Environmental Issue & Sick Building Syndrome Blog

Suggestions for Stopping the Spread of Illness in the Home

         It is really, really hard to pay attention to details and healthy practices when we are sick with a nasty bug. The only way this works in most households is to put these habits into practice before there is a sick person in the home. If you don’t have disposable plates and cups in the cupboard before illness, you are not going to the store to buy them after you are tending the sick.  

  • Get available vaccines
  • Wash or disinfect your hands frequently
  • Use paper or disposable plates and cups
  • Use disposable tissues as opposed to handkerchiefs
  • Have ill household members wear a mask to protect from spreading their illness
  • Do not touch your eyes, nose or mouth (viruses can transfer from your hands and into the body)
  • Have children only handle toys that can be easily disinfected before being shared

Suggestions for Stopping the Spread of Illness in the Workplace

         The best solution is to have a plan in place before dealing with the illness and human resource challenges that a sick workforce can bring to a professional organization. There are consultants that can set programs in place that can work for just about any facility. It is a matter of their establishing a system of communicating responsibility and direction for the workforce.  

  • Create and communicate an infection control plan.
  • Use signage to remind visitors and co-workers of best practices
  • Wipe and disinfect all touchpoint surfaces and workspaces each day
  • Provide soap, sanitizing wipes and boxes of tissue at convenient locations
  • Put hand sanitizer and masks at the entries to the facilities
  • Remove magazines and papers from waiting areas or common rooms
  • Verify that ventilation and air filter systems are working properly.

 

 

Posted in:Flu and Colds and tagged: fluColdSpread
Posted by Dan Howard on January 3rd, 2020 9:06 PM

           Identifying and cleaning touchpoints is the best practice to control the spread of germs in homes, schools, and businesses. Touchpoints are the places where germs can sit and wait to infect the next person. 

         The “handshake” is the ultimate touchpoint where we transfer communicable diseases to each other in the name of greeting each other. We do this ritual everywhere from the workplace, and grocery store to our houses of worship. In times of communicable diseases, the elbow bump makes a lot more sense than the handshake.    


        Other common touchpoints are light switches, doorknobs, the back of chairs, restaurant menus, faucet and refrigerator handles. Less obvious touchpoints are the food storage container, the juice bottle, the top of a chair you pull out or the kitchen counter. Use the office microwave or use a grocery store cart?  Well, you get the picture. 

        In the cases where someone in a home has a serious illness such as C-Diff or MRSA, every linen, TV remote or candy dish they touched can be the source of reinfection. The more serious the illness and worse the immune system of occupants, the more critical disinfection of a property becomes to stop the spread of an illness.

         The good news is that there are some excellent disinfection systems and programs that were originally designed for medical facilities that are now available for use in any type of property. Once we identify a risk, we can implement effective solutions for just about every cause of Sick Building Syndrome.           

Posted by Dan Howard on January 3rd, 2020 8:51 PM

“Happy New Year” is a message brought to you by dozens of “start your diet” ads in every modern form of media. TV, radio, print and social media advertisers will endlessly pitch ways to slim down and get healthy by buying their programs.  

             Here is something to think about. We all eat maybe 3, 4, or 5 times a day. On the other hand, according to WebMD we breathe about 23,000 times a day. Going a little further, we can skip a day of eating. Things would not go as well if we skipped a day of breathing.   

We are keenly aware of the health risks of a bad diet.  On the other hand, we are often less aware that we have people with debilitating and often undiagnosed illnesses such as CIRS and MCS due to environmental illness. We are exposed to air borne contaminants that cause cancer, respiratory disease, asthma and countless other afflictions.

We look to the New Year for a fresh start and better times. Why not include our indoor air quality in that time of renewal? 

            Functional Medicine has evolved to help diagnose environmental illness, but we need to avoid those exposures in our homes. “Avoidance” is now considered an important medical treatment. The problem is that we need to know what to avoid in this world of more and more pollutants in everyday household items.    

            Indoor air health risks include dust, mold, bacteria, volatile compounds from fragrances and cleaners, formaldehyde, pet dander, dust mites, radon, carbon monoxide and a host of other exposures. Our energy saving technologies have reduced the fresh air in our homes while at the same time manufacturers have added toxins to thousands of consumer and construction products.     

                            Dust is a Major Culprit in Poor Indoor Air Quality

We often don’t realize that common house dust is home to mold, dust mites, bacteria, pollen and allergens. Accumulated dust just sneaks up on you day by day, year by year. It hides in carpet, cabinets, books and your furniture. When a person is ill, it’s more difficult to do regular cleaning which makes a bad dust and particle problem worse.  

