Stories about black mold, toxic mold, mold lawsuits, and mold sickness are plastered across the headlines these days. As a result many property owners and renters are making the decision to get their buildings inspected for mold.
Perhaps you are one of the growing numbers of people wondering if a mold inspection is right for your property. Is it worth it? What does the process entail? How do you search for the right mold inspection and testing company? This article will help to clarify some of the questions people have about what a mold inspection is and what mold testing can tell you about the health and safety of your property.
Let’s start at the top. Why should you get a mold inspection? People get mold inspections for many different reasons. Homeowners oftentimes get an inspection as part of the home buying or selling process, in order to make sure the house is free from mold before they move in or move out. Many people get mold testing done if they can see that there are areas of mold growth in their home. These people are interested in determining the exact nature of the mold—whether it’s harmful to human health, and whether or not they need professional help to remedy the situation.
Some people need an inspection with testing in order to get a proper estimate for remediation. The mold problem is probably extensive, and they want to take the first step towards restoration. Besides just being a visual blight on a property, mold can deteriorate walls and decompose wooden beams, weakening a home’s structural integrity.
Other people request an inspection because they merely suspect that there may be mold growing in their home. They could smell a musty odor or feel a dampness or mugginess inside their home. Mold might not be clearly visible. It could be growing inside walls, behind the dishwasher, or in a crawl space. A mold inspection with testing will determine if there is in fact mold present in the building.
Along the same lines, many people request a mold test or a mold inspection because although they don’t see any mold they feel some of the common health symptoms associated with mold exposure. Mold can cause a wide range of health effects in humans, depending on the specific person and the concentration of mold in the air. Most of the symptoms are associated with allergies and asthma. Some people feel as though they have the flu, complete with headaches, drowsiness, sneezing, coughing, wheezing, and eye irritation. The elderly, small children, and people with immune deficiencies or respiratory problems have the worst reactions to mold. “Black mold” (Stachybotrys) has even been linked to pulmonary hemorrhage, or bleeding of the lungs.
Now that we know why people get mold inspections done, let’s discuss what actually happens during the inspection. The most comprehensive mold inspections will involve four main processes:
- Complete visual analysis of the premises: Mold inspectors are trained to locate the most common areas of mold growth, as well as some of the less obvious places where mold can develop in a building. Visual inspection alone cannot determine the presence of mold or the potential for mold within a structure, so more advanced techniques are also necessary.
- Moisture testing with a digital moisture meter: Hand-held moisture meters can pick up the level of moisture present in wood, sheetrock, and other materials. If your building has high levels of moisture, it’s likely that rot, mold, and mildew will affect the structure’s stability.
- Leak detection: Because mold growth in homes and apartments is almost always the result of unwanted water intrusion, inspectors should look for leaks in the roof, ceiling, and water pipes. Even small cracks in the exterior of a home can cause major damage if left unchecked.
- Air and surface samples, with testing and analysis from a laboratory: A good mold inspection will take air samples from various places inside the building as well as a “base” sample from outside. The outdoor air sample will give the laboratory a standard air quality reading against which they will compare indoor samples. Results from a laboratory analysis of the samples will usually tell what kinds of molds are present in a building (including the presence of “toxic mold,” like Stachybotrys).
Some mold inspection companies will provide these services separately, and others include them in a complete package. Be wary of companies that offer free or extremely cheap inspections, as they likely charge more for estimates and results from a laboratory or offer different aspects of the inspection a la carte.
Additionally, many people request an inspection of their building with infrared thermal imaging equipment. This kind of service can detect minute changes in temperature on walls inside a home, which may determine where moisture levels are high and subsequently where mold is likely to grow.
Besides the use of high-tech equipment, a mold inspection needs to be conducted by a competent service professional. Mold inspectors should be certified through the Indoor Environmental Association (IEA) or other industry organizations which regulate standard practices and provide oversight for inspection procedures. Initial training courses and continued education will provide inspectors with the necessary information to conduct the most extensive of inspections. Many inspectors have educational backgrounds and experience in the biological sciences and building construction trades.
Although mold inspections and mold testing can be requested for a variety of reasons, all inspections should be performed by qualified professionals. Exhaustive inspections will include four main aspects: visual investigation, moisture readings, leak discovery, and air/surface sample testing. Homeowners, renters, property managers, and landlords should take the necessary steps to safeguard their properties from mold infestations.