Air quality involves more than just mold

Air quality can be a complicated issue to tackle. When people worry about the quality of the air in their homes, many immediately suspect mold. Although it’s possible that mold is polluting your air, there are several other issues that you may not have even thought about.

For the sake of your home health, it’s important to be wary of mold, but it’s only one element of the dirty air you could be breathing.

Air Quality Involves Multiple Factors

The mold you’re worried about could also be dirt, dust, dander, or insect or rodent feces.

Although it may seem innocuous, moisture in the home can also be problematic. Moisture attracts insects (ants, termites, spiders and cockroaches), rodents, and snakes into your home, and simply removing mold won’t fix that problem.

Most of our calls are about mold in the crawlspace. A study by Washington State University Extension Energy Program found that up to 40% of the air inside a home comes from the crawl space. So if you have mold in your crawl space you are likely breathing it inside your home. But, what about the other 60% of the air inside your home? What other factors inside your home may be contributing to poor indoor air quality?

Preventive Measures

If you’re worried about your air quality, there are measures you can take before calling for an environmental assessment.

Be sure to clean HVAC supply and return vents, under the refrigerator, under rugs, behind furniture, under the beds, and behind the clothes washer and dryer. Spills happen, and dirt and dust accumulate. If it’s hard to access, clean it! You could save your money and your health.

If you want to learn more or schedule an inspection, just get in touch! We’re happy to talk to you about your best next steps.

mold exposure video

At Branch Environmental, it is our mission to continuously learn about issues that can affect you and your family, and keep you informed of the risks and what to do about them. Sharing this video about the hidden dangers of mold exposure is our latest attempt to live up to our responsibility to you.

The below video is a powerful piece from CBN News about a family exposed to mold that’s only now just recovering. Please take a moment to watch; the family in this video participated to help prevent this tragedy from happening to you.



If you think you might have mold in your home, please contact us today and let’s talk about your options.

Environmental Assessment

Home inspections are required when purchasing a home, but because they are often treated as a formality, they are not all you need to rest easy when buying a home. Take it a step further with a home environmental assessment, and you may save yourself serious money.

Because home inspectors don’t usually look for the signs of environmental trouble that we’re familiar with, an inspection alone may stick new homeowners with big bills post-purchase. A typical home inspection involves components of the home such as the foundation, plumbing, electrical, HVAC system, roof, appliances, windows and doors.

And what about the environmental factors that can negatively impact the health of the home and its occupants? Frequently the causes of poor indoor air quality go undetected during a home inspection. Mold, asbestos, lead, radon, VOCs, dirty crawl space or basement air, and other pollutants may be lurking in the home. Over time, these environmental factors may lead to health concerns and can quickly turn a basic remodeling project into an expensive abatement or remediation.

The Stamp of Approval

We recently received a call from new homeowners who’d had a nasty surprise after their house passed inspection. When they were in the process of buying the home, they had noticed that some of the kitchen tiles were popping up and the grout lines were cracking. They attributed the problem to the age of the home, and because the house passed inspection and they planned to remodel, they were not concerned about the damage.

If a professional inspector gives it the OK, it seems wise to stick to his or her opinion! Unfortunately a home inspection will usually be tailored to the inspector’s expertise, and may not be as thorough as is necessary when investing in a new home.

A Rude Awakening

Once the deal was sealed, the homeowners got busy with a kitchen remodel. Upon removing the kitchen cabinets, they found rotted, buckled and molded subfloor. Additionally, several floor joists were rotted, the drywall behind the cabinets was molded and the subfloor and floor joists under the kitchen were covered in mold. They needed a very extensive mold remediation.

The mold was caused by an incomplete vapor barrier and water in the crawl space. The downspouts on the front of the home didn’t direct water away from house and the front yard sloped upward towards the street. The house was essentially sitting on a hidden lake, and everytime it rained the water had nowhere to go but back under the foundation and into the crawl space.

On top of that, the dryer vent flex line had come loose and was blowing hot, humid air into the crawl space. This hot, humid air was mixing with the cooler, humid air already present and creating a “rainforest environment” in the crawl space.

The environment was perfect for mold. Lots of mold.