The process of professionally cleaning a home is referred to as “deep cleaning” and is an important tool in mold remediation and reducing many environmental toxics including lead. It should be done using containment, specialized exhaust equipment, air filtration and personal protection for the people performing that work.

Many mold remediation firms shortcut proper treatment and simply spray or fog using toxic chemicals without first cleaning mold and allergens from surfaces. Failing to clean and remove the existing contamination is a primary cause of continued environmental illness after failed remediations.

Secrets to Reducing Dust, Mold and Allergens

  • Use a dampened cloth to dust
  • Use a Swifter with a spray on hard surface floors
  • Use vacuums with HEPA filters built in
  • Store items in plastic containers instead of cardboard boxes
  • Reduce clutter that can attract dust
  • Use HEPA room air filters, especially in bedrooms
  • Regularly change furnace filters
  • Clean items before bringing into living spaces from storage areas
  • Replace appliance filters
  • Run a dehumidifier in damp areas
  • Ventilate bathrooms, kitchens, attics and basements

    VOC’s and Other Indoor Air Toxins You Actually Buy and Bring Home

    We live in a world of chemicals. Some are products to clean, some to make things smell, some to make things work better and others to make our homes look pretty. Many of these thousands of chemicals can make some of us very ill.

    Synthetic fragrances are in almost every cleaning or laundry product, air fresheners or personal care product. They are often added to packaging to entice consumers to select a product. The organic chemicals are not tested for their effect on people or listed on the packages. Select any product that has an odor and look up the MSDS for that product. In almost all instances internet search will reveal a list of chemicals you will not be able to pronounce or know how they will affect your health.

    Furniture, cabinets, flooring and plastic materials usually have chemicals that off-gas in the home. Everything from plastic children’s toys to artificial Christmas trees can be a source of lead dust. Many cosmetics and personal care products have been found to have asbestos and almost all have VOCs.

    Secrets to Reducing VOC Contamination

  • Look for fragrance-free or naturally scented cleaning and laundry products.
  • Switch to mild cleaners that don't include artificial fragrances.
  • Stop using aerosol sprays such as deodorants, hair sprays, carpet cleaners, furniture polish, and air fresheners.
  • Avoid products manufactured overseas without environmental oversight
  • Identify and remove things and products with odors from you home
  • Ventilate the home, fresh air reduces indoor air pollutants
  • Remove paints, gasoline and pesticides from indoor storage in your home
              Check for Mold to Make your Home a Healthier Place

            Walk through your home and check for water leaks and mold. These can sneak up on any homeowner. A tiny leak can cause a big mold problem over time. The earlier leaks are found, the less damage they cause and the easier they are to correct.  

            The most susceptible areas for mold in the home include finished basements, crawl spaces, areas with dirt floors, interior french drains, attics, areas with any leaks and areas that are not heated in cold weather. Homes with foam insulation systems and energy star construction are also extremely likely to harbor hidden mold. Professional mold assessments are a good idea if you have any of these conditions and any family members with health issues.        

Improve Your Home's Environment in the New Year

            These suggestions will make you feel better in your home. It is your castle and should be the very best it can be. Take a couple of weekends and pick from the list of chores that can make your home healthier.

Posted by Dan Howard on December 28th, 2019 8:18 PM

Merry Christmas and please pass the antihistamine or inhaler---‘tis the season for asthma and allergies. Like Aunt Helen’s twice re-gifted fruit cake, sneezing and congestion are simply not welcome guests at the family holiday celebration. For those suffering with CIRS or MCS, the joy can be interrupted with severe reactions and a tough choice between the beauty of Christmas, and their health.      

 

Smack in the middle of Christmas debate is often the choice of a real or artificial Christmas trees, wreaths and other decorations. Which is better “real” or “artificial” is one of those questions that the answer is a resounding: “that depends, but let me explain.” The bottom line is that you want the “beauty of Christmas” and not the allergens to take your breath away.

 

If you want a quick clue as to how complicated the issue is, you need to know more about the first artificial tree. In the 1930’s, the Addis Brush Company created the first artificial-brush trees using the same machinery as they used to make toilet brushes. The Addis 'Silver Pine' tree was actually patented in 1950. Now, does a toilet brush go into the healthy or unhealthy category?  

 

Why Allergies and Asthma Spike During Holidays

Stored holiday items can be a source of mold growth. Fiberglass and other insulation particles, dust and mold from storage areas and other allergens can get into improperly stored holiday heirlooms. Even tightly sealed boxes can attract mice and insects, each contributing to the allergen and germ categories. Yuck !    

