I just got back from another mold inspection that turned out like so many before. It’s a predictable scenario. And I hate it every time.
A family just purchased a new home. The boxes are unpacked and pictures are on the walls. They’ve got a few pieces of new furniture picked out and she has excitedly filled Pinterest with a dozen projects. He’s trying to figure out how to tell her he can’t quite pull that last one off.
Then they realize that they are feeling sick more than normal. It started as a cold but then didn’t go away. The doctor suggested that they look into their indoor air quality to see if something more is going on.
That’s when we show up for a Mold & Indoor Air Quality inspection.
He doesn’t buy it but is willing to give it a shot. Really just to check it off the list. Sure, there may be a little dust on top of the fridge but they keep a clean house. Besides, they had the home inspected before the purchase.
I spent about 2 hours combing through their house from the basement to the attic. Walking back into the kitchen, I had some bad news to deliver.
“So I found quite a few areas of mold in your home. The good news is everything can be fixed and you will start feeling a lot better when we are done. Unfortunately, you’re looking at about $20,000 to get it all taken care of and put back together.”
Just like that, the Pinterest boards were wiped clean and the new furniture kicked down the road.
So what went wrong?
The Big Miss
Here’s the deal. Home inspections are an important part of any real estate transaction. They make sure the home is in good working order. They make sure the trim is not rotting and the appliances are working. They make sure the roof is sound and the foundation is sturdy.
But mold and water damage are tricky beasts. They follow unpredictable paths and hide in the dark recesses of places that are hard to get to.
It takes a different kind of eye to find a problem that’s really good at not being found. It takes someone willing to keep digging until all the possibilities have been uncovered. It takes someone who is an expert at mold to find mold.
That’s simply not what a home inspection is trying to be.
In fact, some home inspections exclude mold altogether. Here is a quick line taken from an inspection I read the other day:
XYZ Home Inspections is not responsible for discovering or reporting on the presence or absence of mold or mildew. Furthermore, we are not responsible for any damages that arise from or are related to mold, even if the mold is a direct consequence of a condition that XYZ Home Inspections reported.
While most home inspectors will report mold they see through the course of their inspection, they aren’t going to go out of their way to find it and they aren’t going to take any responsibility for it.
But wait… my home inspector took a mold sample. So I’m covered.
I wish I could say yes, but read on.
The Fallacy Of The Air Sample
If there was one single thing I could change in the industry it would be this. Using an air sample as an add-on to see if mold is present is borderline negligent. Strike that… it’s strait up negligent.
It gives incomplete data to an untrained interpreter who makes mis-guided decisions based on mis-understood results.
But we see it all the time. Home inspectors do it all the time. People use DIY test kits all the time.
Then they find themselves $20K on the wrong side of the deal with those Pinterest projects a distant memory.
Okay, I’m being dramatic. But I did just leave the home of a couple in this very situation. It’s real and it’s way to easy to prevent.
Here’s the rub with air samples or DIY mold tests. They are only one tool that shows one very specific thing. They don’t paint a complete picture and they don’t create their own context.
They are like shining a laser beam on a very specific slice of space at a singular moment in time. If mold spores happen to be in the laser beam at just the right time, you’ve got a positive result. If the mold spores are a few feet to the left or are in the next room over… you’ve got a negative result.
A good mold inspector will utilize air sampling or other mold tests as one method in a comprehensive evaluation. But those results are only supporting details. They don’t stand alone.
At the end of the day it’s the expertise and experience of the mold inspector, and the interpretation of the big picture that matters. If you are being offered mold test results as a stand-alone answer you’d be better off blowing your cash at that new pizza joint down the road.
So It’s A Loose-Loose Situation?
Not at all.
There’s another couple just down the road that had a huge win. You see, they had mold issues in the last house they lived in. They were a little paranoid but rightfully so. They’ve lived it once and weren’t planning on living it again.
They had 10 days left in due diligence and the home inspection checked out clear. It was their dream house. Nobody suspected anything but just to be on the safe side they scheduled a mold inspection with us. I met them at the new home with the seller’s agent and spent the afternoon in the crawlspace and attic and everywhere in between.
It was a very nice house. Well taken care of.
While I told you earlier that mold & water damage is good at hiding… it’s also one of those things that people try to hide. A quick coat of primer and paint and it’s like it was never there.
Yea… but I live for this kind of thing. When I start to sniff a trail all bets are off.
By then end of the inspection I had traced a trail of previous water damages, covered up mold, and a crawlspace with some serious water issues. The issues were so bad the home was not only unhealthy, the foundation was literally being eaten away by mold.
