Indoor air quality crawl space

Indoor air quality is the result of many different factors and components of your home. It is easy to think that indoor air quality is only affected by things inside the living space of a home — the things you can see — but this couldn’t be further from the truth.

What does your crawl space have to do with indoor air quality?

Let’s start at the foundation, or in this case, the crawl space. To be frank, a vented dirt floor crawl space is a bad idea. The design is flawed, resulting in decreased indoor air quality in the home above. A house over a crawl space acts like a giant wick, drawing in moisture from the ground.

Generally, the dirt in a crawl space is drier than the dirt around the foundation. This results in moisture wicking into the crawl space from the dirt outside. Once inside the crawl space, the moisture evaporates into the air and the water vapor moves up and settles on ductwork, floor joists, subfloor, and/or floor insulation.

During the summer, the air and surfaces inside a crawl space are generally cooler than the outdoor air. As warm, humid air moves into a crawl space through the foundation vents, it begins to cool, resulting in an increase in relative humidity since warm air can hold more water vapor than cool air. Condensation gathers on the ductwork, floor joists, subfloor, and/or floor insulation, leading to mold growth.

Most crawl spaces are inadequately ventilated

Although most crawl spaces are vented, they are still passive systems, meaning that ventilation only occurs due to pressure changes and wind that happens to blow through the vents. Few crawl spaces have powered ventilation systems, which can create their own problems. Limited ventilation results in an accumulation of stagnant air. In this environment, mold, radon, and moisture (which attracts termites and rodents) can build to dangerous levels.

Warm air inside a home rises and escapes through the attic, drawing in cooler air from lower levels, including outdoor air and air from the crawl space. Running exhaust fans in the kitchen and bath rooms creates a negative pressure inside the home. This negative pressure also draws in air from outside the home and from the crawl space.

Your HVAC system may be circulating dirty air

HVAC systems are frequently located in the crawl space, which is generally a bad idea. Most HVAC systems, even many new systems, have some leaks around the air filter, between individual sections of ductwork and at the duct boots. These leaks reduce system efficiency and allow dirty crawl space air into the system and your home.

Although your crawl space is not part of the living space of your home, you should think of it as an extension of the breathing space of your home when it comes to indoor air quality. Like it or not, you are breathing air from your crawl space.

How Branch Environmental can help

Visit our resource for improving air quality to learn more about factors that affect the air you breathe inside your home. Call us today at (706) 310-0097 if you would like to schedule a crawl space inspection, basement assessment, or indoor air quality inspection.

At Branch Environmental, we provide comprehensive solutions that address the air quality inside your home, crawl space, and basement.

indoor air quality outdoor source

Earlier this year, we had a customer call to request a mold and indoor air quality inspection for one of her rental properties. The tenants had complained of an unpleasant odor inside the home, initially describing the smell as moldy and musty.

We began with a visual inspection of the home and identified several potential sources of odors. But the tenants said none of these were what they were smelling.

Upon further questioning, they described the odor as a chemical odor, like paint thinner, rather than a moldy or musty odor. They also said they really only smelled the odor when they first walked into the home. After a thorough inspection, we couldn’t identify a source inside the home that would account for a chemical odor.

Finding the Source

We stepped outside to get some fresh air when all of the sudden, we caught a whiff of a chemical odor like paint thinner. We immediately looked around to see where the odor might be coming from and spotted a restaurant just up the block. We walked up the street to find a fenced in area behind the restaurant that appeared to be a storage and/or processing area for used cooking oil. Strangely enough, the odor coming from inside the fence smelled just like paint thinner. The restaurant had only been open for about a month or two, which correlated with the first time the tenants noticed the odor.

When the wind blew just right, the odor was carried down the hill and settled under the covered porch at the front door. Every time the tenants would come home and open the front door, the smelly air was being sucked into the home, causing them to think the odor was coming from inside.

In this case, what the tenants and property owner thought was an indoor air quality problem was really from an outdoor source. The tenants and property owner were relieved that the odor was not a result of a problem inside the home that could be negatively impacting their health. While there is nothing they can do about the outdoor odor, we were able to give them peace of mind about its source.

How Branch Environmental Can Help

What you may perceive as an indoor air quality problem may be coming from elsewhere, which is an important distinction to make! Do you smell or see something inside or outside your home that you think may be negatively impacting your indoor air quality and health? If so, call us today to set up an indoor air quality inspection. We have the knowledge and experience needed to get to the bottom of your indoor air quality problems.

EPA on IAQ

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently released new guidelines for energy efficiency upgrades and indoor air quality (IAQ) improvements in schools.

The document, Energy Savings Plus Health: Indoor Air Quality Guidelines for School Building Upgrades, “covers 23 specific priority issues and addresses com­mon contaminants associated with building upgrades and critical building systems that affect IAQ.”

These guidelines can be applied to all indoor environments, not just schools.

What Does This Really Mean?

While most people agree that improving energy efficiency is important, care must be taken not to use products or practices that negatively impact IAQ during or after energy efficiency upgrades. Often, IAQ is reduced as a result of construction, even energy efficient upgrades.

Some building materials contain harmful chemicals and off-gassing, and breakdown over time can release these chemicals into the air we breathe. Construction dust can reduce IAQ, as well.

Why Indoor Air Quality Matters

Studies have shown that poor indoor air quality results in increased illness, decreased attention span, focus, learning, and productivity. These results hold true regardless of the type of indoor environment: home, school, office, etc.

Just like clean water, nutritious food, regular exercise, and sufficient sleep are essential to a healthy lifestyle, so is clean air. The population as a whole is spending an increasing amount of time indoors: as much as 90% or more time for many people. In many cases, indoor air has become more polluted as homes and buildings become more energy efficient and airtight.

For more information, check out our posts on How to Improve Indoor Air Quality and How Poor Air Quality Affects Your Health, or refer to our complete IAQ resources.

How Branch Environmental Can Help

Don’t wait until you have an IAQ problem to do something about it. You too can help prevent IAQ problems! Contact Branch Environmental today to schedule an IAQ inspection, for assistance in developing a strategy to maintain high IAQ during your next remodeling project or simply to discuss any questions or concerns you may have regarding IAQ.

winter house cleaning for indoor air quality

We are all familiar with spring cleaning. It just seems like a good thing to do: after all, your house has been shut up all winter, and dust has been accumulating all season.

Spring cleaning is certainly not a bad thing, but fall and winter house cleaning may actually be more important from an indoor air quality (IAQ) perspective. The reasons are simple. As outdoor temperatures drop, people generally close their houses up tighter and tighter to eliminate drafts and conserve heat. But insulating your home limits fresh air exchanges, which allows the level of indoor air pollutants to increase.

Seasonal Causes of Poor Indoor Air Quality

Some common activities that can have a negative impact on IAQ include burning fires, using air fresheners and scented candles, and cleaning with toxic cleaning products.

The air inside your home gets recirculated over and over through the HVAC system. Even the best air filters don’t remove all contaminants from the air. Dust begins to accumulate in the house, and burning fires may add soot and smoke to the air. Air fresheners, scented candles and cleaning products may release harmful volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the air you breathe.

How Moisture Affects Indoor Air Quality

Breathing, showering, doing laundry, and cooking all add excess moisture to the air. This excess moisture increases the relative humidity inside your home, which can negatively impact IAQ. Relative humidity above approximately 60% can lead to a mold problem.

High relative humidity combined with accumulated dust is a mold problem waiting to happen. Read our recent post to learn how to prevent a mold problem in the fall. These conditions will often lead to mold growing on furniture, clothing and other contents, especially in areas with restricted air flow such as closets, under beds, and behind furniture.

Ensure Healthy Indoor Air Quality this Winter

To keep the air in your home safe for your family to breathe, follow these simple fall and winter house cleaning steps:

  • Thoroughly clean your house to remove accumulated dust and dirt.
  • Have your ductwork professionally cleaned.
  • Replace your air filter with a high quality pleated filter.
  • Use ceiling fans to circulate air.
  • Switch the HVAC system fan to “on” to cycle the fan during periods when the heat is not running.
  • Limit the use of air fresheners and scented candles, or switch to all natural alternatives.
  • Replace toxic cleaning products with all natural alternatives.
  • Ensure that your fireplace and chimney are clean and functioning properly.
  • Run exhaust fans when showering and cooking.

Clean air, especially indoor air, is an important component of a healthy lifestyle. Contact us today if you would like to schedule indoor air quality testing or inspection. We’ll identify specific issues within your home that should be addressed during your fall and winter house cleaning.

 

Mold remediation in Winterville, GA

After dealing with a roof leak, our neighbors in Winterville discovered mold in their home, and their pulmonologist actually recommended that they call us to have the mold safely remediated.

Inspecting for Mold and Asbestos

The leak occurred around the exhaust vent for a built-in fireplace insert. Water ran down the exhaust duct and wet the ceiling and wall drywall. The fireplace was installed in a corner of the living room after the house was built. A new wall was framed up that ran diagonally across the corner of the room. Therefore, drywall on the new wall as well as on the original walls behind it was affected by the leak.

Mold was also found on the ceiling drywall, ceiling joists, wall studs and subfloor. The house had a basement, so we were able to inspect the underside of the subfloor and determine that mold was not present on the bottom of the subfloor.

We sampled the drywall, drywall joint compound and ceiling texture for asbestos. The lab results were negative for the presence of asbestos, so we were able to proceed with mold remediation, rather than asbestos abatement and mold remediation. Asbestos in drywall, drywall joint compound and ceiling texture is more common than you might think.

The Mold Remediation Process

The affected area was confined to the living room, so we built a containment to prevent the spread of mold spores and dust to other areas of the house. We utilized a ZipWall barrier system, 6 mil polyethylene sheeting, spray adhesive, painter’s tape and duct tape to build our containment.

Due to the small size of the contained area, we placed our HEPA-filtered negative air machine outside the containment and connected it to the containment using additional polyethylene sheeting. We ducted the exhaust out a window using poly tubing, and constructed the containment with a flap door to provide makeup air.

Our mold remediation staff wore personal protective equipment consisting of disposable suits with built-in boots, gloves, half-face HEPA-filtered respirators and safety goggles. Drywall was removed inside the containment and sealed in 6 mil trash bags to be carried out of the house.

Once all water and mold damaged drywall was removed, we cleaned the ceiling joists, wall studs and subfloor with a mild detergent solution. Then we HEPA-vacuumed all surfaces inside the containment and treated the affected building materials with Concrobium Mold Control before removing the containment.

The Remediation Outcome: Safe, Contained, and Clean

Mold spores and dust were contained to the work area and were not spread to unaffected areas of the home. Our customers were left with a clean area, free of mold, and ready for reconstruction!

If you’ve had a roof leak that has caused water damage and mold growth, contact Branch Environmental. We take every precaution to contain and eliminate your mold problem, keeping your family and your property safe. To learn the basics of mold remediation, check out our most recent post, and for more on how we perform mold remediation, refer to our complete resources on mold.

What is Mold Remediation?

In the environmental world, we frequently refer to our mold remediation service, but what does the term “mold remediation” actually mean? We’d like to explain what a mold remediation comprises, and what you should expect from a remediation in your home or business.

According to Merriam-Webster, “remediation” means “the act or process of remedying.”

In the case of mold, remediation is a two step process that both removes mold using safe work practices and corrects what caused the mold in the first place.

What Does a Typical Mold Remediation Look Like?

Some of the details depend on the property type (residential vs. commercial), the type of material affected (drywall vs. wall studs) and the extent of mold growth (light vs. heavy).

A typical mold remediation consists of:

  • Competent, insured contractor
  • Trained workers
  • Personal protective equipment (disposable clothing, respirator, gloves, etc.)
  • Containment of the work area to prevent the spread of mold spores to unaffected areas
  • HEPA filtered negative air machines or air scrubbers
  • Cleaning or removal and disposal of the affected building materials and contents
  • Cleaning of the remaining surfaces/building materials to remove any mold spores

How Our Team Can Help

Check out our resources to learn more about mold, the causes behind a mold problem, and the health concerns related to indoor mold.

Contact Branch Environmental today for a mold inspection or remediation to ensure that the air inside your home or building is healthy and stays healthy.

Beware mold problem this fall

Fall is here, and with it comes football, colorful fall foliage, cooler temperatures, and mold.

That’s right, mold!

Here’s the reason: as the temperature begins to cool down outside, your air conditioner is not going to run as frequently, but it is not really cold enough yet to need heat.

Although the temperature inside your home may be within an acceptable range, the humidity can build to an unacceptable level since the air conditioner is not drying the air. This humid air may be enough to cause a mold problem. In addition, many people open their windows and doors to take full advantage of these wonderfully cool temperatures. All that “fresh” air coming in through open windows and doors is bringing a multitude of mold spores with it.

But don’t fear. We have a few simple tips to help prevent a mold problem in your home during the autumn months.

5 Ways to Prevent Indoor Mold this Fall

  1. Adjust the temperature on your thermostat to ensure that the air conditioner cycles at least a few times every day.
  2. Run ceiling and/or room fans to circulate air inside your home.
  3. Cycle your HVAC system fan at least a few times every day by switching the fan to “on” rather than “auto” on your thermostat to circulate air throughout the house. This also helps to clean the air because it is being pulled through the air filter(s).
  4. Limit opening windows and doors to times when the humidity is low outside.
  5. If you do open your windows, place an air filter (preferably a high efficiency pleated filter) over an open window on one end of your house and a box fan facing out an open window on the other end of your house to to draw in fresh “filtered” air.

Enjoy the cooler weather this fall, but don’t make the mistake of turning off your air conditioner to save money, just to end up with an expensive mold problem inside your home.

How Branch Environmental Can help

Branch Environmental is a full-service mold inspection, assessment, and remediation company.

Contact us today if you would like to schedule a mold inspection, request a remediation estimate, or simply have questions regarding how to prevent a mold problem.

How to clean mold

Everyone knows the best way to clean mold is with bleach, right? Wrong! Keep reading to find out the best way to clean mold — and why not to use bleach.

Why Not Kill Mold With Bleach?

The goal of mold cleaning is not to kill mold, or even to disinfect a surface or material, but rather to remove mold from a surface. Think of mold like dirt. If you had a wall with dirt on it, would you simply spray it with bleach and consider it cleaned? Of course not. Bleach is a disinfectant, not a detergent.

Bleach is also highly toxic, especially when mixed with other cleaners or chemicals. In fact, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) discourages the use of bleach and biocides for mold cleaning.

Remove Mold With Detergent

The best method for cleaning mold on non-porous and some hard, porous surfaces is to scrub and/or damp wipe the surface with a mild detergent solution. Surprised? What about all of the mold cleaners that are being marketed? What about the claims that a certain product kills mold, removes mold, removes stains, disinfects surfaces and prevents mold from ever returning? If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is.

What you really need is soap. It’s simple physics. Mold is hydrophobic, meaning it lacks an affinity for water or repels away from water and aerosol sprays. When water is applied to a moldy surface, it causes mold spores to scatter. When detergent is added to the water, it acts as a surfactant and breaks down the surface tension. This causes the mold spores to be released from the surface and allows them to be easily removed by wiping.

You might be surprised to learn that some of the most effective detergents for cleaning mold are liquid dishwashing detergents, such as Cascade and Dawn. Dishwashing detergent does not produce suds, making it easier to see the surface you are cleaning. Dishwashing detergent is designed to cut through tough grease and grime, but is gentle enough to not irritate skin.

We recommend treating surfaces with a product such as Concrobium Mold Control after cleaning to kill any remaining mold spores and to provide some level of inhibition of future mold growth.

What About Porous Items?

Porous items such as upholstered furniture, clothing, carpet and ceiling tiles are more difficult to clean. If the mold is extensive, then these items will likely have to be discarded.

Light mold growth can be removed using a HEPA filtered vacuum cleaner, by professional laundering or by specialized furniture or carpet cleaning companies. Even after cleaning, remaining mold stains may be difficult or impossible to remove.

How Branch Environmental Can Help

A complete mold remediation involves not only cleaning, but also identifying and correcting the moisture problem(s) that led to mold growth in the first place.

Branch Environmental is a full service mold inspection, assessment and remediation company. Call us today if you would like to schedule a mold inspection, request a remediation estimate, or if you simply have questions about how to clean mold.

Cleaning mold

It seems like nearly every week someone calls and wants to know how to kill mold. We then explain why cleaning surfaces to remove mold is more important than killing mold.

Always remember that unless you correct the moisture problem that led to mold growth, then it will return whether you kill it or clean it.

Why do we care about mold in the first place?

Before we can address cleaning mold vs. killing mold, we first have to understand why mold is a problem. It is a widely known fact that breathing or coming into contact with mold is unhealthy.

Mold is an allergen, similar to pollen, dust mites, dander, and pet hair. But mold is also a sensitizer, meaning that the more you’re exposed to mold, the more sensitive you may become. People with existing health concerns such as allergies and asthma, as well as infants and the elderly, may be more sensitive to mold.

While certain types of mold are more dangerous than others, all mold is unhealthy. Some molds produce microbial volatile organic compounds (MVOCs), which can be highly toxic if inhaled or ingested.

Allergens should be removed from your environment, not “killed”

Mold, like other allergens, should be removed from your indoor environment. If you had pet hair, dust, pollen or any other allergen present in your indoor environment, would you simply spray it with bleach or some other product to “kill” it?

Of course not, you would remove the allergen by cleaning. The point is that even dead mold spores present a health concern. Stay tuned for our next post on how to clean mold for more information on the process.

What happens when you “kill” mold instead of cleaning mold?

We recently performed a mold and indoor air quality inspection for a customer who had purchased a home, and within the first month of living in the home, was experiencing odors and breathing problems.

Prior to the purchase of the home, a home inspector found mold in the crawl space. The sellers hired someone to perform a mold remediation. Come to find out, the mold “remediation” consisted of a guy spraying the mold in the crawl space with some unknown chemical. No cleaning or mold removal was involved.

Our inspection revealed a crawl space full of mostly dead mold and several issues with the HVAC system that were allowing the system to draw in dirty crawl space air full of mold spores and supply this air to the home. We recommended that an HVAC contractor seal all the penetrations in the system, clean the ductwork and air handler, replace the filter with one sized appropriately for the unit and seal where the duct boots pass through the subfloor.

Following the HVAC work and installation of a sealed vapor barrier, we cleaned the entire crawl space to remove all mold, dead or alive. The homeowner no longer smells moldy odors inside the home, and is breathing easier thanks to a thorough mold remediation and properly functioning HVAC system.

How Branch Environmental can help

A complete mold remediation involves cleaning mold, not killing it, and a successful remediation relies on correcting the moisture problem that led to mold growth in the first place.

Branch Environmental is a full-service mold inspection, assessment, and remediation company. Contact us today if you would like to schedule a mold inspection, request a remediation estimate, or simply have questions regarding mold cleaning.

Mold Remediation Winterville, GA

The Mold Problem

After an annual termite inspection, one of our customers in Winterville, GA called us to inspect her crawl space for moisture and mold. Upon inspection, we found that her crawl space had excess moisture, which was sustaining the mold growing on the floor insulation, floor joists, and subfloor.

The moisture in the crawl space originated from water seeping through the foundation along the back of the house. The grade sloped toward the house rather than away from it, so rain water naturally flowed toward the base of the home. Although a partial vapor barrier was in place, it did not cover all of the dirt in the crawl space, which left a significant amount of dirt exposed. Water had accumulated both under and on top of the vapor barrier.

Before we began the remediation process, the homeowner informed us that she preferred that we not use any toxic products or products that would produce strong or offensive odors.

The Remediation Plan

The first step toward removing the mold was correcting the source of moisture. To keep the water out, the grading in the backyard needed to slope away from the house. We recommended a general contractor that regraded the yard, excavated and waterproofed the foundation and installed French drains to capture and divert any water that does make it to the foundation.

Once the client corrected the source of accumulating moisture, we determined that to remove the mold and provide long-term mold prevention, we would take the following steps:

  1. Remove the floor insulation.
  2. Soda blast all floor joists and subfloor.
  3. Coat all floor joists and subfloor with a mold inhibiting coating.
  4. Install a new vapor barrier.
  5. Fog the crawl space with a mold inhibitor.

We created a two-day timeline to carry out the mold remediation in accordance with the client’s preference for natural products.

The Removal Process

Day One

When we arrived on site, we began by removing and bagging all of the floor insulation. We then used a soda blaster to clean the floor joists and subfloor. We used soda blasting in this case because it leaves an extremely clean, stain-free surface. The blasting media, baking soda, is non-toxic, and the structure of the home allowed easy access for the blasting equipment.

We used a Buster Blaster 100 soda blaster powered by a trailer-mounted, diesel-fueled air compressor. The crawl space was 1,220 square feet, which required four 50-pound bags of soda blast media.

After blasting was completed and we removed the residual baking soda from all of the surfaces, we sprayed the floor joists and subfloor with a mold inhibiting coating. We chose the EPA-registered Foster® Full DefenseTM Fungicidal Protective Coating (40-25) because it kills residual mold and provides long-term fungicidal activity.

Foster® Full DefenseTM provides a clean, white finish on coated surfaces, which results in a brighter crawl space, with spotless surfaces that the homeowner can see clearly. We applied a total of five gallons of the product using an airless sprayer.

Day Two

We started day two by preparing the floor of the crawl space for the new vapor barrier. We removed the old vapor barrier, dug out all of the rocks and debris, raked the surface smooth, and leveled out several piles of dirt that had collected in the corners.

We then constructed the new vapor barrier over the newly smoothed dirt surface. From foundation wall to foundation wall, we installed 6-mil clear polyethylene sheeting. To keep all moisture out, we wrapped the sheeting around the base of the foundation piers, overlapped seams by at least 2 feet, and sealed the seams with spray adhesive and tape. To keep the vapor barrier in place, we inserted 6-inch galvanized spikes and washers every 5 feet along the perimeter and seams.

For the final step, we fogged the crawl space with Concrobium® Mold Control to kill any remaining airborne mold spores and to provide one more layer of protection against future mold growth.

The Results

We were able to completely eliminate the crawl space mold while meeting the homeowner’s need for non-toxic, low or no odor products:

  • The soda blast media consists of ordinary baking soda.
  • Foster® Full DefenseTM is a low odor, low VOC, water-based coating.
  • Concrobium® Mold Control is a non-toxic product that produces no odor and no VOCs.

This project resulted in a dry, bright and clean crawl space, free of mold growth and protected for years to come with a solid vapor barrier and a full fungicidal coating. Our customer was satisfied with both the results and our remediation process. Contact us today to find out how we can solve your mold problems!