HOW TO IDENTIFY HIDDEN MOLD, CHEMICALS, AND OTHER IAQ PROBLEMS BEFORE RENTING

Buying or renting an apartment, office or condominium in a multistory building presents challenges beyond the structural and indoor air quality issues that are anticipated when purchasing a single family dwelling. Most prospective home buyers understand the importance of hiring an independent third party home inspector before the purchase of a house. If a buyer has previously experienced illnesses associated with mold, bacteria, and other contaminants in water damaged buildings (WBD’s), a mold assessment is often requested in addition to the home inspection and seller’s disclosure statement. Although the same types of due diligence can be requested for multi-story apartments and condominiums, numerous complexities associated with these multi-family dwellings diminish the likelihood of gathering accurate information.

Identifying issues that could negatively impact indoor air quality can be especially troublesome in rental properties due to policies, practices, and procedures that hinder accountability. Some of these inherent issues include frequent tenant turnover, less stringent disclosure requirements, tenant abuse, poor maintenance, low quality building materials, property management by outside contractors, bylaws of home owners associations, and delayed or unreported damages. Thoroughness and persistence are required prior to signing a rental agreement. Potential health hazards include mold, pesticides, animal and pest allergens, lead, and asbestos, as well as volatile organic compounds from paint cleaning products, carpeting, and building materials.

How to Spot Telltale Signs of Concealed Damage

1. Specific Unit Inspection: Many rental properties can be removed from a list of potentials during an initial walkthrough. Of course this requires that a prospective renter see the actual that he/she would rent. Many property owners have “models” that can be initially viewed, but available rentals cannot be inspected until current tenants move and repairs are completed. A lease should not be signed until the renter (and his/her inspector if desired) approves the unit to be occupied.
2. Uneven Paint: Cracks in drywall seams, different shades of paint, blistered paint, or bumpy textures, especially in the lower corners of

Cracked paint in upper corner of exterior wall signifies water damage and hidden mold

exterior walls, under upper unit bathrooms and kitchens, at the lower corners of windows, and along the lower walls outside of bathtubs and showers, should raise red flags about insufficient water damage repairs, with the likelihood of underlying mold and bacteria contamination.
3. Under Sinks and Vanities: Water stains, visible mold growth, delaminated bases in cabinets, drip stains on walls, and musty type odors are indicative of historical water damage, with the possibility of hidden damage to the flooring below the cabinets, as well as in the wall cavity behind the cabinets. New cabinet bases under sinks can also signify that the base was severely damaged and the floor might remain damaged.
4. Peeling or Uneven Paint in Ceilings above Kitchens or Bathrooms: Uneven paint might represent repair from a toilet overflow or leak, pipe break, insufficient caulking, or other condition that caused top-down water intrusion from an upper unit. Since water from a bathroom can be especially contaminated, extra care should be taken to inspect the ceiling. A flashlight shined at an angle will often reveal the damage. If the drywall appears to have been replaced, documentation should be requested to confirm that joists, subflooring, and other damaged structural members were also appropriately remediated.

Hidden mold behind new baseboard molding

5. New Baseboard Moldings in Bathrooms, Laundry Rooms, and Kitchens: Installation of new vinyl, composite, or wood baseboard moldings is a common practice to cover up the lower edges of walls that were previously affected by a flood, persistent leak, or chronic water damage. When new baseboards are present, check for signs of uneven paint above the baseboards that might indicate that paint was applied over water damaged drywall.
6. Stains under Vinyl Flooring around a Toilet, Tub, or Sink: Chronic water seepage under vinyl flooring will often show up as a slightly darker plume around the source. The stain is usually apparent from the topside, but top surface of the vinyl is not usually altered.
7. Damage to Window Sills or Along the Lower Edges of Doorwalls and Windows: Drywall and wood around doorwalls and windows that have been repeatedly or chronically wet will typically display signs of damage, such as cracks, blistered paint, bumpy or uneven surfaces, and crumbling or weakened drywall. The underlying structures and backsides of drywall are likely to be contaminated if such conditions exist.

