Category 3 Water Damage from Roof Leaks

March 25, 2018

The New Restoration Money Grab

Ceiling StainI want to be clear that the restoration industry is dedicated to quickly responding to those in need during some of the most difficult times.  These trained professionals are on call 24 hours a day and have the equipment and training to restore any property to its pre-loss condition.  However, there are those that look at a loss as little more than an opportunity to make money with little or no consideration for the property owner.

These are the restoration contractors who are misclassifying water damage from roof leaks.  This is advantageous to restoration contractors but not to the property owners.  In today’s restoration of roof leaks, the roofers refer a restoration contractor to any observed ceiling stains.  The restoration contractor then recommends an IEP, Indoor Environmental Professional, to evaluate the water stain to determine the best approach to the restoration of the ceiling stain.  Keep in mind that in virtually every case, the stains have long since been dry and have had no negative impact on the occupants either in odor or health.  The stains were simply a visual issue that the property owner intended to correct with paint.

This is where it obviously becomes over complicated.  The restoration contractor will restore the ceiling stain based on the IEP’s recommendations, which far too often involves the containment and removal of the ceiling stain because the stain is reported as Category 3 water; therefore, an exposure risk to the occupants.  The IICRC (Institute of Inspection Cleaning and Restoration Certification) S500 Standard and Reference Guide for Professional Water Damage Restoration defines Category 3 water as grossly contaminated and can contain pathogenic, toxigenic, or other harmful agents and can cause significant adverse reactions to humans if contacted or consumed.

The most specific aspect of Category 3 water is that it can cause significant adverse reactions to humans if contacted or consumed.  Without confirmation of the contamination we’ll never know the true category of the water.

Regardless, this theoretical exposure risk is explained to the property owner who becomes convinced that they should allow the IEP and restoration contractor to help them with the stain.  Of course, the IEP and restoration contractor explain to the homeowner that it will be a covered loss and that they will help them by handling the claim and invoicing with the insurance company via the AOB (assignment of benefits). Neither the IEP nor the restoration contractor can ensure coverage.

I can assure you that we’ve had ceiling leaks for as long as we’ve lived in shelters and until recently, we’ve never declared a ceiling stain grossly contaminated and a health risk to occupants.  I can’t imagine how the ceiling stain would pose an exposure risk to the occupants unless they licked the ceiling.

The problem is that these IEP’s, roofers, and restoration contractors have identified a new untapped revenue stream.  The roofers report the ceiling stains to the restoration contractors for a small cash referral fee, avoid the “M” word (mold) by using an IEP to declare the stain as Category 3, and pursue the ceiling stains as restoration of water damage.  With a signed AOB, the IEP and restoration contractor invoice the insurance company for the assessment and water damage restoration.

Bear in mind that this is not the typical approach to any small water damage or ceiling stain.  An active water leak, maybe.  But a small ceiling stain, not hardly.

By enlisting a willing IEP, the restoration contractor can easily state that he or she is only following the IEP’s recommendations.  The work was preformed and the AOB signed.  The restoration contractor will then use one of the many restoration law firms to sue the insurance company for payment if the insurance company declines the loss.  In most cases, the property owner is unaware of the litigation involving the work performed in their property.

Unfortunately, the way the AOB laws are written, the restoration attorney would not have to pay the insurance companies legal fees if they lose the case.  However, the “one-way attorney fee statute” requires insurance companies to pay legal fees against any named “or omnibus insured” who wins a court judgment or decree in an action against the insurer.

Courts interpret “omnibus insured” as meaning any assignee of the insured, and in cases against property insurers, that usually means water restoration contractors.  Armed with the AOB, the contractors and their attorneys started realizing that huge money could be made challenging claims denials or settlement offers.  This has led to the boom on category 3 ceiling stain restoration.

To get back to the unnecessary restoration of a ceiling stain, we need to review how the classification of water is established.  The classification of water damage is defined by the IICRC S500 Standard and Reference Guide for Professional Water Damage Restoration which sets the standards for the cleaning industry and water damage restoration as either Category 1, 2, or 3.

According to the IICRC’s S-500 standard there are three categories describing the type of liquid involved in a water loss. These three categories refer to the degree of contamination involved.

From the IICRC website http://www.iicrc.org/the-basics-water-damage-restoration-training-a-23.html

Category 1. This is liquid from a clean and sanitary source, such as faucets, toilet tanks, drinking fountains, etc. But, category one can quickly degrade into category two.

Category 2. This category of liquid used to be called grey water and is described as having a level of contaminates that may cause illness or discomfort if ingested. Sources include dishwasher or washing machine overflows, flush from sink drains, and toilet overflow with some urine but not feces.

Category 3. This is the worst classification and is grossly unsanitary. It could cause severe illness or death if ingested. It used to be called black water and sources include sewer backup, flooding from rivers or streams, toilet overflow with feces, and stagnant liquid that has begun to support bacterial growth.

So how could the classification of water be so abused?  It’s all in the IICRC Category 3 definition.  It’s a wording issue.  As you read below, the definition clearly states that Category 3 water can include but are not limited to several various sources.  That doesn’t mean that all are Category 3, or that Category 3 water is limited to that list.  It simply means that all water could be Category 3 under the right circumstances.  To establish the presence of Category 3 water, samples of the suspected area would need to be collected.  The method used could either be by culturing a sample for bacteria or with the use of ATP.  Either way, the presence of Category 3 water would need to be confirmed.

The IICRC Definition of Category 3 Water IICRC S500 2015 page 14

Category 3 water is grossly contaminated and can contain pathogenic, toxigenic, or other harmful agents and can cause significant adverse reactions to humans if contacted or consumed. Examples of Category 3 water can include, but are not limited to: sewage; waste line backflows that originate from beyond the trap regardless of visible content or color; all other forms of contaminated water resulting from flooding from seawater; rising water from rivers or streams; and other contaminated water entering or affecting the indoor environment, such as wind driven rain from hurricanes, tropical storms, or other weather related events if they carry trace levels of contaminants (e.g., pesticides or toxic  organic substances).

The critical aspect of category 3 water is that it can cause significant adverse reactions to humans if contacted or consumed.

The IICRC Definition of Category 2 Water S500 2015 page 14

“Category 2: Category 2 water contains significant contamination and has the potential to cause discomfort or sickness if contacted or consumed by humans.  Category 2 water can contain potentially unsafe levels of microorganisms or nutrients for microorganisms, as well as other organic or inorganic matter (chemical or biological). Examples of category 2 water can include but are not limited to: discharge from dishwashers or washing machines; overflows from washing machines; overflows from toilet bowls on the room side of the trap with some urine but no feces; seepage due to hydrostatic pressure; broken aquariums and punctured water beds.

The critical aspect of category 2 water is that it has the potential to cause discomfort or sickness if contacted or consumed by humans.  Category 2 water can contain potentially unsafe levels of microorganisms or nutrients for microorganisms.

The IICRC Definition of Category 1 Water S500 2015 page 13

“Category 1: Category 1 water originates from a sanitary water source and does not pose substantial risk from dermal, ingestion, or inhalation exposure.  Examples of Category 1 water sources can include but are not limited to: broken water supply lines; tub or sink overflows with no contaminants; appliance malfunctions involving water-supply lines; melting ice or snow; falling rainwater; broken toilet tanks, and toilet bowls that do not contain contaminants or additives.”

The critical aspect of category 1 water is that it does not pose substantial risk from dermal, ingestion, or inhalation exposure.

It’s important to remember that category 3 water is NOT potable water.  Potable water, is water that is safe to drink or to use for food preparation.  You cannot use category 3 water as a drinking source or to prepare your food.  Category 1 water may have come from a potable source but can change to category 2 or 3 once it contacts other surfaces.

So how do these guys creatively categorize the water stain as category 3?  They use a combination of source and duration.  They believe that the water as it passes through the insulation and drywall becomes category 3.  If that argument meets with resistance, then they use the duration of loss as altering the category from 1 to 3.

The rain itself isn’t Category 3.  Rainwater is predominantly evaporated water from a variety of sources such as lakes, rivers, and oceans.  According to IICRC S500, atmospheric rainwater is defined as Category 1.  We discussed that previously, falling rainwater is listed as an example of category 1 water.

Below are ways that the category of water can deteriorate according to the IICRC.

S500 2015 page 13

“Category 1 water can deteriorate to Category 2 or 3.  Category 1 water that flows into an uncontaminated building does not constitute an immediate change in the category.” “However, Category 1 water that flows into a contaminated building can constitute an immediate change in the category.”

S500 2015 page 13

Category 2 water can deteriorate to Category 3. Once microorganisms become wet from the water intrusion, depending upon the length of time that they remain wet and the temperature, they can begin to grow in numbers and can change the category of the water.”

According to the IICRC, the category can change.  It doesn’t say that it will change.  These roof leaks can be very short lived and may not deteriorate in category and may not need containment or removal. That’s the value in an IEP, and unbiased opinion of the category of water supported by sampling and the explanation of occupant risk to the water damage.

The opportunistic restoration contractors are claiming that the water is automatically Category 3 or the length of time that the Category 1 or 2 affected building materials remained wet and deteriorated the Category 1 or 2 water to Category 3.  This is ridiculous and only benefits the restoration contractor.  Property owners should base the need for removing a ceiling stain on exposure risk and cost, not policy coverage.  A few years ago, nobody would consider making a hole in their ceiling because they had a small stain from a roof leak.  Let’s face it nobody wants a nasty repair in the middle of their living room ceiling.  But today many restoration contractors are convincing property owners that they need extensive restoration to their homes because of the risk of exposure to category 3 water.

Let’s explore the occupant risk to the different categories of water damage and the possible need for removal of water damage stains.

Option 1

  • The roof leak began as water that does not pose substantial risk from dermal, ingestion, or inhalation exposure. No need for extensive restoration. The area is dry and out of reach.

Category 1, examples include: broken water supply lines; tub or sink overflows with no contaminants; appliance malfunctions involving water-supply lines; melting ice or snow; falling rainwater; broken toilet tanks, and toilet bowls that do not contain contaminants or additives.

Option 2

  • The roof leak deteriorated to water that has the potential to cause discomfort or sickness if contacted or consumed by humans. No need for extensive restoration.  The area is dry and out of reach.

Category 2, examples include: discharge from dishwashers or washing machines; overflows from washing machines; overflows from toilet bowls on the room side of the trap with some urine but no feces; seepage due to hydrostatic pressure; broken aquariums and punctured water beds.

