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 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 general response to these inconclusive reports might be, “The report shows that you have mold in the air, but nowhere in the report are you given advice on removing it.” Of course, the bewildered homeowner is already thinking the same thing, so I try not to rub salt into the wound.
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.” They tested the air but did not know what to do with the results. This is one reason that I strongly 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 performing 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.
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 (litigation, doctor request), 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.
I could provide numerous examples of how simply “sucking air” could not only be useless, but misleading. However, understanding what to request when vetting a mold consultant. Foremost, the consultant should describe a detailed visual assessment. 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.