Mark: Hey, Mark Bossert here from Top Local Lead Generation. We’re talking mold with Mr. David Fairbairn of Fairbairn Inspection Services in Vancouver. How’re you doing today David?
David: I’m good Mark; just as excited as you are about talking about mold.
Mark: So, toxic black mold; myths and facts. So what are the myths and facts about toxic black mold?
David: Toxic black mold, you know we’ve talked about it before Mark. You hear about it in the news, see it on TV, toxic black mold, everyone’s scared of it, nobody wants it in their house, but what is it? I’d like to show you exactly what it is, where it comes from and what it’s actually called because there’s a good chance you’ve never heard of the actual name of the mold so, again I’m going to try screen sharing here, just let me know if you see the pictures come up on your screen, just give me a second here, try this again, o.k. in about three seconds you should see the photo come up on the screen.
Mark: it hasn’t come up yet. You’ve got a bit of connection – here we go.
David: So the first thing I want to talk about with toxic black mold is that it’s not actually called toxic black mold. You ask a scientist, you know, what’s toxic black mold, they’re probably going to say, oh you’re talking about Stachybotrys, I’ve got the word up on the screen on the top left there, it’s called Stachybotrys. Now Stachybotrys is the genus of mold. Mold is broken down into genus which is the family of mold, and it’s also subdivided at that point into different species. So we’ve got Stachybotrys which is the genus of mold and there’s about 50 different types of it. Now it is notable for two things, it’s extremely slimy and grows in extremely wet conditions so if we see Stachybotrys in a home, usually we have a fairly major moisture problem, it’s not just a little bit of shower mold, we’re talking about floods, huge roof leaks, nasty ventilation problems, grow ops, things like that that there are actually going to cause this to grow. So this is the worst of the worst; there’s 50 different types of it and the one that we’re talking about today in particular that is called toxic black mold by the media is called S. Chartarum and the S stands for Stachybotrys. Stachybotrys is the genus and Chartarum is the species, it’s a particular type of mold that has a very bad reputation in homes. So S. Chartarum, exceedingly slimy, it is black, in some cases it’s actually not black, I’ve seen it where it is sort of a fuzzy gray colour, it also shows up blue sometimes. This picture was taken in Surrey, it’s a shed that was leaking for about 15 years and they closed the doors and sealed it all up and we can see the amount of heavy visible growth growing in what should have been the ceiling. O.k. so this came back as S. Chartarum. You can see that we also have another type of mold which tested as a different type. We can see it’s sort of white and fluffy at the bottom of this luggage, o.k. so there’s some pretty heavy growth here.
The history of toxic black mold is, that in the 1990’s, the early 90’s, it got a very bad reputation when I believe an infant actually died in the United States of I believe it was pulmonary hemorrhaging and they did an autopsy and found that the infant had breathed in some S. Chartarum spores and that’s why the alarm was sent up that this is a particularly toxic type of mold and ever since then it’s had a terrible reputation. Now the CDC weighted their study that said actually we found no link between Stachybotrys Chartarum spores and hemorrhaging but nobody’s taking a chance and if you have this type of mold you need to remediate it, basically you don’t want to take any chances with this because it is technically toxic and so this is a close up of the S. Chartarum, see the spore cluster where it’s releasing spores into the air and as mold has evolved over the years it is getting more and more aggressive because there are other types of mold that has to compete it. This is basic evolutionary biology where the strongest wins and what mold has done particularly Stachybotrys is that it has evolved what is called mycotoxins. Mycotoxins were originally intended to kill off other types of competing molds but in some cases and in this case, particularly true that it will cause problems in humans, so it’s actually toxic to people.
What we’re finding is that we’re getting respiratory problems; it’s been in very loose ways it’s been connected to cancer, although I don’t know if that’s actually been confirmed or not so the CDC’s been doing studies on this, you should educate yourself on this. It’s been linked to cancer; it’s been linked to a lot of allergy problems, respiratory problems, itchy, watery eyes, skin infections and a host of other health problems.
So usually we see this where we have a mold situation, a flood situation so we’ve had a lot of water leakage. This is actually an addition, a room built onto the back of a house in Burnaby and what happened here was they built on the side of a hill and basically the slope of the soil directed all the water into the wall cavity and it basically rotted out the room from the outside in and they also left it sealed up all summer so this had no ventilation at all. Mold like this really thrives in very stale, damp air and this is what the conditions that were actually created in this home were perfect for Stachybotrys growth. You can see the amount of damage to the drywall sort of at the top interior and exterior where it’s taken deep roots and I mean the drywall is so soft you can just push your finger right through it so at this point we need a full remediation done.
Now when we talk about remediation, we’re talking about a couple things, you know if you hire a contractor who’s not familiar with molds they may just go and remove the visible molds but they might not completely remove, you know the source of the moisture leak, they might not remove the invisible molds and they may not do a job that will last a long time. So you have to be very, very careful once you see this, especially if you’ve tested it and it comes back as Stachybotrys that you call a mold remediation company who is certified and has a lot of experience with dealing with this.
So the answer is, now normally I say o.k., you know if you have a bit of mold growth in one spot, you’re going to want to remove it with a store bought product, if we come across Stachybotrys we need to actually call a professional, we don’t want you to hurt yourself, it’s not worth the potential health risks to you and your family by living in the house, you don’t want to be playing around with this stuff. It’s really, really nasty mold.
O.k. so the answer is usually a full remediation, so we’re bringing in the crew who have respirators, they’re N95 respirators that filter out microbiological spores and things like that. We’ve got our suits on and what we’re actually doing as we go, we’re encapsulating the mold so we’re sealing off the area, we are sealing every bit of material coming out of that room, we’re completely sealing it off and disposing of it safely. We are testing as we go. We are removing all this mold and we come back and we do a post remediation air test. We test the air, we find out if there’s still some spores left over after a certain period of time, we need to go even further, just wipe it out and that usually involves just more moisture testing, just more material removal. So in many cases we’re actually removing a good section of the building to replace it and in some cases it is treatable with certain products that usually at this point, you know, these are professional products that you’re not going to find at a hardware store, you’re going to have this company come in and do it properly.
O.k. so that’s basically what we’re going to do with Stachybotrys and that’s sort of an introduction to this material so just to sort of drive the point home, if you have this material, get it tested, find out what you have in your home. If it is Stachybotrys you need to call a certified mold company – call us 604-395-2795. We can assist with the issue and the number one is safety so don’t cut corners and don’t take any chances if you do see it. Call us right away and we can not only assist with testing and sampling, we can also come back later in the job, make sure that it’s completely gone and make sure that you’re not breathing anything nasty.
Mark: Awesome job David. So one of the things to drive home is that this is not treatable by your little spray bottle or bleach and bleach solution and pretending like you can just wipe it away. This is nasty, health injurious stuff that you need to have professionals look after for you and like David was saying, his company is certified in mold remediation so they’re the guys to call. FairbairnInspections.com call them at 604-395-2795. Thanks a lot David.
David: Thanks Mark, see you later.
We’re talking with David Fairbairn certified home inspector, about Mold – what does it look like, is it toxic, how do I get rid of it?
Mark: Hi, it’s Mark Bossert from Top Local Lead Generation and we’re here this morning with David Fairbairn from Fairbairn Inspections in Vancouver BC. David’s a certified home inspector and we’re going to be talking about is there mold in my home. How you doing this morning David?
David: Doing great Mark – how you doing?
Mark: I’m great. So, tell me what does mold look like?
David: The biggest myth about mold that you’re going to find is that it actually is visible. In most cases, if you have mold in your home you may not be able to see it. Mold can grow on walls, it can grow on countertops, it can grow on an surface but it may not be the fuzzy black stuff that you see on HGTV – and everybody says, ‘oh my gosh here’s some toxic black mold. So that’s the biggest myth about mold is that you can see it all the time. Now if you can actually see it, usually it’s pretty bad. If you see a lot of dark stains, fuzzy stuff mold growth – usually you’ve reached a point where the mold is what’s called viable. There are two states of mold: there’s non viable which is dead mold and there’s viable which means it’s going to release spores in the air and it may be harmful. So if you see mold growth that’s heavy, it may be viable and you need a qualified home inspector or mold inspector to come and check it out to determine the state of it. But in general, it takes on a few different forms – you see a black sort of furry growth, sometimes I’ve actually seen white, I’ve seen blue. So the thing is, if you suspect mold in the home, the first thing you should do is test it or call somebody who knows about mold to come and test it for you because you may not be able to tell if you have mold or not just by looking.
Mark: Ok, so now I’m freaked out… so is there mold in my home?
David: Well, the answer is yes. Almost always yes. For instance, if you leave a loaf of bread out on your counter and you leave it over night, you will have mold growth by morning. Where do you think that mold came from? Well, it actually came from spores that were already in the air. Right now I’m sitting outside on this beautiful day and I’m actually breathing in quite a few types of mold right now. I’m breathing in something called ganoderma, which is actually a type of fungus – it’s a mushroom – and I’m breathing in those mold spores but they’re not toxic and they’re not going to harm me. Just walking around in the woods or in your own home you’re going to be breathing in different types of mold spores. But the stuff we’re actually worried about is toxic mold and that’s mold spores that are floating around in the air that contain mycotoxins and a mycotoxin is molds way of destroying other molds in order to win the evolutionary mold race. So those are the things that sometimes can be harmful to people. So the answer is yes, there is mold in your home but generally we don’t see harmful mold unless there is a significant amount of water damage, that’s the first thing that usually causes a mold outbreak. If mold doesn’t have moisture – it won’t grow. If you get rid of the moisture, you’ll get rid of the mold. We see this a lot, especially in home inspections where somebody has had a flood in the basement, we’ve had a leaking shower, we’ve had a plumbing leak somewhere. These are the kind of situations that usually lead to mold growth if the drywall and the wood is just left wet and mold sets up and starts growing. This is where we really serious problems.
