Efflorescence on foundation wall

Poke your head inside your basement or crawl space. Do you see a white substance on the foundation walls? About once a week we receive a call from someone claiming to have white mold on the foundation walls in their basement or crawl space.

The thing is, that white substance isn’t mold, it’s efflorescence. Keep reading to find out why efflorescence may indicate that you have, or will likely have, a mold problem in your home.

What is Efflorescence?

Efflorescence is a white, powdery substance left behind when water containing minerals evaporates. Water picks up minerals as it moves through brick, stucco, and concrete, including poured concrete and concrete blocks. These minerals are left behind on the surface once the water evaporates. Efflorescence is commonly made up of gypsum, salt, or calcite. It’s most common in environments with high humidity, like crawl spaces and basements.

Efflorescence, although unsightly, is not harmful. The minerals don’t harm the surface on which they are deposited, and efflorescence poses no specific health concerns. The bigger concern is what efflorescence represents.

Why Do I Have Efflorescence?

If you have efflorescence, it’s an indication that water is moving through your foundation, and that your basement or crawl space is humid. The water may be wicking up into the foundation from groundwater in the soil below, or by lateral movement through the foundation walls.

Both of these scenarios are problematic, and if not addressed, may cause structural issues over time. Water moving under or through your home’s foundation will eventually weaken the foundation. This can lead to settling, cracking, and more problems.

Efflorescence is an Indication of Humid Air

In order for efflorescence to develop, water must evaporate from a surface. This water vapor accumulates in the air inside your basement or crawl space, further elevating the humidity level of the already damp, stagnant air.

Humid air inside a basement or crawl space will inevitably lead to mold growth, starting with the wood floor joists, subfloor, and paper face of floor insulation. Relative humidity around 60% and above will support mold growth and lead to musty odors.

What To Do About Efflorescence

To reduce humidity in the basement, you may approach the problem with an appropriate dehumidifier in addition to proper ventilation and air conditioning, but these solutions treat the symptoms of moisture, not the cause. Because efflorescence may indicate conditions that lead to structural damage, it may be time to seek a professional assessment.

At Branch Environmental, we provide comprehensive packages that address the air quality inside your home and basement. We have you covered, from prevention to inspection to mold remediation.

Call us today at (706) 310-0097 if you would like to schedule a basement assessment, crawl space inspection, or indoor air quality inspection!

Prevent mold with basement ventilation

In previous posts we’ve discussed the causes and solutions for mold in basements. Today we will provide more detail on how to prevent basement mold with ventilation and air conditioning, the main methods for reducing moisture content in the air.

Ventilation

Ventilation includes air exchanges and air circulation. Limited ventilation in most basements leads to damp, stagnant, smelly air, and will eventually lead to mold growth. Exchanging stagnant basement air for fresh outdoor air is one good way to ventilate a basement. This can be accomplished using a basement fan, but the space may also require dehumidification due to the introduction of humid outdoor air.

Air circulation within the basement can be improved by installing ceiling or room fans. The main objectives of ventilation are air movement and exchanging stagnant air for fresh air. The point of ventilation is not to filter or condition the air, but rather to replace, dilute, or move it around.

Conditioning

Air conditioning involves the process of modifying the temperature and humidity of the air to make it more acceptable. Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning, or HVAC, systems are used to control the temperature, and to some degree the humidity, of indoor air. Running an air conditioner in the summer not only cools the air, it also dries the air.

If you have an HVAC system that services the basement, you can help to prevent basement mold just by running it. There is a common misconception that basement HVAC systems are unnecessary because the temperature inside most basements stays relatively constant throughout the year. Remember, though, that temperature is only one of the two functions of air conditioning. If a basement stays closed up, unventilated and unconditioned, the temperature might be within the desired range, but the humidity may be significantly elevated. Mold can grow and odors can develop in a basement or living space of a home simply because the HVAC system has been turned off.

If the HVAC system is not running, then the air is not being conditioned or filtered. Without filtration, the air will accumulate dust, dirt, and mold spores that will create a bigger problem. We have conducted basement and entire home mold remediations where the only cause of mold growth was stagnant, humid air due to the fact that the HVAC system had been turned off.

HVAC Systems

The most effective, but most expensive, type of basement HVAC system is a centrally-located, ducted unit. This is the best system if you have a large basement and/or a basement consisting of multiple rooms with doors and walls that restrict airflow.