Option 3

  • The roof leak then deteriorated to water that can cause significant adverse reactions to humans if contacted or consumed. No need for extensive restoration.  The area is dry and out of reach.

Category 3, examples include: sewage; waste line backflows that originate from beyond the trap regardless of visible content or color; all other forms of contaminated water resulting from flooding from seawater; rising water from rivers or streams; and other contaminated water entering or affecting the indoor environment, such as wind driven rain from hurricanes, tropical storms, or other weather related events if they carry trace levels of contaminants (e.g., pesticides or toxic  organic substances).

Unless the ceiling is compromised and/or there is visible mold on the ceiling there is no need for extensive restoration.  The area is dry and out of reach therefore not an exposure risk to the occupants.

Clearly Option 1 or 2 are the typical classifications of a ceiling stain resulting from a roof leak.  Some would argue Option 2.  However, neither would require containment and removal due to the risk of occupant exposure.  I think anyone reasonable would conclude that a simple ceiling stain from a short-term roof leak would not cause a significant adverse reaction to humans if contacted or consumed because the water has long since dried and the area out of reach.  Remember the ceiling stains that we’ve been called in to assess were all dry and posed absolutely no exposure risk to the occupants.  Could it be category 3, yes.  But does it need to be removed for the safety of the occupants, usually not.  Unless the ceiling is compromised and/or there is visible mold there is no need for extensive restoration.  The area is dry and out of reach therefore not an exposure risk to the occupants.

Any area of water damage can deteriorate to category 3.  The S500 provides examples of that.  According to the S500 reference guide the restoration contractor is responsible for categorizing the water.  If retained, the IEP has the responsibility to confirm the category of water before they recommend substantial restoration of a ceiling stain.  Can a roof leak be category 3?  Sure, but you better confirm before you begin removing a simple stain in any home I’m involved with as an IEP.

The restoration contractor’s objective is to profess occupant risk to the category 3 water stain that would lead the property owner to initiate an insurance claim.  The categorization of roof leaks as category 3 to suggest that the stained area would cause a significant adverse reaction to humans if contacted or consumed is simply being used to gain access to yet another home for yet another claim and another invoice.

Please share this with your friends and family.  We do not need this level of unnecessary water damage restoration just because the system is set in a way that would allow leveraging payment for the unnecessary restoration.

Stay safe and informed my friends.

 


Classification of Storm Water Damage

October 22, 2017

After the recent hurricanes we have found ourselves faced with the misclassification of rain water from the hurricane as Category 3 water (Cat 3).  The classification of water is defined by the IICRC S500 Standard and Reference Guide for Professional Water Damage Restoration as either Category 1, 2, or 3.

After recent named storms many restoration contractors have been opportunistically categorizing rainwater from the storms as Category 3 water.  This benefits the restoration contractor.  With the classification of Cat 3 water the contractors can now remove substantially more building material that would otherwise be necessary.

To be clear there will always be Cat 3 water with named storms and flooding.  However, the recent abuse of the Cat 3 water is simply a means of extending the area of loss and increasing the cost to restore.  Don’t get me wrong here.  There are times when it is far more cost effective to bulk remove building material to accelerate the restoration process.  However, there are times when building materials that were wet and then dried, and then classified as Cat 3 with the recommendation of removal.  Double dipping.

For example, a 5-story condo building that had no surface water flooding and only wind driven rain entering the sliding glass doors.  The areas that were wet were quickly dried.  The restoration contractor then classified all wind driven rain at the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th floors as Cat 3, grossly contaminated.   The recommendation was to remove the lower 2 feet of drywall from all the condos.  There was no supporting evidence that the water was grossly contaminated.  The vast majority of the units were occupied during and after the hurricane.  The damage was limited to very small and localized areas at the sliding glass doors.  Yet the restoration contractor recommended the full evacuation of the building so the “Cat 3 Grossly Contaminated” drywall could be removed.

So how could the classification of water be so abused?  It’s all in the IICRC Category 3 definition.  It’s a wording issue.  As you read below the definition clearly states that Cat 3 water can include wind driven rain from hurricanes.  That doesn’t mean that wind driven rain is Cat 3, just that like all water it could be Cat 3.  To establish the presence of Cat 3 water samples of the suspected area of the 3rd floor drywall would need to be collected.  The method used could either be by culturing a sample for bacteria or with the use of ATP.  Either way the presence of Cat 3 water at the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th floors would need to be confirmed.

Category 3 water is grossly contaminated and can contain pathogenic, toxigenic, or other harmful agents and can cause significant adverse reactions to humans if contacted or consumed. Examples of Category 3 water can include, but are not limited to: sewage; waste line backflows that originate from beyond the trap regardless of visible content or color; all other forms of contaminated water resulting from flooding from seawater; rising water from rivers or streams; and other contaminated water entering or affecting the indoor environment, such as wind driven rain from hurricanes, tropical storms, or other weather related  events if they carry trace levels of contaminants (e.g., pesticides or toxic  organic substances).

Rain is liquid water in the form of droplets that have condensed from atmospheric water vapor and then becomes heavy enough to fall under gravity. Rain is a major component of the water cycle and is responsible for depositing most of the fresh water on the Earth.  It provides suitable conditions for many types of ecosystems and crop irrigation.

Collecting and using rainwater can be a great way to conserve resources.  Some people collect and use rainwater for watering plants, cleaning, bathing, or drinking.  The issue with the collection of rainwater is the method of collection and storage.  If rainwater is collected from a roof for example it can contain contaminants that accumulate on the roof.

The rain itself isn’t Category 3.  Rainwater is predominantly evaporated water from a variety of sources such as lakes, rivers, and oceans.  According to IICRC S500, atmospheric rainwater is defined as Category 1.

“Category 1: Category 1 water originates from a sanitary water source and does not pose substantial risk from dermal, ingestion, or inhalation exposure. Examples of Category 1 water sources can include, but are not limited to: broken water supply lines; tub or sink overflows with no contaminants; appliance malfunctions involving water-supply lines; melting ice or snow; falling rainwater; broken toilet tanks, and toilet bowls that do not contain contaminants or additives.”

Rainwater is Category 1 Water.  Therefore, rainwater associated with tropical storms or hurricanes is predominantly evaporated water from a variety of sources and according to IICRC S500, falling rainwater is defined as Category 1.

The restoration contractors defining wind-driven rain as Category 3 water either haven’t read the S500 or are specifically abusing their misinterpretation to their benefit.  As shown above the IICRC S500 clearly defines rainwater as Category 1 and clearly states that Category 3 water can include wind driven rain from hurricanes.  I think that is pretty clear even to the layman.

For the wind driven rain to be categorized as Category 3, the water must have been grossly contaminated and can contain pathogenic, toxigenic, or other harmful agents and can cause significant adverse reactions to humans if contacted or consumed. weather_channel_hurricane_irene

If rain is to be classified as Cat 3 water we’re all in trouble.  How many times do we see a TV weather forecaster leaning into the wind driven rain of a hurricane as he or she blurts out the weather?  Wind driven rain in Florida takes place virtually every day somewhere.

Clearly there are times when wind driven rain can be classified as Cat 3.  The IICRC recognized that and included the possibility in the standard.  To be Cat 3 the wind driven rain must be contaminated from something that was grossly contaminated and can contain pathogenic, toxigenic, or other harmful agents.  There is also the possibility that Category 1 or 2 water deteriorated to Category 3 water over time.  The IICRC S500 addresses that possibility as well.

“Category 1 water can deteriorate to Category 2 or 3.  Category 1 water that flows into an uncontaminated building does not constitute an immediate change in the category.” “However, Category 1 water that flows into a contaminated building can constitute an immediate change in the category.”

Clearly the interior of an occupied condo is not a contaminated building.

“Category 2: Category 2 water contains significant contamination and has the potential to cause discomfort or sickness if contacted or consumed by humans.  Category 2 water can contain potentially unsafe levels of microorganisms or nutrients for microorganisms.  as well as other organic or inorganic matter {chemical or biological). Examples of category 2 water can include, but are not limited to: discharge from dishwashers or washing1 machines; overflows from washing machines; overflows from toilet bowls on the room side of the trap with some urine but no feces; seepage due to hydrostatic pressure; broken aquariums and punctured water beds.

Category 2 water can deteriorate to Category 3. Once microorganisms become wet from the water intrusion, depending upon the length of time that they remain wet and the temperature, they can begin to grow in numbers and can change the category of the water.”

Category 1 and 2 water can to deteriorate in category.  That fact remains undisputed.  However, the method of establishing the category of water appears to be the issue.  It would appear that the opportunistic restoration contractors are assuming that the wind driven rain water is automatically Category 3 or the length of time that the Cat 1 or 2 water remained wet deteriorated the Cat 1 or 2 water to Category 3.

The reality is both are nothing more than an unproven hypothesis.  To establish the Category of water that is grossly contaminated and can contain pathogenic, toxigenic, or other harmful agents and can cause significant adverse reactions to humans if contacted or consumed.  The assessor or restoration contractor would have to confirm the if water has trace levels of contaminants (e.g., pesticides or toxic organic substances).

In the example provided earlier we talked about a 5-story condo building that was reportedly “grossly contaminated” by Category 3 hurricane rain.  No confirmation of the category was provided.  There was however a substantial estimate for drywall removal and sanitization of the grossly contaminated condos that were continuously occupied during and after the storm.

We provided a second opinion on the property and conducted onsite ATP sampling of the reportedly Category 3 contaminated drywall.  We used the Bio-Reveal Protocol for Sampling of Category 1, 2 and 3 Water Loss.  The Bio-reveal® bio-contamination detection system is designed to evaluate the level of surface cleanliness and sanitized hygiene in the indoor environment. This system will not detect specific strains of bacterial, viral or other micro-organisms, rather will measure and document the total surface or liquid conditions where these types of pathogenic organisms may be detected or harbored as a result of dirty, unhygienic or where direct impaction of Category 1, 2 or 3 water contamination may have occurred.  Additionally, the Bio-reveal® bio-contamination detection system can be used to generally quantify the total bacterial concentrations of Category 1, Category 2 and Category 3 water as referenced by the IICRC S500 Standard and Reference Guide for Professional Water Damage Restoration.

All areas sampled were found to be well below the “Final hygiene goal for water loss restoration or remediation of building materials or contents to be salvaged.”  The condo owners did not evacuate and the drywall was not removed.  The total savings to the building were significant.

