The Second or Third Most Interesting Blog Post You Will Ever Read on Mold

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Already you’re most likely dying to see the number one most interesting post on mold, but I’m riding a wave of optimism that has me believing that this brief, albeit interesting article won’t be the peak of my career in the mold world.

To set the stage, there is a situation that our company experiences frequently involving a fungal growth called Blue Stain or Sap Stain. This fungal problem is a common problem in many lumber yards, and once the lumber is used in construction, it is consequently a problem in many homes and businesses. While this fungal growth is commonly seen, its exciting history of riding flying beetles and combatting other fungal species are far less widely known.

Some examples of what this looks like in finished wood can be found here: http://www.rmfp.com/blog/what-kind-of-projects-can-beetle-kill-pine-be-used-for/

Genus Ophiostoma

Although many different kinds of fungal growth can occur in lumber yards that can then be used in the construction process, today we are primarily looking at fungal species in the genus Ophiostoma which are most commonly known for causing the blue sap stain.

Sap stain makes its appearance quickly after a tree’s natural defense mechanisms have been weakened. This can be freshly cut lumber, trees knocked down in windstorms, and other similar instances. It is called sap stain because it only affects sap wood; the soft layers of new wood beneath the bark of the tree. Blue Stain, as it is also commonly called, is because of the dark blue staining it leaves behind.

Ophiostoma spores are wet and slimy, making them difficult to be spread by typical fungal transportation such as wind. Although they can be transported by water droplets, this usually does not take the spores very far. What makes ophiostoma interesting (as promised) is their spores’ utilization of pine beetles to get to new food sources.

Symbiosis…between beetles and microscopic fungi?

Pine beetles tend to find weak and unhealthy trees to infect. The natural defenses of the tree are less affective in these situations and allow for the beetles to make easy work of feeding on the tree. However, to make this process even more easy, a symbiotic relationship is formed between the fungus and the beetles. The spores hitch rides on the beetles as they fly from tree to tree, and once deposited on a new food source, help contribute to weakening the trees’ defenses.1

Imagine now, fungal spores instead of being limited to the whims of slow moving water droplets for their primary transport between food sources, now hitching rides on swift moving flying beetles going directly to new and exciting places. The extent of this that is premeditated by the beetles and fungal spores is probably minimal; however, the imagery of spores riding beetles into battle against trees is entertaining at the very least.

The ophiostoma fungus itself does not typically harm the structural integrity of the wood. Instead of feeding on cellulose and lignin like many decaying fungi, ophiostoma fungi feed on the nutrients within the cells (sugars, starches, proteins). The blue or dark staining present in the lumber occurs because of the fungi synthesizing melanin in their hyphae.1 The pigment remains in the hyphae root structures in the wood and follows the fungus wherever it grows.

Because it does not harm the structural integrity of the wood, the blue stain is primarily a cosmetic defect. Consumers typically like to see an unblemished wood product and thus lumber yards are left vigorously combatting the fungal growth.

Treating Blue Stain, and fighting fungus with fungus

Depending on the depth of the pigment containing hyphae, some staining can be removed by planing or sanding until the hyphae structures are removed from the wood. This can be time consuming but can return the wood to its more natural looking condition and reestablish its value to the consumer.

Anti-microbial chemicals are also often used but due to environmental effects, other methods are being developed. One of the most promising methods is the isolation of albino strains of ophiostoma. These strains do not synthesize melanin and thus do not leave the discoloration in their hyphae structure.2

These albino strains are purposely introduced to freshly cut lumber as a preemptive strike against other strains of ophiostoma that are likely to show up. By giving the albino strains a head start on colonization, it prevents staining from other fungi from occurring.

More than Meets the Eye

So although the effects of blue stain are visible in many places, the fungal story that surrounds it is almost entirely unknown. Beetle riding spores fought with preemptive colonization by albino strains? Sometimes nature is a living fantasy story right in front of us.

