Having a Plan and Executing for Cost Efficiency and Useful Information
By Cesar Collado
If you or someone in your family are suffering from mold sensitivity or chronic illness, finding out whether your home is making you sick is essential to getting well. The human body’s healing powers are marginalized when a person continues to breath in air with poor indoor air quality and mold pollutants (spores, debris, mycotoxins, fragments). Professional mold inspection can be expensive and risky, given the variance of training, experience, and financial motivation to get a contract for costly remediation and renovation. Inserting a DIY approach is cost effective and informative. It can save someone’s life AND life savings!
I often get asked about how to test for mold. When I get into the details, people’s eyes sometimes get glazed over, suggesting I over complicate the process or that they were not ready for the “real” answer. Actually, I have spoken to many inspectors and put a lot of thought into this approach. I had to take cost and simplicity into account. It may not be the same plan a mold testing plate company or a mold inspection professional would use, or even the same technology; however, it will provide you, your physician, or a professional with useful information and documentation to act upon! I also believe that getting more samples improves accuracy in finding areas that need attention. Very often, getting only a few test samples alone will not provide enough information to guide you to address the moisture issue and cost effectively remediate the problem.
Please note: this approach is the approach that I would use. I’m sure it deviates from package instructions or a mold inspector’s approach. It will, however, result in obtaining useful information in a cost-effective manner.
Below are a few suggestions of items I would recommend any mold sensitive person own in order to perform accurate and safe DIY inspections involving mold.
- A Flashlight
- A Hygrometer to measure moisture in the air ($10 on Amazon)
- A Moisture Meter to measure moisture in building materials ($25 on Amazon)
- An N95 Safety Mask
- Eye Protection
- Latex or Nitrile Gloves
- Tyvek Suit (if accessing crawlspaces or attics)
Inspecting your own home looking for high humidity, moisture, leaks, water damage, and mold is not a complicated process. You will need these supplies and it will not take much time. You can read more about a DIY inspection HERE.
To summarize, all you need to do is go through your home and inspect any areas where moisture or water damage can occur. This includes areas where plumbing or appliances can have leaks, external windows and doors for storm damage, past flooding, and areas with excess humidity. These include inside cabinets and all areas around plumbing (adjacent floors and walls). Once you find visible evidence of moisture, you can use a moisture meter to determine moisture levels in drywall, wood, carpet, etc.
Documenting everything is a critical step for both you and any mold professionals you might employ. Extreme humidity or moisture may require a professional to repair, or could be as simple as installing a standalone dehumidifier. Knowing where the issues are will make these professional visits more efficient. Taking pictures with your phone adds additional detail that professionals can use to expedite the process and focus their attention to fix trouble areas. It also prevents “scope creep” or “suggestive selling” without merit.
Visual Mold Plates
I suggest using visual mold plates if you are starting from ground zero. Visual plates are inexpensive so you can use many. They will provide you with limited information; however, you will be provided conclusive evidence on mold (a binary yes or no). You can also count the number of individual colonies as potential evidence of whether you have a severe mold issue or not. (If it is low single digits, it may be manageable, depending on how sick occupants are. If there are more than 4 circles on a plate, that suggests you may have a mold issue to address.)
Visual plates also provide the ability to test all areas where exposure or a mold source is suspected. This includes basements, attics, crawlspaces, garages, cars, HVAC systems, etc.
You can also test outside of your home as a control to see if there is a difference or if it is the geography, assuming you find the right representative outdoor area to test.
Many inspectors prefer to use more precise methods for mold testing; however, they are more costly. Some elect to use the ERMI test where they capture dust by vacuuming a small area of carper to obtain samples. This method was developed by EPA for research purposes and is not appropriate for home inspections. Read more about the ERMI Testing Limitations HERE. I suggest the use of visual plates to “triage” your home to keep initial costs down as an objective. Positive sampling can be validated by a lab analysis. The lab analysis provides essential information to physicians and mold remediation professionals. However, if you prefer to go straight to the lab analysis, you can purchase a customized home test HERE.
You can purchase visual plates from ImmunoLytics HERE for $3 per plate. ImmunoLytics has plate standards for mold testing that are well suited for their process. It is sometimes hard to find quality visual plates that are suited for home mold testing or that do not include the cost of labs in the upfront price. $3 per plate is a very good deal. One key benefit of using ImmunoLytics visual testing plates is that you can always opt to send in positive samples to the lab for $33 per plate. ImmunoLytics also provides everything you need including easy to use instructions, stickers, and foil storage packets. When you perform lab analysis, it includes directions on how to interpret your report, information on the specific genera found, and experts are available for free phone consultation. You can also purchase an 8-pack package of the Visual Testing Plates from Amazon Prime HERE if you are in a hurry.
I suggest you test all rooms you spend significant time in as well as any areas your DIY inspection finds high humidity, moisture, or water damage.
Mold “Gravity” Plate Analysis
Gravity plates provide a sample of mold spores suspended in the air of any room which may be inhaled. Inhalation is the primary mechanism for toxic mold exposure. Over a period of one hour, mold spores suspended in the air settle on the plate media. Following the exposure time, a Sharpie is used to record the location, date, and collection time on each plate label. Simply place the cover on each plate and insert the plates into the foil envelope enclosed. The plates should then be sent to the lab for analysis (samples need to be received within 10 days of sample collection). Mold will need several days to incubate and grow into colonies, so do not be surprised if you do not see anything initially.
When viewing the results, keep in mind that Mold spores are so small that as many as 250,000 spores can fit on the head of a pin. Approximately one million can fit onto a square inch; and a person can inhale as many as 750,000 of these spores per minute.