But all the cards were on the table now. With a week of due diligence left, the buyers were in a position of calling their next shot. They could walk. They could negotiate. Either way they weren’t flying blind.
At the end of they day they negotiated the purchase price down to accommodate the repairs. They not only got their dream house, they got it with an updated bathroom and fresh coat of paint. All without giving up on a single Pinterest project.
The Big Win
I know that the thought of mold strikes fear into most people. Real Estate agents are’t going to bring the issue up. Some home inspectors will let you know if they find something… others will simply keep their mouth shut. You’ve been to the house a half-dozen times now and it looks and smells clean.
The reality is that you are about to sink the majority of your wealth into this single investment. You’re going to end up with a great home in a great part of town without any equity to borrow against for unexpected repairs.
You simply don’t know what is hiding on the other side of the drywall or just beneath the floorboards or right there in the crawlspace. Your home inspector doesn’t either.
Adding a Mold & Indoor Air Quality inspection to your due diligence package is such a small price to pay at this juncture. I’d go as far as to say it is the single best thing you can do to protect your purchase.
Mold is most often associated with allergies. When you are exposed to mold, you sneeze and your eyes itch. When you are no longer around the mold, your symptoms get better.
Then people start throwing out terms like “toxic mold” and “black mold”. So what, exactly, are they talking about?
While all molds have the potential to cause irritation and allergy symptoms, that’s not really detrimental to your long term health. So where is the line between an allergic mold and a toxic mold?
That line is defined by something called a Mycotoxin.
So What Is A Mycotoxin?
Mycotoxins, literally ‘fungus poison’ in Latin, are secondary metabolites that can be produced by molds, and are not living organisms.
They are a byproduct of mold. Not all mold spores produce mycotoxins, but some do.
So the molds that produce mycotoxins are the ones that could be categorized as “toxic”.
What Do Mycotoxins Do?
These chemical substances can cause many health problems ranging from mild to severe. Even if you are not allergic to mold, you can be affected by mycotoxins and/or biotoxins.
Biotoxins are any type of toxin produced by a living organism including mycotoxins. Biotoxins can be absorbed by the body a number of ways including: through the skin, airways, and intestinal lining.
Chronic disease sufferers, such as people with chronic Lyme disease, fibromyalgia, cancer, and other fatigue related illnesses, may be more sensitive to mycotoxins in their environment. According to Dr. Bill Rawls MD, “Mycotoxins worsen immune dysfunction associated with chronic disease and inhibit healing processes in the body.”
The Mold Gene
About 25% of people have a gene called HLA-DR (human leukocyte antigen), which prevents the body from breaking down biotoxins. For people without this gene, biotoxins, including mycotoxins, are broken down by the body and removed by antibodies.
Individuals with this gene (HLA-DR) cannot produce the antibodies needed to break down even small exposures to these toxins. A simple blood or cell test is needed to determine if the gene is present.
Even for people without the gene and in good health, exposure to large amounts of mycotoxin or other biotoxins can overwhelm the immune system and cause symptoms of poisoning.
As you can see, mycotoxins can be especially dangerous for people with compromised immune systems.
Some of the symptoms associated with mycotoxins can include:
- Chronic burning in the throat and nasal passages
- Coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath
- Loss of balance
- Depression and/or anxiety
- Eye irritation
- Headache, light sensitivity
- Hearing loss
- Heightened sensitivity to chemicals and foods
- Irregular heartbeat
- Morning stiffness, joint pain and/or muscle pain
- Mood swings
- Muscle weakness
- Reduced color distinction
- Skin rashes
- Sleep problems
- Slower reaction time
- Poor memory, difficult word finding
- Difficulty concentrating
- Unusual skin sensations, tingling and numbness
- Appetite swings, body temperature regulation,
- Increased urinary frequency or increased thirst
- Red eyes, blurred vision, sweats, mood swings, sharp pains
- Abdominal pain, diarrhea, bloating
- Tearing, disorientation, metallic taste in mouth
- Static shocks
- Vertigo, feeling lightheaded
As you can see, the list is quite long! It is also not a list of symptoms that would immediately point a doctor to a specific illness.
The best way way to find out if you have been exposed to mycotoxins is to check your home for mold or have a professional inspection performed.
WE’RE HERE WHEN YOU NEED US.
Call Branch Environmental. We’re experts not only at mold removal, but at determining and remediating the underlying causes. From hidden mold sources to major contaminants. We can identify exactly what is going on in your home and rid it of environmental toxins, often for good.
Most cleaning products you can purchase are full of harsh chemicals that can be dangerous to use or inhale. Manufacturers of these products do not have to disclose all of their ingredients, which means there are ingredients that are not listed on the label.
