What are the Signs Air Quality Testing Might be Required in my Home?

Exploring Air Quality Testing with Vancouver Home Inspector and Mold Expert, David Fairbairn

Mark: Hi, it’s Mark from Top Local Lead Generation. We’re here with David Fairbairn from Fairbairn Inspections in Vancouver. He’s a home inspector and we’re going to talk about Air Quality, how are you doing David?

David: I’m doing pretty good Mark.

Mark: So, we’re still in the same spot this morning; beautiful day in Vancouver, a great day to be outside but what are the signs that air quality testing might be required in my home?

David: Well Mark I get this question a lot whereas the question would be do, you have mold in your home and if you want that question answered then you should get an air quality test so that’s almost the same question: do I have mold in my house. Let’s look at some of the reasons you might think you have mold and then go from there. So, you are living in your home and you see mold, that’s a pretty good reason to test for mold, you obviously have some sort of issue because you should not be seeing mold growth and we have covered this in other topics about where mold grows, you know, showers, windows, doors, attics, crawl spaces, places like that. If you see mold growth you should call us and we’ll take a look at it and we can sample it, determine where the mold is coming from and what to do about it. So that would be the main thing is if you want to find out if you have mold. In many cases you’re not actually going to have visible mold and you can still have mold in your home. Now mold can hide in places, it could be behind a wall somewhere, it could be below your carpet, it could be behind the fridge, you know, you’re not going to be able to see it on a regular basis so this is where we bring in what’s called Air Quality Testing. Air Quality Testing is the way to determine what you’re breathing in and it will actually provide you with a list of every type of mold spore that you’re actually breathing in on a daily basis so let’s look at some of the symptoms that you may have that would prompt you to get this Indoor Air Quality test done.

Now I’m going to scare you but generally I say use your intuition so if you think you have mold, you might, you know, I find a lot of times, somebody will actually call me and say you know what, I think I have mold, I just got a musty smell in my house, it doesn’t smell fresh in here, it used to, got a flood, you know the guy came in and fixed it and it smells funny. Okay so that’s the big thing, odours, right, do I have mold in my home.

Second thing, you’re coughing, this is a big one. If you’re unusually sick for a long period of time, you know, it’s flu season right now, it’s January and it’s going around but if you’re persistently getting a cough, it only happens when you’re home, that’s a pretty good sign that your indoor air quality is pretty poor.

Another sign, your family is complaining of itchy eyes, itchy redness, even sometimes on your skin, you know if you’re itchy. These are all symptoms of or they can be anyways, of having a high level of toxic mold spores in your home.

Now the concept here is when you get mold, the mold grows and it reproduces the same like flowers do except without using pollen, it uses spores, it releases spores into the air and spores float around and they land and grow new mold and over time the mold is actually evolved to be some spores, some strains of mold that have actually evolved to be toxic and this is a competition evolution that they’re doing where they can battle off other types of mold and they kill off other types of mold and they dominate and unfortunately a by-product of that is mycotoxins, they’re called, is that they can be harmful to people. You’ve probably heard about toxic black mold, you know, we’ve talked about it before where in the states a while ago there was a case where an infant had actually died and they were looking at toxic black mold as possibly being the case of what happened, so it’s scary stuff and the indoor air quality test can tell you fairly definitively if you’re breathing anything in.

So, I’d like to introduce you to the indoor air quality tool of choice which is an air pump, so this is a Zefon brand Bio Pump. This actually draws air through a small cassette called the spore trap. The spore trap right here has a sticky plate inside, we’re going to actually sample the volume of air from inside the house, bring it across the plate and bring this to a laboratory and have the laboratory evaluate what’s on the place and by bringing it for a set period time we can tell per however many litres of air what you’re breathing in. So what we do, is we typically take this, let’s say we’re in a garage right now, we think there’s mold in the garage, we’re going to run this for a set period of time, a set flow rate with one of these spore traps and we’re going to run another one outside. If we run the one outside, get the results from that, compare it with your indoor we can triangulate, we can tell, okay you know what, normal for this neighbourhood, we’re in Surrey right now, normal mold level would be here and this is what’s in the background, stuff you’re breathing when you go hiking in the woods and it’s higher inside the garage, we have a mold issue that needs to be looked into. So we’ve actually got this report which shows you the exact species, everything that you’re actually dealing with. I’m going to try sharing my screen Mark and show you what a lab result for mold looks like. Let me know if you can see that. Can you see that?

Mark: Yes

David: O.K. without giving too much away, I’ve hidden the address, so this is from Mold & Bacteria Labs, Canada, they are a local lab, there are a couple that do this kind of evaluation, this is one of them and this is a test we did in Vancouver on a townhouse complex about five days or six days ago and you can see that there’s three columns and the columns correspond to, which spore trap we used, so we have our outdoor control which is our baseline, we have our main floor and then our top floor and what we wanted to determine was if there was mold inside the house, so we can look and we can actually see down the left there we’ve got a list of different species of mold, oh pardon me, would be the genus of mold; genus is a family species. So if we go down we’ve got Alternaria, Aspergillus, Ketonium, Qitasporium, and these are the different types of mold and they all have their own characteristics. Some of them are toxic, some are not and we can compare our outdoor to our indoor and what you can see on this one it’s pretty clean. There are no real issues here, we felt that the mold levels inside the house were considerably lower than outside and it was not really a huge cause for concern. We do see that Cladosporium down the left there and the center column that’s a little bit higher in which case that was from some wet towels so that wasn’t really a concern because later testing it will lighten up but overall it’s a pretty clean report and we can at the bottom that the total number of spores 5,300 outside versus 360 inside is pretty good results. I would hope for that result if I tested my house and it looked like that I would be a pretty happy camper. So that’s the kind of stuff we can do with this and if you think you have mold we can come in, test it pretty easily, it’s not overly expensive and it’s relatively painless and you just want to make sure all your doors and windows are closed for several hours prior to the testing and we can actually get you that lab result that you can keep on file and if you decide to sell your house or if you decide to get work done then you have a record of what you’re breathing in on that exact date. There’s no other way to do that and it’s very in demand right now, I get a lot of requests for this and it’s a great tool.

Mark: Awesome, so that’s all about air quality with Mr. David Fairbairn of Fairbairn Inspections. Give him a call at 604-395-2795 or go to his website fairbairninspections.com Thanks David.

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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