The floor tile, subfloor, several floor joists, molded drywall and cabinets all had to be removed and replaced. The drywall joint compound tested positive for asbestos, which had to be abated following federal regulations. On top of the cost of the home and subsequent remodel, the homeowners had to spend a whopping $10,000 on mold remediation and asbestos abatement to protect their investment and themselves.

The Environmental Approach

Because of our experience in construction, building materials and environmental factors, our home environmental assessments are extremely thorough. If we’d had the chance to assess this home prior to the purchase we would have easily identified and diagnosed these problems, and the owners could have negotiated it off the purchase price or passed on buying the home altogether.

Instead, they repaired years’ worth of damage out of pocket.

If you’re buying a house, consider going a step beyond the typical home inspection with an environmental assessment from Branch Environmental, Inc. You could save your investment, thousands of dollars, and avoid some serious headaches. Contact us to get a second opinion on what could be your new home, and check out what to expect from a mold remediation and asbestos abatement.

Looking for more information? Check out our Mold FAQs.

Some of our competitors don’t charge for a mold inspection, so we’re sometimes asked why our mold investigations aren’t free of charge. It’s a very good question, so we want to give you a good look at why Branch customers pay for our service.

Our Inspection Process

The primary reason that we charge for our mold inspections is the time and resources that go into each one. Some of our competitors offer “free” inspections, which basically means that the inspector shows up and hands over a price to fix a symptom without truly knowing the nature of the problem.

Our process is far different. In addition to the questions we ask over the phone, once we arrive we ask many more. We treat every inspection like an investigation, and we’re on the case. Did you paint recently? How is your health? Any new furniture? Have you had any remodeling done? These answers get us closer to solving the problem at hand, and help us to know where to look.

We’ll then crawl under the house, poke around, and take moisture and relative humidity readings in affected areas, unaffected areas, and outdoors for the best possible points of reference.

Sometimes the mold problem can be easily diagnosed and repaired, like a pipe leaking under the house, but other times we don’t see mold at all. Because the root of the problem is beyond the obvious, we need to think outside the box. You can be sure that no company that offers a free mold inspection will be going to any great lengths to determine the true causes of your problem.

A Mold Investigation Story that Says it All

We were recently called out to an Athens residence because the tenants reported a musty/moldy smell in the home. Although we found some mold and a slight musty odor after crawling down into the dirt cellar, the tenants said that was not what they were smelling. We also noticed that the sun was breaking down an old window lining in the basement, creating an odorous gas, but that wasn’t the source either.

The tenants then began to describe the odor as more chemical than mold, almost like paint thinner. They said the smell only bothered them at random times, usually near the front of the house, and when they first entered the home. We started thinking more broadly about what the problem could be. Maybe the source of the odor was outside the home. We eventually looked up the street to see a burger joint, and realized that the oil processing behind the restaurant smelled like paint thinner.

We brought our customers up the street to make sure that we were smelling what they were smelling, and that was it! When the breeze moved downhill, the smell got trapped under the front porch, and it came into the house when the front door opened and caused the airflow to move inside.

In this case, the problem wasn’t mold at all, and was instead caused by a broader environmental factor. The owner was glad that we didn’t write her an estimate for mold remediation that would have required a bunch of unnecessary work. We’re not that kind of company, but companies that do more cursory inspections are likely to make that kind of costly misdiagnosis.

In other words, by paying us for an investigation instead of relying on a free estimate, the client actually saved a ton of money.

The Branch Difference

If you think you’ve got a real problem, you’re far better off with a thorough inspection like ours. We analyze the symptom to determine the root cause of the problem, and we see each mold inspection as an in-depth investigation, not just an opportunity to hand over a guess-based estimate of work. Not only that, if you end up hiring us to perform a mold remediation, we’ll credit you back the cost of the inspection!

In this story, a “free” inspection would have cost the client big. Our investigation was a much smaller investment and actually identified the cause of the problem. If you think you may need a mold inspection, get in touch with us and we’ll get down to the source.

For more info about mold, check out our other mold posts, including the great mold resource on what to expect from a mold remediation!

drywall mold

Maybe you found it yourself, or the plumber you called to fix a leak found it, or the technician servicing your HVAC unit found it, but no matter how the mold was discovered, you have it. If you’re familiar with our blog, you know that the first thing to do when cleaning mold is to fix the moisture problem that led to the mold growth.

