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5 Frequently Asked Questions About Black Mold

Thursday, October 17th, 2019
black mold

Though there are approximately 20,000 species of mold, only about five are commonly found inside structures. One of these species, Stachybotrys chartarum, is also known as “black mold.” It’s not the most common type encountered inside houses, but black mold has a reputation for triggering particularly problematic symptoms in certain people exposed to it. Here are five questions and answers about Stachybotrys chartarum to clear up some confusion surrounding it.

  • Is black mold always black?  No, it may also appear dark green or gray. Conversely, other types of more common mold that may appear black are not the Stachybotrys chartarum species.
  • Does black mold occur more frequently inside houses than other mold?  Actually, the reverse is probably true. Stachybotrys chartarum tends to require more moisture to proliferate than most other common mold types. Therefore, it is most likely to be found only in more chronically wet indoor settings.
  • Is there something about black mold that makes it especially toxic to humans?  For individuals with a sensitivity to mycotoxins contained in airborne mold spores, black mold is associated with a wider range of reported physical symptoms than other types of mold. However, the severity of reactions to black mold spores also depends upon the extent of contamination inside the home as well as the duration of exposure. Individuals who are not sensitive to mold mycotoxins may not experience symptoms from black mold exposure.
  • Is black mold contamination more difficult to remove than other types?  No, the same basic mold removal techniques are involved: First, eliminate the source of moisture that triggers active mold growth. Then, test to confirm the type of mold present on the premises. Locate all active mold growth and physically remove it. Disinfect surfaces where mold existed and remove any materials that are permanently contaminated. Follow up with later air sample testing to confirm decontamination.
  • Are physical symptoms caused by black mold permanent? For most people who experience a reaction to mold exposure of any type, including black mold, symptoms will gradually disappear when professional mold remediation techniques are utilized to remove contamination inside the house. 

Six First Steps After a Basement Flood

Tuesday, October 15th, 2019
Basement Flood

Many types of water inundation inside a house will end up in the basement if the volume of water is significant. A flooded basement will not drain or dry out on its own. It rapidly becomes a stagnant source of structural damage and mold contamination, as well as a danger zone for hazards like electrocution. Several important steps must be taken as soon as basement flooding is discovered. 

First, what not to do: Don’t assume the basement is safe. All basements contain electrical wiring and often outlets and appliances. Electrocution is a real hazard in a flooded or wet basement. Never contact or wade into standing water in a basement until an electrician has cut off electrical power to any circuits that are affected by water.

Once electricity is off and it’s safe to do so, here are some suggested steps to take:

  • Determine where the water’s coming from. Is outdoor flooding due to heavy rain entering the basement? Or, is it clean water emanating from a ruptured supply pipe?
  • If the water originates from a ruptured household supply line, turn off water to the house at the main shutoff valve if the valve can be safely accessed. Call a plumber for emergency service if necessary.
  • Sewage backups frequently enter the basement first because it’s the lowest point in the house. Raw sewage poses a toxic hazard and must be handled by experienced water damage professionals equipped for the job. Avoid entering the basement and keep children and pets out, as well. If you must enter, it’s advisable to wear gloves, eye protection and a breathing mask.  
  • Seek professional advice about removing water more than a foot deep. Deeper basement water should be removed in stages. Pressure from saturated soil surrounding basement walls may cause the walls to collapse if all water is pumped out at once.
  • Mold growth is triggered in 24 to 48 hours after basement flooding occurs. After water is removed, qualified mold remediation services are required to prevent contamination.
  • To prevent recurrence of basement flooding, consider installing a sump pump in the basement floor

Four Main Causes of Home Water Damage

Tuesday, October 8th, 2019

The typical home provides a number of opportunities for water damage to strike. Maybe that’s why more than one-third of the homes in the U.S. have already experienced losses due to water damage at one time or another. The average homeowner’s insurance claim for water damage is nearly $7,000—and that doesn’t count claims due to outdoor flooding that isn’t covered by standard insurance.  Water is a destructive force whenever and however it’s turned loose inside a home. From the common to the catastrophic, here are four principle causes of home water damage.

