They “Mite” Be Giants: 6 Helpful Tips To Do Battle With Dust Mite Allergies

Studies have shown that the dust mite lives in areas in our home that are moist and warm. Forty thousand dust mites account for one ounce of mattress dust. They descend on our bedding because when we sleep our bodies shed skin, this skin is nourishment to the dust mite. Dust Mites are not necessarily harmful, unless you are allergic to them. Symptoms for allergic reaction would be runny nose, itchy eyes, asthma, or a rash. If you are allergic to dust mites then you should follow these steps.

Step 1: Survey your home and interior and note areas where dust mites hide, bedding, cloth sofa, drapes, carpets. Determine if your budget will permit you to replace these soft surface items to hard surface items such as wood blinds, leather sofa, and wood or tile floors. Prioritize the rooms in your home by the time that you spend in each room,the bedroom would be the first room that would have a makeover, TV room second, kitchen, dining room and such would follow on the list.

Step 2: Cover the mattress, box springs and pillows with allergen protective covers. These protective covers prevent the dust mite from penetrating and hiding in your bedding. Wash bed linens and comforter once a week to remove dust mites from fabric.

Step 3: Depending on the severity of your dust mite allergies you may want to cover your floors with a thin textured fiber carpet and invest in a Hepa filter vacuum that removes mold, pet dander and dust mite allergens. All fiber floor coverings will need to be steamed cleaned once a month to remove the dust mites that hide in the fibers. If you suffer from severe allergic reaction to dust mite you need to remove the fiber floor coverings and replace with a hard surface.

Step 4: Remove fiber window coverings and replace with a hard surface blind or shutter. Replace your upholstered furniture with leather or vinyl. Leather is more durable and the dust mites will have no place to hide. If leather is not in your budget, invest in a vacuum with allergen filter and vacuum your upholstered furniture twice a week. For severe allergies steam clean the upholstered furniture seasonally.

Step 5: Cover your nose and mouth with a ventilator mask before you dust your home. Remove the dust from your hard surfaces with a dust and allergen product. Use it on your wood furniture, cabinets and other hard surfaces. By using a product that is effective in controlling dust mites, you will be preventing a dust build up and thus reducing an allergic reaction.

Step 6: Replace your air duct filters with allergen protective filters. Change air filters four times a year or as recommended. Remove dust and other air borne irritants with an air purifier. Place the air purifier in the bedroom and an additional unit in the living area of your home.

Insurance Claims, Contractors, Homeowners: Why Can’t We all Play Nice? Here Are Seven Steps That Can Help…

After a fire or water loss, which can result in mold contamination, the only goal of most homeowners is to have competent and timely restoration that will protect both the indoor air quality as well as the asset value of the property. Similarly, the goals of good contractors are to restore the home, be paid for the services, and have a happy customer. The goals of reputable insurance companies are to restore the home to pre-loss conditions and pay a fair market price for the services. Since these goals are not mutually exclusive, they all can be realized with little or no conflict, right?

Most people who have experienced such losses are probably raising their eyebrows as they whisper, “Yeah right,” to the question. Unfortunately, many factors, including policy exclusions for mold, poor documentation from homeowners, greedy contractors, and overburdened insurance adjustors, can cause conflicts, delays, disappointments, and antagonism during the restoration of a covered water or fire loss.

At times, little can be done by the homeowner to mitigate antagonism if an adjuster takes on a confrontational demeanor from the get go. However, in many cases, proactive measures that begin at the time an insurance policy is purchased empower homeowners to steer an unfortunate loss in a harmonious manner. The following “to do” list for the insured party will go a long way toward making sure that the insurance company, contractors, and homeowners play together in the same sandbox without throwing sand in each other’s eyes.

  1. Understand the insurance policy before purchase. Ask questions about mold riders, sump pump and drain coverage, covered water losses, water damage after fires, smoke and soot damage, odor mitigation, and deductibles.
  2. Research and retain a list of reputable water damage, fire, and mold inspection companies and restoration contractors so that you can be in control of who is hired to do the work.
  3. Have your home inspected by a qualified inspection company that can document conditions relative to water damage and mold before you ever have a loss. This step can prevent claim denials due to poor maintenance or historical damage.
  4. Retain records of prior losses and repairs.
  5. Retain photographs and receipts of furnishings and belongings.
  6. Have realistic expectations regarding repairs.
  7. All documents, including the insurance policy, should be stored in a fireproof safe at home or at another location.