The trend of categorizing hurricane rain or wind driven rain as Category 3 needs to be nipped in the bud.  Do not allow a restoration contractor or mold assessor to declare rain water damage from a hurricane as Category 3 just because it came from the sky during a hurricane.  This assumed gross contamination only benefits the restoration contractor as it substantially increases their fee.

I hope this helped to clarify the Category of a water loss and prevented the unnecessary removal of building material that could otherwise be restored at a lessor fee.

 


What “IS” a Professional Mold Inspection?

October 21, 2017

A Professional Mold Assessment

To begin we should define a mold assessment and remind consumers that “All molds are created equal.  It is not necessary to determine what type of mold you may have.  All molds should be treated the same with respect to potential health risks and removal.”  This is according to Center for Disease Control, CDC.  Consumers should be aware that anyone using the terms “Black Mold” or “Toxic Mold” are preying on their fears.

The purpose of a mold assessment is to clearly establish the

  1. Cause & origin,
  2. Location, and
  3. Extent of mold growth

A mold assessment is not the identification of the type of mold by sampling.

A mold inspector doesn’t simply look for visible signs of a mold problem, but instead looks for signs of the possible cause of the mold problem. There can be many cases with no visible evidence.   However, a professional mold assessor will know what and where to look.  A professional mold assessor will look behind base boards, inside walls, under flooring, inside ceilings, and in other hidden spaces.  a professional mold assessor will look for water damage, pathways for water movement, and the sources of moisture that are essential for the growth of mold.  Moisture and mold go hand in hand; without moisture there can be no mold growth.

If mold is identified in the clients home the mold inspection report should identify the cause of the moisture supporting the mold growth so that the cause can be corrected and the mold once remediated will not return.  The next step is to identify the extent of the mold damage.  This involves the use of a site plan as described by the ASTM D-7338 Standard Guide for Assessment of Fungal Growth in Buildings. The report will be used by the remediation contractor as a scope of work or remediation protocol.

A Mold Remediation Protocol outlines the needed actions for any necessary mold remediation. Each plan is individually prepared based on the mold assessment of the property and the size and area of the mold contamination.  A properly prepared Mold Remediation Protocol should be written according to the ANSI Approved IICRC S-520 standard and reference guide for the remediation of mold damaged structures and contents.

When incomplete or poorly written, the mold remediation protocol can increase the cost of the mold remediation for the property owner as well as create possible liability for the remediation contractor.

Red Flag #1

Mold inspections by the mold remediator

The first “RED FLAG” when hiring a mold inspector is the “Free” mold inspection from the mold remediator.  Nothing is Free.  These free mold inspections are generally from mold remediators wanting to provide you with expensive mold remediation.  This is a huge conflict of interest and should be avoided at all cost.  These inspections typically include little more than the collection of mold samples to confirm the presence of mold and often to use the type of mold to scare the client into believing their mold issue is far more severe than they ever thought.  These guys will make a mold mountain out of a mold hill.

To protect the citizens of Florida from these scams, Florida Governor Crist signed Mold legislation (SB2234) into law. The new law regulates the Mold Inspection and Mold Remediation Industry.  The statute became effective July 1, 2010.  Under that statute it clearly states that the assessor cannot provide the remediation.

Florida Statutes and Rules  Chapter 468, Part XVI, Florida Statutes

468.8419 Prohibitions; penalties.—

A person may not: Perform or offer to perform any mold remediation to a structure on which the mold assessor or the mold assessor’s company provided a mold assessment within the last 12 months.

Perform or offer to perform any mold assessment to a structure on which the mold remediator or the mold remediator’s company provided a mold remediation within the last 12 months.

Accept any compensation, inducement, or reward from a mold assessor or mold assessor’s company for the referral of any business from the mold assessor or the mold assessor’s company.

Offer any compensation, inducement, or reward to a mold assessor or mold assessor’s company for the referral of any business from the mold assessor or the mold assessor’s company.

One would think that the statute would prevent the continued mold assessments by mold remediators.  Unfortunately, this remains the mold industry’s #1 conflict of interest.

Red Flag #2

The sample only mold inspection.

Unfortunately, many believe that a mold assessment is simply testing for mold.  Many simply collect a few samples for mold and provide the client with a laboratory report.  These mold samplers provide no relevant or necessary information that would inform the client of the cause and origin of the water supporting the mold or the extent of the mold impacted building material.  Sampling definitely does not provide a scope of work or mold remediation protocol.

The government position on mold sampling

The Center for Disease Control, CDC. – There are no accepted standards for mold sampling in indoor environments or for analyzing and interpreting the data in terms of human health. Molds are ubiquitous in the environment, and can be found almost anywhere samples are taken. It is not known, however, what quantity of mold is acceptable in indoor environments with respect to health. CDC does not recommend routine sampling for molds. Generally, it is not necessary to identify the species of mold growing in a building. Measurements of mold in air are not reliable or representative. If mold is seen or smelled, there is a potential health risk; therefore, no matter what type of mold is present, you should arrange for its removal.

The Center for Disease Control, CDC’s current position is that air sampling for mold is nothing more than a snap shot and that such a snap shot is not reliable, representative or worth the cost. The CDC states very clearly that “Any claim based solely on air sampling results is inherently suspect.” The CDC goes on to state that “There is no reason to respond to questionable testing by conducting more of it. I believe that is a very clear position from a reputable source.

“The term “toxic mold” is not accurate. While certain molds are toxigenic, meaning they can produce toxins (specifically mycotoxins), the molds themselves are not toxic, or poisonous. Hazards presented by molds that may produce mycotoxins should be considered the same as other common molds which can grow in your house. There is always a little mold everywhere – in the air and on many surfaces.”

US Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, – If you know you have a mold problem, it is more important to spend time and resources solving the moisture problem and getting rid of the mold than to spend it on sampling. If visible mold growth is present, sampling is unnecessary. Since no EPA or other federal limits have been set for mold or mold spores, sampling cannot be used to check a building’s compliance with federal mold standards.

The Florida Department of Health, – The Florida Department of Health does not recommend mold testing or sampling to see if you have a mold problem, or to see what kind of mold might be growing.

So, should you inspect for mold by just sampling for mold?

No, never for the purpose of mold investigation. Why? There are too many variables impacting the results and the sample size is too small for air testing for mold to be reliable. The type of mold will not change the necessary mold remediation. The genus of mold is just not relevant or necessary unless you are trying to frighten a client into believing that they have “Toxic” mold.

The industry Standard for Mold Assessment

The industry has a standard for the assessment of mold.  The ASTM D7338 Standard Guide for Assessment of Fungal Growth in Buildings.  The standard was developed to provide a go-to reference for anyone inspecting for mold in buildings. The standard was developed by Subcommittee D22.08, part of ASTM International Committee D22 on Air Quality.

“The lack of consensus standards in the fungal sampling and analysis practice was the driving force behind establishing D22.08,” says its chairman, Lisa Rogers. “All of our efforts are focused on bringing consistency, reliability and accuracy to the practice.”

The ASTM D-7338 states that the assessor provide the Identification of Current Water Damage and Suspect Fungal Growth.  All surfaces within the inspection boundary should be systematically evaluated for indicators of moisture damage and fungal growth.  If the source is not apparent, intrusive investigation may be required.  The ASTM D-7338 states that the assessor provide the Classification of Inspection Observations.  Classify each distinct area or area of interest within the inspection boundary as one of the following categories:

  1. no apparent fungal growth and no apparent water damage;
  2. water damage having no visually suspect or confirmed fungal growth,
  3. visually suspect or confirmed fungal growth having no apparent water damage, &
  4. water damage having visually suspect or confirmed fungal growth.

A site/floor plan should be prepared showing each inspection classification, as determined in 7.5.6.   The plan should be sufficiently detailed to allow each area of interest to the assessment to be unambiguously located.

Documentation of Suspect Fungal Growth—Wherever suspect or confirmed fungal growth is identified during the inspection, documentation should include:

  1. extent (for example, approximate square footage of suspect growth),
  2. severity (for example, relative darkness or continuity of stain), growth pattern (for example, light versus heavy growth and spotty versus continuous growth), and
  3. clues to apparent cause (for example, exterior wall, condensation near a HVAC vent, associated with water staining).

Documentation of Moisture Damage—In addition to documenting the location of moisture damage, as above, further documentation should include:

  1. apparent sources of leaks and other moisture sources, and
  2. apparent timing and duration (for example, whether the moisture has been resolved, active (currently wet) or the moisture source is likely to reoccur

What should the client receive at the end of their mold inspection. 

Mold Inspection Report and Mold Remediation Protocol if necessary

The written report should be written in accordance with the ASTM D-7338 and signed by the licensed mold assessor that performed the assessment.  The Remediation Protocol should be very specific to the client’s loss.  The protocol should outline the specific material and cleaning process for the mold remediator.  The area of loss should never be ambiguous or left to the remediator to define.  Each plan should be individually prepared based on the mold assessment of the property and the size and area of the mold contamination.  The protocol should include a floor plan clearly identifying the area of loss, the extent of the damage, the mold impacted building material to be removed, and the necessary containment strategy to separate the impacted areas from the unimpacted areas.

Questions you should ask your mold assessor before you hire them.

  1. Are you licensed by the State of Florida?
  2. Do you perform mold remediation?
  3. Will you be conducting a visual inspection or just mold testing?
  4. Will I be getting a written report from you or the laboratory?
  5. How do you interpret the laboratory results?
  6. Will you be performing the mold assessment in accordance with the ASTM D-7338 Standard Guide for Assessment of Fungal Growth in Buildings?
  7. Are you familiar with the IICRC S-520?
  8. What qualifications do you have to perform mold inspection?
  9. What certifications do you have?
  10. Do you have references from clients within the past year that I can call to ask how the inspection went?

 


Storm Damage Mold Remediation Consumer Alert!

October 7, 2017

bb-gif1.gifMany across Florida have been directly impacted by the recent storms that wreaked havoc on our beautiful state.

In a recent discussion with Richard “Rick” Morrison, Executive Director, Division of Professions Mold-Related Services Licensing Program regarding the possibility of the Governor waving licensure requirements for mold related services.  Rick felt that the state has enough licensed mold professionals to not recommend waving the licensing requirements at this time.

Those impacted by the storm and in need of water and mold damage restoration should ensure that the contractors providing services are licensed and in good standing with the state of Florida.  http://www.myfloridalicense.com/dbpr/pro/mold/index.html

I also wanted to take a minute to provide a few questions that you can ask your mold assessor or mold remediation contractor before you make the decision to hire.

