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Mold (the "M-word")


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I don't want to get involved with mold testing. First of all, I don't have any technical training in it. Second, I'm only doing this on the side of my full time career, and I'm spooked by the potential high-liability exposure by getting involved with mold testing. I've heard of some big dollar lawsuits surrounding it. No thanks.

But what's the best thing to tell a potential client that calls and asks about mold testing? I know some of the established HI's in my area are advertising for it, and it makes me look as if I provide less of a service.

I don't even know if the calling client really knows what's involved in mold testing, and I personally freely admit that I don't. Nor do I want to.

I feel like I'll lose callers because of this. Can someone suggest a good reply to this question? Is my stance on this issue wrong?

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It's easy to say you are not qualified and the response to this issue is no different than any other issue. Defer it to the appropriate qualified specialist for further evaluation and educate your client by warning them that there are potential adverse health affects associated with certain types of mold and that laboratory analysis is necessary to determine what type of mold it is. Many recommend using weasel words to not even identify it as mold such as "microbial growth."

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Tell this that for the most part mold testing is a waste of money. The reputable labs even tell you that you should not test for mold to just be testing. If you see mold, smell mold you have mold. No need to test for it.

Tell your customers that real mold testing is expensive and that some snake oil home inspectors sell mold testing that does not really tell much. I would suggest hooking up with an environmental company that does IAQ testing and then refer any testing to them. This is what I have been doing for the past several years and it has worked out great. I even receive referrals from the environmental company.

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Konrad,

I don't do termite inspections, septic inspections, well testing, or a lot of other things, most especially mold testing. I just tell people I stick to what I'm good at -being a simple home inspector.

But people do like one-stop shopping, which is why Scott's advice is dead on. When a client asks about mold, you can say: "I don't do mold testing, and most homes don't need it, but if you are concerned about something you saw in the house, here's the number of the best mold outfit in the business." That's what we do, anyway.

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Originally posted by Scottpat

Tell this that for the most part mold testing is a waste of money. The reputable labs even tell you that you should not test for mold to just be testing. If you see mold, smell mold you have mold. No need to test for it.

Tell your customers that real mold testing is expensive and that some snake oil home inspectors sell mold testing that does not really tell much. I would suggest hooking up with an environmental company that does IAQ testing and then refer any testing to them. This is what I have been doing for the past several years and it has worked out great. I even receive referrals from the environmental company.

Scott, the value in mold testing after one discovers it is in identifying what type of mold is present. I agree, testing just to be testing is silly but of course there are some clients who are just squeamish and want to test. Usually families with pre-existing serious allergy issues.

There are over 30,000 known types of mold. One has been identified as toxic (that's the one the attorney's are getting rich from) and many have allergenic effects which as with all allergenic effects vary individually by degrees.

I offer a mold sampling service but I don't advocate that for everyone. It was a business decision for me. I am qualified for it. I simply collect physical or air samples and forward them to the lab for analysis, the same way I handle lead paint, asbestos and radon sampling. IMO no one is more qualified to find mold if it exists in the home than the HI. If the home inspection is thorough we will know.

I really don't push clients to have mold testing done, I simply offer it as an additional service and have found it helpful in trying to quickly resolve the issue once I have discovered mold during the course of the home inspection. There is liability in not properly disclosing or deferring and there is liability in testing. I feel it is a valuable service to provide once mold is discovered and helps to resolve the issue quickly in an especially fast moving real estate market. An informed client is a happy client IMO.

Over the past 3 years I have discovered Stachybotrys (so called killer mold) enough times that I feel justified and convinced that I am providing a viable service for my clients. And yes it is expensive. I charge nearly as much for the mold test as for the property inspection. Actually more if I am called out just to do the mold sampling with no home inspection involved.

By the way. Most attorneys advise not to even use the M word unless one feels they are qualified to identify mold. They advocate the use of weasel words like "microbial growth."

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I don't mean to be negative, but being a qualified inspector is a long and difficult process that is never ending. If you think you can be all things to all people - you are on the road to court. In the words of Nick Gromicko "we deserve a piece of the pie and we are the only ones out there qualified to find mold" (May 2004) Of course all inspectors can do what they want and find words that they believe will protect them and every now and then speak with their attorney.