A cheaper but less effective alternative is a window mounted air conditioner/heater unit. Window units are better suited to smaller basements that do not have multiple rooms.

Dehumidification

So how do you get the already cool humid air in a basement dry without cooling it further? The answer in most cases is a dehumidifier.

Dehumidifiers range from simple freestanding, single room units that plug into an existing receptacle, to whole-house (or whole-basement) built-in units that work in conjunction with the HVAC system. We will cover this in much more detail in subsequent posts.

How Branch Environmental Can Help

At Branch Environmental we provide comprehensive packages that address the air quality inside your home and basement. We have you covered from inspection to mold remediation to dehumidifier selection and installation. Call us today if you would like to schedule a basement assessment, indoor air quality inspection, or simply want more advice on how to prevent basement mold.

basement mold and mildew

If you have a basement, chances are you’ve seen white, tan, green, brown, black, powdery, or fuzzy-looking growth on some of the contents of your basement or its building materials. That growth is mold, or mildew, as many people call it.

Where Does Mold Come From?

Mold is everywhere in the environment, including the outdoors as well as inside your home. Mold spores float in the air like pollen in the spring. All that is required for mold to grow is a food source and sufficient moisture. Food sources abound in a basement and include building materials, furniture, and cardboard boxes. The moisture source may be a plumbing leak, water intrusion from outside, or stagnant, humid air.

Most basements are a mold problem waiting to happen. If you have a basement, you either have mold or you will have mold, so it is important to implement preventative measures.

How Do I Prevent Mold?

Since you can’t eliminate all of the mold spores from the air and you can’t remove all of the building materials and contents from your basement, the only practical way to stop mold from growing is to eliminate or control the moisture source.

Plumbing leaks can be repaired and water intrusion can be stopped by waterproofing the foundation walls, installing French drains, and diverting water away from the foundation. Stagnant humid air should be conditioned and filtered to prevent mold growth and eliminate odors. Basement air can be conditioned using an HVAC system and/or dehumidifier, and air circulation can be improved with ceiling fans. We will cover this in much more detail in subsequent posts.

How Branch Environmental Can Help

If you have seen or suspect that you have mold growing in your basement, Branch Environmental can inspect your basement to determine the extent of the problem, identify the moisture source, develop and implement a solution, or walk you through the process if you choose to tackle it yourself. Get in touch at (706) 310-0097 to learn more about how we can help!

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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.

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  1. Nulla consequat massa quis enim.
  2. Donec pede justo, fringilla vel, aliquet nec, vulputate eget, arcu.
  3. In enim justo, rhoncus ut, imperdiet a, venenatis vitae, justo.

Nullam dictum felis eu pede mollis pretium. Integer tincidunt. Cras dapibus. Vivamus elementum semper nisi. Aenean vulputate eleifend tellus. Aenean leo ligula, porttitor eu, consequat vitae, eleifend ac, enim. Aliquam lorem ante, dapibus in, viverra quis, feugiat a, tellus.

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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!

Faucet on frozen pipes

After the far-below-freezing night of January 6th, we received dozens of calls regarding frozen pipes bursting. The pipes freeze, expand, crack, and then flow freely when they thaw. It’s not pretty, and we empathize with our clients in this situation.
It can happen to anyone when it’s that cold — 7°F! — so we want to provide a few tips on how to prevent frozen pipes from bursting, ruining parts of your home, and certainly ruining your day.

How to Prevent Frozen Pipes from Bursting

1. Find out where your water shut off valve is.

It’s usually by the street and has a metal cover over the inground box. The valve is inside and can be closed using a crescent wrench or a water shut off tool found at most hardware and home improvement stores for under $10. Turn the valve clockwise, or to the right, to shut off the water. Don’t wait for the emergency—find it in advance. If you’re not sure where it is, call the water department and ask them to show you where it is located.

2. Leave the sink faucet dripping overnight.

You’ve likely heard this one, but it’s a good practice to remember. Unfortunately, if the temperature drops low enough, the water flow won’t always save your pipes. Note: We DON’T recommend this for outdoor faucets. See tip 6 below to learn how to protect outdoor faucets.

