September 2011

HEALTHY ENVIRONMENTS: Just What The 'Doctor' Ordered...

Author: David Tobias | Photographer: Photography by Anne

You’d think that sending in a crew of guys to clean out dust, mold and crawly (or formerly crawly) nasties from a house’s ductwork, attic and crawl space would be all about making things more aesthetically pleasing. Yeah, sort of.

Healthy Environments, despite the down-and-dirty and sometimes downright disgusting nature of having to scratch and claw through small and often uncomfortable spaces, aspires to a higher purpose, which is actually exactly what its name says. Done right, this company’s cleaning, coating and sealing of cramped spaces that produce moisture and thousands of icky mold spores can, in fact, result in a healthier home environment and perhaps even fewer visits to allergists.

It’s that, above all, that has made Tim Silcox’s 20 years in this business worth it. Not that the owner of Healthy Environments doesn’t love walking into a house that’s loaded with mold spores and walking out sounding like Barry White; it’s just that there’s simply so much of it in the Lowcountry that Silcox says job security is not a problem. And that’s the problem.

He credits (or blames) what he calls the “the production construction” industry, which doesn’t put enough of a premium on thoroughness in post-construction cleaning. He says when home heating and air conditioning units are turned on before a worksite is swept spotless, sanded gypsum board and sawdust is spread throughout a ductwork system and lands like flour in cracks and crevices. Just add water and presto—the beginnings of that “old house/beach house” smell that sounds charming but does your health no favors.

“There is no normal for the beach island musty smell,” Silcox said. “You can hear it in my voice from the mold and ductwork we have to clean out (he clears his throat). They always try that, ‘oh, you’re at the beach, the beach always smells like that.’ No it doesn’t. There’s mold in the house.”

Silcox, originally from Springfield, Massachusetts, got started in this business after a series of what he calls “entrepreneurial successes.” He was a paperboy growing up, something he says he has in common with countless CEOs, and then pushed snow in the Northeast until he grew tired of long hours and below zero temperatures.

He bought his first dump truck at age 18 and started a landscaping business, then saw an article in a trade publication about landscaping that described the Hilton Head area.

“We had thought about Charlotte and Tampa—I don’t know why but we decided on Hilton Head Island,” Silcox said. “And we like the beach. When we saw the palmetto trees, that was it.”

Silcox ran the landscaping company for about year and then he and a friend started a duct cleaning company. He took continuing education courses and attended seminars relating to Indoor Air Quality. Early on, he actually designed and built several tools to accomplish the work to his elevated specifications and started attracting customers.

He then discovered someone in the window film business (no, not the movies) who was failing to return calls in a timely fashion and decided to get into that business as well. Spray foam insulation was next—another product consistent with the overall goal of sealing leaks that allow dust and moisture to get into a house. “We clean it, coat it and seal it, plus we seal all the dust leak scenarios that pull fiberglass insulation from the attic into the house—especially with blown-in fiberglass. That’s why I’ve done a couple thousand homes in Sun City,” Silcox said. “We just recently worked on a cottage in Berkeley Hall where we were able to provide all four services at the same time. Once you’ve done that and you’ve done it completely, you shouldn’t have to do it again.”

Silcox says that the duct sealing business, and all of its subsidiaries, is a decent business, even in a down economy. People are staying in their houses instead of flipping them, so they’re making the kind of investments that are necessary to maintain value and improve livability. He says that every service he provides amounts to money-saving investments, in the form of reduced electric bills. Or doctor bills perhaps.

“Not that I can keep everybody from going to the allergist, but it’s amazing how many people notice that when I seal their ductwork to keep them from breathing fiberglass, they don’t go to the allergist anymore. Especially small kids who respire three times what you or I do.” Silcox said.

Silcox doesn’t specifically claim to be competition for allergists, but he does wonder about anecdotal stories that speak to positive results after a full cleaning, and sealing of ductwork, attic space and crawl space.

“I don’t want to diss the doctors, but slowly, very slowly, doctors are finally saying, well, maybe you should check your building environment,” Silcox said. “Doctors call it “sick building syndrome” when 20 percent of occupants in a building complain about the same issue. I tell people if you go away for a week and you come back and start feeling crappy, it’s your house.”

Like an anti-dust and mold evangelist, Silcox conducts seminars and talks to building associations, engineers and Realtors these days, railing against shoddy construction and construction site cleaning practices and “drive-by inspectors.” He maintains that cheap filtration systems and poor maintenance assure that mold will grow in your heating and cooling system.

“When they tape all the ductwork and pretty much shove all the connections in—the test around here being ‘you can’t see it from my house’—they’re just going home, so they don’t really seal it,” he said.

To counter all that, Healthy Environments offers a free evaluation and a free inspection report, which many Realtors are using in addition to inspectors’ reports.

“I come out, I look at it, I don’t hide anything, I don’t make anything up,” Silcox said. “I give it to you straight, and I don’t bless your heart in the end. I give a pre-inspection report. It’s basically advising that if you can see what’s there, fix it to protect our customer’s interests.”

Silcox says that he conducts many continuing education sessions on the topic with rooms full or attorneys. One of the items discussed is litigation and documentation. Nowadays, says Silcox, for a lot of attorneys mold is gold.”

While Healthy Environment is Silcox’s business, the Palmetto Animal League is his passion. It started innocently enough—while putting window film on the League offices in Bluffton to help cut glare, heat and energy bills, he discovered that a love of dogs and cats (Silcox and his wife Julie have one rescue dog and two rescue cats) just wasn’t enough.

He now serves on the board and is involved in cleaning ductwork, attic space and crawl space at the organization’s new thrift shop in Sheridan Park.

As for Healthy Environments, if there’s a best part of the business Silcox says “it’s the fact that I can help somebody’s allergy issues. I love it when you have three little kids in a house who are chronically allergic and their mom calls three weeks after we’ve done work to say that they no longer go to the allergist. That’s beyond rewarding.”

For more information, call (843) 757-5522 or visit healthyenvironmentsinc.net

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