According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), “Government agencies and independent research institutions have not adequately evaluated the safety of numerous substances found in cleaning products.
Although government scientific and regulatory agencies have focused considerable attention on chemicals suspected of causing cancer, they have devoted far fewer resources to evaluating substances that may be toxic to the brain and nervous system, the hormone system and other organs.” Mass produced cleaning products can be dangerous for your health.
To learn more about the cleaners you currently use you can go to: https://www.ewg.org/guides/cleaners to search more than 2500 products.
Essential oils are a great alternative to commercial cleaning products.
WHAT ARE ESSENTIAL OILS?
Essential oils are oils that have been distilled from plant materials with a strong scent such as the petals, leaves, or bark of a plant. Essential oils are concentrated and volatile (or easily evaporated) at room temperature. The oil is usually named for the plant from which it was distilled such as: lavender essential oil or peppermint essential oil.
Essential oils are generally safer to use than chemical cleaning products, but there are some precautions you should know.
Essential oils should never be used directly on skin or in the body. They are concentrated plant essences, and are not safe without diluting. Oils should be diluted in water, a carrier oil, or in a cleaning product mixture (such as vinegar and water).
In general, add essential oils to your solution with small amounts first, based on your personal preference for scent. 5 to 20 drops scents an entire bottle of cleaning solution. Some people will want more scent and some will want less. Start with the smallest amount in the recipe, and test the product before adding more.
There are some essential oils that can be excellent for cleaning, but may be irritating or cause allergic reactions in some people. For example, Tea Tree essential oil is distilled from the Melaleuca alternifolia tree from Australia. This essential oil is antifungal (kills fungi), antiviral (kills viruses), and antimicrobial (kills microbes, including bacteria).
It is excellent for cleaning! However, people with allergies or asthma are advised to use this oil with caution, as it can be irritating to the skin and lungs. Always read about essential oils before buying and using them. Test small amounts in your home to begin to check for any allergic reactions.
WHAT OILS ARE GOOD FOR BEGINNERS?
For beginners, start with established recipes and add the smallest recommended amount of oil. 5 drops may not sound like much, but remember that essential oils are concentrated and a little goes a long way!
Some oils that are good for beginners include: lavender, lemon, orange, and peppermint.
Lemon scent is of course the standard in most commercial cleaning products for good reason. Lemon essential oil is antimicrobial, and can help eliminate bacteria, fungi, and viruses. Most commercial cleaning products do not use real lemon oil, however. They use chemical substitutes that smell lemon-like.
Why settle for a chemical substitute when you can have the real thing?
Lemon oil and orange oil have been shown to have antidepressant properties.
Lavender essential oil is also antimicrobial and antidepressant. It has a calming scent that is safe to use around even young children and babies.
The combination of peppermint and orange essential oils deter pests like ants from entering your home. Both peppermint and orange essential oil also are antimicrobial.
These oils make you feel good as you use them. How wonderful to have your cleaning routine make you feel better!
A few cautions for beginners…
- Always research each essential oil before you use it. Learn for yourself what the benefits and precautions are for each type of oil. Don’t be afraid to try new oils, but do your research before using them.
- Never use any essential oil directly on skin or ingest the oil. Essential oils should be stored in a cool, dry place away from children. Use rubber or nitrile gloves when dispensing the oil to reduce the chance of getting the oil on your skin.
- Use the smallest amount of essential oil drops given in the recipe first (or reduce it further), and try the recipe on a small area before adding more.
SIMPLE CLEANING RECIPES TO MAKE YOURSELF:
The following recipes come from Karyn Siegel-Maier’s book ‘The Naturally Clean Home.’ It is an excellent book filled with easy recipes for cleaning with essential oils.
COUNTRY SPICE SCRUBBER
1 cup baking soda
3 tsp cinnamon
3 drops sweet orange oil
Combine all ingredients in an airtight container and shake well to blend. To use to clean kitchen sinks, sprinkle a small amount of the powder into the sink and scrub with a damp sponge.
CITRUS FLOOR CLEANER
1 gallon hot water
2 tablespoons liquid castile soap
5-15 drops of sweet orange
3-8 drops lemon essential oil or 1/4 cup lemon juice
Combine all ingredients in a large bucket. Dip a mop into the bucket and squeeze out excess liquid. Clean the floor by working in sections, using short strokes and dipping the mop as needed. Rinsing is not needed.
Everyone has to clean mold from their home from time to time. Whether you live in a mansion or an apartment, your home is your safe place. The place you feel most comfortable.
Many, many of the cleaning products sold today are full of toxic chemicals and undisclosed ingredients. Keeping it clean is essential, but how do you do that safely?