Mold on drywall around furnace was caused by leaking condensate drain pan

8. Damage around the Furnace: In most multistory apartments and condominiums, the furnaces are located in closets within the apartment or in a closet area on a balcony or patio. Check for signs of leaks from units above, as well as on and around the furnace, which is often on a wood platform with attached drywall. Damage is frequently caused by leaks from the condensate drain pan, which can get plugged with particulates. Drip stains and rust can often be seen on metal along the outside of a furnace that has not been properly maintained.
9. Rust on Vents and Registers: Excess moisture on vents and registers can be caused by condensation in the indoor environment and/or excess moisture the HVAC system.
10. Chemical Type Odors: New carpeting odors should not be detectable after a few weeks if proper ventilation is provided. If odors are present, find out when the carpeting was installed and request information from the manufacturers’ of the carpet, pad and glue. If no new carpet has been installed, ask about cleaning solutions and type of paint. The MSDS (material safety data sheets and manufacturers’ specification sheets should be made available.

Questions to Ask

  • Request the service and repair logs for the specific unit, as well as the unit above.
  • What is the policy for reporting and repairing water damage? Are procedures in place for handling mold after the source of water is repaired? Who removes mold if found?
  • How are emergency situations reported after offices are closed?
  • Does the property owner’s insurance policy cover personal injuries associated with water damage and mold?
  • Does the property owner or his insurance cover contents that are damaged by water? If so, what is covered, and what are the coverage limits. The answer is likely to be no. Renters should have insurance to cover contents.
  • What types of pesticides are applied? How are tenants notified of pending application? Who does the application? If the building was built prior to 1975, have lead and asbestos surveys been performed. If so, ask to see reports. If not done, and the building is old, the property should not be considered for rental.
  • What is the policy for inspection of the HVAC system and for filter changes?

“Sufficient epidemiological evidence is available from studies conducted in different countries and under different climatic conditions to show that the occupants of damp or mouldy buildings, both houses and public buildings, are at increased risk of respiratory symptoms, respiratory infections and exacerbation of asthma. Some evidence suggests increased risks of allergic rhinitis and asthma. Although few intervention studies are available, their results show that remediation of dampness problems can reduce adverse health outcomes.”

Dampness and Mould, World Health Organization, 2009, section 5.1

http://www.euro.who.int/__data/assets/pdf_file/0017/43325/E92645.pdf

From Our Video Archives: Sanit-Air Featured On PBS “The Business Page” Television Program

The nationally recognized Public Broadcasting System affiliate in Detroit, WTVS Channel 56, produced and aired a wonderful local business program titled “The Business Page.” Sanit-Air and our team of environmental IAQ experts and technicians had the distinct pleasure of an extensive feature on “The Business Page.”

Producer Mike Echols narrates this business feature that serves as a nice introduction to the basic understanding of the workings of Sanit-Air and the foundation for our CleaniNEST™ brand and consumer crusade. We hope you find “The Business Page” feature on Sanit-Air informative.

Crawlspaces & Ventilation: 10 Fun Facts & Random Observations

1. Inside the living space of a property, proper ventilation is absolutely crucial to the health, safety, and overall comfort of the occupants inside the home.

2.  Standards and guidelines have been established to specify minimum ventilation rates and other measures intended to provide indoor air quality that is acceptable to human occupants and that minimizes adverse health effects. More info here:  http://eetd.lbl.gov/ie/viaq/v_rates_1.html

3.  Improving the overall air quality inside a property can be achieved by two methods:

•    Exhausting air contaminants from the building
•    Removing contaminants from the air stream using filtration and/or absorption technologies (i.e. HEPA filtration and activated carbon)

Since most residential properties do not have access to proper filtration or absorption technologies, exhaust ventilation is most practical and commonly used.

4. In addition to improper ventilation, excessive or chronic water intrusion into the property, especially the crawlspace, will contribute to the growth of certain microorganisms.  This can lead to mold infestation impacting Indoor Air Quality, and even more destructive structural damage such as wood decay or dry rot.