Customers often ask, “Can I clean the mold myself or do I need a professional?” Our answer depends on how extensive the mold problem is, what building materials and/or furnishings and belongings are affected, where the mold is located, and whether or not you mind being in confined spaces such as your crawlspace or attic.

The Size of the Job

The more basic answer is that most DIY-savvy homeowners can effectively tackle smaller-scale mold problems in accessible rooms like the bathroom or closet. The EPA determines the scale of mold remediation projects based on the size of the affected area.

The “small” remediation category refers to mold-infected areas within 10 square feet. “Medium” remediations treat 10 to 100 square feet. And, you guessed it, “large” remediations cover more than 100 square feet of mold-infected area.

Most medium and all large mold problems are best left to a professional. Even small mold problems in hard-to-reach areas such as crawlspaces and attics are best left to professionals. It’s also important to keep in mind that what may appear to be a small mold problem on the surface may in fact be a large problem that extends into the wall cavity or subfloor.

Containing the Remediation

Anytime you’re cleaning mold, care must be taken to minimize the process’ impact on occupants and unaffected areas of the structure. Areas where mold will be removed should be contained using 6-mil polyethylene sheeting. The containment should be maintained under negative pressure and vented outdoors to prevent the spread of mold spores. Infants, young children, pregnant women, the elderly, and those with serious health concerns are particularly susceptible to the effects of mold exposure.

To set up proper containment and maintain it under negative pressure, we need specialized equipment and heightened attention to detail. This is one area where the experience and knowledge of a professional can really pay off. The last thing you want to do when cleaning mold in one area of your home is to spread the spores to other, previously unaffected areas of your home.

Be sure to consider the benefits of hiring a professional with the right equipment and experience when faced with a mold remediation project in your home. And please don’t hesitate to contact us if you have questions!


Now that you are aware of why HVAC system maintenance is important and how indoor air quality affects your health, we are going to discuss strategies for how to improve indoor air quality.

The EPA Recommends Three Strategies

Step 1: Eliminate the source

The single most effective way to improve indoor air quality is to eliminate the factor that is corrupting the air. Sources of indoor air pollutants include building materials, combustion sources, furnishings, household cleaning products, pesticides, smoking, and even outdoor air pollution. Some building products contain asbestos, and many building products and furnishings give off volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

Many sources of indoor pollution can be eliminated by switching to non-toxic alternatives to everyday products and services. Toxic household cleaning products should be replaced with non-toxic or plant-based cleaners. Request that your pest control company switch to non-toxic alternatives for indoor use.

Other sources of indoor pollution can at least be reduced through a few simple steps. Do not smoke or allow others to smoke inside your home. Limit the use of indoor space heaters that burn kerosene or oil. Have your chimney cleaned and ensure that it draws properly to prevent smoke from backing up into the house.

Sometimes it may not be possible to eliminate a source of pollution. For example, exhaust fumes from a nearby road and certain building products in a rented home or apartment can only be “eliminated” if the occupant moves to another location free from these pollution sources.

Step 2: Improve Ventilation

If the source of pollution can’t be eliminated, then the next best step is to improve ventilation. You may have heard the old adage, “The solution to pollution is dilution.” This is the name of the game when it comes to reducing the concentration of pollutants indoors through improved ventilation.

Methods of improving ventilation include exhausting indoor air outside the structure and introducing fresh air from outside the structure or even from areas inside the structure that are not affected by the pollution source. Exhaust fans in kitchens and bathrooms may be used to reduce the level of pollutants inside the home as long as the fans are exhausted outside the home and not into the attic or simply filtered and recirculated into the room. Opening windows and doors on a pleasant day and running an attic or window fan will draw fresh air inside and aid in necessary air changes. Do keep in mind that increasing ventilation through running fans may increase energy consumption and associated costs.

Step 3: Clean the Air

Air cleaners or powered air filtration devices may be used in conjunction with improved ventilation if the source of pollution can’t be eliminated. When shopping for an air cleaner, look for one with the highest efficiency rating you can afford. Also ensure that the airflow rating, expressed as cubic feet per minute (CFM) is matched to the size of the room in which you plan to use it. In general, air cleaners are more effective at removing dust and particulate matter from the air and less effective at removing gaseous pollutants.


