Olim from Western countries get very upset when they find their home in Israel is beset with retivut. Often they are ready to pay any price to a shiputznik who promises to get rid of it. Or if they are renting an apartment, they may do their darnedest to break their lease and move. Are such dramatic reactions necessary? Actually, the answer is a qualified “no.” Retivut is generally not an unsolvable problem. There are a number of ways to prevent and/or clear up this issue.
What is retivut?
Retivut is a Hebrew word that is related to the adjective ratuv, meaning wet. It is sometimes used to describe its evil cousin, mold, which is more correctly called ovesh. However, retivut refers to dampness in walls or ceilings, or beneath the floor tiles, of a property. Signs that it may be present include:
- Surfaces that are damp to the touch
- Watermarks or discolored paint
- Cracked, peeling or bubbling paint and plaster
- A musty or other unpleasant odor
- Dripping water
- Mold or mildew
Where does it come from?
Dampness may come from a variety of sources inside or outside your building, such as:
- A leak from a neighbor’s plumbing or balcony (in this case, the neighbor is responsible for repair)
- A broken pipe – even a pinhole crack can cause a mini flood when water is rushing through the pipe at high pressure
- Improper sealing of, or cracks in, your exterior walls which admit rainwater
- Faultily installed windows causing condensation in cold weather
- Poor insulation and/or ventilation
- Other structural problems, such as poorly built windowsills that slant downward toward the window
Before you buy or rent a home
When you are considering an apartment or house to buy or rent, check carefully for signs of retivut or potential sources of damp, as just described. Do not be shy about inspecting in depth for this serious problem. Concealing retivut from a potential property buyer is illegal in Israel, so it is important to ask the owner explicitly whether there is a retivut problem even if you do not find any indications.
When you are planning to buy, you may want to consider having the property inspected by a professional engineer. He or she should use a special device to test for dampness, as well as checking for structural issues. Be aware, however, that there are potential problems with using an engineer.
There have been cases of suspected collusion between engineers and potential sellers, so be sure that you are present every minute if you go ahead with an inspection.
The fact of having had an engineer check the property will tend to work to your disadvantage if retivut is later found in the property and you wish to sue the seller in small claims court for your repair expenses.
Engineers often include in their inspection reports a clause absolving them of any responsibility for problems, whether reported or not.
Preventing moisture build-up
Once you are already living in a house or apartment, there are a number of steps you can take to prevent moisture build-up:
- Air out the rooms by opening the windows daily for at least 15 minutes if at all possible.
- Install electric vents in high humidity areas such as in bathrooms and over stovetops. You may also use an electric dehumidifier or inexpensive humidity absorption pellets*.
- Do not keep the inside of windows covered with furniture or heavy drapes.
- Close the trisim (blinds) during heavy rainfalls.
- Use humidifiers sparingly.
- Wipe condensation off window frame and surrounding areas with old towels.
- If you need to line dry laundry indoors, put it in an airy part of your apartment.
Dealing with mold
If you notice mold forming, photograph or make a sketch of where it appears in case you eventually need to consult a professional to deal with it. Infants and small children, elderly people and anyone suffering from a respiratory problem like allergy or asthma should stay away from the moldy room. Scrub off the mold as soon as possible – before it spreads – with a strong bleach solution. Make sure the area is well ventilated while you are working, and wear rubber gloves, old clothes and preferably a protective face mask. Air the room thoroughly afterwards.
Once the mold is gone, try to track down and eliminate/minimize the source of the problem.
Using a retivut specialist
If the mold returns, you may want to contact a professional in resolving retivut problems. Because such a specialist does not require licensing, choose carefully; ask friends or community e-bulletin boards for “tried and true” recommendations, and stay away from anyone who recommends himself. If the dampness is coming from outside the building, the professional will probably not be able to proceed until after a few weeks of warm weather have allowed the area to dry out. (As an alternative, if you have determined that the problem stems from inadequate sealing of your home’s exterior walls, at this point you can apply sealant to the outer walls yourself.)
Make sure that your resource person treats the source of the problem and not just the symptoms. Have him sign a contract detailing the exact procedures, materials and deadlines involved, with a guarantee on the job of at least one year (preferably longer) so that you can see how the work holds up next winter.
Good luck! Here’s hoping you stay dry and warm this winter!
* The humidity absorption pellets (מילוי סופג לחות ומונע עובש) are found in the cleaning products section of large grocery stores. Sold in a small dark blue cardboard box, the pellets can be purchased together with a plastic holder (about NIS 26) or in a refill pack (about NIS 12). I have used them successfully to absorb dampness in small enclosed spaces such as in bathrooms or under sinks.