What is Involved in a Visual Inspection?
A visual inspection is what it sounds like. You, or your inspector, should take a close look around for any sign of damage or potential for water intrusion. See the list below for some common things to look for.
- Visible mold growth
- Visible water staining
- Water in the crawl space
- Improper grading around house/office
- Irrigation systems too close to building
- Improper attic insulation or ventilation
- High humidity levels
- Leaks under sinks or in other areas
Keep in mind that this is only a partial list. A good visual inspection should give you a good idea of what is going on in your home or office with regards to water & drainage, air flow in the building, and the general state of any appliance or equipment that is likely to be an issue.
First, you should know that there is no state or federal threshold for how much indoor mold is too much. As of this writing, we are unaware of any local governments in Indiana that have set thresholds. Most government agencies follow the EPA on mold. On mold thresholds, The EPA says, “Standards or Threshold Limit Values (TLVs) for airborne concentrations of mold, or mold spores, have not been set. Currently, there are no EPA regulations or standards for airborne mold contaminants.”
Why are there no standards for acceptable mold levels? Because mold is common in nature, often at very high levels, and mold exists everywhere we live, work, eat, and play.
When is Mold Testing Necessary?
If there are no federal, state, or local standards for how much mold can be in the indoor air, what is the point of testing? There are times when having test results can be informative and helpful. This usually depends on what you already know about the situation, and what you hope to learn.
Often, mold testing is not needed. For instance, there is no reason to determine the type of mold before remediation; all types of mold must be removed in the same manner. It is also unneeded, in most situations, to do mold testing when there is no reason to suspect a mold problem. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states in their FAQ:
“Generally, it is not necessary to identify the species of mold growing in a residence, and CDC does not recommend routine sampling for molds. Current evidence indicates that allergies are the type of diseases most often associated with molds. Since the susceptibility of individuals can vary greatly either because of the amount or type of mold, sampling and culturing are not reliable in determining your health risk. If you are susceptible to mold and mold is seen or smelled, there is a potential health risk; therefore, no matter what type of mold is present, you should arrange for its removal. Furthermore, reliable sampling for mold can be expensive, and standards for judging what is and what is not an acceptable or tolerable quantity of mold have not been established.”
In other cases, though, mold testing might be a good idea. Listed below are some reasons you may want to consider mold testing.
- You need to prove a substance is mold for legal reasons
- You suspect mold in an area, but none was found in the visual inspection
- You want to know how much and/or what types of molds are present in indoor air
- You want to compare the amount of mold in your home to “average” or “normal” homes
There are other reasons to perform mold testing, but those are the most common. In any case, if testing is to be done, you should ensure you are using the right test to get the information you want.
Types of Mold Tests
There are many different types of mold tests, with some new and interesting ones developed in recent years. Below we list some of the most common tests, how they are performed, and the information you can hope to get from them.
Air Sampling/Mold Spore Trap
Mold Spore Trap, or MST, is one of the most common types of mold test performed and the only type of test some companies do. This is a method of collecting air to determine what particles are present and the quantities that exist at that time. The air samples are taken with a vacuum pump that impacts a specific amount of air onto a sterile cartridge. Mold, dust, and other substances are trapped in the cartridge and analyzed in the lab to determine the contents.
Generally, one sample is taken in each area of concern or each level of the home and an additional sample is taken outdoors as a baseline. The lab compares the samples to determine if the types and amounts of mold indoors are similar.
ERMI is a newer test that takes a dust sample from surfaces in your home and compares them to a table of data collected in over 1000 homes across the country. Through this comparison, it is possible to get a general idea of the overall mold burden that any particular home has.
The test works by using a DNA sampling method patented by the EPA that assigns a “spore equivalents” based on the amount of DNA that is detected. The advantage to this type of testing is that specific mold types that are present are absolutely identified, unlike other methods which require a visual identification by microbiologists.
Several doctors, concerned about potential health effects that their patients are experiencing, are choosing this testing method as a way to determine exactly what types of mold are present and that their patients may have been exposed to.
A test kit can be ordered online and done by the average homeowner, or we can perform the test for you and help you to understand the results.
Sterile swabs or strips of tape are used to collect samples from a surface. The tape or swab is placed on the area to be tested, picking up the particles. These samples are then examined in the lab.
