We performed a mold assessment for a family whose home experienced significant water intrusion in November of 2015. Our clients were in the process of having their roof replaced when a fast moving storm came in just after their old roof had been torn off. The roofing company installed tarps on the unfinished areas of the roof, but the high winds blew them off, subjecting the home to a significant amount of water intrusion. The water ran down the ceiling beams, into the walls and saturated their floors, furniture, electronics and other personal items. The roofing contractor wanted to avoid a claim on his business insurance policy, so he told the homeowners that he knew how to dry out the house and he would take care of it. He brought in a heater and a couple of fans and instructed our clients to turn up the heat in their home. Our client trusted that the roofing contractor indeed knew how to dry out their home properly and they followed his instructions hoping the dry out would be successful.
Unfortunately, not only was the dry out unsuccessful, but the newly installed roof leaked a couple of months after installation, causing water intrusion for the second time. At that point, our client filed a claim with their insurance company to try to get the situation handled properly. During this time, the family had multiple unexplained health issues that they now believe were most likely due to microbial conditions that occurred after the water intrusions. Their daughter started to get sick frequently and experienced sinus issues, nose bleeds, burning and itching eyes, headaches, and burning throat conditions. She also was told to use a nebulizer due to her asthmatic condition. Her mother was perplexed by this because her daughter has had asthma for several years that had been controlled up until this time and she had never needed to use a nebulizer. Other family members also started experiencing unusual symptoms during this time.
After filing their insurance claim, the insurance company sent out a water restoration company to dry out the home. Our clients were told that the home was now dry and everything was fine. Our clients were highly concerned because the suspected that the walls were not adequately dry and they were not confident that the roof issues had been permanently corrected. So, they brought in a water restoration company and a different roofing contractor for an unbiased opinion. It was determined that there were still wet building materials within the home and they suspected an even bigger problem, hidden mold growth within the walls and under flooring materials. This is where Mold Inspection Sciences came in.
After a full assessment and laboratory testing, we confirmed that the Living Room wall was still actively wet, mold growth was present in multiple areas within the home and ambient air testing of the lower level showed elevated airborne mold spore counts when compared to the outside control sample. Sadly, after following up with our client, she stated “my husband came down with a headache that was so intense he could not move, his throat and eyes burned, he felt sick and very tired, then he started to have problems remembering what was just said to him – he got extreme brain fog”.
At this time, our clients are still working to come to a resolution with their insurance company, but for now, they have had to leave their home until proper mold remediation can be performed.
Mold Inspection Sciences was honored to help this family and we sincerely hope that their health improves and they are able to be back into their home very soon.
Many times when clients’ tests come back positive for mold growth, the next concern typically is “I think mold may be on my belongings. Can I get rid of the mold or do I have to throw my belongings away?”
The small porous stuff (such as clothing, stuffed animals, bedding, etc.) can easily be washed. You can use your choice of vinegar, bleach, Borax, tea tree oil, or whatever other cleaning agent. But the items need to be washed on the hottest setting possible and permissible. Then hang the items in the sun while still wet to help get rid of germs and odors and to fade any staining.
For small non-porous items (such as toys, dishes, the shower door, etc.), a little elbow grease, some hot water, and your preferred cleaning agent will do the trick. You may even place the item in the dishwasher (remember you can put larger items in by taking out the upper rack). Be sure to thoroughly dry the items with a well-absorbing towel, well-circulating air, or even in the sun.
As far as larger items go, there are a few different options. The first option is to break the item down to try to put items into the washing machine and use a little elbow grease where necessary. Another option is to hire a restoration company to clean the items. You may want to get valuable furniture reupholstered. And if the item is not worth the time or money to clean, simply replace it.
All in all, belongings can be salvaged with proper cleaning. It may take some time and patience, but mold doesn’t mean you need to throw everything away.
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.
Being in the environmental consulting field, we encounter all sorts of situations and all types of people. We regularly work with homeowners who believe they may have a problem and help them to set forth a course of action when issues are found, we assist people after cleanup projects have occurred in verifying that work was performed correctly, we work on behalf of property owners to ensure their tenants environments are safe, and we oftentimes are called in by the tenants themselves who believe they are at risk due to mold and moisture issues that are not being properly addressed by the property owner. Regardless of who our client is in any of these situations, we follow the same guidelines and provide recommendations in an unbiased manner.