 

There has been an increase in the number of people affected with asthma and allergies spiking during the holidays. Obviously, Christmas comes at a time of year when homes are most likely to be closed up to protect from winter weather. Many homes are built with wet crawl spaces and improper venting systems. With tighter construction, attic and basement storage areas are often full of mold.

 

Fortunately, the suffering from Christmas allergies can be avoided with a few tips on proper selection, storage and care of holiday trees and decorations whether they are artificial or real.

 

Storage and Allergen Prevention Tips

  • Start by selecting moisture and dirt, dust and insect free areas for holiday decoration storage.

 

  • Clean stored items with a damp cloth before storage. Dirt supports the growth of mold.

 

  • Store trees, decorations and other materials in plastic bins, or wrap in plastic bags, not cardboard. Cardboard holds moisture and is a food source for mold.

 

  • Control humidity in storage areas. Dehumidify basement storage areas and install fans controlled with humidistat in attics.

 

  • If the stored items from last year are already covered with mold and dust, place them in plastic bags or bins before carrying them through the house. Dragging mold and other allergens through the house can spread mold and allergens.

 

  • Once out of storage, take the contaminated items outside of the home or into a garage to unpack them.

 

  • Fresh cut trees or stored items can have dust blown off them using a leaf blower or they be can be hosed down with a garden hose. If you use a leaf blower, wear a mask. Both methods remove mold, dust, and some of the lead dust usually found on artificial trees and decorations.

 

  • Discard contaminated packing and bring the cleaned items into the home.

 

  • If your holiday items were covered with mold and dust, change the conditions in the storage area. Mold growing in the storage areas will affect the air quality in the main home all year around.  

     

  • Do not spray materials with pesticide no matter how grossed out you are by the bugs. The poisons designed to kill bugs will damage people’s health. Plain soap and water will safely and effectively remove insect and rodent contamination.  

 

The Live Versus Artificial Christmas Tree Debate

    

In this corner, we have live Christmas trees and decorations. Live Christmas trees are a crop. The National Christmas Tree Association states that the average Christmas tree is 7 years old when harvested. That would mean that the tree was producing oxygen to improve the environment for 7 years. Those trees require care, thereby creating American jobs.

 

One disadvantage of live Christmas trees is that they require replacement every year. That cost may be greater than the cost of an artificial tree across its lifetime. There is also the issue that Christmas trees need properly disposed of each year. The good news is that they can be turned into mulch.  

 

In the other corner are artificial Christmas trees and decorations  

Artificial trees are light to carry and easy to assemble.  It is the only option for people who can’t handle the work of a live tree.

 

According to the US Commerce Department, 80% of artificial trees are manufactured and shipped from China. That would be Chinese jobs created. 

 

Artificial Christmas trees, tree lights and plastic decorations have been subject to warnings about lead. Lead is added to PVC during manufacture to make the plastic more pliable when hanging strings of light or adjusting tree limbs. That lead is a soft material will easily fall from the products containing it when they are handled Lead is a serious health hazard, particularly to children.

 

The process of manufacturing the PVC creates the toxic chemical dioxin, which is also released if the plastic is burned during disposal.


 

“Christmas Bonus” Healthy Indoor Air Tips

  • Given a choice, it is better to place trees and decorations in areas of hard surface floors such as wood as opposed to carpet. These floors are easier to clean and hold fewer allergens.

  • The use of a quality air cleaner such as a HEPA filter can provide immediate indoor air improvement by removing the circulating allergens.

 

  • We want our homes to smell like Christmas. Many of those “plug in” scents contain synthetic esters and formaldehyde. The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology states that “we know that asthmatics are clearly sensitive to odors and fumes; therefore it would not be unexpected that air fresheners could trigger asthmatic episodes.” Bake a pie or use potpourri as an alternative to the artificial scents.
     

No matter which type of tree and decorations you select, have a happy, allergy and asthma free holiday.


Click Here to Download Christmas Can Bring Allergies Along With Good Cheer Article


Download Christmas Tree Article as a WORD Document


Posted by Dan Howard on December 13th, 2019 8:31 PM

This entry comes to us from Nick Pineault “the EMF guy”

His website is  www.nontinfoilemf.com  

He is the best EMF educator that I have found out there for non-technical people. You can Purchase classes from them that are great. You can also sign up for his informational emails where he answers questions. Below is one of these. 

I have had a number of clients that have the EMF Sensitivities and worked to help them. I do keep a EMF meter with me and assure you that the new meters put off a ton of energy which creates problems for MANY people….including a client from this last week.    