Just like a group of kids in a sandbox, bullies exist on both sides of the fence with insurance losses.  Courtesy, common sense and commitments to doing the right thing are sometimes overshadowed by fear, greed, and hidden agendas. I still believe that it is wise to be prepared and try to play nice before calling in the troops.

Watch Out for Germs at Cosmetic Counters: You May Want to Think Twice Before Trying on That Lip Gloss!

The “Today” show decided to take a look at just how clean those cosmetic testers are at major retailers. With their hidden camera in tow, Today Show Consumer Correspondent, Janice Lieberman and I swabbed several makeup testers to look for germs. We chose a store where samples were readily available for anyone to try. But even before we tested the makeup, we were surprised to see just how many women dipped their fingers in the makeup pots, applying shadow to their eyes and gloss to their lips. Many did not even use applicators made available to them. Just imagine all those fingers, spreading germs to all the other customers. You can read the entire eye-opening transcript of our report at this link: Read more:

Healthy Homes: Testing and Remediation of Mold and Water Damage are Essential to Good Indoor Air Quality

Whenever I leave a mold inspection project feeling like I have just been struck in the forehead with a baseball bat, I wonder if the time has come to retire to the healthy clean nest that my husband, Tom, and I have created in our own home. After nearly two decades and more than 6000 mold investigations, we not only gained empathy for our clients, but were forced to design an optimum indoor environment that could provide relief for the classic mold-related illnesses such as allergies, chronic sinusitis and asthma that were consequential to our profession.

Since the inception of our company Sanit-Air in 1994, our team of scientists, mold inspectors, remediators, and healthcare professionals have been recognized as the leaders in the field of indoor air quality by providing consultation and solutions to healthcare facilities, commercial buildings and industrial settings. Although controlling workplace exposures remains a significant focus for Sanit-Air, our experiences have demonstrated that mold related exposures are frequently more intense in residential dwellings. Keeping in mind that most people have little or no control over the biological and chemical toxins present in workplaces, shopping centers, schools, and other public venues, Sanit-Air has developed CleanliNEST™, a division that is dedicated to optimizing indoor air quality in residential buildings.

My deeply held values include:

  • Protection of human health takes precedent over financial and business relationships.
  • Finding answers is not always easy or popular, but we must do what is right.
  • “Green buildings” are not necessarily healthy buildings.
  • Preservation of natural resources without regard to the impact on air quality could be a very unhealthy trend.
  • Water damage and mold can make people very sick.
  • Tunnel vision can botch an investigation and lead to erroneous conclusions.
  • Egos have no place in scientific investigations.
  • Seeking answers becomes most effective with a team of experts from varying disciplines.
  • Similar to human bodies, buildings are a complex interaction of multiple systems that must operate in a synergistic, balanced matter to achieve optimum health.
  • Any job worth doing is worth doing right.

I hope you find my CleanliNEST™ blog of great interest and value. I’m eager to hear your stories and welcome your questions, thoughts and comments.

Meaningful Mold Investigations Involve More Than Just Sucking Air

Water Damage Investigations – More Than Sucking Air

Far too often I receive calls from homeowners requesting that I make some sense out of another mold consultant’s report.  Usually the report consists of concentration results for a few indoor spore trap air samples and one outdoor comparison sample.  The report might include some general information about the types of mold that were found and how the indoors compared to outdoors.  My gut reaction to these inconclusive reports is usually, “So what , YOU’VE GOT MOLD, now what are you supposed to do.”    Of course the bewildered homeowner is already thinking the same thing, so I try not to rub salt in the wounds.

In defense of the consultants, who are frequently home inspectors that rent air sampling pumps, they did what the homeowner requested, which was “test the air.”  However, I do object to consultants working outside of their areas of expertise.  A qualified mold investigator would have first asked why a homeowner wanted the air tested for mold.  When I ask this question, the response is usually something along the lines of “I just want to know if I have a mold problem” or “I see mold and want to know if it is the dangerous kind.”