In certain cases, we are lucky enough to actually be a part of bettering people’s lives, and I can tell you those are the projects that we appreciate the most. We have encountered people and situations that when all is said and done, we can go home happy with our head held high knowing that we did something good.
When I think back over all of the thousands of people we have worked with over the years, one story always comes to mind that puts a smile on my face, and I wanted to share that with all of you. This one happens to come from a renter’s point of view.
We were originally contacted by the mother of a renter. Her son was an aspiring college student who was living in a student rental home. Unfortunately, he had been dealing with pretty significant health issues that his doctors were having a hard time pinpointing the source of. Eventually, the idea of potential mold exposure was brought to the table, and some advanced testing confirmed that he was being exposed to mold, and the first question that typically comes up in these situations is what are the living conditions like. Apparently there were a lot of known moisture issues in his rental home that were not being addressed properly by the landlord, so it appeared that was a potential source of the mold exposure.
The mother then made many attempts with the landlord and eventually the associated city inspectors to have the home properly assessed and any potential issues resolved. But, as we hear from many of our clients, she was told that her concerns were not justified and that the home appeared to be safe.
Frustrated, the Mother in our story continued her pursuit of addressing the problem, and decided that having an independent assessment of the home performed on her behalf was her next best option which is obviously where we come in. She hired us to perform a detailed mold inspection and testing of home, and through our methods we were able to confirm that there was in fact a mold problem within the home where her son was spending large amounts of time. Additionally, at the request of her son’s doctors we performed highly specialized DNA based method testing within the home which was able to definitively link the mold within the home to the son’s specific mold exposure.
With this new proof in hand, our client was able to remove her son from the unsafe environment without fear of penalty and get him on track with getting healthy. But, our mother wasn’t done there. She also used the information to prove that the home was in need of professional cleaning and as a result actions were reportedly taken which prevented any other students from going through what her son had to.
Often times we don’t hear back from our clients once we assist them in identifying mold and moisture problems and the issues are addressed. In this case though, our client ended up reaching out to us months after the fact. She went out of her way just to thank us for the help we provided, and she also wanted to tell us that her son was on a steady track to recovery and was doing very well. She actually gave us proof of our goal with all of our clients, which is making a difference through ethically sound business practices.
I wanted to start our series by discussing the different ways in which homes and businesses were affected by the moisture. A lot of situations were unique, but I think we can summarize them into three main categories, the first being rainwater:
Many structures were affected by the rainwater directly. What I mean by that is the actual water falling from the sky. From September 9th through September 16th, 17.15 inches of rain fell in the Boulder area, over 9 inches of that total was on Thursday, September 12th alone. We saw a lot of homes that were affected by roof leaks, leaks at doors and windows, and water intrusion issues at siding and wall coverings. Many of these homes had never had a previous issue, but with the amount of water that fell in such a short amount of time overwhelmed some systems. We also saw similar conditions in homes where there may have been a very small issue prior to the storm, but had not yet become readily visible or known. But once the rains came, it quickly became apparent.
Be sure to check back in for the next entry in which we will discuss how groundwater seepage affected many homes.
In early September of 2013, Colorado was struck by intense rains and flooding. It was a once in a lifetime event (or at least we hope) for most of us who were present and witnessed the events first hand. The National Weather Service sure seems to think so, calling the storm a once-in-a-millennium event. Rains fell almost continuously from September 9th to September 15th, and as a result natural waterways and manmade water control systems were overwhelmed, causing widespread damage. Many parts of the state were affected in varying degrees, but perhaps the most densely populated area affected, and therefore one of the hardest hit was Boulder County, CO.
Boulder just happens to be one of the locations where Mold Inspection Sciences has called home for many years, where I work as one of the Lead Project Managers. The company has been around since 2002, and has been serving the Boulder community for a large part of that time. The owner is actually a current resident of Boulder and graduate of CU. We specialize in coming in as an independent, 3rd party consultant in situations where water and/or mold have impacted homes and businesses. It is our goal to identify if problems exist, if so what caused them, provide proper cleaning and restoration recommendations to address the issues, and then ensure that any necessary cleanup work was performed properly. So, when the September disaster occurred, we were here to help as many CO residents as we could. Because we were on the front lines, we saw the different ways in which people’s home were affected by the moisture, how people dealt with the issues they were confronted with, and what people can expect to see in the long run in regards to homes that were previously affected.
