Mold and Moisture
Mold and Moisture in Your Home
Is there mold contamination in your home?
Virtually all homes have the essential ingredients for active mold growth. Indoor mold contamination often occurs in areas that are completely unnoticed by the home's occupants. Even small amounts of hidden mold contamination are concerning for people with compromised health, or those wanting to prevent mold related sickness and disease.
Mold can also become a concern when visible mold or water stains on building materials are discovered during real-estate transactions. In order for a mold condition to be negotiated during a real estate transaction, a professional mold investigation should be performed to obtain unbiased information so appropriate remediation costs can be established.
Where does mold come from?
Basically the only requirements for mold growth indoors are a food source and a little moisture.
Food sources are plentiful in our homes and can include cellulose products such as drywall, wood, insulation, cardboard and paper, as well as, invisible bio-film on hard surfaces, carpet backing, wallpaper adhesive, many fabrics, leather. House dust, which is primarily dead skin cells shed from humans, is also a nutrient-rich food source for mold that is present in all homes and buildings.
Moisture sources are also multiple and can include water or moisture vapor (humidity) that is retained inside of homes that are now constructed or modified to be more airtight and energy efficient. Water that initiates mold growth can come from former or active roof leaks, plumbing leaks, backed-up floor drains, leakage around windows and doors, and seepage through siding or foundations. Moisture vapor in the air that can cause mold growth and help existing mold to spread to more areas can come from humidifiers, bathing, showering, cooking, dishwashing, sump pump pits, fish aquariums, carpet cleaning, perspiration and respiration.
Due to the abundant food and moisture sources indoors, most homes have multiple areas where hidden mold is actively growing without the knowledge of the occupants.
How does mold spread?
Mold can spread rapidly like cancer to many different areas throughout a private home or commercial building. Mold spores are essentially weightless, microscopic seeds that spread through the air very much like dandelion seeds do outdoors. Once the flower of the dandelion is mature, it's seeds can readily become airborne and travel for great distances before finding a place to reproduce. Once mold spores become liberated into indoor air, either through the natural process of sporulation, or due to someone causing movement or vibration to a mold contaminated surface, they can travel to virtually any room in a building within minutes.
This is why when an area of mold contamination is smelled or visually discovered by a homeowner or building maintenance manager, there is a chance that the mold has already spread to other areas. Therefore a thorough inspection should be performed to determine if spreading has occured.
How dangerous is mold?
Molds are now recognized as a serious indoor health concern in homes across the country. Mold can cause a large variety of health affects including behavior problems, learning disabilities, memory loss, brain damage, ear infections, sinus infections, damage to the immune and nervous systems, as well as cause breathing disorders such as allergies and asthma.
These illnesses are caused by inhalation of: 1) microscopic seeds called spores which are released into the indoor air, 2) toxic chemicals called mycotoxins produced by the mold, and 3) metabolic gasses (musty smell) emitted as the final waste product during the mold digestion process. While mold can affect even the healthiest people, women who are pregnant, infants, children, seniors, and those with allergies, asthma, chemical sensitivities or other preexisting medical conditions should be especially concerned about the health effects of indoor mold exposure.
When does mold become a problem?
First, we must understand that mold spores are present everywhere and we should never expect to live in a mold free world. Mold is part of the natural food chain to complete the breaking down of dead matter. In smaller amounts found in fresh air outdoors, most of us are not bothered by mold, but in larger concentrations indoors, mold can be detrimental to health. As an example, an area only the size of a soft ball can emit tens of thousands of spores into your indoor air each day.
Additionally, outdoor molds are considered cosmopolitan and generally harmless to most people in fresh air, however, many species that grow indoors are aggressive and can cause infections and toxic reactions.
While you do not have to smell mold for it to be a health concern; if you can smell a musty or damp odor indoors, the mold concentrations are likely already beyond safe levels for the health of humans and pets. Whenever and wherever molds are growing indoors, they should be seen as a concern and promptly remediated. Procrastinating will only cause the contamination to spread further and become more costly to remediate. Moreover, physical symptoms from exposure usually become worse with time and can sometimes be irreversible.
What are evidences of mold and moisture?
Visible mold growth is always an indicator of an inappropriate moisture condition which should be further evaluated. Other common evidences include loose wall tiles, cracked or missing grout and caulk in bath enclosures, water stains on building materials, and musty odors anywhere in a home.
Frequently homeowners have no idea of hidden mold or moisture conditions present in their home until it is inspected by a trained professional. When hidden moisture is discovered, it may reveal a significant mold concern that is not readily visible and should not be opened or exposed by an untrained person.
How is moisture diagnosed?
Moisture is diagnosed using state-of-the-art technology. This can include noninvasive radio waves which penetrate dry surfaces to detect sub-surface moisture conditions. This method works through most building materials such as gypsum wallboard (drywall), plaster, wood paneling, carpet, vinyl flooring and ceramic tiles. Suspect areas are radio scanned for hidden moisture.
When moisture is encountered with the radio frequency method, conductivity pins are pressed into the surface to measure the moisture level. This determines the WME (wood moisture equivalent) to ascertain the likelihood for structural rot and/or mold growth behind those surfaces. In some cases deep-wall electronic probes are inserted through small patchable holes to more accurately measure the moisture content in wall insulation or deep within a wall cavity. These methods assist in tracing moisture to its origin where the source problem can then be corrected.
Infrared imaging can also be used to scan a building for moisture in real time, much as you would use a video camera. When moisture problems are detected, an infrared image is captured to document the condition.