I firmly believe that every inspector should stick to inspections within the standards of a national organization and stop trying to figure out a way to make more money doing "whatever".

I have never been sucessfully sued and only get notice every year or so. My advice seems to work for the other inspectors in this office and this area. I know it is difficult to "leave money on the table", but it will pay off in the future. I am involved with 100+ legal actions against other inspectors per year and 100% are because the inspector represented knowledge they did not have or did not communicate what they are going to do.

By the way, me and everyone that works with me are fully "qualified" to do damn near everything and are experts on one thing only - home inspections.

My advice is do great home inspections and refer everything else to the experts while maintaining your expertise in home inspections.

Just my Tuesday morning thoughts!

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Although there are no established governmental guidlines for mold testing there are consensus protocols which have been developed by the Indoor Air Quality Association and the City of New Youk Department of Health.

As to "toxic" mold there is no such thing. Certain species of mold can be "toxogenic" which means they are capable of producing toxins which can have adverse effects on persons who are sensitive to them. If you are not sensitive to the most toxogenic molds you can ingest them, inhale them, and even bathe in them with no ill effects. On the other hand if you are sensitive to the most benign species they can kill you.

The only indication I am aware of for speciating mold is to provide a clients physician with information to be compared to sensitivity testing performed by the physician.

NORM SAGE

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Knowing the type of mold is not all that important. Finding the source of the mold is. Stop the moisture and you will stop the mold. If it is allot of mold have it professional abated and go on with life. I agree that air samples are important if abatement is needed. Test before and clearance test afterwords.

Those that do test, let me ask you this.

What do you provide your customer?

Do you just give them the lab report that has a bunch of numbers on it?

Do you provide an abatement plan that an abatement contractor can follow (similar to an asbestos abatement plan)?

How much education do you have?

I ask the above questions to raise attention to what is needed to do mold testing properly. I have over 200 hours of course classes on mold and IAQ that I have paid for and none were put on by the testing labs, but I far from and expert. I have learned enough know that I don't want to test for mold. In my area a real mold/IAQ inspection starts at $1200 and goes up real quick, but these are don by IAQ professionals who's credentials can hold up in court.

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Originally posted by Scottpat

Knowing the type of mold is not all that important. Finding the source of the mold is. Stop the moisture and you will stop the mold. If it is allot of mold have it professional abated and go on with life. I agree that air samples are important if abatement is needed. Test before and clearance test afterwords.

Those that do test, let me ask you this.

What do you provide your customer?

Do you just give them the lab report that has a bunch of numbers on it?

Do you provide an abatement plan that an abatement contractor can follow (similar to an asbestos abatement plan)?

How much education do you have?

I ask the above questions to raise attention to what is needed to do mold testing properly. I have over 200 hours of course classes on mold and IAQ that I have paid for and none were put on by the testing labs, but I far from and expert. I have learned enough know that I don't want to test for mold. In my area a real mold/IAQ inspection starts at $1200 and goes up real quick, but these are don by IAQ professionals who's credentials can hold up in court.

I totally agree and it goes without saying that elimination of the source of moisture is paramount nd fundamental Scott. That issue should be covered by all of us in the home inspection report. When I do an inspection for mold along with the air or swab sampling I also address this issue as p[paramount. While I am eminently qualified to look for and sample mold I am not qualified to issue remediation protocol but do recommend qualified companies (I have turned down referral fees from some) to perform further evaluation and I recommend qualified state licensed Industrial Hygienists (those are the acknowledged experts in my state) to do follow up testing. There isn't a fee large enough for me to attempt to certify clearance.

What I do provide my customer is an interpretation of the numbers, sources for opinions by the medical field, recommended further action and point them in the right direction for any needed remediation. What I avoid is passing myself off as the expert. I am a home inspector and a mold sampler, a generalist in both fields.

While I cannot tear down an air conditioning compressor and repair it, I can start it and perform an inspection on it that will determine if there is need for further evaluation within a given set of standards. I do the same thing with mold.

Just as with any system we inspect in a HI, the mold sampling does not indicate that the home environment is safe, but sampling, using industry established protocol, will tell someone what is in the home atmosphere and how it relates to the ambient environment. That is the role of a "mold tester" not to be confused with an industrial hygienist, lab technician or remediator. For anyone doing mold sampling this is a line that you do not want to cross. Unless you are otherwise qualified, IMO, be what you are, a sample taker and a referral source for client education and further evaluation. Do not hold yourself forth as an expert.