  • Plumbing failures. Broken plumbing pipes wreak the most water damage in houses. The damage potential from plumbing defects exists in everything from supply lines leading to sinks or toilets to washing machine hoses, ice makers, water heaters, etc. Any leakage or seepage from pipes or appliances is a red flag that should not be ignored. Contact a qualified plumber immediately.  
  • Roof issues. Damage from roof leakage is often unseen and limited to the attic—at first. By the time it becomes obvious in living spaces below, substantial structural damage as well as other issues such as mold contamination have already taken their toll. Scheduled roof inspections by a professional and occasional trips to the attic to look for signs of leakage are the best preventive measure to avoid or limit water damage.
  • Ground water intrusion. If you live in an area with a naturally high water table, damage may occur as water rises up through the foundation or crawl space beneath the house. Installation of a sump pump in the basement or crawl space is the best recourse to remove ground water before significant damage occurs. In more difficult cases, underground drainage systems may need to be installed.
  • Weather-related disasters. Know your risk. Check FEMA flood risk maps to determine the potential for flooding in your area. Make sure you carry adequate federal flood insurance to receive compensation for flood water damage (standard insurance policies do not cover it).  If you live in hurricane country, take steps to reinforce the home against wind and a deluge of water.

Elevated Levels of Mold: Common Health Effects

Thursday, October 3rd, 2019

If someone in your home is experiencing specific health concerns, could it be due to elevated levels of mold in the home? First and foremost, any concerning health issues should be discussed with your physician before attributing undiagnosed symptoms to mold.

Mold In The House

Mold spores are present everywhere in nature. Microscopic and airborne, spores readily infiltrate indoor environments and may accumulate to high levels. When exposed to moisture, dormant spores convert to active growing mold that releases mycotoxins, a known trigger of allergic responses in certain individuals.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), there are no established standards or criteria for unhealthy levels of mold inside a structure. Air samples taken inside a mold-contaminated house may reveal a spore count that is more than 150 times the count in an uncontaminated house. However, symptoms reported by residents of the contaminated home may range from absolutely none to severe, depending on the specific type of mold present, as well as the varying individual sensitivities of the people exposed to it.   

When physical reactions do occur in a home with confirmed high levels of growing mold, symptoms experienced by residents tend to follow certain patterns. Here are some of the typical responses seen in these cases:

Allergy Symptoms

Allergy symptons represent the most frequently reported consequences of mold exposure in enclosed indoor environments.  These symptoms fall into the general category of upper-respiratory issues, including sneezing, coughing, a runny nose and a sore throat. More acute responses to airborne spores may resemble asthma attacks that include coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath. Persons who already have some form of obstructive lung disease or those with compromised immune symptoms may exhibit more severe forms of these symptoms such as frequent chest colds and lung infections.

Long-Term Complications

Living in an indoor environment continuously contaminated with high levels of mold spores may be a factor in certain chronic health conditions. Some of the common denominators reported by affected individuals include symptoms such as:

  • Chronic fatigue and lethargy
  • Headaches
  • Loss of appetite
  • Depression
  • Poor sleep
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Memory loss

What NOT to Do After Flooding in Your Home

Tuesday, October 1st, 2019

If flooding from any source inundates your home, numerous measures need to be taken without delay. The to-do list is extensive and can be, frankly, overwhelming. That’s where professional water damage remediation services play a critical role, arriving on-scene 24/7/365 fully prepared to take control of the situation with proven techniques and specialized equipment.

But what about the things you shouldn’t do? After a flood, several items on the don’t-do list are vital for safety and to minimize damage as well as help expedite recovery. Here are just four:

  • Don’t enter a flooded house with electrical power still connected. The risk of electrocution is high inside a wet, enclosed environment. Even if only a few rooms are affected by water, make sure power to those circuits is shut off at the main breaker panel. If the entire house is flooded—or if access to the breaker panel is unsafe due to presence of water—have a professional electrician disconnect power by removing the meter.
  • Don’t pump out a flooded basement too rapidly. After outdoor flooding, heavy, saturated soil exerts hydrostatic pressure against basement walls. The basement water level acts as a counteracting force to prevent wall cracking and even potential collapse. Water should be pumped out gradually, beginning with one foot per day until the water level stops rising in the basement, then two to three feet per day until the basement is dry.
  • Don’t postpone mold remediation. After widespread indoor water damage, toxic mold contamination is inevitable. Even as water is being extracted from the house and soaked items such as carpeting removed, the mold clock is ticking. The window of opportunity to prevent spread of active mold after contact with water is 48 hours, at most.  Preventive mold treatment must be concurrent with water damage remediation—not a separate, wait-and-see event.
  • Don’t forget to take photos. To ensure adequate compensation for insurance purposes, you need accurate photos of affected areas before substantial water damage remediation or repair takes place. Try to document all aspects of damage to the structure and belongings inside as soon as possible after re-entering the home.

Is Water Always Damage an Emergency?

Thursday, September 26th, 2019

Water damage takes many forms and, while some incidents impose less urgency than others, it is certainly never a welcome event in anyone’s home. That’s why professionals in the field emphasize preventive measures to preempt home water damage in any form.  But if it happens, is water damage always an emergency? 

Here are some criteria to make the distinction between a simply inconvenient event and a real crisis.  