 

 

 

1 http://northernwoodlands.org/articles/article/blue_stain_fungi

2http://forestpathology.cfans.umn.edu/pdf/Ophiostoma%20biocontrol.pdf

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Protect your home, Protect your family

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Recently we were called out to inspect a bathroom tear out. The seals had become loose around the tub, allowing water to seep behind the tile and into the drywall and subfloor. A general contractor was hired to perform the tear out, and upon opening up the wall a strong musty odor of stagnant water and decaying cellulose was immediately noticeable. The contractor went about his work, peeling back wet drywall, black with mold, and proceeded to carry the moldy debris out of the bathroom, through the house and disposed of it in the dumpster out back

Unless  it is being done by a professional company specializing in mold, this is common procedure for many water damages. It’s cheap, it’s fast, and usually takes care of the original problem – the leaking tub. However, it’s also dangerous. Mold spores are easily aerosolized and spread with the slightest disturbance. This may not be a big deal if working with a small affected area (<10 square feet), but can quickly turn into a cross contamination nightmare when dealing with large amounts of mold- some of which are often toxic. This leaves you with a working tub but compromised air quality and exposure to high amounts of airborne mold spores.

What can you do?

  1. If there’s water damage, more than likely there is mold. Knowing this will help you approach household repairs with proper caution.
  2. Always perform exploratory work first to determine overall scope of work needing to be done and total affected area. The EPA recommends that jobs involving 10 square feet or more of moldy material be handled by a professional.
  3. If you are having a professional do the work, ensure that they are ready to properly adjust their procedure if mold is found, even if it isn’t immediately noticeable. This should include a containment to keep the affected area from cross contaminating the rest of the house.
  4. If you are a renter and a landlord is handling the repairs, politely ask that the work be done by someone who is experienced with mold. If they dismiss it as something not to worry about, explain why proper procedure is needed. Landlords deal with hysteric tenants on a daily basis, so differentiate yourself and your request by being as calm and reasonable as possible. If they are still insistent on proceeding as planned, call a certified inspector to document the situation and to evaluate the overall scope of work needed and potential risk. This documentation will give you leverage in discussing the procedure with the landlord, and in the unfortunate event that the situation is taken to court, will give you proof that it was indeed a situation needing professional remediation. 
  5. The health of your living space is essential to the health of you and your family. Protect your home, protect your family, protect your health.

 

 

 

Shower Mold

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Every week we get calls asking what to do about mold found in the shower. You know the type, small dots on the paint that slowly but surely increase in number and size, slime that accumulates along caulking; and unsightly, discolored grout.

While most of these situations are easily remedied, there are certain situations that can be indicators of bigger, more extensive problems. Below is a guideline on common mold growth situations found in the bathroom.

  1.  Dark spots: Usually found growing on the surface of painted materials, this is one of the most common areas of mold growth we come across. The threat to health and the physical home structure is minimal, and is usually a very simple cleanup.
    1. Causes of growth are usually dust and discarded skin cells that have settled on the affected surface. This is especially problematic in showers because we shed a large amount of skin cells here. Old skin cells make up a large percentage of household dust, with the typical person losing 30,000-40,000 skin cells every hour, and almost 1,000,000 every day. (How Stuff Works). When these skin cells settle, it provides the organic material that mold needs to grow; and combined with the humidity from the shower, creates a perfect growing environment.
    2. Treatment is usually easily accomplished with household cleaners, although it can become more difficult depending on how dirty the surface is or how long the mold has gone unattended. The homeowner’s best defense against shower mold is to consistently clean surfaces, run ventilation fans to keep humidity down, and treat affected areas as soon as mold appears.
  2. Caulk slime is caused very similarly, but is more difficult to treat because of the mold’s ability to grow deeper within the material. Mold still needs the organic material to grow, but when this organic material is lodged deeper in the caulking, the mold too will grow deeper. The cracks and imperfections that accumulate over time in caulking allow the same grime and skin cells from the situation above to settle in much harder to reach places.
    1. Treatment, unless mold is dealt with right away, usually involves tearing out and replacing old caulk. This eliminates the current mold problem as well as replacing the deteriorating caulk that could potentially lead to worse water intrusion problems down the road.
    2. Health affects are most likely very minimal, but the mold will contribute to continued deterioration of the caulk, which can lead to water getting behind the shower enclosure and leading to much more expensive problems.
  3. Grout mold is usually the most difficult to clean. If old or not properly sealed, grout has the same vulnerabilities as the deteriorating caulk, without the simple solution of remove and replace. Mold will slowly begin growing deep in the texture of the grout surface and become increasingly harder to remove.
    1. Treatment is usually best done by professional cleaning companies who are able to use special tools to clean the grout and surrounding tiles. If caught soon enough, a simple household grout cleaner and an old toothbrush may be able to take care of it.
    2. Health affects, like the situations above, are again minimal; but mold will eventually lead to a faster deterioration of the grout.
  4. Mold growing on drywall is usually indicative of a bigger problem. Sometimes cracks or bubbling in paint can allow mold access to grow on the drywall beneath. The paper backing of most drywall materials is prime organic material for mold to grow on and can spread rapidly if not dealt with right away. Mold growing directly on the drywall can also indicate a water leak inside the wall that is contributing to an ever growing, unseen mold problem. If you suspect this is the case, it is best to call a professional to evaluate the situation.
    1. Treatment requires removal of all affected drywall. Drywall is a porous material and is not able to be effectively treated once contaminated with mold growth. Any wood that has been contaminated will need to be treated and cleaned. Once drywall is removed, new drywall can be installed.
    2. Health and structural damage risks are much higher in these situations, because the unseen mold growth can grow unchecked for long periods of time, releasing millions of spores into the air allowing it to cause damage to drywall, wood studs, flooring, etc.