The lab analysis will identify allergic, pathogenic, or toxigenic molds and the count of colonies identified on the plate. You can read more about the types of mold that are harmful to human health and the 5 elements to a professional inspection HERE. To be fair, this represents an air sample at a particular time in the home. This is why it is important to do numerous tests in a home. The disadvantages of settling plates include false negatives that can occur if air is not circulating well in a room, and the presence of some molds that have poor airborne disseminations or are difficult to culture. There can also be spontaneous mold growth events due to a sudden introduction of moisture under the right circumstances.
Important information is provided from the analysis. The analysis will include genera of mold discovered and the count of colonies identified. The total count of colonies identified will provide an indication of the level of mold present in the circulating air of each room tested. A low count (low single digits) to levels that are likely to impact human health (>9 total colonies). TNTC indicates Too Numerous to Count, which is very high. You can watch a video on interpreting results by clicking HERE.
The types of mold identified is essential information to provide a mold inspection and remediation professional and your physician. Some examples include:
- A high number of Candida suggests you may have an internal overgrowth of yeast. When Candida is identified, the source is often the person who conducted the test, another person in the home, or a pet. A physician will recommend products to control the Candida infection in the body and an antifungal diet to starve the Candida. Examples of Candida infections that indicate overgrowth include toenail fungus, vaginal yeast infections, and oral thrush (white tongue). Less specific symptoms may be the craving of sugar or processed carbohydrates, chronic fatigue, weight gain, and exophiala.
- Mycotoxin producing fungi such as Aspergillus, Penicillium, Fusarium, Chaetomium, and Stachybotrys are toxic and may explain some severe symptoms resulting from inhalation or exposure to mycotoxins. Severe cognitive and neurological dysfunction, fatigue, flue like symptoms, and other symptoms which mimic several chronic diseases and can lead to a long path of diagnostics, specialty physicians, and unnecessary medications without this information. Exposure may lead an occupant to do mycotoxin testing of themselves (urine) or their environment.
- Other molds have affinity for moist wet places like drywall, HVAC system environment, or plants. This information can be helpful to an inspector to identify the moisture problem to be repaired.
While Settling Plates may be considered “old school” by some, they remain a gold standard for accuracy and interpretation. Newer methods of air sampling have yet to disprove the value of the information obtained by mold plates combined with the convenience and cost benefit. In fact, many professionals use mold plates in addition to other methods to test homes. Other methods do not offer the same ease, speed, and cost benefits in order to gather useful information. Mold plates remain extremely important in regular testing for mold following a mold remediation for mold sensitive individuals. Other methods may provide more precise identification technology but have limitations in the sampling methodology, complexity, interpretation, speed, and cost.
Other Complementary Testing
Tap Test (Visual Mold Plates)
In the event you find moisture in a carpet or drywall or suspect mold on furniture, building materials, pet, or pet bed, simply follow the directions to do a tap test. A settling plate for air may not capture the settled mold that does not become airborne without disruption.
Tapping the area with the plate will disrupt the mold and capture the airborne release into the plate for better accuracy and understanding. In addition, some molds are “sticky” and do not normally become airborne.
The Importance of Mold Swab Analysis
One of the primary reasons for the DIY mold inspection is to identify mold itself. When visual mold is suspected, a settling plate is inadequate to gather the all of the critical information you can obtain with a mold swab. Mold swabs can test hard to reach places such as air vents, HVAC systems, ductwork, windowsills, door frames, drywall, below carpet, behind wallpaper, etc.
ImmunoLytics swabs tests are easy to order and can provide very valuable information about mold in the areas where visual mold is present. It is also important to note that anywhere there is dust, mold is likely present. Mold spores and mold fragments attach to dust. Mold swabs make sampling these areas simple. The swabs have a microfiber tip that is extremely effective for collecting mold and dust samples. The analysis of the visual mold through swab sampling will be more precise than settling plates. For a limited time, you can save 15% off purchasing an ImmunoLytics 3 Swab Test Kit on Amazon HERE.
It is highly recommended that any testing includes swab tests for suspected visual mold. You can order swabs in the same manner that you would order a customized test kit from ImmunoLytics.
There are several benefits to doing DIY inspection and testing if you are sensitive to mold or are experiencing symptoms.
- You can inspect your home easily and safely immediately. If there is a large contamination, greater than 3’ x3’, you may decide not to follow the DIY remediation path; however, this knowledge will allow you to immediately employ methods to avoid it and take steps to mitigate your exposure.
- Fogging with an all-natural, botanical, antimicrobial that is safe to reduce the fungal spore air count until you have the resources to have the mold remediated safely and properly is very useful. Since many mold sensitive people also suffer from chemical sensitivity, chemical disinfectants can be toxic and cause symptoms. Read more about DIY fogging HERE. This may not be a permanent solution; but it can help your symptoms and allow your body to heal prior to fixing the problem. This is a very good improvement for people who do not own their own home.
- Mold plate and swab sampling should be a regular practice over time to immediately test visual mold, assure your remediation efforts are sustained, and ensure mold counts are within a healthy range to avoid mold symptoms.
- The lab analysis can provide useful information to your physician. This can mitigate being continuously referred to different medical specialties or receiving a misdiagnosis.
- The testing and remediation industries have a wide variance of training and experience.
Information you learn can be valuable in selecting a knowledgeable remediation professional.
- Having the knowledge of your mold problem can save significant expenses. “Scope Creep” is common in this industry and you may be able to avoid unnecessary renovation and significant expense.
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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.