Mark: So, how do you get rid of mold?
David: The best way to get rid of mold is to get rid of the moisture first because if you remove the moisture and that means humidity, moisture in the air, moisture in the materials – if you get rid of those things mold will basically die off. But you should remove all the material that’s been affected. So if you have mold growth all over some drywall, you’re going to need to remove that drywall and replace it. That’s the best way to do it, to dispose of the damaged product. Now, lets say you have mold in an attic it may not be prudent to just to replace your entire roof and I don’t think anybody’s actually done that unless it’s been really extreme cases. So what we’re probably going to want to do is treat the mold. There is a few different ways you can treat the mold. You can blast it with dry ice, this is a new method they’re using right now where they basically take a sand blaster and shoot dry ice against the wood and it sterilizes the wood. The other method is chemical treatments and of course the best way is to replace the wood.
MarK: You inspect a lot of houses every week, are you seeing a lot of this?
David: Absolutely. I would probably say about 25% of homes that I inspect in Vancouver have some level of mold in them that’s visible. It’s really common in bathrooms. Bathrooms are actually a really under rated source for mold; they are extremely humid, there’s usually poor ventilation – either the bathroom fan doesn’t work or nobody runs the bathroom fan so you don’t have that exhaust going on; and they’re used quite a bit and are usually left wet all day – somebody showers in the morning and then they go to work and leave a soaking wet room. You can get a lot of mold growth in a bathroom very quickly. I’ve actually seen entire houses that are full of mold and they all stem from one bathroom. It’s extremely common. Another really common area for mold is attics – we see it in a lot of attics especially if you have poor ventilation in the attic. Another area where we see it is where there has been a past flood or leak, especially basements. Basements are a huge source of mold, so get it checked out. If you smell something funny you might have a mold situation.
Mark: Thanks a lot David. We’ve been talking with David Fairbairn from Faribairn Inspections. You can reach him at 604-395-2795 or at www.fairbairninspections.com. He’s got a ton of information on his website – again 604-395-2795. Thanks a lot David… have a great day.
David: You too Mark, thanks
Marijuana grow op (MGOs) are common in the BC lower mainland, however this crime has diminished in popularity lately (most occurred in the 1990’s). They are incredibly destructive – a home may be filled with mold and hazardous wiring. If you’re buying a property in BC, this is must-read information… buying into a grow op home could spell financial disaster.
Here are a few things to look for:
Marijuana cultivation generates an enormous amount of hot, humid air, and the growers will look for the easiest way to vent it. Closet ceilings provide a discrete passage for ductwork. Look for circular/square patches in ceilings:
A great trick: Take a flashlight and lay it sideways on a wall or ceiling – this casts a shadow on any imperfections and allows you to see past repairs. I have used this technique in thousands of homes and it works very well for seeing the wall’s history.
Growing plants indoors requires a huge amount of power – and the operators don’t want anyone to notice. Look for evidence of tampering next to the electrical meter. Also look for high-amperage breakers (in the main panel) that don’t appear to have a purpose. If you see several 40-amp breakers, and there’s only one kitchen in the home, be careful.
At one inspection in Surrey we noticed 4-5 high voltage (240V) range type receptacles in the basement ceiling. There are not many reasons to have that much power running to a basement! (4 ovens, perhaps?)
Look for evidence of tampering with fireplaces – these provide an excellent exhaust option and are often rusty, damaged or have broken glass or missing fire logs. There may be tuck-tape or duct-tape around the flue. In some renovated grow-ops the fireplaces have been completely drywalled over to hide the damage.
Look for staining and signs of moisture in the attic. Attics usually suffer badly – black mold and, in many cases, rotting wood, can be found. If an attic has been remediated (mold removed professionally by a contractor), there are usually still signs visible. Remediation usually leaves a white or green residue that is easily seen.
Extreme mold will show up as branch-like marks, even on the trusses. Thin, winding patterns on 2x4s and plywood indicate extreme moisture conditions.
In a particularly bad ex grow op the plywood or OSB sheathing may have been damaged to the point of collapse. In one building we inspected in East Vancouver, there were mushrooms growing out of the remnants of the attic sheathing!
Check the attic and roof for added ventilation. A few roof vents or a turbine vent is normal; six turbine vents is not. Also, check for staining around the exterior soffits. In many grow homes there is rust-colored staining on the soffits due to the metal in the roofing nails “bleeding” through the eaves. As part of our home inspections we check the soffits carefully. Ventilation issues and condensation can usually be predicted before even entering the attic area.
