Fungus & Air Quality Testing
Is Your Home Making You Sick?
A healthy indoor environment is one that promotes the comfort, health, and well being of the building's occupants. Conversely, a sick building can be distinguished by adverse symptoms associated with time spent in the building. Sometimes our homes can become contaminated with biological or chemical contaminants that cause adverse health effects.
High levels of microbial contaminants in a home can cause a variety of health concerns. The body's immune system is capable of effectively defending against certain concentrations of microorganisms but fails with others. In addition to personal variation, the level of contamination that a body can handle also varies with age and health status.
(Photo: Roof deck in a residence in Sterling Hts, MI)
Vishey Consulting & Inspection has been key in identifying toxic fungus in several Grosse Pointe, St. Clair Shores, Rochester, Milford, Sterling Heights, Troy, Royal Oak and surrounding area homes. Stachybotrys is one toxigenic fungus, implicated as a possible root cause of infant deaths and associated with allergies and neurological disorders in adults. Stachybotrys is a very dark, black mold that grows on water saturated building materials. It is unusual in that it is not readily found in the outside environment because it is not a robust fungus and cannot flourish there.
If contaminated air is suspect of affecting your family's health, testing can give you the peace of mind that your home is safe or it can alert you to the need for repair. When properly done, Mold Testing can often point to the source of hidden damage and its severity.
Note that I do not perform mold remediation but I do consult many of the major mold remediation firms in our area. My role is to advise you on the lowest cost and most effective course of action.
Your home should be tested if :
Your home has experienced a flood, severe leak, or sewer back-up
Cellulose materials, such as carpet backing, wood, drywall, or ceiling tiles, have been water saturated and were not removed
Large areas of visible mold are present
Family members have undiagnosed respiratory problems, unexplained neurological disorders, frequent flu-like systems, or diagnosis of depressed immune system without cause.
Unusual odors are present (musty or sweet) and there are no obvious sources of fungus growth
(Photo: Basement paneling in a residence in Grosse Pointe, MI
Fungus can trigger severe health conditions in people with mold sensitivity if their exposure is significant, i.e. if they get a concentrated or prolonged ingestion of spores.
Even if you are not mold sensitive, certain indoor molds (that are found in our area) are severely toxigenic and can cause severe ailments or lead to death if exposure is extreme or prolonged. Since detailed fungus investigations are outside the scope of a standard NAHI or ASHI home inspection, a customer may want or need to add this service in order to evaluate this serious health risk.
The removal of insurance coverage for fungus/mold testing and repair is taking place across the industry. This significantly increases your financial risks since insurance companies are refusing to cover your relocation expenses or to fix toxic homes.
As a matter of policy, Vishey Home Inspection recommends fungus testing when fungus amounts or locations could reasonably be expected to affect the buyer's family safety or could weigh on the buyer's decision to go forward with the home purchase.
While there are no hard criteria for how much fungus is tolerable, the EPA recommends that mold damage (cultures) over 10 square feet in size be handled professionally (this is approximately a 3 foot by 3 foot area). Viewed another way, this extent of mold would be regarded by the EPA as a potential, serious risk. Please note that personal sensitivity varies dramatically to different types of fungus and from person to person. For example, a person with a severe Penicillin allergy could have a life-threatening reaction to a concentrated, very small culture while another person could have no reaction at all. Even small amounts of Stachybotrys (the feared "Black Mold") have been known to cause severe reactions and illness and I have had personal harm from Stachybotrys and take this risk very seriously.
A home inspection periodically finds large amounts of fungus in walls, attics and basements. When this happens, we place the buyer's health and safety interests first and advise the correct method of testing or remediation when that is possible.
There are Two Methods for Fungus Inspection:
Usually done when an isolated fungus growth is very obvious and accessible. A sample is collected by use of adhesive tape or by scraping a specimen. The sample is bagged, labeled and a test request (chain of custody) document is prepared for lab use. A qualified lab then directly studies the sample under a microscope and identifies the type and/or amount of fungus present. Just like different species of trees grow in different proximity to water, different mold findings grow on different materials and in different proximity to moisture. The mold types and amounts can be used as clues to determine likely patterns in wetting and severity. For this reason, the sampling location is just as important as the sample collected.