  1.     Are you licensed?
  2.     Who will be providing the mold assessment?
  3.     Who will be providing the mold remediation?
  4.     What will my mold assessment consist of?
  5.     Will I receive a written report or just a laboratory report?

The most common mistake property owners can make is to allow the mold remediation contractor to provide the mold assessment.  Mold remediation is a very profitable business. Many mold remediation contractors use free or deeply discounted mold inspections as a means to acquire expensive mold remediation jobs.  This is the beginning of the “Fear” based approach to mold not the “Fact” based professional approach.

Unfortunately, this is a common practice.  The assessment often includes the collection of mold samples and the declaration that the home is contaminated with “Black Mold”.  Sampling of any kind is more often than not necessary and more often than not used to scare the homeowner into believing that their home is contaminated with “Toxic Black Mold” or “Stachybotrys”.  Fear not Fact!

If your mold professional brings up the “Black Mold” issue walk him or her right out the door.

The Center for Disease Control clearly states, “There is always some mold everywhere – in the air and on many surfaces. Molds have been on the Earth for millions of years. You do not need to know the type of mold growing in your home, and the CDC does not recommend performing routine sampling for molds.”  Fact!

The type of mold will not change the need for mold remediation nor will the type of mold change the severity of the water and mold damage.  There are over 100,000 molds and over 10,000 have the ability to produce mycotoxins.  There are also a few well know molds that are repeatedly used to scare consumers such as “Black Toxic Stachybotrys”.

From the CDC website.  “The term “toxic mold” is not accurate. While certain molds are toxigenic, meaning they can produce toxins (specifically mycotoxins), the molds themselves are not toxic, or poisonous. Hazards presented by molds that may produce mycotoxins should be considered the same as other common molds which can grow in your house. There is always a little mold everywhere – in the air and on many surfaces.”

These “Black Mold” fear tactics began in Cleveland, Ohio, when in 1993 and 1994 where there was a cluster of cases of pulmonary hemosiderosis among infants. with a conducted titled “Study of Toxin Production by Isolates of Stachybotrys chartarum and Memnoniella echinata Isolated during a Study of Pulmonary Hemosiderosis in Infants.”  Yes that is a mouth full but most government studies have grandiose titles.

The problem with the study is that it was preliminary and incomplete.  Worse yet is that most in the mold and restoration industry have never read any of these studies or the final opinions of these studies.

Below is the final opinion of the study from the CDC.

“A review within CDC and by outside experts of the investigation of acute pulmonary hemorrhage/hemosiderosis in infants has identified shortcomings in the implementation and reporting of the investigation described in MMWR (1,2) and detailed in other scientific publications authored, in part, by CDC personnel (3-5). The reviews led CDC to conclude that a possible association between acute pulmonary hemorrhage/hemosiderosis in infants and exposure to molds, specifically Stachybotrys chartarum, commonly referred to by its synonym Stachybotrys atra, was not proven.”

The CDC Position on Toxic Mold and Stachybotrys.  https://www.cdc.gov/mold/stachy.htm

The term “toxic mold” is not accurate. While certain molds are toxigenic, meaning they can produce toxins (specifically mycotoxins), the molds themselves are not toxic, or poisonous. Hazards presented by molds that may produce mycotoxins should be considered the same as other common molds which can grow in your house. There is always a little mold everywhere – in the air and on many surfaces. There are very few reports that toxigenic molds found inside homes can cause unique or rare health conditions such as pulmonary hemorrhage or memory loss. These case reports are rare, and a causal link between the presence of the toxigenic mold and these conditions has not been proven.

Stachybotrys chartarum (also known by its synonym Stachybotrys atra) is a greenish-black mold. It can grow on material with a high cellulose and low nitrogen content, such as fiberboard, gypsum board, paper, dust, and lint. Growth occurs when there is moisture from water damage, excessive humidity, water leaks, condensation, water infiltration, or flooding. Constant moisture is required for its growth. It is not necessary, however, to determine what type of mold you may have. All molds should be treated the same with respect to potential health risks and removal.

US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC145304/

While many papers suggest a similar relationship between Stachybotrys and human disease, the studies nearly uniformly suffer from significant methodological flaws, making their findings inconclusive. As a result, we have not found well-substantiated supportive evidence of serious illness due to Stachybotrys exposure in the contemporary environment.

Despite the well documented lack of connection between Stachybotrys and health effects, including the CDC, many in the mold and restoration industry continue to use these wild and scientifically unsupported scare tactics to charge for mold remediation services that are unnecessary.  I can assure you that Stachybotrys is in every home and building to some degree or another.  We have been cohabitating with mold since we lived in caves.

The value in a professional mold assessment is in the identification of the specific area of the mold contamination by a licensed professional that is not providing the mold remediation.  With the identification of the specific area of mold contamination in a written report from your assessor, licensed mold remediators can provide estimates for the mold remediation.

The specific area of mold contamination cannot and will never be revealed by sampling the air and scaring homeowners with specific molds.   The sample only approach to a mold assessment has no value to anyone but the sampler who collects a fee for the sample.  Remember the type of mold does not change the method of mold remediation, does not change the area impacted by mold, and will never elevate the concern for exposure to occupants.  All claims that the type of mold raises the severity are either by the ill-informed or those looking to prey on your fears for profit.

A professional mold assessment would include the area affected by the mold as required by the ASTM D-7338.  A professional assessment would report that the area impacted by mold.  For example, the area of mold growth is approximately 4 square feet of the exterior south facing bedroom wall as shown on the attached restoration floor plan and diagram.  Remove the base boards and the drywall from the floor to a height of 2 feet.  The diagram would show the area of affected building material that would require removal.  The type of mold would not matter and would not change the area impacted or the method of remediation.   Fact not Fear.

Those wanting to insight fear would report nothing more than the spore counts of samples collected as elevated or as having the presence of Stachybotrys “Black Toxic Mold”.  Fear not Fact.

The cost of restoring your home can be greatly increased if you’re not careful when hiring a mold professional.  Be aware of scare tactics, ask for references, never hire anyone that is recommending sampling, never ever hire anyone that uses the term “Black or Toxic Mold”.

I hope this helps at least one family through this time of recovery.

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The Art of Over Selling and Under Delivering

July 19, 2016

Air Sampling for Mold Spores is NOT a Mold Inspection and NOT an Air Quality Sample!

Mold has become an issue for homeowners and home buyers across the country.  Mold inspections have become a part of most real estate transactions.   However, here in Florida, a mold inspection has become a bit cliché even passé.  Today it’s all about Air Quality.  Why call it a mold sample if you can charge more and call it an Air Quality Sample?  I’ve given my 2 cents about the value of mold sampling and the total lack of value in simply sampling for mold and calling it a mold inspection so I won’t beat a dead horse, well not much.

If anyone is purchasing a home and they want to know if there is a mold issue they will typically ask their home inspector to collect a few air samples for airborne mold spores.  This is the add-on feature that benefits the home inspector and adds no valuable information to the home buyer.  But hey, the home buyer doesn’t know that, right?  Worse yet, the home inspector doesn’t even know that.  The home inspector isn’t aware of the standard of practice for mold inspection, the ASTM D-7338.  The home inspector simply excludes as much liability as possible in his or her inspection disclaimer and collects a few air samples for airborne mold spores and calls them air quality samples, C’est La Vie, That’s life, thanks for the extra cash and on to the next job.

The home buyer who then becomes the homeowner may soon realize that there’s an issue with water intrusion that the home inspector missed and the mold samples for airborne mold spores didn’t discover.  How could that be?  The home inspector inspected for mold, right? The home was sampled for mold, right?  There were air quality samples collected that said there was no problem, Right?

No, not true.  The home was never inspected for mold, and actually only a very, very, small amount of the air was sampled for mold.  The actual air quality was never established, and if the one component that was sampled (mold) is undisturbed, the mold won’t be in the air.  The air sampling for mold spores is extremely unreliable and will not provide any valuable information.  (pardon my beating the dead horse a bit).

The home inspector or mold inspector that collected the samples for airborne mold spores provided the homeowner with no valuable information about the home they just purchased.  So now that the new homeowner has discovered a water or mold problem they have to hire a new mold assessor to take a second look at the home.  If we are contacted, we always take the opportunity to ask the new homeowners to provide us with their mold inspection report to review.

We have a great collection of mold inspection reports from home and mold inspectors all across the state.  Insurance companies and homeowners have been asking us for a second opinion for years and our collection of worthless reports is substantial and growing each week.  How our industry came to this is amazing?  Let’s just say it’s capitalism at the expense of personal ethics.  If all you care about is making a buck and you could care less about the value of what you’re providing your client, go ahead and collect a few more air samples for mold spores and call them “Air Quality Samples”.  That’s capitalism without ethics.

So exactly what happens when we get to the home and actually take a look.  A disclaimer free look.  A true mold inspection in accordance with the ASTM D-7338.  Let’s face it, if we’re there, then there’s a problem.  If there wasn’t, the homeowner wouldn’t have called us, right?  So now we have a homeowner that should have had the opportunity to identify a problem with the home they wanted to purchase prior to that purchase.  Critical, right?  That’s what they hired the first mold inspector for.  To identify any issues with the home that can support mold growth.  Prior to the purchase is the time to identify any mold related issues.  That’s when the issues can be used during the decision making phase of the purchase.

Regardless of the issue, everything can be negotiated if the issues are identified during the buying phase of the transaction.  What the home buyer wants is information about the home.  Valuable information about the home not useless airborne mold spore count information.  Valuable information like, “The home you are wanting to purchase has areas of building envelope failure that are allowing water intrusion that could support mold growth in the following areas.” Then list the areas of failure. The list should be specific and define the extent of the water and mold damage, describe the failure, and don’t be concerned with the genus of mold because it doesn’t matter.  What matters to the home buyer is the knowledge any issues before they make the purchase, not after.

The collection of air samples is a feel good placebo that may help facilitate a sale but is not a mold inspection.  If you’re selling a mold inspection, then provide a mold inspection.  The only thing worse than collecting air samples for mold spores and calling it a mold inspection is selling that simple collection of airborne mold spores as an air quality sample.  With all that can be in the air, mold is but one small piece of the air quality puzzle.  I can assure you that sampling the air for mold spores is not and never will be an air quality sample any more than it’s a mold inspection.  This is the art of over selling and under delivering.