With these responses, a qualified mold investigator would advise the homeowner that taking a few air samples in the home probably would not answer their questions and would likely be an unnecessary expense.  This is because ninety-nine percent of the time, a qualified mold investigator can determine if a mold problem exists by conducting a detailed visual evaluation that would include moisture mapping, inspection of common problematic areas, and collecting information on the history of water damage and prior repairs.    Air sampling equipment is not the most important tool for a competent mold investigator, but he or she should come equipped with a moisture meter, thermo-hygrometer (to measure termperature and relative humidity), good flashlight, camera, pry-bar, and needle-nosed pliers, along with protective clothing and a respirator.  Not only will the qualified mold investigator assess the moldiness of the home, he or she will provide a scope (i.e prescription for remediation of the mold) and correcting the underlying cause.

Although mold sampling is not necessary to assess and remediate mold, under certain circumstances, sampling is advisable.  However, sampling should only be performed to answer a specific question (scientifically, this means to test a hypothesis).  Of course, the hypothesis can only be developed after a detailed mold inspection is completed.

When testing is performed, an investigator must understand and apply the appropriate testing methods.  For example, the spore trap sample mentioned in the first paragraph cannot differentiate certain types of mold.  Case in point is the group of mold species that are in the genera Penicillium and Aspergillus; these molds show up as the same spore type in a spore trap air sample, and can only be differentiated with culturable air samples.  Both of these molds are commonly found in homes that have experienced water damage.  However, some species in this group can also be found outdoors.  Since comparison of the types and relative concentrations of mold indoors and outdoors is a primary criterion for interpretation of sample results, simply reporting that a certain number of Penicillium and/or Aspergillus indoors and outdoors could be misleading,  inconclusive, and possibly dangerous.  For example, suppose Aspergillus versicolor, a mold that can cause infections and produces carcinogenic toxins is present indoors, and Penicillium chrysogenum is found outdoors at a similar concentration.  The spore trap sample would simply report the similar concentrations of “Penicillium/Aspergillus”, which would lead to the wrong conclusion that the outdoor air was the source of indoor airborne molds.

I could provide numerous examples of how simply “sucking air” could not only be useless, but misleading.  However, understanding what to ask for when requesting a mold assessment is far more important.  Homeowners should clearly identify why they want mold information prior to calling a consultant.  Information they should be prepared to provide includes: (1) do you see or smell mold; (2) is anyone experiencing symptoms that might be related to mold exposure; (3) is your doctor requesting the information,  (4) have you had water damage in the home; (5) how old is the home, (6) how long have you lived there; and (7) do you anticipate litigation.  In some circumstances, no testing will be required.  For others, such as litigation or physician requests, a well designed sampling plan could be essential.

Once the objectives of testing are identified, understanding the qualifications of the appropriate mold consultant is paramount to avoid wasting time and money.  An investigator performing a detailed visual assessment should possess extensive knowledge of building science (how buildings are constructed), ventilation, mold remediation, the principles of mold growth, and water damage restoration.  Although certifications in mold remediation or mold investigations can demonstrate that an individual has passed the minimal qualifications, extensive experience (minimum five years) is recommended.  Passing a one-week certification course does not guarantee that an investigator is qualified.

Relative to mold testing, in addition to the requisites for a mold investigator, a consultant who develops and executes mold sampling plans should have a minumum of a bachelor’s degree in biology, chemistry, environmental health or industrial hygiene.   Extensive knowledge of exposure hazards, quality control, data interpretation, statistics, and sampling methods are also required.   If testing is conducted, a sufficient number of samples must be collected, both spore trap and culturable air samples are required; and surface samples of dust and suspect mold growth are usually necessary.  No sampling is better than inconclusive sampling.

Case Study: Evidence Of Moisture Could Mean That Your Dream House Is A Nightmare

Homework Paper

Chills ran down my spine as a father recently shared with me a story that his teen-aged son had written for school. The boy’s story is woven around the true tale of his family moving into what they thought was their dream home. Interwoven into the story was a make believe piece of paper found in the crawlspace of the home.