Look for electrical tape, ducting, masks, gloves, loose wiring and bags of insulation, particularly in the attic and crawlspace. Several times, we have found trash bags full of ducting and soil still in the garage. Criminals can be just like the rest of us – forgetful!
Grow-Operations were originally more likely to be on dead-end streets, cul-de-sacs, and forested areas with a lot of privacy. However, newer operations can occur anywhere, even in condos and townhomes with close neighbours.
Check the front door for signs of forced entry – the police may have broken down the door to get in.
Look for unusually high amounts of security such as bars on windows, security cameras and triple-locked doors.
While it’s true that there is a section on the form requiring the sellers of a property to disclose any latent defects or important history of the home, there are a few problems with relying on this form for accurate information:
Have a quality, professional home inspection performed, every time you purchase a home. Your professional inspector is trained in finding problems, and can save you from potentially expensive mistakes. While an inspection can’t guarantee an MGO will be uncovered, and most SOPs (Standards of Practice) do not require reporting mold conditions, the inspector may notice signs of faulty wiring or unsafe tampering with heating equipment, for example.
Updated July 12/2016
Added more information on attic remediation residue, as well as information on drywall side-lighting tricks. Added detail to smaller sections.
Update: grow op Chart added:
If you suspect mold in your home, there may be a number of reasons – a damp or mildew odor in the home, visible mold growth, or health problems (coughing, headaches, nausea). In obvious cases, you may be able to see the mold, however most of the time it may be hidden. Plus, not all mold growth is visible. A wall may be covered in mold and you may not notice.
When moisture conditions are right, mold can begin growing in 24-48 Hours. Once the mold begins reproducing, spores will be released at 10-14 days after the initial growth.
Mold spores can be breathed in and cause multiple health problems.
An Air Quality Test is the ultimate tool in mold detection. By pumping air through a spore trap, we can capture floating spores. These traps can then be taken to a lab and analyzed for certain types of spores.
Air Quality Testing is extremely fast – in as little as 30-45 minutes, we can take all the air samples we require.
We provide a certified Lab Report with a breakdown of the exact genus of Mold found in the home. The report is extremely detailed and we help with interpreting your results.
This townhouse inspection in Vancouver was in a newer development, and the unit was occupied by a large family. It was also home to one of the worst cases of mold growth I’ve ever come across.
As soon as I arrived I noticed the moisture on the inside of the windows – a warning sign of poor ventilation.
The bathroom fans in these units are controlled by a timer, located in the bedroom closet. The building code, at the time the building was constructed, required one exhaust fan to run for at least 8 hours a day. This is important – newer buildings are more air-tight, and require mechanical ventilation to prevent humidity buildup. The timer switch was hidden behind some items in the closet, and it was turned off. Apparently the family never ran the fan during showers, either:
Condensation and humidity levels in the home were very high, and mold growth was found on the walls and windows. Thermal imaging (below) showed extreme levels of condensation at the colder exterior walls.
There was a closet located right next to the washroom, which is a bad design to begin with – We pulled one suit jacket from the closet, and this is what it looked like:
That white powder was thick mold growth, which covered most of the clothes in the closet, and several pillows, blankets and the carpet.
The owners had to perform a full mold remediation of the home, and dispose of many personal belongings. They also had to remove and replace some affected drywall.
Always run your bathroom fan according to the builder’s directions!
Late one night, this house in Richmond suffered from a water leak in their boiler room. The temperature gauge attached to the heating loop burst, sending gallons of scalding hot water onto the floor and walls. Water soaked the laminate floor and drywall, and it continued to leak until a heating contractor came out and repaired the issue.
Luckily, no one was hurt, however the real problem began later…
The landlord was aware of the flood, however did not do anything about it. The water stayed in the floor material. Moisture became trapped below the flooring and saturated the slab and underlay. The baseboards deteriorated and rotted. And worst of all, mold began to grow.
When the tenants started to report health problems, we were called in to do a mold evaluation of the property. The occupants were experiencing issues, such as:
When we arrived on site, we probed the floor (or what was left of it) with a moisture meter. It was completely saturated, which was no surprise. However, the tenants told us that the leak had occurred five months before we arrived. It was still wet.
We performed an Indoor Air Quality Test in the property. An IAQ Test takes a sample of the indoor air, which we then process at a lab, and the client receives the lab report. This report describes quantity and type of mold spores in the air.
When we received the lab report, it noted extremely high levels of harmful mold – much higher than it should have been. This house was a safety hazard to the occupants, and the landlord agreed to perform a full mold remediation on the home.
An Indoor Air Quality test can help pinpoint mold and health-related problems in your home, and can be a powerful tool when dealing with landlords or other tough situations.