In some cases, bulk collection of affected materials can be collected, sealed in a bag, and sent to the lab for direct examination.
Mold in Attics
It is becoming common to discover mold in the attics of homes. Newer homes are built with lumber that is more porous and more susceptible to moisture penetration than older homes. New homes are also sealed up tighter for greater heating and cooling efficiency, leading to a buildup of moisture. In addition, home inspectors, other contractors, and even home owners are more aware of mold issues. Whatever the situation, the likelihood that you will need to deal with mold in an attic is higher than ever.
Causes of Attic Mold
Mold requires three things to grow; oxygen, water, and a source of food. Since oxygen and food sources for mold are plentiful, it is easiest to limit mold growth by limiting the amount of available water. Below are some common ways water accumulates in attics, often leading to mold growth.
Attics need proper ventilation to allow moisture to escape. This can be done using powered exhaust fans or through vents in the roof as hot air rises and escapes. Usually there are also soffit vents that allow air to enter the attic under the eaves.
If these components are missing or not functioning, warm air and moisture can become trapped. This causes water to condense out of the air against cold surfaces such as air ducts and cold roofs.
Attic insulation compresses over time, making it less effective. There also may not be enough insulation in the attic, or the insulation has been moved around, creating insufficient coverage.
Whatever the cause, too much warm air escaping into the attic can cause moisture condensation issues. This is commonly the cause of mold growth that is primarily on the north side of the roof, as that is the side with no direct sunlight and is often cooler than the rest of the roof, resulting in condensation of water on the surface. The fix is usually as simple as adding more insulation.
For extra protection, you may want to add a vapor barrier between the ceiling and the attic joists. This can be expensive to do unless it is done during construction before the ceiling drywall is installed.
Excessive Moisture Intrusion
Even with proper ventilation and insulation, excessive moisture can cause mold growth. Because warm air in the home rises, moisture problems in the attic usually come from moisture inside the home or crawl space. There are many possible moisture sources in the home, but faulty humidifiers and pipe leaks are some of the more common.
Bathroom Exhaust Fans
Exhaust fans in bathrooms are intended to evacuate hot, steamy air out of the bathroom and vent it to the outdoors. If the vent is improperly installed, or if the duct becomes damaged, it may expel that air and moisture into the attic. This usually results in mold growth near the vent, but if left unchecked it can spread to the rest of the attic.
Roof leaks, pipe breaks, and other direct sources of water intrusion can lead to mold growth in the affected area. Without correction, this can lead to a buildup of moisture in the air, allowing the mold to spread to the rest of the attic.
A Resale Issue, Not a Health Issue
It is possible for mold in the attic to cause potential health issues if something is drawing air down into the home, but that scenario is uncommon. Air in the home usually moves up as warm air rises, and exits through vents, making it more difficult for the mold spores to contaminate the home.
It is much more likely for attic mold to become an issue when you try to sell the home. Most buyers will be hesitant to buy a home with mold in the attic, and most home inspectors will recommend correction of visible mold growth. In our experience, the sale process goes more smoothly if you correct these issues before listing the home.
Treating the Mold
Many companies will clean the area and seal the staining with paint. We prefer to remove the majority of the staining using a treatment that we developed. This treatment is a quick and cost effective way of dealing with the issue, and protects resale value. Often, it leaves the wood looking like brand new. See the video below for an example of our work!
Mold in Crawl Spaces
Mold in a crawl space usually does not create a health issue, but can if there is significant transfer of air containing mold spores into the living space. Also, if the underlying water issues are not resolved, it can cause increased humidity in the home that may lead to mold growth in other areas.
Common Causes & Prevention
There are many possible sources of water intrusion into crawl spaces that may lead to mold growth. Some of the more common causes are listed below.
- Ground water evaporation
- Pipe breaks/leaks
- Condensation of humidity on cold surfaces
- Water runoff from gutters, improper landscape grading, irrigation systems, etc.
- High ground water tables
- Heavy rains
- Poor drainage
As you can see from the list above, some of these issues are more common in Indiana than some other places. With our clay soils, high water tables, high rainfall, and humid summer weather it takes planning and preparation to keep the water out.
