“My Home was Remediated, but I Still Cannot Sleep and I Itch in Certain Rooms”
Finding the Source of Mold
By Cesar Collado
Today, I am writing about an ongoing dialog I am having with a mold suffering customer who has already invested significant finances in her home for remediation. This mold story happens all too often. She raises several questions all moldy home sufferers have to deal with. It can be painstakingly frustrating to find the mold problems. You can be living in a “home with a mold issue” or a “moldy home”. Read more about finding the source of mold.
“I had severe skin problems and insomnia for some 8 years from the house I moved into in 2002. The skin rashes on my face started in 2006 and then slowly progressed to my neck, down my arms, down my back, on my butt and then down my legs.
I want to keep my home after spending $100K remodeling it, and while I had 4 areas that had been problems areas in the home (refrigerator leaking, rats that ate through the ABS pipe and made a home behind the dishwater and washing machine on the first floor – all three were under where my master bedroom is, and then a leak from one pipe onto the ceiling in my bedroom creating just a small hole in the ceiling drywall as the water dripped through). All have been remediated but still if I try to sleep in that bedroom, I find it hard to go to sleep and I start itching and my skin breaks out.
I can’t find the mold source nor could 4 mold companies! They were pathetic in fact.
I am not doing a mold test to sell my home but rather to figure out if I can live there and what type of mold so that maybe I can figure out where the source is coming from. I had a number of water leaks, four of which effected my bedroom and one which basically affected the whole house. The four which effected my bedroom was the kitchen refrigerator (below my bedroom on 1st floor) was leaking, rats got behind the dishwasher and had eaten through the ABS pipe to get water (below my bedroom on 1st floor), rats had also eaten through a pipe in the laundry room) and then one from a pipe from the roof that leaked onto my bedroom ceiling. The big water leak caused water from the upstairs bathroom to leak to a number of areas in the hall and down into the fireplace. That was remediated but the master bedroom I still cannot figure out the location. Would your DNA mold test be able to determine the type of mold and perhaps the type of material we need to be looking at that could have been damaged compared to just the ERMI test that only tests for 36 molds?”
A House with a Mold Issue
There is a big difference between a house with a ‘mold problem’ and a moldy house. To begin with, a house with a ‘mold problem’ usually results from a specific leak or a moisture problem due to faulty appliances, pipes, or roof leaks. In these cases, the mold must be removed and remediated properly so that the mold is confined to the area being fixed by sealing the area and using an air scrubber.
A mold remediator should also inspect and test the entire home for moisture and mold throughout the house, indoors and out. If they do not, it should be a red flag and you should reconsider. To learn about Professional Mold Inspection and Expectations, click HERE. You can also effectively inspect your own house with a few tools. You can read about DIY Mold Inspections HERE.
A Moldy Home
A moldy home differs greatly from a home with a mold issue. A moldy home has a systemic mold issue that permeates the home. It can be contaminating furniture, beds, carpets, inside walls, base flooring, books, etc. Moldy homes may have been hit at one time by a natural disaster like a hurricane and flooding. The US has experienced unprecedented and record level disasters. Hurricanes, flooding, and winter storms can cause systemic mold problems.
Mold can be present deep inside walls, floors, and HVAC systems. In the case written about above, I suspect, she is living in a moldy home where there might be many causes of moisture or issues as well as systemic mold issues.
Mold Inspectors and Testing
Hiring a mold inspector is like a crap shoot. There is such a wide variance of quality when it comes to inspectors. Inspectors have different levels of education and experience ranging from a weekend internet course to professionally trained building biologists, engineers, HVAC/IAQ professionals. You can read about the challenges of finding the right inspector and remediators HERE.
When you ask a mold remediator whether they will be able to remove ALL of the mold, every true professional will admit that it is impossible to make that claim! This is because homes regularly experience water or moisture issues as part of their yearly wear and tear. In many cases, a small leak or water issue may grow mold and simply dry out over a few days. In these cases, the mold dries and becomes dormant. It can reactivate when faced with moisture in the future.
Does that mean that the mold is dangerous if it is in drywall or within walls? Sometimes it remains harmless. However, in order to fully remove all mold, virtually all drywall would have to be removed and all framing and flooring would have to be treated or remediated. A remediator would have to drill every 2 feet and at multiple heights to reach all areas between the 2 x 4 or 2 x 6 wooden wall studs. It is often adequate to use a moisture meter to identify moisture issues and repair where the active mold is reproducing.
How to Find the Mold that is Making Me Sick?
When facing a mold issue, a few steps are required to begin the process if you are a DIYer and concerned about expense.
- A DIY inspection takes less than an hour and requires few tools and safety precautions.Read about DIY Mold Inspection Read About the 5 Necessary steps required from a mold inspection HERE.
- Gravity mold test plates can be used to determine the concentration of mold spores in the air of each room.
- If you are using visual mold test plates, you will have a binary answer on whether you have mold issues within 7 days.You also have the option to send them into a lab for analysis. This will tell you what molds you have, the concentration, and any potential mycotoxins that could result from specific molds.
- You should always pay special attention to areas that have experienced water damage.
Now it is time to start sleuthing to identify and test potential mold issues that may not be apparent.
It is important to note that the ability to effectively remediate mold from any room is not 100%. Answers vary amongst professionals; however, all of them admit that getting rid of all mold is virtually impossible without gutting the whole home. In that case, it still may not be at 100% because of geography, foundation, etc. With that being said, in most all situations, the mold levels of the home can be reduced to normal background levels.