Typically, mold in the bathroom is a simple problem that can be effectively dealt with by using preventive measures and some good household cleaners. It is essential that areas around the tub and shower are properly sealed and caulked to prevent water gaining access to the more vulnerable drywall and other surounding materials.

Remember to run shower fans, keep the surrounding areas clean, keep a sharp lookout for potential problems, and you’re well on your way to a clean, mold free bathroom.

10 Ways to Make Your Inspector Uncomfortable*

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*based on personal experiences

  1. As your inspector enters the crawlspace, make uncomfortable eye contact with them and whisper “It makes me happy to know you’re down there.” Don’t be surprised if the inspector takes frequent, furtive glances back at the entrance opening to ensure that it is still open.
  2. After being told there is mold growing in your crawlspace, inform the inspector that you have something to tell them. Tell them they better sit down. In a hushed voice, explain how a few days earlier your chiropractor ‘read’ your feet and predicted that mold would be found in your crawlspace. Slowly transition the conversation towards a discussion of mysticism and how it relates to mold. Keep the inspector patiently listening for an extra 45 minutes.
  3.  Keep windows covered with blankets and refuse to turn on any lights. Slowly pull back blankets and posters from wall revealing thick, moist green and black fuzzy forests of mold; turn slowly to the inspector and quietly ask “do we have a problem?”
  4.  Inform inspector that they are inspecting the home of  your angry father. Before entering house, caution inspector to stay outside until you have made sure that the coast is clear. For bonus points, leave him outside with your girlfriend who informs the inspector that she’ll hide behind him ‘in case anything happens’.
  5. Have a crawlspace entrance next to your toilet. Wait until inspection is likely drawing near to the end. As your inspector is about to exit the crawlspace, sit down on the toilet and proceed going about your business. Congratulations, you have effectively trapped your inspector in a prison of discomfort.
  6. Inform your inspector that you were just released from prison and have 46 felonies. Proceed to tell how you beat up 13 policemen after being questioned about the sword and knives you were wearing on your back.
  7. Inform your inspector over the phone that you suffer from extreme paranoia and that you may have trouble letting them through your door.
  8. Sleep through scheduled inspection time. Allow inspector to come in but go back to sleep while inspector continues to inspect the house. Lightly snore while the inspector silently stumbles around in the dark trying to not wake you or your sleeping roommates who are scattered on beds, couches, and chairs throughout the house.
  9. Request that your inspector take sides in a debate that is threatening the marriage between you and your spouse. It’s mold related, but… is it?
  10.  Become visibly intoxicated. Follow closely behind inspector as they examine the house and monologue on how your best friend borrowed your nicest flashlight and never gave it back. Slowly crescendo into a muffled rage as you discourse on how never again will you let someone steal from you. Throughout the inspection suspiciously stare at your inspector and infer that perhaps they stole something from you. Slowly inform them of what would happen if that were to be the case.

Mold and Your Health

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We recently did an inspection of a house that had seen water intrusion from multiple leaks that had gone without repair for several weeks. The tenant was concerned about potential mold growth and requested that we take samples and evaluate the situation. After collecting a sample and having it analyzed by a biologist we found multiple species of mold, some toxigenic, growing in multiple areas of the house.