Please stay tuned for the next part in the series in which we will start discussing the different ways in which homes and businesses were affected by the moisture.
A complete mold investigation typically consists of two parts, 1) the physical investigation and 2) the collection of microbial samples (mold sampling). The physical investigation should be performed by a certified microbial investigator who not only takes into account the visual evidence but also uses specialized moisture detection equipment in an effort to understand conditions throughout the home. Then, based on the findings of the physical inspection, microbial samples are collected and analyzed. The samples aid in determining if hidden mold sources exist, determining the extent of contamination, and definitively showing what types of molds are impacting a home.
There are many different types of microbial samples that can be collected, but the most helpful and commonly used are surface sampling, ambient air sampling and wall cavity sampling. Appropriate samples are recommended and collected based on the physical conditions found during the inspection, and are then sent to a certified laboratory to be analyzed.
Surface Sampling – Surface sampling is useful first off to positively identify suspect materials as mold. Mold’s appearance can be similar to common household materials such as lint, dirt and staining, therefore positively identifying suspect materials is important. Additionally, surface sampling will determine the type(s) of mold that are present. For the most part, any mold growth within a home is a bad thing. However, there are certain types of molds (under certain physical conditions and when caused by certain sources of moisture) that do not require professional remediation (removal) and can be dealt with through normal housecleaning techniques. So when you consider that having a surface sample could mean the difference between spending thousands of dollars on remediation, or instead just pulling out a washcloth and getting a little dirty, a single surface sample starts to make a lot of sense. Surface samples are collected in one of three ways:
1) Swab Sample –Swab sample media is in simple terms a sanitary Q-Tip. It is a rod that has a cotton-like media on the end of it. The media is rolled or pushed into the suspect material and the porous nature of the media collects the suspect material. This is then placed in a sealed container with a specialized fluid inside to preserve the sample.
2) Tape Lift Sample – Tape lift samples are pretty much what they sound like. It is a plastic or glass clear slide that has an adhesive on one side of it. This is placed on the suspect material and it is captured in a mirror image of its natural state. This is then placed in a closed case for protection.
3) Bulk Sample – Bulk sampling is actually the preferred method of surface sampling, but is not always feasible. Bulk sampling is where an actual piece of the impacted material is removed and used for the analysis. It is preferred because the suspect material is undisturbed from its natural state on its growth media and as a result provides the most accurate findings. It is not always feasible though because in some cases it may mean the removal or demolition of finished building materials such as drywall or baseboards for example.
Ambient Air Sampling – Air sampling is utilized in many different scenarios. It identifies the presence, types and quantities of airborne mold spores in the area where it was collected. This is done by pulling a metered amount of air through a spore trap, which will collect any particulate within the air including microscopic mold spores. All indoor samples are compared to an outdoor control or baseline sample to determine if the indoor conditions are excessive or “elevated”. This sampling method is useful in determining the overall air quality in a space specific to mold spores, determining the overall extent of contamination in an impacted space, and is also used as an indicator to help determine if hidden mold sources are present.
Wall Cavity Sampling – Wall cavity sampling is useful in determining if hidden mold sources exist within inaccessible spaces of home such as within walls or ceiling cavities. It is collected using the same methods of an ambient air sample, but only air from within the cavity in question is pulled through the spore trap. This is done by making a small hole in the wall (usually about 3/8”), inserting a sanitary wall cavity tube into the hole, and then connecting the other end of this to the spore trap. After the collection the sample is analyzed to determine the spore types and quantities that are present within the cavity. This can be a useful indicator as to whether hidden mold sources are present within a cavity. However, a wall cavity sample is not always feasible. For example: an exterior wall with insulation inside of the cavity is not an ideal location for a wall cavity sample because the insulation fibers can cloud the sample and may make it unusable.
Mold sampling is an important part of performing a mold inspection of a property. However, sampling is not a tell all. Mold sampling should always be done in combination with a thorough physical inspection of the property in an effort to avoid false positives and/or false negatives. Additionally, both the inspection and the sampling should only be performed by a certified, professional microbial investigator. A good investigator will be certified to perform mold investigations and collect microbial samples, be able to think outside of the box and be diligent in examining specialty situations, and have background knowledge in areas like construction, water restoration, mold remediation and indoor air quality.