Today's question is this: "Nick... do those covers you put on your smart meter really block EMF radiation? Are they worth it?"

The short answer is: yes, some of those products do work.

The long answer is: they do help, but are definitely not a silver bullet solution to your smart meter radiation problems.

For months, I have been hesitant to recommend these covers since I had no idea if they really worked or not.

So I got in touch with several of the best EMF mitigation specialists I know, and so far all of them assured me that the covers did lead in a dramatic, measurable reduction in the RF signals emitted by smart meters. Good to know.

One company that kept showing up as top recommendations during my research was Smart Meter Covers, started by a guy from Arizona.

I got on the phone with Scott, the owner, and was very impressed by the depth of his knowledge and by his honesty.

So how do the covers work, and when should you consider using one?

First things first -- the BEST step you can take when it comes to taming your "smart" utility meter is to get rid of it. Call up your utility company and ask to opt-out of the smart meter program.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/97857475@N00/2305272011 / CC BY-SA 2.0)

Note: Smart utility meters generally have a digital display. The best way to know if your meter is a smart meter is to use a simple EMF meter like the ENV RD10 to verify if it's emitting RF signals.

Now, depending on your city, State or Country, one of these 3 things might happen:

1) The utility company has the right to refuse your opt-out demand, if the law enforces smart meters to be installed wherever you happen to live.

2) The utility company will remove your smart meter and install an analog meter instead, but charge you a monthly fee which acts as a "penalty" (completely ludicrous... but that's outside the scope of today's argument).

3) The utility company will replace your smart meter for free. Yay!

This is the #1 thing you can do about your smart meter -- get rid of it! Doing this will eliminate the many, many issues we're seeing with smart meters:

- 24/7 pulses of RF radiation inside and outside your home (some of the meters are extremely strong and pulse every couple seconds)

- Pollutes the entire electricity inside your home (creating what we call "dirty electricity"), which is associated with poor sleep, increased cancer risks, and elevation in blood sugar... just to name a few things...

- Fire hazard

- Surveillance and privacy issues

- And much, much more...

(Read my book "The Non-Tinfoil Guide to EMFs" for a more thorough review of everything that's wrong with these smart meters -- you can find it on Amazon.)

But if you are "stuck" with a smart meter, then it’s smart (see what I did there?) to consider installing a Smart Meter Cover on it.

How does it work? This stainless steel mesh "traps" the RF signals and dramatically reduces how much RF radiation your smart meter emits (usually reduces it by around 98%).

You see, the back of a smart meter is usually made out of a stainless steel plate, which in itself blocks RF pretty decently. When you add this metal enclosure on top of your meter, you create a partial Faraday cage which greatly dampens the RF signals. (To engineers: I know it's a rather simplistic explanation, but I want to keep things simple.)

The key here is that this cover is almost blocking all RF radiation, but not ALL of it. That way, the meter is still able to connect to the utility company wirelessly, and you won't get into any trouble.

Sounds good? Here’s where you can invest in a Smart Meter Cover:

===> Smart Meter Cover: Reduces RF radiation by 98%




Posted by Dan Howard on October 27th, 2019 7:35 PM
A client allowed me to take a picture of her 3 year old experiment. There is a McDonalds hamburger at 5:30 pm on the plate, a Wendy's Bacon Cheeseburger at 1:00 PM and
McDonald's fries at 9:00 PM ......each 3 years old.

 The client showed me the "experiment" after we discussed the balance between preservatives and healthy food.

The discussion sprang from our discussion that chemical treatment that would prevent all mold growth without dealing with the moisture issues would likely be toxic to other living
things 
 things.
Posted by Dan Howard on October 26th, 2019 3:09 PM
               The science of selecting the correct type of mold testing is complicated and confusing, especially when sorting through the questions of whether a patient is sick from mold exposure or identifying the mold source.  Many of the people exposed to mold never get sick from it, for others, it can ruin their health. 

                Functional Medical Doctors often suggest initial testing in a home by using dust tests known as ERMI or HERTSMI.  When you visit the blogs and group Facebooks of mold sensitive patients, you will find long discussions with much confusion about these dust tests. 

                ERMI (Environmental Relative Moldiness Index) is one test that is not often used or understood. ERMI is the product of the modern miracle of DNA technology. The EPA owns the patent on the process and limits its use to approved labs.  The EPA also states that their approval of the technology is only “experimental.” 

                HERTSMI is a related version of the test. The name is an acronym for “Health Effects Roster of Type Specific Formers of Mycotoxins and Inflammagens” For the purposes of this article, both tests are referred to as ERMI.

               However, there are many studies and anecdotal evidence of the benefit of the test results for patients with CIRS (Chronic Inflammatory Respiratory Disease) There are also some very interesting, but limited studies that high ERMI scores correlate with high lactate in the brain. High lactate correlates with cognitive problems. It may be that identifying high ERMI score conditions may be useful in treating some diseases. These are still very preliminary studies and require more research. 

                   Let’s do the Pros and Cons before we talk about how this technology works.

Pro:

ERMI can give very targeted specific specialization for target molds that can have an influence on health

ERMI can give evidence of the historic (new or old mold contaminations) mold conditions in a building.

Historic evidence of long term exposure vs short term exposure can be useful for medical practitioners     

Con:

ERMI does not quantify all of the types of mold, it only identifies the 36 species of targeted molds originally specified in the DNA profile. There is no way to identify the age of the dust collected, making it impossible to actually know how long there was a mold issue. ERMI does not help to isolate the source of the mold contamination to aid in any required remediation or the success of a remediation. 

Overview of the process

                A sample of dust is taken using a specialized dirt trap. The dirt/dust/debris is to be collected by using a vacuum cleaner hose hooked up to a specialized air filter. An alternative system is a smaller cassette and a standard air sampling pump. The sample is supposed to be drawn from a roughly 2 square yard carpet area in either a living room or bedroom.   

                The sample is sent to an EPA licensed lab. The lab takes the dust from the dirt trap and puts it through a filter to isolate the small, mold size particles.  (Think spaghetti in a strainer, only microscopic in size)

                Those particles are put into a tube with a known amount of Geotrichum candidum

and the DNA is beat out of the mold spores with microscopic beads called “bead pellets.” That mush is then filtered and the sifted genetic stuff is mixed with a buffer solution. It is then dumped into a solution called “Master Mix” and put through a series of temperature controlled reactions.

                If you are wondering the technical name for the magic chemistry we are doing, it is MSQPCR  or Mold Specific Quantitative Polymerase Chain Reaction 

                Now remember that known quantity of Geotrichum candidum that was in the mix? That is the reference basis that can be used to compare the assays (checking process) for each of the target molds (molds that they are looking for).  The checking process is done with a “Sequence Detector” (which is identifying DNA sequences)

                Once the 36 target molds are identified, the 26 in the WDB (Water Damage Building) group are measured and are compared to the common or outdoor group of 10 molds. 

The reason for the look at the ratio of the two is that the exact quantity of each mold is not determined by this test. The size of a sample could be small or big, based upon the amount of dirt we swept up.  We can’t figure out by counting pieces of DNA if there is a little or a lot of mold in the building. You get the point. We don’t know how much mold is in the building from an ERMI test. 

What we do know is that if most of the mold DNA is the outdoor molds, then there is less mold growing in the house. If there is a whole bunch more of the indoor mold than the exterior, oops, there is a lot more mold growing IN the house than coming in from the OUTSIDE.

                Scoring is done on a scale of -10 to 20.  The higher the number, the more mold that is from growing inside the house in the tested building area.  That ERMI Score number is a “sort of number,” not an exact measure. It is based on a limited number of tests from a limited geographic area. Hence reference to it as a “Relative Score.”               

             That folks, is what this ERMI and HERTSMI testing is about. It is amazing technology but has a very limited application. It can’t quantify mold contaminations or the success of any remediation efforts. According to the EPA, ERMI is an “emerging technology”. They further state that ERMI is still in the experimental stages and is not approved for medical diagnostic use.  Then there are Mycotox tests such as those offered by Great Plains Laboratories that test a patient’s urine to diagnose mold toxins. That test can identify the types of mold creating a patient reaction, but not the source. Yep, you can see why there’s confusion.

Go to http://www.Envirospect.com/ERMI for links and sources of additional information.
Posted by Dan Howard on September 27th, 2019 10:15 PM

                In thousands of homes and on social media posts across the land, you saw the annual notice heralding the end of summer vacation: “Summer is over and the kids are back in school”. Some will cry, some will cheer, some will only shrug their shoulders. No matter what we do or say, every school year, the emotion, and the back to school sales come to an end and attention shifts to the students actually being in school.  

 Click Here to Download a Copy of Published Article

             That is “all as it should be” with each new school year. The sad news is that the “welcome back student” message has been accompanied with too many news stories about mold being found in our nation’s schools. It is not an accident that “National Mold Awareness Month” is September.

               The bottom line on this is that parents DO NOT want their child sick because they go to school. Our schools that have mold are like the “Jaws” movies. Just when you think it is safe to return, we find out that it is “not so safe.”