The landlord had insisted that the growth was harmless and “not even enough to test”, despite the tenant’s insistence that they felt ill, could smell strong moldy odors, and could see visible water damage. The tenant had been suffering from extreme headaches, feeling tired, and her children’s friends refused to come over anymore because the house “made them feel sick”.

This kind of situation unfortunately happens frequently. Molds spread by releasing spores into the air. These spores, even if not toxigenic, can cause allergies, infections, and other respiratory illnesses. Toxigenic molds pose additional health risks by producing mycotoxins that infect the body. These mycotoxin producing molds are commonly referred to by the media as ‘black mold’. While the term ‘black mold’ is misleading, as most molds turn black as they die, these toxigenic molds are often black throughout their growth cycle.

One mold commonly associated with ‘black mold’ is Stachybotrys. It is hydrophilic, meaning that it is water loving. This mold is commonly found in situations with significant water intrusion. This includes slow leaks over long periods of time and bursts leading to flooding and water damage. It is toxigenic, producing mycotoxins at various stages of its life-cycle.

Although mold is always present even in the cleanest of indoor and outdoor environments, elevated mold levels can pose a serious health concern. If you have a situation where you are unsure of whether or not you need professional remediation, it is always recommended that a certified professional evaluate the situation.

Mold can be a serious problem, and can cause many legitimate stress and health concerns. Taking proper preventive measures and treating mold according to protocol will help alleviate these problems and keep the issue from getting out of hand.

So You’ve Found Mold in Your Rental… Now What?

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College classes are starting up soon, and rental houses all over Boise are going to be crammed with students trying their best to save money to pay for school.

Chances are that at some point you will find mold in your home. Whether it’s a bit of harmless growth in the shower, or toxic mold growing rampant from an unseen water problem, it’s in your best interest to understand the situation and what you should do.

Common Causes

Humidity

With multiple residents come multiple showers, multiple loads of laundry, and multiple loads of dishes being done every day. This often leads to high humidity in the house that condensates on walls, windows and ceilings. This gives mold the moisture it needs to grow.

Areas that are most susceptible are metal window frames, shower grout and caulk, and areas in the room where there is poor ventilation leading to dead airspace.

The best way to prevent a humidity issue leading to mold growth is ventilation and cleaning. Ensuring proper ventilation will keep air moving and will help keep humidity down. Make sure bathroom vents are in good working order and are free of dirt and buildup. If vents are inadequately keeping humidity down, run fans or open windows.

Mold can only grow on organic material, meaning that if it is showing up on paint, metal window frames, and other non organic material, it is in fact growing on settled dust and dead skin cells. This can almost always be prevented by consistent cleaning. Vacuum, dust, and wipe down surfaces consistently.

Water Leaks

Water leaks that go unnoticed can lead to devastating mold problems. Make sure to keep a close eye on common household appliances and check for signs of leaking. Common leaking appliances that lead to mold growth are:

  • Ice maker- often the water line connected to the ice machine in the freezer will leak unnoticed because it is hidden behind the refrigerator unit.
  • Dishwasher- improper loading, worn out seals, and wrong dish washing soap can cause flooding and leaks that will get beneath linoleum, buckle hardwood, and cause unseen mold growth on the subfloor.
  • Washing machine- improper hookup of drain pipe and overflowing can lead to mold growth in the wall or on subfloor.

If you notice a leak, eliminate the water source and immediately begin to dry out the affected area by placing as many fans as possible directed at the water. However, if you see mold growth, do not use fans as it will only spread mold spores throughout the house.

What to Do When Visible Mold Growth Is Present

Light mold growth on a shower wall or window pane can simply be cleaned and forgotten. If a heavy cleaning does not remove the growth or the mold continues to come back, you may want to call an inspector to evaluate the situation.

Mold growth from a water damage should be taken care of by a professional. If there is significant growth it can be a health hazard and should not be ignored. If your landlord ever dismisses the mold as “just mildew” “old growth” “inactive growth” or “non toxic”, hire a professional that can evaluate the situation and explain it to your landlord.

If you have concerns over whether or not the mold growth is being dealt with properly or according to protocol, contact a professional to instruct on how the mold growth should be handled.

If your landlord refuses to deal with mold situation or tries to cover it up, have the situation documented and hire a professional to write a report explaining the hazards of mold exposure. If this is not enough to have the landlord fix the problem it should be enough to get out of the lease.

Enviro specializes in evaluating mold growth and working with both tenants and landlords to come to a solution where mold growth can be dealt with properly and in a manner that is safe to the tenant. At the same time, we also will be honest if we believe the situation to be caused by neglect on the part of the tenant. As professionals, we will always strive to be honest and non biased as we evaluate the situation and offer consultation on what should be done.

If you have a mold problem in your home or rental property that you would like investigated, please give us a call @ 208-941-7689.

10 Things an Inspector Doesn’t Want to Find In Your Crawlspace or Attic*

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*These are based on real experiences

  1. Anything resembling a filled body bag.
  2. The words “Welcome To the Dungeon” scrawled out in red paint across the wall.
  3. A nest of black widows. Made worse when the handheld light illuminating nest goes out right as a vigorous attack is made upon the spiders. Utter darkness ensues, along with multiple army crawling records being set in the categories of speed, agility, and heartfelt emotional passion.
  4. A pink Victoria’s Secret bag containing one round saw blade.
  5. A pair, or multiple pairs, of eyes being illuminated by the flashlight.
  6. Heavy breathing
  7. Red sticky liquid
  8. Exposed electrical wires. (Made worse when homeowner asks “Did you happen to see the exposed electrical wires?”; made even worse when crawlspace is also flooded.)
  9. Buried pets.
  10. Snakes. Exponentially worse when you discover said snakes to make a peculiar rattling noise when disturbed.

Asbestos In Your Home

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Asbestos is something that many of us have probably heard about- how it is used in building materials in older homes, how it is harmful to your health, maybe even common materials that contain asbestos like popcorn ceilings and pipe insulation. Enviro wants to expand on some of that information so that you are made aware of potential health affects from asbestos exposure and how you can prevent it.

What It Is:

Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that was commonly used in building and painting materials between 1930-1977. Asbestos fibers were commonly added to many building materials to add strength, fire resistance and insulation.

Health Effects:

Asbestos exposure can elevate risk of lung cancer. Usually these cases are results of significant exposure, and limited exposure does not usually lead to negative health symptoms. Risk for asbestos caused illnesses are significantly increased if subject is also a tobacco user, and most symptoms surface many years after initial exposure.

Asbestos in building materials does not normally pose as a health threat. The asbestos fibers are contained within the material and not at risk of being inhaled. Asbestos becomes a health hazard when materials containing asbestos are broken and torn apart. This can occur from deterioration over time, demolition, and accidental damage.

Places Asbestos Might Be Found in Your Home:

While used in many different building materials, below is a list of items that most often present an asbestos issue:

img_46862Asbestos tiling Usually 9×9 or 12×12 tiles used for flooring. Often will be found after removing other flooring such as linoleum or carpet that has been laid over the top.

Siding Asbestos was commonly used in siding put on houses from 1930-1950.

Popcorn ceilings One of the most common sources of asbestos, popcorn ceilings in homes built before 1977 often contain the hazardous fibers. Popcorn ceilings are commonly a problem with asbestos because of their tendency to crumble when touched or worked on.

Insulation around water pipes Piping sometimes appears to be encased in a cement like material. This material is used as insulation and a fire retardant and contains asbestos fibers.

img_3442Old Insulation Some insulation installed during this time period contains asbestos fibers. Asbestos insulation is especially hazardous because it can be inhaled in its normally installed condition.

What to Do if You Suspect Asbestos to Be In Your Home:  

-Do not disturb it. If it is intact (with exception of loose insulation), it likely will not have any risk of producing airborne fibers.

-Have it tested. Have someone familiar with asbestos sampling collect a sample and have it analyzed by an accredited lab. Enviro is available to collect these samples and offer consultation upon your request.

More information on asbestos can be found @ http://www2.epa.gov/asbestos

Welcome to Enviro

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This site will be used for keeping customers updated with current issues, common problems, as well as general maintenance that should be done to homes in order  to prevent mold growth or other environmental hazards.

We will also post stories from various inspections, highlighting them either because they contain helpful information that other customers may benefit from, or simply because it was a humorous or terrifying experience.

Mold is probably the last thing you want to have in your ‘to read’ list, but after a few weeks of reading about what all can occur during an average inspection, perhaps you’ll change your mind.