5. Water intrusion into the crawlspace will often cause damage to flooring systems (i.e. cupping of hardwood floors, grout separation in tile floors, etc.), wood decay, and oxidation or rusting of metal strapping/hardware.

6. Water enters a crawlspace in either liquid or vapor phase by four moisture transfer mechanisms:

•    Liquid water (i.e. plumbing/sewer leaks, high groundwater table, drainage or exterior flooding)
•    Capillary suction or wicking (i.e. moisture being drawn through concrete footing from saturated exterior soils)
•    High moisture laden air (i.e. elevated humidity from atmospheric conditions entering the crawlspace through vents)
•    Vapor diffusion (i.e. moisture in the vapor phase moving through building materials)

7. Most properties are constructed with vents that are intended to remove moisture from the air in a crawlspace by cross-ventilation.   However, the introduction of moist air from outdoors can actually increase the relative humidity in a crawlspace.

8. Due to stack effect and vapor diffusion, which is a very powerful force, moisture in a crawlspace will seek dry areas.  When moist air comes in contact with  a surface that is colder than the  air, condensation will occur.  Condensation can develop on uninsulated plumbing pipes in the crawlspace, on the underside of a sub-floor, or even the attic roof deck.  Interestingly, many houses with exposed wet soil in a crawlspace also have mold and water damage due to condensation on the underside of the roof deck. 

9. If vapor diffusion from the soil, water intrusion from poor drainage, unmitigated plumbing leaks, or infiltration of moist air exist in a crawlspace, one or more of the following is usually observed:

  •   Surface mold growth, structural damage, and health issues
  •   Termite or other pest infiltration
  •   Accumulation of odors  
  •   Termite or other pest infestation

10.  The best way to mitigate crawlspace moisture is to treat the crawlspace as a conditioned space by (1) insulating walls with foam panels, (2) seal the crawlspace floor and walls with heavy gauge polyethylene or vinyl encapsulation system, with the seams sealed tightly at all edges and overlaps, (3) seal the rim joists with two-part closed cell foam.

Good Morning America & CleanliNEST™ by Sanit-Air Team Up For Investigative Report

We’re excited to announce that ABC’s Good Morning America will be in town tomorrow, Wednesday April 28, 2010 to film an investigative report for which the CleanliNEST™ by Sanit-Air team will be lending our expertise. The samples have been submitted to the lab and GMA will be here to film my response, as well as the sampling procedure and analysis in our CleanliNEST™ by Sanit-Air lab.

We can’t reveal at this time the topic as it is an investigative report. We can say, however, it will be eye-opening, enlightening, informative and of particular interest to women. We’ll give everyone the heads-up when the segment will air on GMA so stay tuned!

The Surgeon General’s Call to Action Report Promotes Healthy Homes

The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to promote Healthy Homes Report looks at the many ways housing can affect health. The purpose of the report is to initiate a national dialogue about the importance of healthy homes. “The home is the centerpiece of American life,” said Steven K. Galson, then acting Surgeon General at the time of the report. “We can prevent many diseases and injuries that result from health hazards in the home by following the simple steps outlined in this Call to Action.” The report urges Americans to “improve air quality in their homes by installing radon and carbon monoxide detectors, eliminating smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke, and controlling allergens that contribute to asthma and mold growth.”

Follow the link here http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/bookshelf/br.fcgi?book=hssurggen&part=cta-home to view the entire Healthy Home Report from teh surgeon General’s office.

Caring for Aging Parents Podcast with WWJ-AM 950 Reporter, Pat Sweeting

WWJ-AM 950 Radio

WWJ-AM 950 Reporter: Pat Sweeting

Since 1981, Pat Sweeting has been a valued employee of the nation’s oldest commercial radio station, where there’s always something to keep the adrenaline pumping in overdrive. Pat joined WWJ Newsradio 950 as a news anchor and reporter. Over the years, she has interviewed everyone from Presidents to Hollywood stars to a Grand Wizard of the Michigan Ku Klux Klan as he was pelted with vegetables by passing protestors. Pat has also been able to work on breaking news and award winning stories.