When the lab reports their findings from the samples, I communicate the expected risks associated with the findings, based on available industry and health knowledge. Since these findings are suggestive regarding water damage frequency and amount, the test results can also be used to determine the extent of repairs needed to correct the moisture source. Since repairs such as foundation waterproofing and drainage can be very expensive, understanding the risks and the remedy empower the homeowner to make an educated decision that balances safety and finances.
Including shipping and report preparation, direct sampling usually takes 4-5 days. Next-day results are possible.
This type of sampling is done by Vishey Home Inspection. Your costs will be quoted based on how fast the results are needed since labs charge time-weighted rates. This type of testing is very narrow in its focus and it will only tell what is going on at the one location where the sample is taken from. There is therefore, a risk of missing other, possibly more important findings with this method. When properly performed, your inspector should explain this to you and provide you with a written Sampling Plan to aid your understanding of the potential for uncertainty.
Is typically done with a filter device and forced-air. Current protocols require that tests be conducted both in and outside the home in order to create a comparative measure of nature versus the suspect area. Since there is no rigid specifications or medical criteria for "Pass" or "Fail" for air sampling results, findings are interpreted based on the current industry-generated standards. Please note that this process carries many uncertainties with it and can generate false pass and false fail results under certain condition - thus how the test is conducted and when is relevant.
Test filters are analyzed by a qualified lab for spore type and count and are reported to the inspector. Since the inspector knows the sampling locations and methods used, he can then place the findings in context for the home owner. Mold findings from inside and outside are compared to determine how the home may be different from the nature around it and therefore leading to the understanding of what molds are growing inside the home versus in the gardens or yard around it.
The cost of this method is usually 2-4x higher than the Direct Sampling method because a large number of samples are examined in greater detail and test results are more extensive to report. Including shipping and report preparation this method takes approximately 4-6 days to complete. Next-day results are possible.
NOTE: Air sampling is the preferred method of determining the fungus hazards in a home since it evaluates the interior air that you breathe and is less sensitive to location than direct sampling. It can (in many cases) find evidence of hidden fungus colonies in walls, floors attics etc., where you can't see them for a direct sample to be collected.
This type of sampling can be done by Vishey Home Inspection. Your cost will be quoted based on how fast the results are needed since all of the labs charge time-weighted rates. When properly performed, your inspector should explain this to you and provide you with a written Sampling Plan to aid your understanding of the potential for uncertainty.
Mixed Sampling Strategy
If isolated, large, or difficult to clean fungus growths are discovered in a home, the customer may be advised to have a combination of direct and air samples taken to establish the fungus type and risk level while minimizing the total cost. Where health concerns or mold sensitivities are involved, air sampling will frequently be the prudent choice since this is the best way to assess a more general (or global) risk for mold exposure. We recommend that our clients weigh their health risks against the various options and their costs before choosing a low-cost course of action.
An Air Sampling of a "clean" home would be reasonable action for a customer who is either very concerned about, or sensitive to molds.
Sounds confusing, and it is to many inspectors. Using only one sample to represent the entire risk of a home carries with it a considerable burden and uncertainty. For example, are you (personally) a good sample of the people that you work with? (consider height, weight and education as attributes, for example). Perhaps you are or you are not, but this makes the point that one sample may not be fully representative and that many samples would be required to have low risk of missing something when sampling.
To have virtually no uncertainty, one needs to sample 100% of the target (an unrealistic goal). When direct samples or air samples are collected, there are uncertainties associated with what is collected and if it is fully representative of the home. This uncertainty is reduced if multiple samples are taken. When mold testing for health reasons or for litigation, multiple samples should be collected to ensure that the whole risk is fully understood. For that reason, tests in different rooms or multiple samplers in a single area are good strategies to reduce the statistical uncertainty that arises from sampling. Your inspector may elect to begin the inspection of your home with a small number of samples but you should be aware that there are limitations to what the results will indicate and how these can be used to characterize the house as a whole.