I have not yet reached the point in the HI or mold testing professions where I qualify as an expert witness. I doubt that I ever get there in the realm of mold. I’m not really interested. I sample because I think it is in my clients’ best interest.

As far as the value of identifying what type of mold is present I couldn't disagree more with your position. The remediation processes and the associated costs vary radically depending on whether the discovered mold spores are considered to have toxic effects or not. When a client is buying or selling a house, I feel that this is "a condition that significantly affects the value, desirability, habitability, or safety of the building."

I didn’t come into this to “get my piece of the pie.â€

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Originally posted by crusty

As far as the value of identifying what type of mold is present I couldn't disagree more with your position. The remediation processes and the associated costs vary radically depending on whether the discovered mold spores are considered to have toxic effects or not. When a client is buying or selling a house, I feel that this is "a condition that significantly affects the value, desirability, habitability, or safety of the building."

I guess the abatement process is different in your area. In the 50+ abatement projects that I have been involved with the contractor is required to protect his workers regardless of the type of mold. It is also protection from the chemicals that are used to clean the mold up. Abatement contractors work under OSHA guidelines so they treat all mold the same OSHA does not care what type of mold it is.

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In my area a real mold/IAQ inspection starts at $1200 and goes up real quick, but these are don by IAQ professionals who's credentials can hold up in court.

Ok, NOW we're getting somewhere. Scott, if a REAL IAQ test is in excess of $1,000.00 (and I believe you), just precisely what are they doing during those evaluations?

Going back to my original post, I'm looking for an answer as to why my competitor is offering mold testing and I'm not. If I were to reply to a caller that a "real" test costs that much, (and my competitors are just performing hardware-store quality sampling) they'll ask what the "real" IAQ test involves.

For me to really sound like I know what I'm talking about... What is done in an IAQ evaluation?

Thanks for all the replies, guys.

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Originally posted by Konrad

In my area a real mold/IAQ inspection starts at $1200 and goes up real quick, but these are don by IAQ professionals who's credentials can hold up in court.

Ok, NOW we're getting somewhere. Scott, if a REAL IAQ test is in excess of $1,000.00 (and I believe you), just precisely what are they doing during those evaluations?

Going back to my original post, I'm looking for an answer as to why my competitor is offering mold testing and I'm not. If I were to reply to a caller that a "real" test costs that much, (and my competitors are just performing hardware-store quality sampling) they'll ask what the "real" IAQ test involves.

For me to really sound like I know what I'm talking about... What is done in an IAQ evaluation?

Thanks for all the replies, guys.

I guess the big difference is the ability of the company doing the mold survey/evaluation/inspection to back up what they say with experience and qualifications. It's kind of hard for a home inspector with 8 hours of training from a commercial lab to compete with a Biochemist, an Environmental Engineer, and an Industrial Hygienist!

They also give the customer more than the sheet from the lab. They provide details as to the cause of the mold and the exact steps for remediation that an abatement contractor can follow.

As for what they use for sampling, this all depends on the job at hand. Air-o-cell cassettes, Viable microbial particle sampling, bulk, tape lifts or swabs. The lab cost are usually less than 20% to 30% of the total cost.

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  • 2 weeks later...

To revisit this topic, I traded e mail this morning with an abatement/testing lab in Omaha and asked him some questions about home inspectors and mold inspections. The three questions are my questions, the replies follow each question. See the following pasted text below...

1. Are the testing methods used by home inspectors much more than hardware-store quality testing kits?

Some inspectors are using highly qualified labs

in the bulk , tape, and air sampling to perform the analysis. The liability

resides in the method of sampling, the training of the individual performing

the sampling, and the lack of calibration equipment (very expensive) for the

air samples. I've had home inspectors tell me how and where they sample air

and it was against current guidelines and standards.

2.) What does it REALLY take to test for mold/IAQ?

