all the time to stuff in storage.

  59. Emma Neeley says:

    Looking forward for more tips about this. Great ideas in this video. Thanks

  60. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends that mold contamination must be addressed not only to kill the mold, but to remove it completely from the premises since dead mold is still allergenic and potentially toxic. Do you think mold might be growing somewhere in your home? If so then you should have a mold removal performed.

    Find out more at Mold Detection

  61. Frank says:

    You found out the hard away about protection from mold. The US EPA has an excellent guide for evaluating mold situations, which includes what protective measures should be taken. Just run a Google search for the EPA’s Guide to Mold, Moisture, and Your Home.

  62. Frank Covert says:

    You can actually place wet artworks outside to dry. I also heard that paintings (when wet from leaks) are the items that molds likes to grow on.

    I’m not sure there is a truth to it though.

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