Gutters and Downspout Issues
Gutters and downspouts dumping water against the foundation is one of the causes of water in the crawl space that we see most often. Your roof collects a huge amount of water, even in a small rain shower. If the gutters don’t carry it away from the home, it will often flood crawl spaces and basements.
The solution to this is an easy one. Ensure your gutters are clear and in good working order, and the downspouts are long enough to carry the water away from the foundation walls. Be wary of dumping it all into your mulch beds as they can act as basins holding the water against your home.
When a new home is built, a hole is dug out to place the foundation, then the soil is filled back in around the foundation when it is complete. Over time, the soil begins to settle and sink down, which can cause the ground around the house to be lower than the surrounding area. This can cause water to roll back into the crawl space or basement.
There are two general approaches to dealing with water from improper grading. The first, re-grading, is the more permanent but more expensive option. The second approach, dealing with the water once it enters the foundation, can be a short term fix, but often postpones the issue until later.
Irrigation systems that deposit water too close to the house or in mulch beds can cause the same problems as gutter issues above. The simplest solution is to shut the irrigation off, or move it farther away from the home.
Another issue with irrigation can arise when leaks develop in the system. Pipes can break when earth settles around the foundation, when the ground around the pipes freeze and thaw, or when water in the system freezes. Often, water from the leak will then travel back along the outside of the pipe and into the foundation.
If you have a drop in water pressure in your irrigation system, you should check thoroughly for leaks.
Probably A Resale Issue, Not a Health Issue
Mold in a crawl space is not as likely to have a significant effect on the air in your home as mold growing inside the house, especially in small to moderate quantities. When the amount of visible mold becomes widespread or heavy, the likelihood it will have some effect on the indoor air increases. Even then, it probably will not have serious health effects to an average, healthy person.
It is much more likely that crawl space mold will be an issue when you try to sell the home. Home inspectors are looking carefully at crawl spaces, and most buyers will be hesitant to buy a home with visible mold. It is usually beneficial to take care of these issue before listing the home for sale. The situation can be more stressful, and involve more people, if you wait until a buyer has a home inspection.
We have a treatment that is very effective at cleaning mold and the underlying staining from the wood in crawl spaces. The process takes less time than more labor intensive methods of remediation, so it is typically much more cost effective. The video below is from an attic treatment, but the process is the same for crawl spaces. You can see from the results, this is an effective cleaning method and a great way to protect the value of your home.
Mold Remediation is the removal, cleanup and/or control of mold growth within building structures. The main goal of mold remediation is to remove visible sources of mold and leave the affected space visibly clean and free of the odors associated with mold growth. Once an area is effectively remediated, and the moisture source is controlled, mold growth should not reoccur. Depending on the area in which mold is found, remediation can have many different faces. At Indiana Mold Remediation our primary remediation goals are always the same: to provide a building structure which is safe and habitable, to protect the resale value of the property, and to prevent the occurrence of visible mold growth in the future.
Interior Mold Remediation
Mold growth within the living area of the home, such as a basement or kitchen, must be conducted in a very careful manner. Generally, according to the EPA, areas of less than 10 square feet can be handled by the average homeowner or property manager. Areas that are larger than this may require the attention of a professional. Containment of the work area, removal of affected materials, cleaning and decontaminating of contained areas and preventative measures are all required for the remediation of mold within living areas.
Mold in Crawl Spaces and Attics
Often during real estate transactions or during brief trips to non-living areas of the home, mold may be found to be hiding in the attic or crawl space. Mold growth in these areas does not usually pose the same level of health risks to building occupants and may be handled in a way that is not as invasive or expensive. Often times, the primary concern of remediation in these areas is to protect the resale value of the home and prevent future structural problems due to subsequent wood rot. Indiana Mold Remediation has devised a simple solution to mold growth in these areas that provides effective treatment of the problem without the use of more costly procedures.
Exterior Mold Growth
Mold growth on the exteriors of homes and businesses are not considered a health risk by most health care professionals. The potential deteriorating effects to building materials still exists, and some level of personal protection is still warranted when cleaning up these areas. Mold on fences, siding or roofing can be unsightly and difficult to correct. Through the use of various cleaning methods, these problems can be resolved and prevented from occurring again in the future