When we experience any school environmental issue such as mold, it can be front page headlines, TV, talk show fodder and Facebook news feed material. 

Environmental issues in schools are not “just another student health issue”. These problems are a public relations nightmare, a staff human relations mine field, a facility management challenge, a budget buster, a political fiasco and a liability time bomb.

Signs of Mold in School

               If a school is flooded or has leaks that are not quickly cleaned up, there will be mold. Whether it is a roof leak, plumbing leak or any other area of wet surfaces, you can count on mold growing. 

               Parents should take a look around their child’s school. Water stains are the target to look for. Fuzzy or splotchy areas are the bullseye in the search for suspected mold. These can be in almost any area of a building anywhere from the highest ceiling to the lowest floor. In addition to the visual indicators of mold presence, odor can be indicator. When the odor of mold is in the school or on a child’s clothes, books, papers or possessions, mold should be investigated as a source of the offensive smell.  

             Sewage backups, leaks and all floods also have a host of water borne diseases and contaminants. When these occur, a professionally conducted disinfection must be conducted even when mold is not visible. Even a little dust left in an obscure corner after the flood is gone can enter through a cut in a student’s hand or their lungs long after the water is gone if the areas has not been disinfected.   

Mold is a Science Project

           Though not part of the approved school curriculum, mold that is found in the school is really a science experiment. Anywhere on earth that there is food and water, something will grow.  It can be the deepest ocean or highest mountain. It can be the north pole or south pole or anywhere in between. That scientific fact is that books, paper, wood floors, drywall, dust, or any other material or any other substrate that can grow mold will grow mold within 48 hours of leaks or high moisture occurring.  

 The most common sources of mold problems in a school are:
  • Roof, wall foundation or other leaks from the exterior
  • Plumbing leaks
  • Malfunctioning or poorly designed HVAC Systems
  • Condensation issues caused by improper temperatures and humidity being maintained
  • Floods

           The first step in preventing recurrence of mold is determining the conditions that were mold conducive. If mold grew in a school over the summer because the air conditioning was not run, or there are roof leaks, or any other reason, it will return if the cause of mold is not corrected. 

            Failure to correct the underlying cause of environmental hazards as well as the hazard itself, is a waste of money, and serves to mislead parents, administration and faculty into believing that the school mold environment is safe. In school we learned to consider both cause and effect. The same applies in the process of creating healthy indoor air quality.          

Schools Can Get Help to Keep our Children Safe from Mold

            The EPA provides great online tools available to learn the issues and solutions to mold problems.  These are great general guidelines, but can’t address individual conditions. Mold problems are often complicated by being the result of several underlying conditions that require expertise in multiple construction fields. 

              Unfortunately, learning to use and to then implement these tools is often much tougher than obtaining them.  Professional assistance is a good option to get an environmental awareness and mold prevention program up and running properly. Once established, existing staff can usually keep the program running.

              Usually an indoor air quality (IAQ) program process starts with an initial site assessment, or information gathering session. The environmental risks are evaluated and appropriate tests then conducted. These could include mold and allergen testing. If there was flooding or sewage backups, testing for a number of common infectious diseases should be added. 

             An educational staff can’t be expected to have the full knowledge to implement a program, but often, once in place, the good health of school occupants can be maintained through the corrections and adjustments made in the facility. There are several companies that have assessment and monitoring programs that include a yearly Indoor Air Quality Certificate for posting after the assessment and completion of any appropriate testing and corrections.

               School district participation in an environmental awareness and preventive care program can pay for itself in lower medical costs, lower property repair costs and better long term health of students and staff. The other benefit is “peace of mind” for parents, particularly in schools that have had prior mold problems.
Posted by Dan Howard on September 26th, 2019 6:37 PM

 

So let’s travel back in time to the 1950’s. The kids are bringing home friends and, well, mom needed to find a place for the kids to go. Someone figured out that the basement is already there, ready for action.  Add a little paneling and a couple of weekends work and maybe a pool table, and the kids would have a place to gather. With the possible addition of a six pack, the plan also worked for the adults and their friends. Welcome the basement game room to modern living.  

Click Here to Download "A Homeowners Guide to Finishing a Basement"

Sixty years later and the basement is still the cheapest place to add living space to a home. Today’s basements are “not your daddy’s game room” They are now often elaborate and expensive endeavors featuring wonderful products and materials that were science fiction in the 1950’s.

The bad news is that the words “moldy and basement” go together like the words “peanut & butter”. There are new building codes, energy saving requirements and changes in materials that have complicated the subject of finished basements.   