Should I have a mold inspection?
There are many areas in every home where mold growth can be hiding. A professional mold inspection can help you identify those areas where mold is actively growing in your home. Mold inspections will often reveal multiple areas of mold contamination which effectively have a cumulative effect equal to that of a very large area.
Mold and moisture inspections are always recommended when mold contamination is present in a building. These inspections are performed for individuals suffering from health problems believed to be related to poor indoor air quality, as well as, during real estate transactions, and litigation between buyers/sellers, tenants/landlords, or claimants and insurance companies.
Because indoor mold is a direct cause of so many health problems, a mold inspection is a wise investment for everyone, not just those who are already suffering symptoms.
Who should perform the inspection?
While often purporting to be mold inspectors in their advertisements, mold remediators (cleaning companies) and industrial hygienists (lab technicians) should not be hired to evaluate indoor mold conditions unless they can show professional credentials in home inspection which cover the structure and all of the building's operating systems. Moreover, remediators and hygienists should not attempt to simultaneously market their cleaning services or claim that bio-aerosol testing is always part of a mold inspection.
Most licensed home inspectors are not environmental inspectors, however, an environmental inspector should have a background in home inspection in order to provide a proper environmental inspection.
What areas should be inspected?
Some of the areas typically covered in a mold and moisture inspection include visual examination for deficiencies in the building's interior and exterior structure, plumbing system, ventilation system, heating and air conditioning components, fireplaces, and household appliances. The inspection should also include examination for micro-climates and inappropriate moisture conditions that can cause or contribute to mold contamination, and/or have an adverse effect on indoor air quality.
Mold inspections can be limited to one specific area if desired by a client, however, due to the nature of mold, unless there is specific reason to believe that it is the only area of concern, limiting an inspection to one area is not recommended.
What questions must be answered?
A professional mold inspection should answer seven important questions. It should determine 1) where the mold is located and the extent of it, 2) if the mold has spread to other areas of the building, 3) the direct cause of origin for the mold germination, 4) the secondary factors that may have contributed to the growth and spread of the mold since germination, 5) the appropriate and safe measures to get rid of each specific area mold, 6) what building corrections are needed to ensure the mold does not return, and 7) whether a professional is needed, or whether the project can be safely performed by a homeowner or building staff.
How is the inspection performed?
Mold and moisture inspections often incorporate the use of diagnostic instruments and tools, high-intensity - long-wave ultraviolet light, infrared thermal imaging, radio and/or conductive moisture meter analysis, and fiber optic viewing of hidden areas. Invasive inspection or mold sampling with lab analysis can also be performed but is not often needed.
How is information reported?
Unless otherwise requested, mold and moisture inspections are limited to verbal consultation only. Verbal consultation is customary for people suffering from symptoms or who have visible mold problems and simply want to gain personal information to help them understand the causes and solutions for the mold problems in their homes. You would then be responsible for taking your own notes but photos taken of concerns identified during the inspection are provided to you on a CD to complement your written notes.
In addition to discovering the locations of mold growth, you will also receive a written copy of mold cleaning techniques explaining the various remedial methods that should be used in specific areas, precautions that should be taken to protect yourself, how to prevent the mold from spreading during remediation, and how to help prevent recurrence. The consultation will also help you to determine whether these areas can be addressed safely by a homeowner or whether a professional remediator should be contacted.
Technically written reports can also be requested. Written reports are customarily needed during real estate transactions, when litigation is involved, or in other situations where it may be important to physically document all conditions to reduce liability or to provide accurate information for those who will be performing remediation or correcting the related building deficiencies. These reports are custom written specifically for the conditions discovered in the inspected property.
Technically written reports can include photographs and/or infrared images to add clarification to the reported conditions. Written reports may also include recommendations for each of the discovered conditions to help ensure that proper and practical methods are used during building corrections or mold remediation.
Bio-aerosol and Visible Mold Sampling
In order to determine whether mold species are of an allergenic, pathogenic, or toxigenic type, sampling and lab analysis must be performed. On occasion, additional culturing of viable spores to determine subspecies may be helpful. While mold sampling is not often needed during mold investigations, the sampling of air, dust, and visible mold can sometimes be an integral factor for information gathering during an investigation.
Laboratory samples of mold are commonly collected for purposes of clearance testing following a mold remediation project, or if scientific documentation of the presence of mold is required for purposes of arbitration or litigation. Test analysis can also be helpful for a medical doctor who may need to know the species of mold that patients have been exposed to.
In some instances, laboratory samples are also collected in order to provide additional information to assist an investigation when mold is suspected but not readily visible.
All bio-aerosol and visible mold analysis is accompanied by written reports together with interpretation and descriptions of the discovered molds. Whether air, dust, or surface sampling, the fees for the sampling media supplies and laboratory analysis of those samples are $110.00 each.
Defacing Surfaces for Inspection and Sample Taking
Finished surfaces may need to be defaced in a minor way in order to increase the ability to diagnose mold and/or moisture conditions, or to collect samples.
Small holes may need to be drilled in building materials to allow for fiber optic viewing into wall cavities, deep probe moisture analysis within wall cavities, or bio-aerosol sample extraction from within wall cavities. Occasionally, small sections of building materials may need to be removed for the purposes of inspection or sampling those materials for attached fungal matter.
These minor invasive measures are often performed to determine the degree of moisture or mold contamination inside of wall or ceiling cavities, but as a result, often eliminate the need for invasive demolition to see non-visible areas.
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