Have more questions about Air Quality?

We’re here to help. Contact us today.




mold faq image

Are there any federal regulations or safe exposure levels for mold?

No, and because mold isn’t regulated by any federal agency, no safe exposure levels have been determined for mold.

Can mold cause health problems?

Mold can cause a host of health problems. People most at risk are young children, the elderly, pregnant women, and people who are immune-compromised or immune-suppressed. Some health effects related to mold exposure include allergies, asthma, dizziness, fatigue, headaches, hypersensitivity pneumonitis, infections, nausea, and irritation of the eyes, nose and throat.

Mold is a sensitizer, meaning that the more a person is exposed to mold, the more of a reaction they will have. Some people are allergic to the glucans that make up part of the cell walls of mold. Many molds can also produce microbial volatile organic compounds (MVOCs) that act as irritants. Some molds produce mycotoxins, which can be highly toxic if ingested.

How do I know if I have a mold problem?

It is best to hire an experienced mold inspector to identify a mold problem and determine the cause of the mold. Mold may be white, tan, brown, black or any number of other colors. Mold is often confused with dirt, dust, soot, or other contaminants.

How do I get rid of mold?

Eliminating the source of excess moisture will cause the mold to go dormant. The mold needs to be physically removed because even dead or dormant mold can elicit allergic reactions due to the glucans and mycotoxins.

Mold can be removed by damp wiping with a mild detergent solution or a biocide. Choices of biocides range from non-toxic, plant-based formulations to highly toxic chemicals. Other methods of mold removal include sanding, soda blasting and dry ice blasting.

Do I need to sample/test for mold?

Unless you are interested in determining the exact type of mold present, sampling is not really necessary. Sampling is beneficial if you are not sure whether or not a substance is mold.

Air sampling in particular can be misleading if not performed correctly by a trained professional. Most air samples will contain mold spores, no matter where the sample is taken. The presence of mold spores in the air does not mean that you have a mold problem.

Is bleach safe to use for cleaning up mold?

Experts, including the EPA and others, do not recommend the use of bleach to clean or remove mold. Bleach is highly toxic, can corrode building materials, and is not effective at penetrating porous materials such as wood to get to the “root” of the mold.

In general, a mild detergent solution such as Cascade® automatic dishwashing detergent or a non-toxic biocide such as Concrobium® is the best choice for cleaning molded surfaces.

How do I clean/remove mold?

The most important step is to identify and correct the source of excess moisture. The source may be a leaking roof, plumbing, or appliance, incorrect drainage, damp crawlspace, unventilated bathroom, or any number of other construction issues. Contributing factors may exist such as an improperly ventilated attic, inadequate airflow, high temperatures inside the home, or any number of other factors. If the mold is removed but the factors contributing to mold growth are not corrected, then the mold will return.

Once the contributing factors have been corrected, mold removal can begin. For small areas, less than 10 ft², the mold can be removed by damp wiping. Larger areas, 10-100 ft², need to be contained using polyethylene sheeting and maintained under negative pressure to prevent cross-contamination of other areas within the structure.

Damp wiping or blasting (if in an attic or crawlspace) are appropriate removal techniques. Areas larger than 100 ft² are best left to a professional. The minimum recommended personal protective equipment for any mold removal includes N-95 respirator, gloves and goggles.

What does mold smell like?

Not all molds produce a distinct smell. Many molds produce MVOCs which are usually detected as a musty or stale odor. Some people liken mold smells to a damp basement or an earthy or dirt smell. If you smell a musty odor, it does not necessarily mean you have mold. Likewise, the lack of a detectable odor does not correlate with a mold free environment.

What is mold?

Mold is a fungus. It’s a living organism that reproduces by making spores that are released and float through the air, much like the pollen that is produced by many plants in the spring. Mold needs adequate moisture, an organic substrate or food source, oxygen, and a suitable temperature range in order to grow and reproduce.

Some molds thrive in wet environments and others will tolerate drier conditions. Over 20,000 species exist. Some of these are relatively benign, while others are highly toxic. Some types of mold are more of an unsightly aggravation, while others are highly destructive. As molds grow, they begin to breakdown the substrate they are growing on. Therefore, it is important to check for structural damage and damaged building materials when mold is found.

Is there a difference between mold and mildew?