1. Air Samples: I use Air-O-Cell impact samplers (these are an industry standard). These aid in the identification of types and concentrations of fungi and bacteria in the indoor air. Results are compared to outdoor reference samples to determine if internal sources of fungus are present. This type of sampling will also determine if pathogenic or toxigenic microorganisms are present in the air.
2. A/C duct impact samples: Identify types and concentrations of fungi and bacteria aerosolized from the air ducts. This sampling is performed to assess the hygiene level of the air ducts as they supply air to the living space.
3. Surface Samples: Identifies the types of organisms and severity of contamination on surfaces such as floors and walls.
4. Bulk samples: Identifies the types and concentrations of fungi and bacteria from materials such as carpet or sections of wood.
The Risk of Doing Nothing
The Cost of Testing
The Cost or Difficulty to Just Clean it Up...
This is a delicate balance for the customer to weigh and the health risks and costs are serious considerations. Where it makes sense to "just clean" a fungus growth, we'll tell you that. If the fungus is pervasive and found in many areas, we usually recommend testing because the cleaning may expose you to excessive risk as you do the cleaning. Typical examples of cases where testing is advised:
Fungus is found on large areas of rough wood where disinfecting is not practical or possible (sub floors, beams, roof decks, inner walls).
Family members are already experiencing unusual and unexplained symptoms of exposure
Mold or mildew odors are persistent and all outward surfaces appear clean
You have a home and can't afford to walk away from it if it is unhealthy
Why Now? Where is this Problem Coming From?
In the early to mid 1970's, our country faced oil shortages and the housing market nearly crashed. To improve energy efficiency and harness the rising cost of new homes, architects, manufacturers and builders introduced new home construction practices along with new material sets. Many of these materials and designs (we understand today) were inadequately thought-out and poorly applied.
The need to reduce drafts and heat loss led to construction techniques that made homes more air-tight. Our resulting exposure to stagnant air and higher levels of indoor pollutants has triggered a generation of children with asthma and families with mold-related ailments. These conditions are just now being understood in the medical, scientific and engineering communities.
Based on our experience, the Detroit area homes that are most affected by fungus fall into three general categories.
The first involves home with prolonged, intense water exposure. Any home will eventually succumb to fungus under these conditions and lumber rots because of fungus and bacteria.
The second category involves homes that were typically made between 1958 and 1995 that have poor attic ventilation or finished basements.
Many of these homes were made with roofs containing wood products that were thinner and easier to damage during the normal handling of construction. Many of these homes were built without roofing felt under the shingles. On these homes, small water leaks go straight into the wooden roof deck and cause great destruction.
More recent homes use lumber products with reduced formaldehyde levels and as a result, these cultivate fungus more rapidly. Formaldehyde preserved the lumber. Materials such as OSB (flakeboard) are less tolerant to water exposure than plywood is.
Our zeal to grow trees faster, results in lower-density wood products that are easier attacked by fungus than older-growth lumber.
Newer construction often uses lumber with higher moisture content than in earlier years.
High-efficiency furnaces now draft combustion air from outside. The older furnaces drafted air from the basement and kept the air circulating and purged; preventing moisture (and fungus) accumulation.
The third category is a hybrid of the previous two where older homes are given new roofs or remodeling with newer material sets and processes. In effect, we retrofit our old homes with new problems by reducing air exchange and trapping moisture on vulnerable materials.
It is a sad pattern that many of the older, unmodified homes in our area are healthier to live in, than the newer homes.
If you suspect that you are at-risk, Call to arrange an appointment for testing.
See why we are qualified to do your home.
Answers to questions about findings in our area
A quick check on your own skills of inquiry and observation...
A summary of 100 homes and their findings
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Email Greg Vishey at - firstname.lastname@example.org