Expert tips on managing mold

Paul Ramsey, owner and inspector, RTS Environmental Services Inc.

Paul Ramsey, owner and inspector, RTS Environmental Services Inc.

Paul Ramsey incorporated RTS Environmental Services in 1990. He has 20 years experience inspecting homes for contaminents ranging from lead paint and radon gas to asbestos and mold. “I’ve performed over 4,000 mold inspections,” says Ramsey, who is certified by the American Council for Accredited Certification and Indoor Air Quality Association.

What do homeowners need to know about mold testing and remediation?

"Mold can form when water saturates or accumulates on materials that can support growth. Anything organic, such as wood, can grow mold, but mold can also grow on plenty of man-made objects. The biggest culprits in homes are things associated with paper building materials: drywall and paper-backed insulation.

Finding mold and getting rid of it is the best thing to do regardless of location or type of mold. Some types pose more health risks, but it also depends on personal susceptibility: Some people are allergic to mold.

"A mold inspection is initially visual but can also include a lab analysis. The purpose of inspections is educating the consumer and finding out whether there's mold, why there's mold and what to do about it. That may address everything from foundation issues to exterior troubles to air quality problems.

There is also the building science component, which involves the thermal envelope of the home and understanding which building materials absorb moisture and where the relative humidity is in the home. During an inspection, I use tools to determine that, including a moisture meter for carpets and walls, a fiber-optic scope to look inside walls and a 300-watt halogen lamp. Often you can smell mold or see it with a naked eye, but these tools really help.

"Mold is more likely to develop in repetitive scenarios, such as long-term leaks, than one-time spills. If materials are dry, the mold stops growing and goes dormant, but if it has enough moisture, it will grow. Prevent mold by trying to keep things dry and identifying moisture problems early. Be proactive and use a dehumidifier and have a properly balanced HVAC system.

"Is it possible to completely eliminate mold in a house? Pretty much no, because it's part of the ambient air in our environment. But most of us can live with a certain amount of mold spores. If you have a sensitivity or allergy, then you should pay more attention to it. Outside of that, I do a lot of pre-purchase inspections for people buying homes. I also do inspections in brand-new houses and find mold.

"If you do find mold, it could be a simple fix such as cleaning up and repainting the spot, or it could require full remediation with containment, including plastic sheeting, large dryers and negative air machines to remove mold spores from the air.

"The typical inspection to find out what's needed runs $350-500, depending on whether lab testing is performed. Don't go for a "free inspection," because they rely on selling you services you might not need. If somebody is trying to scare you, pause and think about what they're saying."


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