  • Consider the source. Water damage originating from a raw sewage backup or from outdoor flooding that has entered the house is not a nuisance—it’s an emergency.  Known as “black water,” this classification of water damage poses both immediate and long-term health threats and must be handled rapidly by qualified professionals only. Protective garb and breathing protection are required as well as special disinfection treatment and disposal methods. Temporary evacuation of the house may also be required.
  • How much and where? If the event involves a limited amount of clean water from an untainted source pooling on the hard-surface floor of a single room, that’s probably not an emergency. Rapid DIY response with a mop and bucket is likely sufficient. However, if water volume is enough to spread under walls between rooms, soak carpeting or other absorbent materials, or penetrates through the ceiling into living spaces below, the mounting damage potential becomes an emergency that requires a professional response.
  • Can you deal with it without delay?  Most people can’t. That’s why water damage professionals provide emergency service, 24/7/365. Water damage evolves and continuously worsens until effective intervention methods are applied. As the clock ticks and water migrates deeper into a structure, the potential for long-term consequences including mold contamination and structural deterioration mount. Even an initially minor event can soon turn into a bona fide emergency if not properly addressed.  
  • Insurers say yes it’s an emergency.  For homeowner’s insurance purposes, most water damage originating indoors is considered a time-critical emergency. Neglecting to summon qualified water damage remediation services in a timely manner may exacerbate damage, increase recovery costs and jeopardize insurance coverage. Contact your insurance agent if you have any question about emergency status.

Seven Ways a Roof Leak Can Damage Your Home

Tuesday, September 24th, 2019

By the time you realize you have a roof leak, the damage may already be done. While an unfinished attic is often not considered a vulnerable part of the house, the fact is, roof leakage into an attic typically proceeds silently and unnoticed. By the time the problem finally becomes obvious in the living spaces below, severe long-term water damage to an attic and its contents may be substantial and the costs of remediation considerable.  

Checking out the roof and attic should be a part of regular home inspections.  Here are some of the consequences that may ensue from unresolved roof leaks:

  • Damaged sub-roof. The wood sheathing that forms the sub-roof in many homes is water-resistant but not waterproof.  Long-term roof leakage affecting the sub-roof may result in swelling, warping and rotting of the wooden sheets.
  • Interior structural deterioration. Wooden joists and rafters inside the attic are usually not waterproofed and are vulnerable to rot from continuous exposure to roof leaks.   
  • Toxic mold growth. Roof leaks provide the crucial missing ingredient—moisture—to spawn widespread mold growth inside the attic. Because microscopic airborne spores can easily migrate through tiny cracks and crevices, attic mold contamination frequently spreads down into living spaces.
  • Degraded attic insulation. The insulating properties of both fiberglass and cellulose loose-fill insulation are severely impaired by moisture. While fiberglass insulation may dry out over an extended period, soaked cellulose loose-fill is usually permanently ruined and must be removed and replaced.
  • Electrical issues. Wiring, junction boxes and the backside of ceiling light fixtures are exposed to water entering the attic through roof leaks. This moisture source not only deteriorates electrical components, but it can also result in short circuits and fire hazard. 
  • Ceiling damage. Water from roof leakage keeps moving downward, eventually soaking the ceiling in living spaces. This may first appear as ceiling stains that progresses to sagging as drywall ceiling panels absorb water like a sponge. In worst case scenarios, ceiling collapse may occur. 
  • No insurance compensation. Homeowner’s insurance policies typically classify long-term ongoing roof leakage as “negligence” and thus may not provide coverage for certain damage including items mentioned above.

Buying a Home? Add Mold Detection to Your Inspection Checklist

Thursday, September 19th, 2019

The wrong time to discover mold contamination in a house is after you’ve just purchased it. Dealing with unexpected mold may delay moving into the home as well as burden the buyer—that’s you—instead of the seller with the expense of remediation.

Isn’t A Standard Home Inspection Enough?

Many prospective buyers aren’t aware that comprehensive mold detection is not specifically included on the standard checklist of most home inspectors. If obvious mold growth is conspicuous, that fact may be noted. However, because hidden mold frequently occurs in areas that may be difficult to access and visually inspect, contamination is typically not detected by the protocol of a standard pre-sale inspection.

Can’t I Take the Seller’s Word For It?

In most locales, home sellers have no obligation to inform a potential buyer that a house is contaminated with mold, even when the seller is fully aware of it.

Why Is A Mold Inspection A Better Idea?

To protect your family’s health as well as your considerable financial investment, most experts recommend mold testing as part of the pre-sale process. Here’s what’s involved to make sure your new house is a safe, healthy home, too. 