For years you’ve also heard Sweeting bring you health and lifestyle news in a trio of feature reports: “60 Seconds on Health”, “Your Health” and “Prescription for Health.” She has now re-focused her efforts towards more general reporting, but continues to watch for interesting and exciting medical and lifestyle news from doctors, hospitals and universities at home and around the world.

PODCAST ONE: Pat speaks with Environmental Scientist and Indoor Air Quality & Mold Expert Connie Morbach, M.S., CHMM, CIE on the merits of having your home inspected before renovating or putting it on the market. Here’s the link to the podcast: http://67.72.16.166/wwj/2293214.mp3

PODCAST TWO: Pat and Connie also discuss on her Caring for Aging Parents 03/26 podcast, in-home air quality and its implications for Aging In Place. Listen to the podcast here: http://67.72.16.166/wwj/2293210.mp3

What’s in Household Dust? Don’t Ask! Time Magazine Reports.

There’s a higher ick factor to dust than you might think. And there’s a science to how it gets around — a science that David Layton and Paloma Beamer, professors of environmental policy at the University of Arizona, are exploring. Here’s the link to the story: http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1966870,00.html

Special Expertise is Required for Chemical Contamination in Indoor Environments

“You have got to be kidding” is what I really wanted to shout when a homeowner recently called to inquire about the appropriateness of a restoration contractor using an ozone generator to mitigate a pesticide spill in her small home.   Do these purported professional mitigators not know that ozone is a respiratory irritant, and can react with some other chemicals to create toxic intermediaries?   I struggled to control my rage as the elderly caller further described her symptoms of difficulty breathing, sore throat, heavy chest, and irritated eyes that developed while she occupied the home during the ozone “treatment”.   To avoid frightening her, I calmed myself down and recommended that she see an occupational and environmental physician.

The lady called back and requested testing of her house, as the doctor had recommended she leave the homeuntil clean-up could be performed and verified.   She reported that the doctor diagnosed her with a chemical on-set asthma.   Her recovery would require clean indoor air.  The doctor’s prognosis was that she would recover from the acute asthma, but long-term sensitivities that would require avoidance of environmental toxins.

Since several months had passed since the ozone was generated, I did not anticipate finding ozone when I tested the air.  Based on the sweet solvent type odors that remained in the house, I expected to find chemicals that were breakdown products of ozone and carrier compounds that would be typical in aerosol pesticides.   However, although the results verified that a chemical “soup” remained in the air, only a few compounds were consistent with ozone oxidation of solvents.

The primary ingredients in the chemical soup were paint-related products in concentrations that exceeded recommended residential concentrations more than three-fold.   Since no painting had been done in the home for many years, the only conclusion that could be derived from the results was that solvent-based cleaners had been used in addition to the ozone.  My client confirmed that the contractor did use some chemicals for cleaning after the ozone was ineffective.   Since the chemical fingerprint was similar in various rooms of the home, but was higher in the room with the spill, I was quite concerned that porous furnishings, clothing, and bedding had adsorbed the chemicals.  If this issue was not addressed, cycles of off-gassing and re-absorption could continue for years.

The ultimate clean-up of the home will entail a combination of forced off-gassing with heat, ventilation, and carbon-based filtration.   To comply with the doctor’s request for clean-up verification, the project could be costly, as testing will likely be required at various phases.  The ultimate test of remediation efficiency will be the ability of the homeowner to re-occupy without adverse health complaints.   However, ethically, we must confirm that the targeted chemicals are non-detectable before allowing the client to use the “canary test”.

The costs associated with alternative living expenses, clean-up, and repeated testing could have been avoided if the contractor would have consulted with a qualified industrial hygienist or indoor air quality scientist prior to generating ozone.  More importantly, appropriate consultation would have prevented the client’s adverse health effects.   This case not only illustrates the importance of contractors practicing only within their areas of expertise, but also underscores the importance of consumer education regarding environmental toxins and contractor qualifications.

Additional ozone information http://www.epa.gov/iaq/pubs/ozonegen.html

%d bloggers like this: