I arrived on site and met with my client. I wore street clothes as she didn’t want any of her neighbors or board members of her homeowners’ association knowing she is having a mold inspection performed. She said she bought her condominium about seven months ago and noticed an odor which she thought was wet paint. The odor is still there and she wanted to see if it was mold related. When I walked in, there was definitely an odor, and to me it smelled of sewage. I told the client that odors can be tricky since some molds don’t have an odor, and it also depends on the state of some molds as to when they have an odor, and obviously some odors aren’t mold-related. I explained that I would use special moisture detection equipment such as a moisture meter and hygrometer to detect if there are any issues, coupled with any visually suspect conditions.
The condo looked very clean, I didn’t see any visible mold-like growth, and no actively wet building materials were noted. I was determined to find out where that odor was coming from and, although maybe some of our competitors would call it quits at this point and just pull an air sample and outside control, I dug a little deeper. First I stomped on the flooring materials slightly and noticed a not-so-solid sound. I asked the client if she knew of a crawlspace below her unit. She said there is one and the access is in her Master Bedroom closet. I also noted an access panel that I presumed was behind a shower in her Bathroom. I asked if she minded if I removed the access panel and she said I absolutely could. When I opened up the access panel I was hit with the odor and it was much stronger. I saw some slight rust on some materials under the tub but everything was dry and I didn’t see anything suspicious but then I saw the subfloor had a hole to the Crawlspace below. I decided to suit up in my Tyvek suit and half mask and head on down. She asked if that would cost extra. Knowing the client wasn’t able to drop a lot of cash on this inspection I told her I could absolutely include the extra area in the original price, plus my desire to figure out the source of the odor was peaking my interest. She was very appreciative of that and of my thoroughness.
I went down there and noted the usual suspect conditions (no vapor barrier, building materials in contact with exposed soils, carpet in contact with the soil) but I didn’t see anything that would cause that odor until I went directly under the room I was inspecting. This is where I found a leaking sewage line with about 15 lineal feet of standing black water. When I got back up to the client’s condo I explained what I had saw and she was so relieved that I found the source of the odor that she has been living with for 7 months. I told her I didn’t see any mold-like growth but told her how I strongly recommend the air samples as there could certainly be hidden mold growth since not only does she have standing water in her Crawlspace, but the water is category 3, or black water. Having had mitigation / remediation experience I told her what the process will look like to extract the black water and how all the building materials should be removed and a vapor barrier installed. I also drew on my previous property management experienced and told her most likely that the Crawlspace would be the HOA’s responsibility, although she should double check in her governing documents.
This project reminded me of why I do what I do, to help people and find problems that can be fixed which will lead to happier, healthier clients. I gave her my card and asked her for a review which she said she would absolutely give me one.
Steve Stockburger, Senior Inspector
I get these questions a lot: what if the mold is in my walls, and how will you find it. First, let me say- good question! This is a common concern and you are not alone, so let me see if I can explain. It is not uncommon for us to get a call that goes something like this: I have been feeling ill for a while now and I just cannot shake it; I don’t see any mold but we did have a roof leak a few months ago (insert your water intrusion issue here). This is where we will discuss your issues and specifics of where you are having issues and what your concerns are. During this discussion the question inevitably comes up, “But if you can’t see the mold, how do you know it’s there?”
Let me begin to answer this question with how the inspection process works and how we determine if the environment exists for mold in your home. The first step in any inspection is a discussion with you, the homeowner, about what your concerns are and where you think the issues are. Then your inspector will begin with the outside of the home; here they are looking for any avenues for water to enter your home. After covering the outside they will move inside and do a visual inspection along with testing for moisture in building materials (walls, floors, etc.). This moisture hunt is how we determine if the environment exists for mold to grow. You see mold needs two primary things to grow, water and food. The water we can find with our moisture meters and other equipment, the food, well, that’s the home itself. The primary sources of food for mold in your home are any carbon-based (and particularly any cellulose, or wood- based) substance. In today’s structures, food sources for mold are readily available (sheetrock, wood wall studs, wood flooring or wood decking). Now if you have an attic space or crawl space, we check those areas too, but our primary concern is your living space and the air you are breathing.