In my article “Mold Plate Testing with Purpose”, I emphasized the need for a sampling plan. When you are looking for a mold source that your symptoms tell you is there but not obvious, you must be strategic in your approach.
Additional strategies to find the mold source:
- The first place to start in any room is anywhere dust accumulates.This is often found on the HVAC registers. This is probably the best place to look because ventilation and moisture flow through it. Test using a swab to capture the dust. Focus on any dark or discolored dust for testing. You can also remove the register to determine if the ducts are dusty and if there are any leaks or areas where air is escaping or entering the ventilation flow. Aluminum tape can be used to seal these areas if they test positive or have visual defects.
- Ask yourself if any furnishings or furniture remained after remediation renovation. Carpet, curtains, and rugs are often the top suspects. It is important to note that most reputable remediators, when serving mold sensitive patients or when referred by a physician, will recommend topermanently remove everything from the house that can retain mold. This includes upholstered furniture, mattresses, and pillows. Washable bedding can be laundered with CitriSafe Laundry Liquid Detergent. You can either do a tap test on these items or a swab. Tap test are done by taking a mold test plate and tapping it several times on the surface of item tested. The tapping disturbs the microscopic spores in the mold and captures them when they become airborne. Mark the date, time, location, and item. This level of specificity is required to find the source and remove it. In some cases, the use of a hot liquid extraction carpet cleaner and HavenClean may suffice.
- If there are areas of drywall, floors, or cabinets you suspect, you can tap test directly on surface. You can also disturb the drywall by drilling a small whole through the drywall to release dust and expose the inside wall.
- The HVAC system is particularly likely to have mold. This is because the HVAC is designed to circulate the air continuously so that a fresh air exchange through the air filter occurs many times during the day. Go to the place where your HVAC is housed (attic, basement, crawlspace, etc.). Inspect the area for mold and dust. Also, remove the air filter. If there is any appearance of dust or mold, use a swab to test around where the air filter goes and any dust around the HVAC. If the tests are positive, it is probably best to have an HVAC professional clean and disinfect your HVAC system (making sure that toxic chemicals are not used). Separately, you should have your ducts cleaned. Each will cost around $300 on average. You can also fog your home with HavenFog. By turning your HVAC off and removing the air filter, the HVAC will circulate the fogged air through the intake vents to all of the registers. Read more about this process HERE.
- Pay special attention to the laundry room. Newer high efficiency front load laundry machines, while energy and water efficient, harbor significant humidity and have endless resources for mold in terms of nutrients (cellulose based products) and parts that can facilitate mold growth.
- In the event you have a home where you cannot pinpoint the mold source that is making you sick, it’s time to consider moving. Another option is to step up your mold maintenance processes to clean and filter your air and surfaces. Many individuals (especially those in apartments) will use HavenMist to regularly reduce mold spores in the air. This will reduce air counts to close to zero. Since mold takes awhile to reproduce and get a foothold, your air mold levels will be minimal for 1-4 weeks, depending on the room. You can simply re-mist again. The Haven Misters are very efficient with the HavenMist or the CitriSafe Mold Solution, and a bottle will last months.
Misting should not be the end of your mold maintenance. A HEPA vacuum will remove spores from surfaces and carpets without recirculating the spores back into the air (this is what regular vacuums do with small microscopic particles like mold spores). If you suffer from mold exposure or chemical sensitivity, a portable air purifier will clean all the air in the room on an hourly basis. These two appliances can make a significant difference in being well in your home environment. HEPA vacuuming a couple hours after misting will remove both spores and mold debris that can also be harmful.
- Finally, paper products like cardboard boxes and books can become very significant mold sources. If you are mold sensitive, you should avoid old books and use alternative bins rather than cardboard to store items in your home.By following initial mold testing with more targeted testing, you can make inroads to finding the specific intractable mold issue(s) some homes have. Identifying problem areas, existing furniture and upholstery, and mattresses can help you eliminate the source. Replacing non-washable bedding, pillows, and area rugs with washable replacements becomes very beneficial. CitriSafe Laundry Liquid Detergent along with your washing machine will adequately remove mold and spores from these items as well as from your clothing.
By following initial mold testing with more targeted testing, you can make inroads to finding the specific intractable mold issue(s) some homes have. Identifying problem areas, existing furniture and upholstery, and mattresses can help you eliminate the source. Replacing non-washable bedding, pillows, and area rugs with washable replacements becomes very beneficial. CitriSafe Laundry Liquid Detergent along with your washing machine will adequately remove mold and spores from these items as well as from your clothing.
If you would like to share your story, please comment on this article.
About the Author: Cesar Collado is a former pharmaceutical R&D senior executive, venture capitalist, and seasoned strategy consultant in biotechnology and technology industries in general. He currently works as an advisor to multiple technology start-ups and advises several companies with technology solutions, including companies that provide healthcare and other services for environmental illness. Cesar worked with MicroBalance Health Products from 2014-2019, where he had responsibility for strategy, revenues, marketing, and finance, as well as, writing all original content for the company’s newsletters during his tenure.
Cesar is passionate about awareness and treatment of environmental illness as a significant, unmet and misdiagnosed, medical need. He has partnered with Integrative Physicians, Bau-Biologists, Environmental Inspectors, Mold Remediators, HVAC IAQ Specialists, and other professionals to generate educational materials for the environmentally ill. Cesar currently writes original content for ImmunLytics, Bio-Balance, and CitriSafe: Protocols and Products for a Healthy Life.