What Does Mold Look Like? Ask a Vancouver Mold Specialist

Mark: Hi it’s Mark Bossert from Top Local Lead Generation. We’re here with David Fairbairn of FairbairnInspections.com in Vancouver and you can reach him at 604-395-2795. Today we’re talking about the gross stuff, we’re talking about mold. So how’re you doing today David?

David: I’m doing pretty good Mark. Mold’s not that gross – if you like blue cheese or if you like beer mold is pretty good. Penicillin if you like not getting sick. Mold is pretty helpful. It is gross and in some cases pretty helpful. I’d like to show you today what mold looks like – have you seen a lot of mold?

Mark: Unfortunately, I have.

David: Excellent, ok so I’ve got some photos for you. We’re talking about what mold looks like. So this is probably one of my top questions when it comes to mold related questions – somebody is standing there looking at something and going I think that might be mold, I can’t tell. What I want to start with is that it’s very important to note you can’t tell if something is mold or not just by looking at it. You can know what mold usually looks like and you can know different growth patterns, but if you’re not sure, you should sample it. Take a sample of the material and take it to a lab for testing because they’re actually going to be able to tell you if it’s mold or not. Even myself, doing mold for years, I’ve done testing and sampling and investigations and there’s still some cases where we find mold where it doesn’t look like mold or it doesn’t look like anything. What I’d like to do is show you how mold grows and this will give you a better idea about how it appears and what it might look like. So what we’re looking at now is a microscope slide of some mold. What we’ve got here is the structure of mold and you can see that it’s not just a blob of slime, it’s actually quite defined and that’s because mold is a plant. It’s part of the fungus family, so when you have mold you actually have fungus. Mushrooms, those are fungus. There’s different types of fungus and mold is a type of that. So it grows like any plant and when you look at it up close, you will notice that it has branches just like a tree or a plant and you’ve got the tips where you have the spore production (the circles). So if we look at what that actually is we’re looking at is called Mycelium. Mycelium is the structure of the mold – it’s in all the branches woven together. The branches are called Hyphae or Hypha individually. So this is how it spreads and grows and once mold sets up, it takes about 24-48 hours to grow in material and after a certain amount of time usually 10-14 days it’s ready to reproduce. So the mold decides to release some spores into the air and hopefully those spores settle and grow more mold. So when you hear about respiratory problems, people getting sick from mold, it’s the spores we’re talking about, it’s not the actual mold material, it’s actually the spores that are floating around in the air and you’re breathing them in because some spores are toxic.

So that’s the idea behind the growth. If we look at it here, it’s eating away at this bread – you’ve probably seen bread mold before, it usually doesn’t look this extreme, but this is just for illustration. We can see that the mold here has taken root, it’s feeding off the material, mold will grow in any organic material if the conditions are right. If it’s warm and wet it usually thrives and at one point or another we get spore production and this one is actually in full spore production mode.

So we’re looking at an attic now Mark, this is a fairly new construction building, this house is only… do you want to guess how old this attic is?

Mark: From the state of the OSB and some of the other clues I can see there, probably no more than 10 years old

David: Yeah, it’s actually 1 1/2 years old. So just as an aside, we perform home inspections, you should always get even if your house is a year and a half old. Get it inspected every single time. So this attic a year and a half old, terrible ventilation problems and they’re also using OSB which stands for oriented strand board, which has basically replaced plywood in most new construction and you can see that it’s made out of wood chips. It’s also a great surface for mold to grow on. I would conservatively say it’s about 150% more likely to grow mold than plywood or wood itself. So you have to be very careful with this material. And what we have here is – you can see the blotches and as you move up the the centre of the screen, you can see black blotches forming everywhere. This is the same attic here and we’ve got this growth pattern and as the blotches form, they start connecting together. So what’ve got is mostly black, in some areas it’s mostly white and in some areas it can turn blue. Mold can look like any of those and still be part of the same family of mold. So it’s very important to get it tested because you won’t be able to tell what type of material it is until you actually get it tested. Any idea what happened here Mark, want to hazard a guess? This is an attic as well.

Mark: A leak in the roof?

David: A leak in the roof. This is actually a marijuana grow operation.

Mark: So a leak from downstairs?

David: A leak from downstairs, exactly. So marijuana grow operations are very damaging, particularly to attics. Here the moisture was so high that the entire attic was just covered in a web of mold. This is actually post remediation – so they’ve actually gone through and cleaned all the mold out – this was what was left over, the staining – so you can imagine how bad it was before this. tThis is a type of mold called Penicillium which is related to Penicillin and it can be harmful. This is something you don’t want to play around with especially if you see it at this level. This is the same house, a grow operation where they had removed the growth and this is after thousands and thousands of dollars of removal. So you can imagine how thick that must of been before for it to take root that deeply that they weren’t able to get the lines out of the wood, the nails are rusted, they had a huge, huge amount of moisture going up into the attic. So that’s something we can see. So that’s what mold looks like.

What you should do – there’s two tests we offer. We can do sampling, so we can come in and actually test the mold stain to see if it actually is mold and if it’s alive or not and we can do an air quality test which is where we sample the air in the home and provide you with results of how many spores are floating around. So we have some different equipment to do that. This is our Zefon Bio Pump, this is some of the equipment we’re using. This actually sucks air through the top – that white disc at the top is called a spore trap and it will capture the spores floating around in the air and we break it open and put it on a microscope and we can tell if there are any indoor air quality issues.

So if you have something that looks like mold or you’re not sure – play it safe and get it tested. You can call us at 604-395-2795 and we can come out and determine if you have a mold problem, where it’s coming from and what to do about it.

Mark: Awesome. So I think we’ll . . . I don’t know if there’s anything more to say.

David: Mold can look like a lot of things. It can be fuzzy, it can be black webbing like that and as we go along with our next episode, I’ll bring some different shots of different things we have found in homes – everywhere from a wall that looked completely bare and it actually had mold on it, up to a room that was basically falling apart. We’ve got some good stuff coming up so stay tuned.

Mark: Awesome. So we’ve been talking with a building inspector, home inspector and mold specialist Mr. David Fairbairn of Fairbairn Inspections in Vancouver. You can reach him at fairbairninspections.com with tons of great information on the site or you can give him a call at 604-395-2795. Thanks David

David: Thanks Mark. Talk to you later.

Mark: Bye

About the Author DavidFairbairn

Author David Fairbairn is a certified, licensed home inspector serving Vancouver and the Lower Mainland. He has been featured in the media and has contributed to "24" Newspaper, and Global TV. He has spent years working with residential and commercial building projects, and holds a Power Engineering License in BC. Why not give him a call for your next Home Inspection? Call 604 395-2795 or email david@fairbairninspections.com today!

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