It’s at this point that we can make any recommendations for sampling. This will let us know if that stuff that looks like mold really is (this will be a surface sample) and it will let us know if the air you are breathing contains mold levels above what you are being exposed to outside (this is an air sample). It’s this air sample that lets us know if there is hidden mold and answers the earlier question of how will you find the mold in my walls. Let me explain how this works in a little more detail. As in any scientific comparison we need a control, something that gives us a baseline or “normal” for your particular home. We do this by taking an air sample from outside the home. This gives us a snapshot of the molds in the air around your home at that particular time and date. Now that we have something to compare to, we can look at the lab results from the sample we took inside the home. We are looking to see if it shows any levels that stand out as elevated above what the outside sample told us was in the air at the time. It is this comparison that lets us detect hidden mold. You see, if mold is growing in the walls we can detect the spores in our air samples. If the levels are higher than outside, then we know we have a source for that particular mold somewhere in the room. In some cases, however, we do encounter situations where an air sample in a room that has wet building materials will come back as normal from the lab. If this is a room or area where we or you feel there could be a hidden issue, we have another type of air sample that can be taken directly from the wall cavity; this will verify the presence of mold inside the wall.
So there you have it, the inside story of how we determine if you have hidden mold in your walls.
Gabe Sisney, Texas Operations Manager
You have decided to have your mold concerns diagnosed by a professional. In a sense you have decided to take your home to the doctor. You are expecting a complete diagnosis so that you know how to move forward in resolving your concerns. Usually, the complete diagnosis will include an investigation and testing.
A mold investigation will paint you a partial picture of what might be going on in your home, much like when you go for an office visit with your doctor. The doctor will tell you it appears that you might have strep throat, but you will need a strep test to confirm. The doctor will need to order the correct prescription based on the testing results. You would certainly want to be taking the correct medication in order to get well. The same applies to the recommendations your inspector will make as far as testing any visible mold like growth or the air in your home, based on his findings during the investigation. Your inspector will need to gather as much information as possible in order to advise you on the steps for remediation (your home’s prescription).
Sometimes mold testing is not necessary. Sometimes a strep throat test is not necessary. Sometimes an x-ray of your lungs is recommended to see if something else might be causing your sore throat. Sometimes air testing, swab testing, or wall-cavity testing is recommended and could be essential for a complete diagnosis and prescription.
If you were to have air samples taken without an inspection, you would find out if there were specific mold spores in the air you are breathing, but would not have a clue to what might be causing them or where they could be coming from. With the inspection, your consultant could help pinpoint the problem area by possibly finding wet building materials, a plumbing leak, a roof leak, etc. If you were to just have an inspection and did not have any of the recommended tests performed, you would find out that you might have a plumbing leak or wet materials, but would have no clue if there was any hidden mold somewhere or in the air you are breathing. You would have a partial picture. You might be taking the wrong steps to remedy the situation, like taking a prescription for a virus when you have an infection.
A complete diagnosis of your mold concerns is essential in order to paint you a 3-D picture of what may be going on in your home. The mold inspection will be to find any issues that are conducive to mold growth, such as wet materials, moisture, and humidity, which can pinpoint possible sources. The samples or tests will tell us and you what types of molds are present and their concentration. Your inspector and project manager will review the findings, photographs, conclusions, and the lab results. They will put all of this together in your report and will then let you know what your next steps should be to begin the healing process of your home.
by Tina Yaeger
How do I stop mold before it starts? This is a question that is on the mind of many people and the answer is fairly simple. Find the moisture, dry it out, and fix the leak. The faster these things are accomplished the better. Some molds only need 48 hours to begin growing so timing is critical.
Mold essentially needs two things to grow: moisture and a food source. The moisture comes in many forms and can include plumbing leaks, roof leaks, toilet overflows, and a million other ways that we won’t list here. However, just know that anywhere there is moisture, there is a potential for mold growth. That brings us to the second part of the equation, food. Mold is not particular when it comes to what it considers food. Mold will eat just about anything. That is its job after all. If we didn’t have mold to break down organic matter we would all be covered with 100’s of feet of leaves and other stuff. But I digress. Mold has its place but your house isn’t one of them.
So if you take either part of the equation away, you take away it’s ability to keep growing. Many people believe that if you take away it’s moisture source that you actually kill the mold. However, this is not the way it really works. Removing the moisture actually puts mold into a dormant state and will stop the growth, but it does not kill the mold. The mold is still present and will remain there until conditions become favorable for new growth. Once a new water source is found, it will pick up right where it left off and continue growing. After all, mold spores essentially have infinitive viability and will be around long after you and I have turned to dust.
by Rick Weir