Mildew is a type of mold. Many people refer to mold growing in bathrooms or found in closets on clothing, shoes, boxes and other items as mildew. Mildew and mold are caused by the same environmental factors and require the same approach to cleaning and prevention.

Why do I have a mold problem?

A mold problem is really a moisture problem. Mold spores are present everywhere, outdoors and indoors. If you have mold, then you have excess moisture, possibly coupled with poor ventilation or some other contributing factor.

A mold problem is not necessarily the result of a dirty house. In fact, it is not uncommon for mold to be found in newly constructed homes even before they are occupied. Wet building materials can quickly become covered in mold if the HVAC system is not being used and the windows and doors are closed.

Where does mold come from?

Mold spores are everywhere. Fungi are actually an important component of the natural environment. Without fungi, leaves that drop from trees in the fall would never decompose. Fungi serve many important roles in the environment including the decomposition of dead organisms. Mushrooms are another type of fungi.

How do I prevent the mold problem from returning?

The most important step to prevent mold from returning is to fix the moisture problem. Additionally, maintaining adequate ventilation and routine cleaning will aid in the prevention of future mold growth.

What can be cleaned and what should be thrown away?

Most non-porous materials can be cleaned. Some porous materials, such as wood, can be cleaned.

Most porous materials, such as fabrics, paper, ceiling tiles and insulation, need to be thrown away if the mold is moderate to severe. Valuable porous items can be professionally cleaned if the mold is not severe.

indoor air quality house

In our recent post about ductwork cleaning, we introduced you to the idea that routine cleaning in your home should include more than just sweeping, vacuuming, dusting, cleaning bathrooms and doing laundry. Routine cleaning and maintenance of your HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning system) should not be overlooked when focusing on the more visible cleaning needs in your home. The “health” of your HVAC system has a large impact on the “health” of your air, which in turn, has a large impact on your and your family’s overall health.

Why are we concerned about your air quality?

While the services we provide include such things as asbestos, lead and mold inspection, testing and abatement or remediation, one of our biggest motivating factors for providing these services is to improve air quality and overall health and quality of life for our customers and the people in our community. In a nutshell, we care about you and your family and we want you to live a healthy life.

Air Quality Really Does Affect Your Health

The following is a list of some of the health issues that are related to or affected by air quality as reported by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the American Lung Association®:

  • Allergies
  • Heart disease
  • Asthma
  • Hypersensitivity pneumonitis
  • Chronic lung disease
  • Infections
  • Dizziness
  • Irritation of eyes, nose and throat
  • Dry eyes
  • Lung cancer
  • Fatigue
  • Nasal congestion
  • Headaches
  • Nausea

Who’s At Risk from Poor Indoor Air Quality?

  • Infants and young children
  • Elderly
  • Pregnant women
  • Those with preexisting medical conditions, especially immune-compromised or immune-suppressed individuals

The actions and interactions of contaminants in the air are not fully understood. But, experts do know that many chemicals, pollutants, mold and other contaminants act as sensitizers, meaning the more you are exposed to the more serious the health risks. Our hope in this series of posts is to share some tips with you to help reduce your exposure to factors that negatively impact indoor air quality.

More Exposure, More Risk

According to the EPA, air inside structures such as homes and businesses has been found to have 2-5× higher concentrations of chemicals and pollutants than air outdoors. Please visit the EPA’s online resource for more information on factors that contribute to indoor air quality and its effects on health.

Interested in finding ways to improve the air quality of your home? Check out the EPA’s “Indoor Air Quality” home tour.

Don’t take any chances. If you’d like a second opinion about your air quality, we’ll be glad to come out and perform an inspection of your home or office. Just call or contact us today to learn more.


Featured photo courtesy EPA IAQ Home.

Dirty ductwork

Have you ever thought about what the inside of your home would look like if you never cleaned it?

What if you went 5, 10, or even 20 years without sweeping your kitchen, vacuuming your carpet, dusting your furniture, or cleaning your bathroom? What if you never washed your clothes, bed linens, or dishes? I think we would all agree that would be nasty.

While doing all of the above is important, one of the most significant contributors to the air quality inside your home, the HVAC system—including the ductwork—is often ignored.

What’s Lurking Inside the Ducts in Your House?