3. Make sure you have adequate insulation in the walls.

Most of the frozen lines that we’ve fixed have been in exterior walls, which you can’t easily open to investigate. It may be worth calling an insulation provider to check how protected your water pipes are. Insulation should be on the exterior side of the pipes.

4. Heat pipes from the inside the house.

If you think you have a non-insulated wall and you have access to it on the inside, a space heater in the adjacent room can help keep lines warm and prevent them from freezing.

5. Insulate water wall lines in the attic.

A lot of pipe bursts happen in attics. Do you have exposed, non-insulated water lines in your attic? If you can see them, then the answer is yes. Cold air coming in through soffit vents can freeze your pipes inside the attic. The attic is a really bad place for a leak, because the leak can soak the ceiling below it and cause it to come crashing down. By properly insulating your attic, you protect your pipes and save on energy costs.

6. Cover outdoor faucets.

The best thing to do on the outside of the house is to use outdoor faucet covers. These come in various styles and are constructed of plastic, styrofoam, or even fabric. Don’t wait until the day of the cold-snap, because like milk and bread at the grocery store, faucet covers are one of the first items to sell out when cold weather is on the way.

In that case, wrap your faucets with towels, insulation, and waterproofing material, like a garbage bag or or plastic sheeting. Secure with bungie cords and/or duct tape. Ideally, pick up the store-bought covers next time you’re near a home improvement store. Better early than sorry!

Unfortunately, even with all these precautions if it gets cold enough your pipes can still freeze and burst. If that happens, stay calm and follow our quick guide on what to do if your pipes burst!

Flooding from burst pipes

After the frozen first week of January, calls about burst pipes started pouring in. Dozens of folks suddenly had a lot of water on their hands, and the below-freezing weather didn’t help.

We don’t usually get this many calls about burst pipes because it usually doesn’t get this cold in the Athens area. But freezing temperatures aren’t the only culprit of unexpected flooding. Dishwashers, washing machines, and toilets can all flood and cause serious damage to your home. What do you do in these situations?

First Steps to Take When Your Home is Flooding

1. Stay calm, find the water shut off valve, and turn it off!

It’s usually by the street and has a metal cover over the inground box. The valve is inside and can be closed using a crescent wrench or a water shut off tool found at most hardware and home improvement stores. Turn the valve clockwise, or to the right, to shut off the water. It is incredibly helpful to know where the water valve is located before the disaster happens. Make it a goal to make sure you know where it is before going to bed tonight. Your local water department is happy to help.

While you’re turning off the valve, have someone call us so we can get there ASAP to help. Add our number into your phone now in case of emergency: (706) 310-0097.

2. Begin containing water in a single area.

Use buckets, towels, and/or a shop vac to keep the water from running all over your home. Essentially, you’re trying to sand bag in an area to prevent further damage.

3. Keep the water away from hardwood floors if at all possible.

Some hardwood floors can be refinished, but some have to be removed and replaced. If you can contain the water in a room with tile or vinyl floors, you’ll be able to avoid an inconvenient remodel.

4. Use whatever you have to get the water out.

Scoop the water up with a dustpan or plastic container and throw it in the sink or out the door. It’s important to remove as much water as fast as you can to mitigate damage.

5. Remove all affected carpet pad.

If the flooding has reached your carpet, pull back the carpet and remove the wet carpet pad. If you don’t, the carpet pad will hold water like a sponge, allowing the water to soak into the subfloor and cause extensive, and expensive, damage.

6. Take pictures and document the damage and work you perform.

Do not forget this important step. If you plan to file an insurance claim, you will likely need documentation of the water damage and any work you performed to mitigate the damage. Pictures showing how far the water traveled are invaluable, as are pictures of wet carpet pads and the burst pipe or plumbing fitting. Some insurance companies will require you to submit the damaged water line or fitting, so make sure to ask your plumber to leave the damaged part with you after he or she performs the repair.

If you do these things right away, you can dramatically reduce the level of flooding damage in your home, but please don’t think “All under control, I’ll call Branch next week.” Mold can start growing in 48 hours! Water behind baseboards and cabinets, wet carpet tack strips and other areas that are hard to reach are a ticking mold time bomb.

Call a professional as soon as possible, or the problem will grow exponentially and become much more expensive to fix. To learn how to prevent burst pipes in the future, check out our 6 ways to keep frozen pipes from bursting.