How can you protect your pets, children, guests, and yourself from harmful chemicals?
This simple guide will equip you to clean mold from the hard surfaces in your home with non-toxic ingredients you already have in the pantry.
WHAT TO WEAR
Before even choosing a cleaning product, you should know what kind of safety equipment to wear to clean a moldy surface.
Mold is a respiratory irritant and allergen, so a mask with a N-95 respirator is important, especially if you know you are allergic to mold. A simple dust mask will not protect you from the mold spores. For more information about safety, visit https://www.cdc.gov/mold/What-to-Wear.html
WHAT NOT TO USE TO CLEAN MOLD
The first thing people often turn to to clean mold is the worst choice. Bleach.
Bleach is a combination of chemicals used as an agent to kill bacteria and whiten clothes, floors, and walls. Bleach contains sodium hypochlorite which is toxic to bacteria, fish, and human beings. Sodium hypochlorite is a known carcinogen (cancer causing agent), and can cause both respiratory and skin irritation or damage. This alone is enough reason to find a better alternative cleaning agent!
But there is more. Bleach is designed to kill bacteria, and will not completely remove a mold problem. Molds are fungi, and they can and will grow back after bleaching.
WHAT TO USE TO CLEAN MOLD
There are 3 simple ingredients you can safely use to clean away mold in your home: white vinegar, baking soda, hydrogen peroxide.
Each of these ingredients has the highest safety rating on the Environmental Working Group’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning (EWG).
To clean a hard surface (like a shower stall, tiles, toilet, sink, or floor), simply add hydrogen peroxide OR white vinegar to a clean, empty spray bottle undiluted. Never mix these chemicals! Choose one or the other.
For hydrogen peroxide, spray the area to clean thoroughly, and let it sit for 10-15 minutes. Then, scrub the area, and rinse it clean with water. Repeat if needed.
For white vinegar, spray the area to clean thoroughly, and let it sit for at least 15 minutes or up to one hour. Then, scrub the area, and rinse it clean with water.
To use baking soda, add a teaspoon to a tablespoon of baking soda to a clean empty spray bottle and fill the bottle ¾ full of hot water. Shake to dissolve. Spray the area and use a scrub brush to clean the mold away.
Baking soda works best with a white vinegar spray following. Baking soda is a base and vinegar is an acid. When they are used together, they react to form carbon dioxide gas and heat. The heat helps clean the surface and the chemical reaction kills fungi and bacteria alike.
Running a bathroom fan while cleaning will also help remove odors from the room as well as any smell from the mold or cleaning supplies.
5 to 10 drops of tea tree essential oil can be added to the white vinegar spray to increase the disinfectant power. Tea tree essential oil is distilled from the Melaleuca alternifolia tree from Australia. The essential oil is antifungal (kills fungi), antiviral (kills viruses), and antimicrobial (kills microbes, including bacteria). I advise people with allergies or asthma to use this oil with caution, as it can be irritating to the skin and lungs.
TIPS FOR CLEANING MOLD
- Remember that your goal is not to kill the mold spores but to remove them. When they have been removed completely they cannot grow back.
- Be sure to spray and then wipe all surfaces with a damp rag. Dry wiping will disturb spores and send them into the air! Airborne spores can regrow in new locations, and cause even more mold to grow. Mold spores are not visible to the naked eye, so be sure to cover all surfaces with your cleaner of choice, even if they look ‘clean’.
- Do NOT use a vacuum to clean mold unless you have a vacuum with a HEPA filter. Remember that you will eventually have to empty the vacuum, and it will be filled with the mold. The HEPA filter should be changed periodically to increase efficiency. Mycotoxins may not be filtered out even when using a HEPA vacuum.
- Ventilate, ventilate, ventilate! Ventilation is important during cleaning so that any disturbed spores exit the building. Close and tape off doors to the rest of the house and use a box fan in a window pointing out while cleaning.
KNOW WHEN TO CALL THE PROS
It’s easy to take care of mold as a homeowner, but it’s also a good idea to know when to call in the pros. If the area of mold covers more than about 10sf, there is a good chance the mold problem is more than an isolated issue.
Mold is great at hiding in hard to detect locations. A mold inspection by Branch Environmental can help you get to the bottom of the problem.
For more information go to:
A Brief Guide to Mold, Moisture, and Your Home – https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2016-10/documents/moldguide12.pdf
Branch Environmental is the leading provider of Environmental Services in Athens, Oconee and surrounding counties. Emergency water damage response, asbestos inspections and remediation, mold removal & more.
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Watkinsville, GA 30677
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