This brief article should be informative.  It should raise questions, but it shouldn’t offend.  If it does offend you then you’re probably the guy collecting the air samples for mold spores and either calling it a mold inspection or air quality sampling.  If that’s the case, no apologies necessary on my end.  My advice, stop it. Stop over selling and under delivering just to make a few extra bucks.

I gotta go for now, I have a dead horse to go kick in another forum…….

John P. Lapotaire, CIEC

#IAQS


What “IS” a Mold Inspection?

July 14, 2016

I once again raise this question because I’ve been called in to provide yet another second opinion of a mold inspection that consisted of nothing more than the collection of a few air samples for mold spores.  I assure you that a correct mold assessment in accordance with the only industry standard of practice does not involve the random sampling of mold.  The only industry standard of practice is the ASTM D-7338 Assessment of Fungal Growth in Buildings.

The question of just what is a mold assessment is a frustrating and surprisingly hard question for many industry professionals to answer.  That’s right; many mold professionals just don’t know their own industry well enough to know the prevailing standard of practice.  When I’m asked to provide a second opinion on a mold inspection, I always want to talk with the original mold assessors.  Given the chance, I will always take the opportunity to try to raise the awareness of the original mold assessor and inform them of the ASTM D-7338 and the process of providing a valuable mold assessment and report.  I feel that this is best for our industry and for the consumer.

So just what is it that many mold assessors believe is a mold inspection?  Many believe that a mold assessment is simply testing for mold.  There is plenty of guidance on the value of mold sampling but if the ill-informed mold assessor isn’t aware of the industry standard of practice, the ASTM D-7338, there is little chance that they will be aware of the very public opinion of mold sampling.

Let’s just review the industry position on mold sampling.  Ten years ago, the ACGIH concluded that air testing provided a “snap shot” of conditions at the exact time and place of the sampling, but nothing more.   The Center for Disease Control, CDC’s current position is that air sampling for mold is nothing more than a snap shot and that such a snap shot is not reliable, representative or worth the cost. The CDC states very clearly that “Any claim based solely on air sampling results is inherently suspect.”  The CDC goes on to state that “There is no reason to respond to questionable testing by conducting more of it.  I believe that is a very clear position from a reputable source.

What does the laboratory say about the interpretation of the collected mold samples?

  •        The client is solely responsible for the use and interpretation
  •        Note: Interpretation is left to the company and/or persons who conducted the field work.
  •        The “Lab” shall have no liability to the client or the client’s customer with respect to decisions or recommendations made, actions taken or courses of conduct implemented by either the client or the client’s customer as a result of or based upon the Test Results.

The mold assessor that collected the mold samples is the laboratory’s client not the property owner.  That is something that the mold sampler seems to not understand.

Let’s look a bit further. When the following governmental and industry organizations were asked if mold testing is necessary, this is what they had to say.

  •        American Industrial Hygiene Association, AIHA There are no standards for “acceptable” levels of mold in the indoor environment. If you know you have a mold problem, it is more important to spend time and resources solving the moisture problem and getting rid of the mold than to spend it on sampling.
  •        US Environmental Protection Agency, EPA If you know you have a mold problem, it is more important to spend time and resources solving the moisture problem and getting rid of the mold than to spend it on sampling. If visible mold growth is present, sampling is unnecessary.  Since no EPA or other federal limits have been set for mold or mold spores, sampling cannot be used to check a building’s compliance with federal mold standards.
  •        Occupational Health and Safety Administration, OSHA In most cases, if visible mold growth is present, sampling is unnecessary. Your first step should be to inspect for any evidence of water damage and visible mold growth.
  •        U.S. Department of Labor There are no standards for acceptable levels of mold in buildings, and the lack of a definitive correlation between exposure levels and health effects makes interpreting the data difficult, if not impossible.
  •        Center for Disease Control, CDC There are no accepted standards for mold sampling in indoor environments or for analyzing and interpreting the data in terms of human health.  Molds are ubiquitous in the environment, and can be found almost anywhere samples are taken.  It is not known, however, what quantity of mold is acceptable in indoor environments with respect to health.  CDC does not recommend routine sampling for molds. Generally, it is not necessary to identify the species of mold growing in a building.  Measurements of mold in air are not reliable or representative.  If mold is seen or smelled, there is a potential health risk; therefore, no matter what type of mold is present, you should arrange for its removal.
  •        The Florida Department of Health, The Florida Department of Health does not recommend mold testing or sampling to see if you have a mold problem, or to see what kind of mold might be growing.
  •        NYC Guidelines on Assessment and Remediation of Fungi in Indoor Environments, The Department of Health, DOH, should continue to emphasize in its public education materials that sampling for airborne mold is unlikely to provide reliable information for decision-making in damp or moldy buildings.

So, should you sample for mold? No, never for the purpose of mold investigation.  Why? There are too many variables impacting the results and the sample size is too small for air testing for mold to be reliable.  The type of mold will not change the necessary mold remediation.  The genus of mold is just not relevant or necessary unless you are trying to frighten a client into believing that they have “Toxic” mold.  Mold spore trap air samples do not have the ability to establish the presence of any mycotoxins.  Air sampling’s lack of utility in determining the level of mold found in indoor air may be a surprise to some, given the frequent references to these tests and mold litigation.  Unfortunately, those that reference mold testing in mold litigation are never directly involved in mold litigation or they would know what the reality is, mold sampling to the genus level is worthless in court.

Mold assessors should bear in mind that samples provide information about a site as it existed at the time tested.  However, the findings may not represent conditions at a time in the past or future, even the relatively recent past or near future. Changes in the kinds, concentrations, and proportions of biological agents in the air can be rapid and substantial.  Bioaerosols: Assessment and Control, Section 2.4.2.2.

ASTM D7338 Standard Guide for Assessment of Fungal Growth in Buildings 7.1 The most important requirement of an assessment for fungal growth is an on-site inspection of the subject building. It is very important to remember that the ASTM D-7338 is the only recognized standard for mold assessment.  According to the ASTM D-7338 the parts of a mold assessment include:

  •        the collection of background information,
  •        the formulation of a hypothesis or hypotheses,
  •        on-site inspection including moisture dynamics,
  •        an evaluation of the HVAC system,
  •        hypothesis testing,
  •        site documentation and written report.

The scope of work defines the problem and, just as importantly, which part of the basic assessment and which of the procedures are to be performed.   The scope of work will define the inspection boundaries.  The ASTM D-7338 clearly states that “Within the inspection boundary, all surfaces should be inspected to the extent feasible, including

  •        above suspended ceilings and
  •        inside pipe chases,
  •        attics, and
  •        crawlspaces.

The exterior of the building and adjacent grounds should also be inspected for moisture intrusion sites and air leaks.”

The mold inspector that only samples for mold and provides nothing more than a laboratory report will attempt to exclude virtually all areas of a building from his responsibility.  Below is an excerpt from a peer reviewed mold inspection report “Disclaimer”.  It is a remarkable example of how some mold inspectors attempt to alleviate themselves form the responsibility of the very job that they were hired to perform.

DISCLAIMER

Certain areas are considered inaccessible and impractical to inspect including, but not limited to,

the interiors of walls and inaccessible areas below; areas beneath wood floors over concrete; areas concealed by floor coverings; and areas to which there is no access without defacing or tearing out lumber, masonry, roofing or finished workmanship; structures; portions of the attic concealed or made inaccessible by insulation, belongings, equipment or ducting; portions of the attic or roof cavity concealed due to inadequate crawl space; areas of the attic or crawl space made inaccessible due to construction; interiors of enclosed boxed eaves; portions of the sub area concealed or made inaccessible by ducting or insulation; enclosed bay windows; portions of the interior made inaccessible by furnishings; areas where locks prevented access; areas concealed by appliances; areas concealed by stored materials; and areas concealed by heavy vegetation.

There is no economically practical method to make these areas accessible. However, they may be subject to attack by microbial organisms. No opinion is rendered concerning the conditions in these aforementioned or other inaccessible areas. Furthermore, mold grows. As such, the inspection and report produced by Mold Assessor is not a guarantee that mold does not exist.

As a courtesy Mold Assessor may point out conditions that contribute to mold growth but such comments are not part of the bargained for report, protocol, or supplemental information. The protocol is not intended to be either exhaustive or inclusive of all pertinent requirements, methods or procedures that might be appropriate on a particular mold remediation project.

Anyone using this document should understand the limitations with its use, and rely on his or her own independent judgment, or as appropriate, seek the advice of competent professionals in determining the exercise of reasonable care in any given situation.

This type of disclaimer is an example of how some mold inspectors are intent on limiting their area of responsibility.  What exactly are property owners that hire this mold inspector paying for?  What exactly is the value provided by the mold assessor?  Most importantly, why the need to limit the area of responsibility in direct contradiction to the ASTM D-7338?  The answer is that this mold assessor, like many, had no idea that the ASTM D-7338 even existed. This mold assessor, like many, felt that the simple collection of air samples for mold was a mold inspection in direct contradiction to the government and industry positions sited above.

As with any industry the mold industry has a standard of practice that must be followed to provide a property owner with necessary and relevant information regarding any possible mold issue within their property.  Mold sampling will never have the ability to provide any of that necessary and relevant information

A mold inspection in accordance with the ASTM D-7338 will provide the property owner with a wealth of necessary and relevant information.

The ASTM D-7338 states in Section 7.5.3 Identification of Current Water Damage and Suspect Fungal Growth

  •        All surfaces within the inspection boundary should be systematically evaluated for indicators of moisture damage and fungal growth.

Exposed surfaces (including building materials, furnishings, and contents) should be examined for past and ongoing damage including:

(1)  suspect fungal growth,

(2)  standing water

(3)  water stains,

(4)  dampness to touch, and

(5)  blistering, warping, de-lamination, or other deterioration.

The ASTM D-7338 states in Section 7.5.4 Identification of Potentials for Fungal Growth

The inspection should identify moisture sources and moisture pathways, including:

(1)  sites where condensation may occur,

(2)  equipment or activities which may release water,

(3)  pathways for water movement and

(4)  areas where leakage is likely.

–  Staining patterns are often useful in identifying moisture sources.

The ASTM D-7338 states in Section 7.5.5 Presence of Odors

Detection of musty odors should always be noted.

(1)  Sources of such odors should be located.

(2)  If the source is not apparent, intrusive investigation may be required.

The ASTM D-7338 states in Section 7.5.6 Classification of Inspection Observations

Classify each distinct area or area of interest within the inspection boundary as one of the following categories:

(1)  no apparent fungal growth and no apparent water damage;

(2)  water damage having no visually suspect or confirmed fungal growth,

(3)  visually suspect or confirmed fungal growth having no apparent water damage, &

(4)  water damage having visually suspect or confirmed fungal growth.

The ASTM D-7338 states in Section 7.5.8 HVAC Inspection, if applicable per the scope of work

The interiors of HVAC equipment in contact with ventilation air should be inspected for indicators of excessive moisture or suspect fungal growth.

Such areas may include intake and return plenums, filters, coils, condensate pans, fans, housing insulation, and supply ducts immediately downstream from the coils.

The ASTM D-7338 states in Section 7.6.1 Site Map—A site/floor plan should be prepared showing each inspection classification, as determined in 7.5.6.

The plan should be sufficiently detailed to allow each area of interest to the assessment to be unambiguously located.

The ASTM D-7338 states in Section 7.6.2 Documentation of Suspect Fungal Growth—Wherever suspect or confirmed fungal growth is identified during the inspection, documentation should include:

(1)  extent (for example, approximate square footage of suspect growth),

(2) severity (for example, relative darkness or continuity of stain), growth pattern (for example, light versus heavy growth and spotty versus continuous growth), and

(3)  clues to apparent cause (for example, exterior wall, condensation near a HVAC vent, associated with water staining).

The ASTM D-7338 states in Section 7.6.3 Documentation of Moisture Damage—In addition to documenting the location of moisture damage, as above, further documentation should include:

(1)  apparent sources of leaks and other moisture sources, and

(2)  apparent timing and duration (for example, whether the moisture has been resolved, active (currently wet) or the moisture source is likely to reoccur

The ASTM D-7338 states in Section 7.6.4 Visual Documentation—Photographs or videotapes are often helpful in documenting building conditions. Captions should note location, timing, and context.

The ASTM D-7338 states in Section 7.6.5 Additional Detail—Start and stop time, temperature, humidity, occupancy, condition, and housekeeping of the property.

With a clearly written standard of practice for mold assessment, it’s truly hard to believe that there are so many mold assessors that provide a client little more than a few air samples for mold and call it a mold inspection.  Worse yet is when these mold inspectors call the simple collection of air samples for mold air quality samples.  Both are perfect examples of over selling and under delivering.

More importantly, I would stress that a mold assessment is NOT the collection of mold samples or testing for mold.  It may include the collection of mold samples but the collection of mold samples is NOT, on its own, a mold assessment.

If you hire a licensed mold assessor you should receive a written report in accordance with the ASTM D-7338 signed by the licensed mold assessor that performed the assessment.  Not by someone in another location that never visited your home or office.  When you hire a licensed mold assessor you should receive the written report signed by the licensed mold assessor that performed the assessment and never be required to pay an additional fee for a written report.

That’s ridicules, what are you paying for if you aren’t receiving a written mold assessment report from your licensed assessor.

So what should the written mold assessment report include?

As the ASTM D-7338 clearly states.  A detailed evaluation of data obtained from a building history and inspection to formulate an initial hypothesis about the

  •        origin,
  •        identity, location,
  •        and extent of amplification of mold growth

The written report can then be provided to licensed mold remediators that can then provide you with a written estimate for the remediation.

Finally, I close with questions you should ask your mold assessor before you hire them.

o    (Tip: You’re looking for conflicts of interest here. If they also perform remediation, they have a vested interest in finding mold to clean up.)

  •        Do you have references from clients within the past year that I can call to ask how the inspection went?

o   (Tip: Be cautious of anyone new to the business and doesn’t have references.)

  •        Do you perform mold remediation?

Please, as a take away, always ask if your mold assessor is Licensed and aware of the ASTM D-7338

 

Thank You

 

John P. Lapotaire, CIEC

Indoor Air Quality Solutions, IAQS

www.FloridaIAQ.com

Indoor Air Quality Association, IAQA President

www.IAQA.org

 

 


Spray Foam Insulation Inspection Part IV, The Wrap Up.

July 27, 2014

Welcome to the final installment of our four part series on Spray Polyurethane Foam SPF Insulation.  So far we’ve discussed the what and how’s involved with the application of spray foam insulation.  The articles were written in an effort to raise awareness for both consultants interested in investigating complaints associated with spray foam and for the consumer who may be interested in the application of spray foam in their home or office.

This final article will address the actual inspection of the property that has the complaint.  That’s right “property” not the air or the spray foam but the property as a whole.

To be truly scientific in our approach and provide a solid foundation for our ultimate opinion, we must follow the scientific method which begins with a scientific hypothesis.  A scientific hypothesis is a proposed explanation of a phenomenon which still has to be rigorously tested.  The hypothesis doesn’t matter as much as the process of challenging the hypothesis to either prove or disprove the hypothesis.

For example, if you hypothesize that the spray foam is producing a nuisance odor resulting in the occupant complaint, you must then exclude all other potential contributors as well as show how the spray foam is the contributor.  The mere identification of volatile organic compounds VOC’s only tells us that there are VOC’s present not where and why they are present.  This wala, eureka, yahtzee, moment for some really provides no real substantive answer.

The beautiful part of the scientific approach is that you will ultimately identify the true contributor.  Let’s say that I hypothesize that the ventilation is inadequate and allowing for the accumulation of the complaint odors within the property.  I then have to physically inspect the applied spray foam insulation in accordance with industry standards and the manufacturer’s specifications to either include or exclude the SPF as a contributor.  I then have to inspect all other potential contributors to either include or exclude potential contributors such as the preexisting condition of the attic, exhaust fans, previous insulation, rodents, insects, stored materials etc. Finally, I would need to fully assess the property’s ventilation system and establish the actual ventilation rate to include or exclude the ventilation rate as a contributor.

However you decide to hypothesize following this scientific approach to the investigation of occupant complaints associated with spray foam insulation will weed out all potential contributors and provide support for the actual contributors.

When I investigate Spray Polyurethane Foam SPF Insulation complaints I have three primary areas that must be individually addressed in each report.  First is the home or building’s ventilation system and ventilation rate. Second is the condition of the occupied space and the semi-conditioned attic space. Third is the actual inspection of the installed spray foam insulation.  You don’t have to inspect in that order but I personally believe any opinion rendered regarding spray polyurethane foam insulation that doesn’t include these three areas of concern will leave the client with too many unanswered questions and possibly no clear corrective action.

The first of my primary areas of concern when it comes to investigating Spray Polyurethane Foam SPF Insulation complaints is the home or buildings ventilation system and ventilation rate.
Part II began with a short explanation of the objective for installing Spray Polyurethane Foam SPF Insulation.  We discussed how you aren’t just adding insulation or “R value” to your home to save a few energy bucks.  Most importantly we discussed the how you would be changing your home to save those energy bucks.  We talked about how the SPF will literally seal your home with the intent of preventing air infiltration and exfiltration.   Infiltration is the unintentional or accidental introduction of outside air into a building, typically through cracks in the exterior walls, ceilings, attics, and through use of doors and windows. This outdoor air infiltration is often referred to as air leakage.  In layman’s terms, SPF prevents unconditioned outdoor air from getting into your home and conditioned indoor air from escaping out of your home. 

Your energy savings is the direct result of substantially reduced air infiltration and exfiltration due to the sealing capability of the SPF insulation.  It truly is great for reducing the amount of energy bucks needed to heat and cool your home.  Your home’s HVAC system now only has to contend with the newly sealed indoor environment which now includes the semi-conditioned attic. 

Controlling the air infiltration in turn makes it easier for your home’s HVAC Heating Ventilation and Air Conditioning system to heat, cool, and maintain your indoor thermal comfort.  That’s right, were talking about indoor thermal comfort not indoor air quality.

The discussion about the reduction in air infiltration and exfiltration led us to the necessary air exchange rate is also known as air changes per hour (ACHs) or air exchange rate. The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) have had a residential ventilation standard since 2003, ASHRAE 62.2.  The ASHRAE 62.2 minimum ventilation rate formula was set at 7.5 cfm per person plus 1 cfm per 100 square feet. 

So while your home’s recommended minimum ventilation rate remained unchanged for many #IAQS Indoor Air Quality Solutions, IAQS #IAQ, Outdoor Air Supplyyears, ASHRAE has recognized the tighter construction of today’s homes and 10 years after the initial ASHRAE 6.2, there are new changes to the 2013 version of ASHRAE 62.2.  Under the new formula, newer tightly built homes will need to be ventilated at a much higher rate, namely 7.5 cfm per person plus 3 cfm per 100 square feet. This means that for a tightly built 2,400-square-foot home with 3 bedrooms, the minimum airflow rate of the ventilation equipment has jumped 89%, from 54 cfm to 102 cfm.  Long story short, the 2013 version of ASHRAE 62.2 has eliminated the air infiltration credit on new tightly built homes.  Guess where SPF insulated homes fall?  Right smack dab in the middle of the (as designed) tightly built category.

Remember this, a tightly sealed home will not meet the required ventilation rate and will require outdoor air supply.  Depending on where you live, this may require the use of an ERV (energy recovery ventilator), an HRV (heat recovery ventilator), or a mechanical dehumidifier.  All three will require alterations to your homes HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) system.

This is a huge part of the investigation of Spray Polyurethane Foam SPF Insulation complaints.  Well over two thirds of the investigations I conduct are the direct result or partial result of inadequate ventilation.  This includes almost all retrofit applications and many new construction homes and buildings.  If you intend to provide investigations for Spray Polyurethane Foam SPF Insulation complaints be prepared to also inspect the homes ventilation system.  That includes knowing how to calculate the ventilation rate of the home or building and having the knowledge and ability to identify how the home or building is addressing the minimum ventilation rate set by ASHRAE 62.2.

Remember the consumer questions for SPF contractors in Part II?  Questions to Ask Your SPF Contractor Prior to Install 

SPF Consumer Question Number 1; How will you determine whether or not my home will meet or exceed the minimum ventilation rate once the SPF insulation is installed?

Be prepared to provide answers to this question and not just sample the air within your clients home.  Any home that does not meet the minimum ventilation rate can and most often will have an elevation in volatile organic compounds VOC’s due to inadequate ventilation.  Remember, dilution is often the solution. 

This is where the “Final Evaluation Test Out” was discussed in Part III.  This is a cornerstone of the true investigation of Spray Polyurethane Foam SPF Insulation complaints.#IAQS SPF Spray Foam Insulation Inspections 37

The Test Out air leakage testing is once again performed using a blower door to evaluate air leakage and natural ventilation after the spray polyurethane foam insulation application
The SPFA Builder’s Reference Handbook states that “If application of SPF renders the home to be insufficiently ventilated, work with HVAC contractor to add mechanical ventilation or HRV/ERV.

SPFA Builder’s Reference Handbook clearly states that “adjustments of HVAC system may be needed to:

  • Achieve Good IAQ
  • Meet the minimum mechanical ventilation rate via outdoor air supply and a dehumidifier or ERV/HRV
  • Avoid short-cycling of AC system for proper dehumidification
  • Supplemental humidification/dehumidification to control relative humidity”

To definitively establish the needs for any home once SPF has been installed where the traditionally vented attic has been changed to an unvented attic, the use of a blower door must be used to establish the home’s ventilation rate.  At that point, the home’s mechanical system requirements can be properly calculated using a Manual J for load calculation, a Manual S for equipment selection, and a Manual D for proper duct design. Without the known natural ventilation rate, you can only guess at the amount of outdoor air necessary to meet the minimum ventilation rate.  That is, if you have even taken the ACH into consideration and added the necessary outdoor air supply.  With the known natural ventilation rate and the new R values, the home’s HAVC can be correctly calculated and designed.

So when investigating a home or building with Spray Polyurethane Foam SPF Insulation complaints treat the home or a building as a system that must work together in harmony to provide the optimal indoor environment.  This must include an understanding of the home or buildings ventilation system and a thorough inspection and evaluation of the home or building’s ventilation rate.

The second of my three primary areas of concern when investigating Spray Polyurethane Foam SPF Insulation complaints is the condition of the occupied space and the semi-conditioned attic space.

#IAQS SPF Spray Foam Insulation Inspections 32

This was discussed in Part II SPF Consumer Question Number 2; How will you clean my attic and prepare it to be a semi-conditioned attic space? 

This is an area that must be taken into consideration when investigating all SPF complaints.  Anyone investigating SPF complaints must take into consideration the age of the home or building and the condition of the home or building’s attic.  Any home or building that is retrofit with SPF can have some rather odd contributors to occupant discomfort and nuisance odors trapped within the sealed home or building.  These contributors will now become much more concentrated and obvious to occupants when the spray foam insulation is installed.   Most of these contributors come from the old now sealed and semi-conditioned attic.

#IAQS SPF Spray Foam Insulation Inspections 31

Some of these contributors to occupant discomfort include the storage of materials in the now sealed attic space, attic insects and/or rodent activity, routine pest control applications, the previous insulation including the condition and material, and the ducting of gas appliances, fireplaces, and kitchen and bath fans.  The possibilities are endless and all must be considered and inspected during the investigation of spray polyurethane foam SPF Insulation complaints.  Remember, what has accumulated in the attic is now trapped within the now sealed semi-conditioned attic that is now a semi-conditioned attic that shares circulated air with the occupied living space of the home.

It’s time to take a closer look at how to physically inspect Spray Polyurethane Foam SPF Insulation and how to identify misapplied Spray Polyurethane Foam SPF Insulation. 

Let’s begin with a few examples of how NOT to identify misapplied Spray Polyurethane Foam SPF Insulation.  Photos A and B are NOT an inspection of spray foam insulation.  They are however a great example of how to spend your clients money sampling the attic air of their home or office.
Or you can actually inspect the applied Spray Polyurethane Foam SPF Insulation and identify properly applied spray foam insulation as shown in photo C or misapplied spray foam insulation as shown in photo D. 

#IAQS SPF Spray Foam Insulation Inspections Indoor Air Quality Solutions, IAQS 101

The SPF industry has guidance documents for the inspection of installed SPF. The American Chemistry Council Spray Foam Coalition – Center for the Polyurethanes Industry have published the guidance document titled “Spray Polyurethane Foam: Guidance on Sampling Techniques for the Inspection of Installed SPF”

The first step of the process would be to identify the product and how it failed.  This would be accomplished by utilizing the product manufactures installation guidelines and specifications.  I can’t stress this enough, an IEP that is attempting to identify how a product may or may not be impacting occupants must begin with the assessment of the product itself.  Air samples identifying an elevation of VOC’s alone do not provide a source.  The IEP must find the source.

With many of my clients I’m asked to review the findings of an indoor environmental professional (IEP) who has collected air samples and declared the elevated compounds to be the direct result of the spray foam insulation.  Believe it or not many of these IEP’s never even set foot on the property and have never actually inspected the spray foam insulation.

Without the identification of the spray foam and the actual inspection of the applied spray foam to identify how the product is or isn’t failing and contributing to the identified VOC’s, the report is little more than biased opinion that was established prior to the collection of air samples.  A very unscientific approach, a hypothesis that remains unproven and unchallenged. 

The first step of the spray foam inspection process is to identify the product and its proper installation according to the manufacturer’s specifications and industry standards.  Then comes the physical inspection of the spray foam insulation to determination of correct or incorrect installation.  This would be accomplished by identifying the product and utilizing the product manufactures installation guidelines and specifications to assess the products condition. 

The ACC Guidance on Sampling Techniques for the Inspection of Installed SPF states that the inspector should conduct a qualitative visual, tactile and olfactory inspection of the overall project.  When conducting an inspection, include all information that could be useful. For example, include comments and observations of the building occupants and document the specific circumstances of any complaints, such as when, where, and under what conditions.

ACC: Spray Foam Insulation Project Characteristics
Examples of items and issues to look for can include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Manufacturer#IAQS SPF Spray Foam Insulation Inspections Indoor Air Quality Solutions, IAQS 101
  • Product
  • Primers
  • Fire Retardants (Thermal and Ignition Barriers)
  • Contractor
  • Installation date(s)
  • Building location
  • Daily job QC sheets
  • Type of SPF (open- or closed-cell, reported density, sealant, etc.)

Installation locations (walls, ceilings, attics, crawlspaces, under slab, rim joists, etc.)
The ACC Guidance on Sampling Techniques for the Inspection of Installed SPF begins with documenting the SPF Substrate Characteristics. Generally describe to what materials the SPF has been applied. Examples would be: plywood, oriented strand board (OSB), gypsum wallboard, masonry units, brick, among others. Since substrates vary considerably within a given project, note as many as can be identified and which substrates cover large areas versus those that cover small or minor areas. Also, note any substrates where defects, if any, are observed. Use professional judgment to determine what other characteristics may need to be noted.

The ACC Guidance on Sampling Techniques for the Inspection of Installed SPF requires the documentation of Visual Observations.  Visual observations are those that can be seen with the naked eye. Visual observations can reveal overall characteristics of the project and some defects. Please note this is an example of what to look for during an inspection and some defects can only be identified from a core sample. Examples of detectable defects by visual observations may include the following examples:

  • Cracks – Cracks are characterized by a foam-to-foam cohesive failure. Their appearance may be random or patterned.
  • Surface Appearance – SPF typically appears relatively uniform in color and surface profile. These topics are discussed in more detail in later sections. The SPF surface may be shaved or sanded (wherein the surface will be relatively flat) or the surface may have its top skin in place (resulting in an undulating surface appearance).
  • Shrinkage – Shrinkage manifests itself as cracks or crevasses as a result of either cohesive (e.g., cracks within the mass of SPF) or adhesive (e.g., cracks between the SPF and a stud or substrate) failure. Shrinkage resulting in cracks is considered a defect and is often documented in inspections

Indoor Air Quality Solutions Spray Foam Insulation Inspection

  • Gaps and Voids – Gaps are unintentional openings in the thermal envelope which may permit excessive heat transfer. Examples include areas mistakenly not sprayed or sprayed too thin or areas where shrinkage has left gaps between the SPF and a stud or substrate. Gaps are considered defects and are documented in inspections.
  • Voids are uninsulated air spaces within building assemblies caused by the installation of interior (or exterior) finishing material over an otherwise satisfactory SPF surface. An example of a void is the air space resulting when a building assembly’s R-value may be met without completely filling the cavity with SPF.
  • Mechanical Damage – The SPF surface may become damaged as the result of mechanical damage (e.g., it was inadvertently struck by a tool or fork lift). Such damage would be considered a defect and documented accordingly in an inspection.

It is also very important to document your Color Observations of the spray foam insulation.  Document the overall surface color and note differences where observed in the color of the SPF.   Overall – SPF color is variable for a number of reasons, including the following:

  • Some manufacturers add colorants to their formulations for identification or marketing purposes. Unless pigmented or dyed, SPF color can be described as tan, beige, or buff in most but not all situations.
  • SPF’s raw materials (e.g., A- and B-side components) can vary in color and affect foam color.
  • UV radiation (sunlight) exposure tends to darken the color of SPF to an orange or rusty coloration, which is discussed further under On-Site Qualitative Examination.
  • Uniformity – While SPF color varies, unless different SPF products have been applied, the color is likely to be relatively uniform throughout the project. This is not always the case. UV degradation can be an exception to this.
  • Blotchiness – An Inspector may observe blotchiness on the surface of SPF as either an irregular dark or a light patch. This can be due to a number of factors, which could include: off-ratio foam, dark foam lacking B-component, light foam lacking A-component. See the discussion on Off-Ratio Foam below.
  • UV Degradation – Ultra-violet radiation (such as from sunlight) can degrade and darken the exposed surface of SPF. The degradation occurs on the surface, whereas the interior of the SPF mass is not affected. The SPF surface tends to turn an orange or rusty color. After prolonged exposure, the degraded foam surface typically becomes dusty and friable.

Poorly applied spray foam insulation will also have areas of delamination of blistering.  The guidance document requires the inspector to look for and document the identification of delamination or blistering.  Delamination occurs when the bond between the SPF and the substrate or a prior foam pass is broken. A blister occurs when the effect of the delamination is an uplifting or bulging of the foam surface. Frequently, the cause of either one can be a weak adhesive bond between the foam and the substrate or between the foam and the prior foam pass.
Small, isolated delamination’s or blisters may not present a defect sufficient to impact the SPF’s performance. Widespread, large delamination’s and blisters could affect performance and may be symptomatic of application or material defects.

Blisters typically can be seen and verified by touch: they may have a slight give to them whereas a bulge created by solid SPF will be firm.  Delamination’s typically can be identified by lightly tapping the SPF surface with an open palm; a hollow feel or sound is indicative of a delamination.