Today there are homes still under construction that are already growing fuzzy mold. Expensive does not mean “free from mold.” This year I have found two under construction homes over $750,000 in sales price that already had mold at an unhealthy level. Start with the normal moisture in building products and add that to “Energy Star” tight construction and you have the perfect petri dish.

As for older homes, buyers tend to think that a moldy and smelly basement will get better once they are living in the home. You can hear them say “the house smells like old people.” Guess what, after closing the only difference is that the new owner owns the odor and its causes, not the seller.             

As in most things, preparation is the most important place to start a project.

Look for water coming through the wall. White power, yellow stains or black areas on basement walls are the result of water penetration. Fix the cause. Water behind walls will result in mold, termites, carpenter ants and rot to materials.  It is also easier to locate and correct the water problem before walls and ceilings are installed.   

Test for moisture coming up from the floor. The simple trick is to securely duct tape the perimeter of an 18”X18” piece of clear plastic to the floor. Come back in 3 days. Look at the plastic. If water droplets have collected under the plastic, the water problem under the floor needs corrected before moving forward  

Test for radon and natural gas leaks before finishing the basement. In addition to making the basement a healthier environment, it will be easier and often less expensive to fix before the basement is finished.      

Move water and gas valves so that they can be used. They are installed for a purpose. You do not want to learn that purpose when water is running through a wall or ceiling.

Plan for all of the features you want in the room. Your plan should include any future changes that may happen in upper levels. Installing plumbing, wiring and heating for a future bath or other renovation will be easier when you have basement access. 

Check local codes. As one example, many codes and municipalities require the installation of a second method to exit the home from a finished basement. There are manufactured large window and window well assemblies that allow people another path to leave the basement. Many appraisers can’t add the value of a basement space as living space without that additional exit. Adding that feature can add thousands of dollars to the sales price. 

Avoid the Most Common Mistakes in Finishing Basements

Allow enough room around the hot water tank and furnace for both servicing and replacement. You will not like your plumber removing a section of wall to change your hot water tank.

Plan your rooms so that electrical panels are not located in clothes closets, bathrooms or stairwells.  That is an electrical code requirement.   

Allow for floor drains to be located where the traps can be filled with water. Sewer odor is a common problem if a trap dries out under a carpet.

Provide for comfortable heating, cooling and fresh air.  Call a professional for that part of the project. Most home improvement contractors and DIYers don’t have the experience or knowledge to make basements comfortable year around.  

Add enough lighting. Consider adding enough light fixtures to create a bright environment. Even if you call it a “man cave”, dark rooms are not pleasant and inviting.    

Solve moisture problems without adding interior French drains if possible. If an interior french drain is installed, seal the system.

Do not install sheet vinyl, not matter how cheap and easy it is to do. These floors trap moisture underneath the surface. The floor then turns gray with stains from moisture. 

Modern Tricks and Products for Better Basement Living

Material selection for the basement can make the difference between having an enjoyable family living area in the basement or a dreaded dark and smelly place.

Frame walls with steel studs instead of wood studs. It is not really so scary to use steel studs. They are easy to cut and screw together. They are better in basements because they are not a source of food for termites or mold. 

Do not install the new walls directly against the foundation. Allow an air space of an inch between your new walls and the foundation. That air space allows trapped condensate to vent out from behind walls.   

Use a wall finish such as fiberglass drywall. Traditional drywall, including MR (Moisture Resistant) board supports the growth of mold. Some of the fiberglass faced drywall products are DensArmor and Greenglass Board. 

Raise the wall finish and any wood trim about 3/8” up from the floor. This avoids the wicking of moisture up a wall if a leak occurs.  

Select a floor material that is resistance to water breakdown or mold.  Some examples would include carpet that is Olefin yarn based as opposed to other yarn systems. Avoid carpet pad. When you think about it, carpet pad is really a sponge that will hold dirt, odors and mold

Read the instructions on all flooring before purchasing. Yes, I know that reading directions is a tough task.  An example of why this is important is the popular composite or laminate flooring. Some of these materials specify “not for use in a below grade application.” Others require specialized underlayment or procedures for this use. Ceramic or solid vinyl flooring products such as Traffic Master are examples of good products for basements.  

When installing flooring, use adhesive suited for damp areas. Saving money on adhesives can be an expensive mistake

Cover plumbing pipes with foam insulation. Also insulate ductwork if you have air conditioning. Think of the glass of ice water on the table on the 4th of July. Covering pipes is like putting them in a Styrofoam cup instead of a sweating glass. You do not want dripping of pipes and ductwork.  

In the end, if a basement is not a comfortable place to go, it has little value. That is unless you want to grow mushrooms in your very own basement cave.

