When we get calls for mold testing, we conduct a very thorough client interview to help get us acquainted with the client and to help determine the client’s individual needs. In some cases the client simply needs to have air samples collected to find out if there is a presence of a known allergen in their home or office. In other cases they need to know why there is mold in their home or office and how to stop it from growing and how to get rid of what has already grown.
And far too often we are asked to interpret the laboratory report for samples that were collected by a “Mold Inspector”.
Most of the reports that we are called out to help with are incomplete and do little more that repeat what the lab report states. There were Aspergillus/Penicillium spores found etc…..etc…..
This information is of little value to the client if you don’t know what caused the mold to grow in the first place and even less value if you can’t provide a solution to that initial cause. That’s just a basic “Cause and Origin” report and requires no testing. I consider that part of my assessment as Step 1. No testing yet.
To provide the cause and origin requires a solid visual inspection which is the most important aspect of a mold inspection. The purpose of the visual inspection is to identify visual mold contamination or conditions that may be conducive to microbial growth. The visual inspection should also include the collection of indoor environmental conditions such as temperature, humidity, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, and particulate levels.
When the source of mold is hidden the use of a particulate counter is essential in locating areas of a home or office that have elevated airborne particulate matter and possible areas that require further investigation. Still no testing.
At this point I feel comfortable in my ability to answer the following questions that will become the foundation of my report.
1.Is there a mold or IAQ problem?
2.What was the cause?
3.Where is the problem source?
4.What is the extent of any wet and damaged material?
5.What building repairs are needed to prevent a reoccurrence?
6.Will I need an S-520 based protocol?
7.Will I need to provide local containment?
A mold test, surface or air, can’t answer any of those questions and would not alter the answers to any of those question. A lab report can produce a lot of information but if it doesn’t answer any of those questions why would I be testing?
If the mold testing results will not affect what you do, then you probably don’t need mold testing.
I believe that you may only need the visual inspection and a mold remediation protocol that is then followed by the testing to establish that the structure, contents or systems of your home or office have been returned to a normal fungal ecology or S-520 Condition 1.
Having said all that there are times when you may simply want to know what is in the air you breathe and whether or not there is an unusual amount of mold spores in you air. You may need to show that the mold growing on a surface is in fact airborne and causing negative health affects to the building occupants. You may want to know if the elevated particulate levels in the building are mold spores from the visible mold growth to ensure that the IAQ improvements that you recommend will address all of the airborne particulate matter and not miss something.
Remember mold tests are not perfect. False negative and false positive results do sometimes occur. Mold testing results are one piece of information, sometimes an important piece. But other pieces of information are also needed and in my mind much more important and should always take precedence over the mold testing and laboratory results.
If a mold inspector begins his inspection with the suggestion of sampling I believe I can safely say he missed a step. Step 1
In many cases that I review the only thing the mold inspector provides his client with is the laboratory report of the testing that he preformed. No summary of findings, no cause and origin, no indoor environmental measurements, no history, nothing but a lab report.
If you have signed an agreement with your inspector take a close look at it. Most if not all mold inspector agreements that I have reviewed contain a statement such as;
The client is solely responsible for the use and interpretation of the test results and reports requested from home inspector. The inspector is not able to assess the degree of any potential hazard resulting from the materials and areas analyzed. Therefore, we respectfully suggest that you review this report with your personal physician or health care person(s) for information that may affect the inhabitants of the home.
Which is sad and ironic because the laboratory report will contain a statement such as;
The Laboratory bears no responsibility for sample collection activities or analytical method limitations. Interpretation and use of test results are the responsibility of the client
The client is solely responsible for the use and interpretation of these recommended action guidelines.
So who does that leave to interpret the results? What did the client pay for? How does this information help you? What is it telling you?
Many inspectors and believe that testing and sampling will somehow tell you were there is hidden mold. I just don’t believe that. There are just too many variables in air samples and spore counts to justify that statement. You still need to look for and find the mold, identify the cause and the origin, and provide a plan to repair the cause and return the home to its pre loss condition. Any good inspector should be able to do that without starting a pump.
John P. Lapotaire, CIEC
Certified Indoor Environmental Consultant
Microshield Environmental Services, LLC