What about the odors associated with the occupant complaint?  How do we document the odor?  Well we document exactly how the client describes it word for word.  Then we document what we smell as specifically as possible.  Remember during SPF applications, odors are common and normal.  During retrofit applications, existing problems prior to the installation of SPF, such as moldy or mildewed carpets, wet ducts, or existing insulation, may be accentuated by the tighter building envelope that results from the application of SPF. Once the project is completed and the spray area ventilated, odors generally dissipate. Lingering odors may be the result of several factors and can be a combination of numerous sources, making it difficult to identify them. Sources of odors in new construction and retrofit applications can include: SPF; other construction materials, such as paints, cleansers, lumber, finishing treatments; occupant life style; nearby industrial or other emissions; pre-existing (“old house”) odors; construction defects, such as misrouted plumbing vents; or high individual sensitivity.

Odors may be noticed within areas of the building, for example, specific rooms, or when taking or examining a sample. Document the presence of odor, describe its characteristics with specific adjectives such as “fishy,” or “rotten egg,” and where and under what conditions it was noticed.
Documentation of these qualitative observations can include photos (visual items) and notes. When conducting an inspection, include all information that could be useful. For example, include comments and document the specific circumstances of any complaints, such as when, where, and under what conditions.

At this point in the inspection, we haven’t measured the spray foam insulation thickness or removed any of the applied spray foam insulation to inspect the product itself.  We’re just documenting our visual and olfactory observations of the exposed areas of the spray foam insulation.  For the spray foam insulation to be properly installed, the contracted and specified thickness must be documented.  I often find that the areas of the thickest spray foam insulation to be the areas where I want to take a sample.  If the product is the applicators commodity, then they aren’t going to apply more than they need.  That is unless they are covering up an area that may not look so good or was misapplied. 

#IAQS SPF Spray Foam Insulation Inspections Indoor Air Quality Solutions, IAQS 101

Table 1: Examples of Thickness Probe Frequency

SPF Chart

Now that we’ve measured the applied spray foam insulation we can move on to the collection of the samples.  I collect two foot by two foot samples at the roof or truss to truss, rafter to rafter.  On a wall or gable I sample stud to stud or typically sixteen inches by sixteen inches.  These larger samples will allow me to easily view the spray foam characteristics necessary to properly inspect the spray foam.

These next areas of the inspection cannot be identified without the actual sampling of the spray foam insulation.  This is by far the most critical aspect of the spray foam insulation inspection.

  • Streakiness – Document the presence and extent of visually detected streakiness, such as darker then lighter SPF within the same sample area.
  • Scorching – Scorching may occur when the SPF becomes excessively hot during its application and cure phase. When SPF’s exothermic reaction results in the foam getting too hot for too long a period of time, the foam may degrade, resulting in scorching indicated by a brownish discoloration.#IAQS SPF Spray Foam Insulation Inspections Indoor Air Quality Solutions, IAQS 101
  • Foam Profile (Cross-Sectional) – Core samples are normally extracted to provide a full-depth sample of the SPF, from its substrate to its top skin surface. Within this cross section, knit lines may be evident indicating the number of passes or lifts, and the thickness of those passes.
  • Cell Structure Consistency – When visually examining an SPF core sample, the foam profile (substrate to surface) is typically uniform and the cells are small and consistent. The cell structure is tight, small and consistent at the substrate interface and on either side of knit lines.#IAQS SPF Spray Foam Insulation Inspections Indoor Air Quality Solutions, IAQS 101

Potential cell structure defects could include the following:

  • Internal voids: A large cell forming within the SPF mass, which may be due to air entrapment. These may constitute a defect if the internal voids are large or frequent enough to significantly affect the SPF’s performance (Figures 16 and 17).
  • Open, irregular cells: A layer of open, irregular cells may be an indication that moisture was introduced or present on the substrate. If extensive, this can lead to structural failure of the cell layer, blistering and/or delamination (Figure 18).
  • Elongated cells: Isolated, occasional elongated cells that are visually detectable do not normally constitute a defect.  If extensive, then consider documenting
  • Knit-line Adhesion – When SPF is applied, it forms a surface skin which is typically denser than the core of the foam mass. When SPF is applied to an existing SPF surface, the adhesion of the subsequent foam pass forms a knit line with the first pass. Normal knit lines are strong, exhibiting excellent adhesion.#IAQS SPF Spray Foam Insulation Inspections Indoor Air Quality Solutions, IAQS 101b
  • Off-Ratio Foam: Stickiness or Brittleness – Typically, commercial SPF insulation systems are designed to be applied in a one-to-one ratio (by volume) of the A- and B-components. Malfunctions can occur that could upset the SPF ratio, such as line or strainer blockages, running out of one material and pump cavitation.

Off-ratio foam is normally classified by the lacking material, thus off-ratio foam may be said to be “B-side lacking” or “A-side lacking.” Opposite jargon is also used: “B-rich” or “A-rich.” Off-ratio SPF may not provide the same physical properties of on-ratio SPF. In the field, off-ratio foam at times can be identified by its color and feel, but there are exceptions. Table 3 below provides some general characteristics of off-ratio SPF. The SPF manufacturer can also provide additional guidance for the specific SPF being used.

Table 2: General Characteristics of Some Off-Ratio Foams

SPF Chart II

Odor – Odors may be noticed while extracting samples or within the sample. Document the presence of odor and describe its characteristics with descriptive words such as “fishy” or “rotten egg,” along with other sample documentation.

This information is straight from the ACC Guidance on Sampling Techniques for the Inspection of Installed SPF.  This provides all who intend to investigate occupant complaints regarding spray foam insulation an industry reference document to support their method and ultimately their findings.  If you follow the guidance document and approach your investigation scientifically you will be surprised at what you will find and how well you can support your findings.

In my experience, spray polyurethane foam insulation investigations can be categorized in three distinct categories. The first two seem to be the primary areas of spray foam insulation investigations. The first area is simply miss-applied spray foam, the second is pre-existing of recently introduced contributors, and the third would be is exposure and sensitization.

The First Category – Misapplied SPF
These complaints and nuisance odors are directly associated with incorrectly applied spray polyurethane foam SPF insulation and can be addressed by either correcting the areas of misapplied foam or by removing and re-insulating the areas. Misapplied includes improper ventilation during the application, incomplete application, off ratio application, and also includes SPF in direct contact with recessed can lights in the attic, keyless light fixture bulbs, dryer vents, and/or chimney flues, all of which can heat the SPF and cause a tremendous amount of chemical odors.

Category 1 is relatively cut and dry and requires the onsite inspection of the SPF and the collection of no air samples.  The inspection of the foam and the determination of correct and complete installation is a critical step.

The Second Category – Preexisting or Recently Introduced Contributors
This category cannot be stress enough to the professionals that are investigating SPF complaints. 

This category runs the gamut and can include some rather odd contributors to occupant discomfort and nuisance odors that become much more concentrated when the SPF is installed.   These include the HVAC system, air exchange rate, storage of materials in the now sealed space, insect and or rodent activity, routine pest control applications, the previous insulation condition and material, proper ducting of kitchen and bath fans.  The possibilities are endless and all must be considered.  Remember that what has accumulated in the attic is now semi-conditioned air that is shared with the attic and living space of the home.

It may not be the SPF insulation that is producing the odor or contaminate that is causing occupant discomfort. However, the SPF insulation may well have eliminated the natural ventilation of the attic which prevented the odors and contaminants from entering the home.  The SPF insulation may be trapping the odors and contaminants within the semi-conditioned space.  This area must be thoroughly investigated to rule out the possibility that the home is accumulating VOC’s due to inadequate ventilation. #IAQS SPF Spray Foam Insulation Inspections Indoor Air Quality Solutions, IAQS 101IEP’s must remember that while the SPF insulation may be the issue unless you can exclude all other issues within the home you haven’t completed your investigation, you’ve just begun.

The Third Category –Sensitization Due to Exposure
This category includes all occupants who have become sensitized or allergic to the chemicals produced during the application of SPF. With sensitization, occupants have either re-entered the property shortly after the foam is applied, well before the manufacturer recommended re-occupancy time of 24 to 48 hours while the SPF insulation is still curing and off-gassing, or in the most severe cases of occupant sensitivity the exposure actually took place during the application of the SPF insulation.

Sensitization of the occupants can be a result of many issues such as occupants that don’t want to spend the money for a hotel stay, early re-entry or occupancy, to the curious application observer.  Occupant sensitization can also be the result of the lack of proper ventilation during the application.  Venting of the off-gassing of the SPF insulation during application is critical and often not conducted at all. In all cases of occupant sensitization that I have been involved with, the SPF insulation application was not properly vented to the exterior which created a substantial accumulation of the off-gassing chemicals within the property. These trapped volatile organic chemicals VOC’s are what sensitizes the occupants who have either re-occupied too early or were present during the SPFI application.

Sensitization occurs when the occupants are overexposed to the trapped volatile organic chemicals VOC’s and become sensitized. From that point on, any exposure to even a minute amount of the chemical causes a reaction. The process of sensitization can make a home unlivable for people who become sensitized.

Homes that have improper ventilation during the application process of the SPF insulation are also included in the miss-applied category and almost always have identified areas of miss-applied SPF insulation (SPFI).

This category is unique in that any attempt at reducing the occupant’s exposure to the SPF insulation that they are now sensitized to may not be of any relief.  I have had no luck in providing sensitized occupants relief from the home they are now sensitive to.  I have been involved in everything from the introduction of outdoor air through a pre-filter and dehumidifier to control the temperature, humidity, particles, path, and pressure to full removal of the SPF insulation.

Unfortunately that bell can’t be un-rung.

I hope this series of articles has helped you better understand spray polyurethane foam insulation and the unique changes that take place when SPS is installed.  If you follow the ACC, American Chemistry Council Spray Foam Coalition: Guidance on Sampling Techniques for the Inspection of Installed SPF” and approach the investigation scientifically you will be able to provide your clients a very beneficial opinion and report.

Keep an open mind and remember “It’s not always the spray foam insulation.”

About Indoor Air Quality Solutions & Microshield Environmental Services, LLC

Since 2001, Florida residents have turned to the indoor environmental experts at Indoor Air Quality Solutions & Microshield Environmental Services, LLC.  The family owned and operated companies, based in the Orlando area, offer a comprehensive approach to identifying and correcting comfort and indoor air quality problems.  Their expert staff utilizes the latest technologies and industry recognized standards to identify and resolve indoor environmental issues.

John P. Lapotaire, CIEC

#IAQS


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