  • Visual inspection of all zones of the house, including use of technology, such as moisture meters and infrared cameras, to detect mold in hidden areas that can’t be accessed.
  • In addition to detecting active mold, a mold-specific inspection notes conditions or events that frequently accompany mold growth. These include ongoing moisture issues like leaky plumbing, high indoor humidity, evidence of water damage in the past, and other red flags, such as cosmetic attempts to paint over or otherwise cover up mold or mold damage.

To confirm any suspicious findings in the mold inspection, two methods are utilized:

  • Air sampling. Airborne mold spores captured in air samples indicate that mold is present. The concentration of spores in the sample also helps estimate the extent of contamination inside the house.  
  • Surface sampling. This definitively identifies the type of mold as well as distinguishing it from other kinds of fungus that visually resemble toxic mold.

Is Your Attic Protected From Water Damage?

Tuesday, September 17th, 2019
Attic water damage

Like the crawl space beneath your home, your overhead attic is a frequent focal point for water damage. Because attics are infrequently visited by occupants of the house, water damage often progresses unseen for a good amount of time. By the time it’s noted, damage from situations like these may be well advanced:

  • Rotted wooden attic structure including rafters, joists and subroof
  • Saturated attic insulation
  • Toxic mold contamination
  • Ceiling deterioration
  • Water intrusion into living spaces below

Damage to attics may result from four water-related causes which in turn call for different remedies:

Roof leaks during rain. Pinpointing roof leaks requires both exterior and interior inspections. Signs of roof leakage into the attic include darkened spots or streaks on the underside of the plywood subroof. However, these interior signs often result from an exterior leak that may be far from the point where water actually drips into the attic. Therefore, locating and repairing roof leaks affecting the attic is generally a job for a qualified roofing contractor.

Leaky plumbing routed through the attic. Any leakage from water supply lines is unacceptable, including tiny pinhole leaks and minor seepage. In addition to providing a continuous source of attic moisture, leakage generally indicates deterioration inside pipes which may result in a sudden pipe rupture that inflicts severe damage to living spaces below. Leaking pipes require immediate attention by a professional plumber.

Continuous high humidity. When attic ventilation is inadequate, extremely hot, humid air accumulates in the enclosed space during daylight hours. As the attic cools after dark, condensation forms, drenching wooden structure, degrading insulation and feeding mold. To break this continuous cycle, make sure all attic vents are open and unobstructed by insulation or other objects. If passive attic ventilation is insufficient to moderate attic temperatures and exhaust humidity, consider installing powered attic vent fans.

Exposed HVAC ductwork. When humid attic air contacts cold ductwork conveying air from the central A/C, condensation soaks the area around the ducts, saturating insulation and triggering mold growth. All ductwork routed through attics should be insulated to prevent condensation as well as inhibit thermal gain or loss.  

How Healthy Humidity Levels In Your Home Can Protect You

Thursday, September 12th, 2019

A healthy humidity level inside your home doesn’t just happen naturally. Just as you usually wouldn’t be comfortable simply letting the indoor temperature match outdoor readings, leaving indoor humidity to chance isn’t a strategy for a healthy, comfortable indoor environment, either.

The interaction between water vapor in the air and a healthy home occurs at both low and high humidity levels.

  • Airborne particulates like bacteria, spores and viruses are more active at certain humidity levels. Colds and flu viruses, for example, actually thrive in dry environments where relative humidity is 35% or lower. Mold spores and active mold growth, conversely, as well as certain bacteria types, are activated when humidity rises above 50%.  When humidity is maintained within the 35% to 50% target range, allergic symptoms, respiratory illness and other heath issues may be reduced.
  • Indoor humidity is also linked to increased levels of gases known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs). These substances—formaldehyde is the best-known example—are ingredients in many building materials as well as carpeting, paint and furniture. When exposed to indoor humidity above 50% for extended time periods, many of these products emit higher levels of VOCs into the air you breathe. Long-term exposure to volatile organic compounds is a known health risk.  

When Humidity Is Too Low …

Low indoor humidity often occurs in dry winter conditions. Gas-fired heating dries indoor air further, causing humidity levels to drop into the unhealthy range. Use of individual room humidifiers—or installing a whole-house humidifier that adds water vapor to the HVAC airflow to maintain precise indoor humidity levels—are the best recourse to keep the indoor environment healthy.

When Humidity Is Too High …

Indoor humidity above 50% is often related to a naturally humid outdoor climate. To keep the indoor environment drier and healthier, these methods are helpful.

  • Air-sealing the home to reduce infiltration of moist outdoor air.
  • Installing a whole-house dehumidifier in the HVAC system to control humidity.
  • Annual maintenance check-up of the central air conditioner to ensure that the unit’s humidity extraction function is operating up to specs.
  • Installing exhaust fans in kitchens and bathrooms where water vapor originates.