Posted by Dan Howard on September 13th, 2019 9:38 PM

Mold After Remediation

          The first time it happened was almost 30 years ago.  it still gives me the shivers. It was like watching a Real Estate train wreck. The sales commission whistle was blowing, and the buyer was on that train to owning a moldy home.

         Let’s be clear.  Some people don’t react to or get sick from mold. Mold exposure is a little like Russian Roulette.  If it is you, or your family that gets sick, mold is a big deal.
 
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          Back to that first-time mold nightmare. I was inspecting a finished basement with nasty black mold in a closet and behind the basement walls which were open in that closet. This was in the room that the home buyers we're going to use as a bedroom for one of their children.  

          Mold testing proved that the visible mold was Stachybotrys. That’s the mold you would know as “toxic black mold”. There was enough mold in the home that you could smell it from the top of the basement steps, so finding the mold was not difficult or a surprise.

         Instead of suggesting that the mold be remediated, the realtor hired another inspector who declared that “testing isn’t necessary because mold is present in all buildings”. He did a visual inspection and wrote a letter saying that mold is common and not a concern. I'm not suggesting that every realtor or seller tries to ignore environmental hazards to get to their commission, but some do. Most Real Estate professionals understand environmental hazards and do everything possible to protect their buyers’ health.  

         The buyer being convinced to buy a home with mold issues scenario has played out in front of me many times over the last decades. About 4 weeks ago, one of those times was a dad and a daughter who were sick in their home. Their family had moved into that home 2 years before our meeting. They showed me an almost identical letter declaring “no problem” from that same inspector as the one from 30 years ago.  Despite that letter, they had mold and it was a problem.

The Other Scenario to Fear is Remediators Treating the Home Without Correcting the Cause of the Mold

         If mold grows on a piece of bread, and you scrape the mold off, the mold will grow again. This is science and the same conditions results in the same results.

          Knowing that principal, another inspector I know forwarded me a letter from another real estate deal.  The letter stated that treatment was performed. The remediator wrote a letter declaring his own “visual inspection showed no need for further testing.” Testing after treatment is usually done to show that treatment was successful.  It’s important for everyone to understand and recognize when environmental issues are not being properly handled. Despite the remediators letter, there was visible mold in that home after remediation.  

         I suggested that my colleague test the home for his clients. My advice included checking the home the night before the scheduled testing to make sure that the home was not being “aired out” ahead of the test so that it would pass. It turns out that the seller had all the windows open when the house was checked the night before the scheduled testing.       

         The foundation leaks that caused the mold were not corrected and the mold was still visible. The seller tried to cheat on the test. Even if the mold level was temporarily reduced, it will be back because the leaks weren’t addressed.       

         People do get sick from mold and the mold and its consequences become the new owner’s problem the day of closing.

The Most Common Conditions that Cause Mold in Homes and Other Buildings

  • Finished basements
  • Interior French drains
  • Crawl spaces
  • Homes that were unheated over a winter
  • Flipped or foreclosed homes
  • Homes that ever-had leaking basements, roofs, or windows
  • Homes that have flooded
  • Homes that had sewage backups or plumbing leaks

         Our bodies try to protect us as apart of the universal plan. If something doesn't taste, feel or smell good, it's usually not healthy for us. The idea that a house smells bad only because it's been closed-up for a while is just not true.

In many instances, a seller will work hard to cover up or disguise environmental problems. 

  • Painting over stained areas
  • Using plugins or other fragrances to disguise odors
  • Opening windows to air out the home before showings
  • Having the home sprayed with a moldicide when listing, but not fixing the cause of the mold
  • Providing testing that is inadequate or misleading

          Many people take comfort and believe that all home inspectors will look for and recognize mold or other environmental hazards.  The sad truth is mold and other environmental hazards are not considered part of the standards of practice for home inspectors. It is tough to know what you don’t know, and inspectors are not an exception to that rule.

There is always a cause for an odor in any Home or Building.  Some of the things other than mold include:

  • Stored or improperly applied pesticides
  • Formaldehyde from flooring, cabinets and other building materials
  • Defective or misused stains or coating
  • Sewage backups and hidden leaks
  • Defective ductwork
  • Gas is from industrial waste that was buried before construction
  • Spilled chemicals from construction or remediations
  • Improperly installed or sized heating systems

The bottom line is that if there is an odor, staining, history of prior problems or everything is covered up with fresh paint, the best polices are to not consider a property, or hire an independent environmental expert you can trust.

Posted by Dan Howard on September 1st, 2019 7:23 PM

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