Indoor air samples should be collected using equipment, which is maintained,

calibrated, and set at an optimum flow rate for the target contaminate

tested. Air samples need to be collected where there are health concern,

where there are litigation issues, or in some cases insurance issues

involved. Do not collect air samples if mold is obvious and the home owner

wishes just to remove the damaged surface. Moisture intrusion is the culprit

behind fungi growth so a protimeter is essential ($500) to obtain internal

and surface moisture levels. A real time humidity meter is necessary to

determine existing levels ($2500). Liability is involved if the air samples

are not collected after remediation. I better stop at this point as this

gets involved.

3.) Training, training and training is necessary. Air quality, HVAC, mold

sampling, mold remediation, aerosol dispersal, and building mechanics are

topical areas. Organizations need to be joined and mold certifications need

to be obtained. Error and omission insurance is a must (unless you want your

client to take over your business and possibly personal possessions). E & O

costs 1% of gross receipts and takes awhile to obtain.

End of quote. I won't post the firm's name here, because I'm posting it without their permission. I can drop someone a name privately if they wish.

I think I'll just steer clear of this whole thing, even though my competitors are doing it. [b)]

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  • 7 months later...

As an inspector I do about 4 to 5 Air samples and several swab samples dailey. The sampling with lab reports company findings and moisture test goes for $275.00 for two samples, more depending on the Sqft of the home. for a total of $1,375 per day. I carry E&O and liability that covers my home inspections and my fungal testing also; I do several fungal inspections a week for insurance companies. I like doing the fungal inspections that is why I have spent my money and time on all the training. Now you are right if you have an inspector that does not know what he or she is doing or saying on the topic of fungal growths you could loose more than your pride! It seems like you are not in favor of the testing; some times the home inspector has to think outside the box.

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Originally posted by Darren

Does anyone know if a true protocol is in place about mold testing? Is there a state or federal standard? Are most testers shoooting from the hip?

Darren

There is no Federal Standard. The only guidelines that are in place were established in New York City.

Nearly all Certified Industrial Hygienists reference this standard: http://www.nyc.gov/html/doh/html/epi/moldrpt1.html

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Originally posted by hausdok

Hmmm,

Now, if Jeff May, with his qualifications and decades of experience, says there is too much risk in it and can figure out that it is an unnecessary, I think the rest of us ought to stay as far from it as we can and those of us who don't are taking unfair advantage of a public that is simply spooked by overzealous media coverage and sensationalism.

I also remember discussing this whole sampling thing with a fellow who is a mycologist and teaches at the University of Oregon. He tells me that air and swab sampling is another exercise in futility and that the only way to get anywhere near accurate mold samples is with tape-lift sampling. I don't know much about the process, but since most of these 'schools' teach air and swab sampling I don't give them much credence.

Food for thought.

ONE TEAM - ONE FIGHT!!!

Mike

Yes, exactly.

Jeff May is one of approx. 3 people whose expert opinion I am willing to consider relative to mold sampling. He's one of those guys that is a benchmark reference; if he says something, you can (pretty much) take that something & bank on it.

His comments, by themselves, condemn mold sampling as part of a home inspection. Taken w/ the plethora of other studies indicating "casual" mold sampling is worthless, it is clear that the entire process is fraught w/problems, inaccuracies, or downright stupidities. Anyone choosing to ignore these slam dunk realities does so @ the expense of the profession, and @ the expense of their own integrity.

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Ronald, what does CMA and CMI mean after your name? Ever wonder why some perfectly sane home inspectors don't do mold stuff?

Likely either me or someone in my company has had like or similiar training in mold sampling. I would not trust anyone working for me or myself to do an adequate job. Has anyone ever initiated a cause of action involving your mold practice?

For the old timers: remember XRF lead machines, propane salt tracing of exchangers, UFFI sample tubes, Drager Tubes, etc... Seems like a similiar road, except technology now does have the answer for mold testing. Most inspectors are scammin' the public.

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I have a hard enough time just doing a house inspection. I try to be thorough and give my best, but more than once I've fretted and had to check pictures three days later. I can't imagine 1) trying to sell the service 2) getting my mind out of inspection mode to perform the service.

I have enough distractions already. The last house I did the woman that lived there said "Oh My GOD" for three and a half hours and just wouldn't stop following my client and I through the inspection. As I was leaving she was pounding the "For Sale" sign back into the lawn. Turns out, it was a prudent thing to do.

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