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That Weird Smell in Your House Might Be Mold. Here’s How to Check

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with climate change Leading to increased flooding and more severe freezes, the increased moisture and humidity means more homes and businesses are vulnerable to mold growth. Mold can cause many diseases, from asthma and upper respiratory symptoms to organ damage and cognitive difficulties. Michael Berg, technical director of Eurofins Environment Testing America, a company that conducts environmental testing for mold and other potential hazards, cited a study that found the economic cost to society of diseases caused by exposure to moisture and mold exceeds $22 billion.

As the Atlantic hurricane season begins in June, consumers need to know how to address water intrusion and mold in their homes. Since mold can start growing within 24 to 48 hours, you should quickly get rid of damp materials (plasterboard, carpet, mats, etc.), use a fan and dehumidifier to dry your home, and open up trapped areas Cope with water ingress. Moisture versus airflow. A few lucky residents won’t have mold, but those who smell, see, or get sick need to know what steps to consider, and that starts with a mold assessment.

The importance of correct assessment

Because there are no national standards for mold assessment and remediation, standards vary from state to state. Only a handful of states have indoor air quality (IAQ) laws that focus on mold, leaving uneducated consumers at a disadvantage when faced with water ingress. Doug Hoffman, executive director of the National Organization of Restorers and Mold Inspectors (NORMI), said NORMI helped create mold legislation in several states. Hoffman said consumers should think of the “mold assessor” as the “architect” responsible for designing the scope and steps of a restoration project, while “the restorer is the contractor who gets the job done.” Hoffman said consumers shouldn’t try to save money on testing because testing determines remediation, and incomplete testing can lead to incomplete remediation.

Mike Marshall, COO of Texas Mold Inspection Sciences and president of the Texas Mold Evaluators and Repairers Association, agrees, saying “inadequate evaluation and testing leads to underrepair”: you can’t repair what you don’t recognize. I can guarantee that a thorough, professional mold evaluation is required. After my home exploded with toxic mold 20 years ago, cleaning and restoration work dragged on for 20 months. Part of the reason for the extended schedule is piecemeal remediation due to insufficient testing.

However, discarding uncontaminated material also incurs unnecessary costs. Marshall estimates that repairs can cost 15 to 20 times the cost of testing, so accurate testing can save customers a lot of money through targeted repairs. Mold testing isn’t required if there’s a clear path to solving the problem (such as after a flood or a pipe burst), but it’s useful when there’s hidden mold growth or when there’s an insurance claim or dispute, Berg said. In our extreme mold experience, logic does not dictate an exact repair plan, so thorough testing is necessary. While mold explosions started in our shower, tape sample testing showed toxic mold throughout the house – all three bathrooms, kitchen, laundry, etc.

What happens during mold evaluation

The best way to prepare is to educate consumers about what to expect during the mold assessment process, Marshall said. Consumers often ask for mold testing because they smell or see something that looks funny, or because someone is sick and they don’t know why, he said. In many cases, this happened after a recent water intrusion.

Here’s how the assessment is done in Texas, where I live. After phone screening, a Texas-licensed mold inspector arrives for an in-depth conversation with the homeowner. The inspector then conducts an exterior inspection of the home to identify possible water entry points: problems with the roof, problems with foundations, landscaping or cladding problems, window caulking, and more. Next, inspectors use infrared cameras to inspect each room, looking for recent wet events hidden behind walls or ceilings. If the infrared detects a cooler pooled area, use a hygrometer to see if there is water pooling there. They also test common areas for moisture intrusion, such as windows, around doors, and areas containing ducts.

Depending on the size of the room, if inspectors find conditions conducive to mold growth, they will collect one or more air samples. According to Marshall, the industry standard is to draw 75 liters of air for 5 minutes through a biopump with an additional air sampling cartridge. Air sampling boxes capture cells (mold, skin, carpet debris, etc.) on the sticky surface of microscope slides. The box is removed from the pump, sealed, and sent to an independent laboratory unaffiliated with the testing company for testing following strict Chain of Custody (COC) procedures. The chain of custody documents the movement of samples from the point of collection to laboratory delivery, including the date, time and signature each time a sample changes hands.



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