Marijuana Grow House: Renovating Back to Normal
As a landlord or proud new house buyer, you may also find yourself the not-so-proud owner of a former marijuana grow house.
After walking the rooms and assessing the situation, you may wonder what you got yourself into. If you think this will be a typical home remodel, you are in for a brutal shock.
What Is a Marijuana Grow House?
A grow house is typically a single-family detached home that is used to illegally grow marijuana--completely indoors.
Even in states such as Washington where growing... marijuana is legal, it may be illegal to grow marijuana outdoors. Unable to afford commercial spaces or stymied by efforts to secure a producer/processor license, many small-scale growers are driven back indoors.
Before moving in and setting up operations, a few things that growers like to have:
- Ample Parking: Commercial scale growers usually work in groups.
- Garage: Essential for loading and unloading marijuana without being seen by neighbors.
- Yard: Space around the house provides a buffer zone, out of reach of nosy neighbors.
- Unimpeded Indoor Space: Large open areas, like basements, provide growers with ample room for setting up plants, lights, and irrigation.
- Electric Meter Hidden: Growing lights use a lot of electricity. Nosy neighbors can get a sense of growing operations by checking the electric meter to see much power is burned up every month. It helps growers if the meter is more difficult to access--behind a gate, for instance.
- 200a Service Panel: Standard for most homes today, a 200 amp service panel (circuit breaker board) has more opening slots that allow for more wires to be run out of it.
How They Get Set Up
- Growers either move into the house legally (as tenants or owners) or illegally (as squatters on foreclosed properties).
- They quietly set up growing operations behind closed curtains.
- Growing lights, seeds, soil, planter boxes, hoses, and all the implements needed to grow marijuana indoors are usually brought in under cover of night.
- Pot plants will be situated all throughout the house, though typically the front rooms are left normal--just in case someone happens to look in.
- Infrastructure is remodeled for the sake of the almighty weed, but you can be certain that remodels are not made up to code or done by licensed professionals.
- Water lines are tapped to provide irrigation.
- Electric wires reconfigured to power the juice-hungry growing lights.
- Thick plastic, hopefully, covers floors. Plastic might be stapled or nailed around walls.
In short, the house becomes one big enclosed marijuana field, everything given over to the mission of growing weed.
Why Is This So Bad For a Building?
Most problems stem from the fact that agriculture products are not meant to be produced in enclosed residential living spaces.
Other problems come from the fact that, unless they own the house, most illegal growers simply do not care that they are destroying the home.
Ownership of a former grow house is devastating for any owner or landlord, whatever your views on cannabis legalization may be.
Even the most free-wheeling proponent of weed can still find him/herself a very unhappy and potentially bankrupt owner of a grow house.
- Huge amounts of debris are left behind.
- Highly unsafe electrical wiring.
- Re-routed water lines.
- Mold and mildew.
- Interior walls removed to make larger growing space.
- Floor coverings, subfloors, joists, and studs ruined by water damage.
- Many nail and staple holes in walls and ceiling.
- Holes cut in ceilings and walls to accommodate ventilation needed to circulate air, so that plants can grow.
- General damage (broken doors, windows, drywall, etc.)
Be prepared for the price: the cost will be astronomical. Repair and remodel bills for grow houses easily start in the tens of thousands and quickly scale upward. It's not unusual at all to spend $50,000 to $75,000 to bring a grow house back to normal condition.
Moisture is the biggest culprit. Water leaking from the hydroponic lines, as well as humidity build-up, can work deeply into the core of the house.
Inspector: First of all, get an overview of the severity of the problem from a home inspector who is well-versed in dealing with grow house inspections. They can check the house with moisture meters to assess humidity levels; look in unusual place for mold and mildew; pull up floor coverings; etc. Not all home inspectors are capable of doing this. Make sure that they have done this kind of work before.
Electrician: An electrician needs to come in and assess the extent of electrical damage. It's almost certain that the growers have opened up new circuits in the service panel or re-routed existing circuits to feed the high demands of the growing lights. If there is a lot of standing water, have the power company shut off the power. If there is actively running water that you cannot shut at the source, shut off the house's entire supply at the street.
Plumber: Plumbers may be needed to shut down auxiliary water lines; cut them off; and get water supply and drainage working as normal.
Hauling: You will need a large roll-off bin to accommodate the debris. You may need to make two hauls minimum: One to take away the growing implements, another to haul away demo'ed drywall, plaster, studs, etc.
Mold Inspection and Abatement: Former pot growing houses are a textbook case for calling in the mold inspector and the mold abatement company: there will be mold, guaranteed. I would not attempt to mitigate these levels of mold myself.
Demolition: How far does the damage extend? The answer to this will tell you how much of your house you need to rip out and replace.
At the center of the growing operation, where moisture is most prevalent, you may need to remove drywall, insulation, and even studs. In other parts of the house, the mold abatement company may be able to mitigate the mold enough so that you don't have to remove drywall.
General Carpentry; Insulation; Drywall: Studs may need to be replaced by new studs, either wood or metal. Insulation affected by mold is a "goner"; you will need to replace it.
Flooring: Unless you have bare concrete or tile, the floor covering will need to be replaced in the growing area. If your house rests on joists (basement or crawlspace), inspect the joists and sub-floor for damage and replace accordingly.