The paper was a promissory note to grant three wishes. The note was forgotten until disaster struck the family. The disaster part of the story was true.   Shortly after moving day, his family was driven out of their dream home because it was infested with toxic mold that had penetrated into wall cavities, floors, and ceilings.

Feeling homeless in a hotel room, the son remembered the note and wished that his family could revert to life before the moldy house. The wish came true and all was well until the son started doing poorly in school. Difficulty with schoolwork was also a true part of the story. The son’s doctor attributed memory loss and difficulty concentrating to mold and toxin exposure in the home.

Remembering the note, the son wished to be smart again. His second wish was granted and all was well until he received the devastating news that his parents and brother were killed in a car accident. Thankful for one last wish, the son requested that his family be brought back to him. Once again all was well until the parents surprised him with the news that they had found the house of their dreams.

Knowing that only he had any recollection of life before the three wishes, the son was filled with anxiety as the family drove to see the dream home. He wanted to believe that his worst nightmares would not come true. However, as the car turned the corner in the beautifully landscaped sub-division leading to the “mold house,” the son wished that he could convince his family that this was not the house of their dreams. No wishes were left.

Contaminated Homes

My file cabinets are bulging with case histories on recent homebuyers who have suffered financial or health related losses due to water damage and

Petry Dish: Contaminants Sample

mold in their homes. In most cases, the buyers had assumed they were protected from water damage and mold because inspectors were hired to evaluate the home and the sellers had signed disclosure documents regarding previous damage.

Most of these cases will result in years of litigation, endless arbitration with insurance companies, or bankruptcy. Whether or not financial losses are recovered, the emotional and medical costs consequent to living in a contaminated home are usually devastating. The son’s references to death and fear in the three wishes story underscores the psychological aftermath that family members, especially children, can experience.

Inspection for Water Damage

Fortunately, unwise purchases can be avoided with a focused water damage inspection. The inspection should begin outdoors where disconnected downspouts, clogged gutters, warped roof shingles, insufficient landscape grade, and exterior mold and water staining could indicate water problems.

Indoors, musty or unpleasant odors suggest that a home has experienced water damage. Mold is often hidden in wall cavities, while odors are still apparent.

Visible signs of water intrusion in the living spaces include:

♦    Condensation on windows
♦    Wood rot around windows
♦    Peeling wallpaper or paint
♦    Bowing of walls or ceilings
♦    Water in floor vents
♦    Cracks in ceilings
♦    Stains on tack strips and sub-floor
♦    Chronic moisture can cause growth on walls. The most prevalent areas of growth are behind baseboards, in corners at
ceilings, and perimeter walls behind heavy furniture.

Basements tend to be mold havens. Inspection should begin with examining the floor and walls around the furnace and hot water heater for rust and water stains. All paneling and drywall should be checked for stains and mold growth, especially at the floor level. Discoloration and mold growth on the ceilings under bathrooms and kitchens can indicate chronic or historical leakage. Unfinished foundation walls should be free of cracks and water stains. Water stained or moldy contents are also good indicators of water damage. If the home has a crawlspace, check for inadequate ventilation, wet soil, and musty odors.

Attic: No water damage inspection is complete without examining the attic. Signs of water intrusion into the attic include discoloration on the decking, warped wood, condensation on the walls and ceiling, mold on insulation, and musty odors. Since inadequate ventilation can result in condensation, the roof and soffits should be examined to insure that adequate ventilation is in place.

Visual inspections by buyers can expose the need for more in-depth investigations. However, no home purchase should be completed without the services of a reputable independent home inspector. Instead of choosing a home inspector that is referred by the real estate agency, ask for referrals from satisfied homebuyers.

Can Mold Make People Sick?

Q. Can mold make people sick?

A. Excessive mold spores indoors can trigger allergic reactions, breathing disorders, and asthma attacks. Mold spores can become elevated indoors when mold grows on surfaces or when insufficient ventilation or filtration is available to remove mold that comes in from outdoors. Mold can cause adverse health effects, whether the mold is alive or dead. This is the reason why mold growth should be cleaned up by professionals. If microscopic mold spores are spread throughout the indoors, people can react long after mold is improperly removed.

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