Have you ever cleaned the ductwork in your home? If not, dust, dirt, pet hair, dander, dust mites, food, spider webs, insects, mold and other contaminants have been accumulating inside your ducts since you’ve moved in.

Even if you have only been in your home a year or two, it’s still a good idea to clean and inspect the ductwork and HVAC system. Why wait until your ducts look like the “before” in this photo to do something about it?

Why the Air Quality in Your Home Matters

Let’s assume that the average person leaves home for work at 7 in the morning and makes it home by 7 in the evening. This would mean that the average person spends 12 hours a day inside his/her home.

The air quality inside the home has a major impact on your overall health. While you may not be able to do anything about the air quality outside, in your workplace, or where you shop, you can and should take action to improve the air quality in your own living space.

Stay Tuned to Learn How to Improve the Air Quality in your Home

The next few posts are going to cover some easy steps you can take to clean your ductwork, perform basic HVAC maintenance and improve indoor air quality in your home.

I encourage you to share this information with your friends and family and with your employer or business owner. By improving the air quality in your home and workplace, you will have improved approximately 83% of the air you breathe!

Embedded photo via Good Home Post.

Mold inspection or mold investigation?

In our last post, we explained why it’s best to have mold inspections performed by an abatement company, rather than an inspector who’ll take a fee just for assessing the situation and making a referral. Allow us to use this week’s inspection to back ourselves up!

Yesterday we were called to a home to perform a mold inspection. Upon arrival, we asked the homeowner several questions to dig into the problem.

What had she observed in the home that led her to call us? How long had the problem existed? Had there been recent changes or updates to the home?

The Problem

The mold in suspect was on the bathroom ceiling along a seam in the drywall where the joint compound had cracked and tape had come loose. The entire roof had been recently replaced and the roofer did not find any leaks that could have led to the issue in the bathroom.

Further questioning revealed that the homeowner rarely used the ventilation/exhaust fan in the bathroom. And although we observed water stains on the ceiling near the walls, they did not correlate with the mold on the drywall in the middle of the room. This is where a typical mold inspection might end.

The inspector might also collect samples and send them to a lab to identify the specific type of mold present, possibly for an additional fee. S/he would then likely refer the homeowner to an abatement contractor to remove and replace the molded drywall. But this would only be a temporary fix, and the problem would eventually return because the root cause would not have been resolved, or even addressed.

The Source

We climbed into the attic and then onto the roof before identifying the offending culprit. The attic insulation was pressed tightly against the roof sheathing and there were no baffles to allow the outside air to enter through the soffit vents and exit through the ridge vents and the newly installed powered attic fan.


Upon further inspection, we found that the soffit vents had been painted over and were nearly 50% blocked. The attic fan had a thermostat and humidistat so that it would run if the temperature or humidity was too high in the attic. The humidistat was set on 85%, effectively rendering it useless, as mold will grow at or above 60% humidity. The lack of airflow in this portion of the attic was resulting in elevated attic and ceiling temperatures in the bathroom, which already had a high, peaked ceiling.

The elevated temperatures caused the drywall joint compound to crack and release the tape along the seam. The single HVAC vent in the bathroom was directed at the point in the ceiling where the crack had developed. Elevated moisture levels in the bathroom due to non-use of the exhaust fan resulted in mold growth on the now exposed drywall. We also discovered mold growth on the ceiling and walls of the closet accessed from the bathroom.

The Solution

Our mold inspection identified the root cause of the mold rather than simply identifying that the homeowner had a mold problem, referring her to an abatement contractor, collecting our fee, and leaving.

We explained to her how to clean the mold in the bathroom and closet, that the soffit vents needed to be cleaned or replaced, and that the attic insulation needed to be pulled back and baffles inserted. We recommended that the humidistat on the attic fan be set to 55% or below and that a drywall person repair the seam in the ceiling.

Finally, we suggested that an HVAC vent or a door vent be installed in the closet and identified that the “bubbling” on some of the walls was due to wallpaper that had been painted over now separating from the walls.

We provided photos of the problem areas with the suggestions on how to correct them. We did not try to sell the homeowner an abatement since most of the work could be performed by the homeowner and someone with drywall experience.

Branch Environmental offers much more than a typical mold inspection… shoot, it’s a true mold INVESTIGATION!