Mold Testing: Do-It-Yourself Kits vs. Professional Testing
Is it ok to use a do-it-yourself mold testing kit? Are home testing kits for mold reliable? Will a home testing kit ensure the health of my family? We get questions like these all the time. The answer is simple – no.
There are offers for home mold testing kits everywhere, from your hardware store to the internet. Each guarantees you will be able to determine if there is mold in your home. But before you invest in one of these kits, there are some important facts to keep in mind.
Mold is everywhere, and actually plays an important part in our ecological system. For example, if it weren’t for mold, fallen leaves would not break down, with the result being mountainous piles of leaves everywhere.
Home mold kits are basically science experiments that tell you if your home has mold. All homes have some level of mold. What you need to know is:
– The type of mold present in your home;
– Where the mold is located;
– The source of the moisture in your home; and
– What can be done to rid your home of mold.
DIY-mold testing kits do not reveal this information. You need a professional mold test, conducted by a certified microbial investigator (CMI), to accurately report these important facts.
How DIY Mold Testing Kits Work
Home mold testing kits use “settle plate applications.” You set the provided dish out for a specific period of time, usually 24 to 48 hours, and the spores are supposed to fall into the dish. Unfortunately, false negatives and false positives are common with home mold tests. Additionally, even if the test discovers you have mold, it does not identify the type of mold, and whether it is toxic or not. To find out this important information, you have to send the dish of collected samples back to the company who distributes the testing kit, of course at an additional cost.
The results come back, and in most cases, they are unreadable. Instead of saying you have black mold or that you need black mold remediation, it will, for example, give the scientific term, “stachybotrys.” It’s up to you to find out what type of mold this is, and whether you need mold removal or remediation.
Where is the Mold?
Sometimes you can see mold growing. In most cases, you cannot. It’s hiding behind your walls, in your ceiling, or under your carpets. Home test kits will not tell you where it is, so without your knowledge, mold is still spreading out of sight.
CMI’s Tool Kit
A CMI’s report is accurate and precise. The investigators test for mold with sophisticated tools, including infra-red equipment, borescopes (to view inaccessible areas), moisture meters and hygrometers (to measure moisture content).
Professional Mold Testing
It’s important to hire a professional environmental testing company that only conducts testing, not mold remediation or mold removal, so you are assured of an accurate and unbiased assessment. A CMI’s inspection will:
Discover where and why excess moisture is entering your property;
Conduct air monitoring, air sampling and bulk sampling to compare the results with normal background mold levels;
Send all samples to independent laboratories accredited by the American Industrial Hygiene Association;
Identify the affected areas and measure the amount and types of mold present;
Determine if the health of your family is at risk and if professional mold remediation is necessary;
If mold removal or mold remediation is required, once it is completed, the CMI will return to your home to conduct a final mold testing. This is the only way to make certain all your mold is gone.
Click here or call 800.392.6468 to contact RTK Environmental Group and set up a mold inspection.
When you choose an environmental testing company, it’s important to select a firm that provides independent and unbiased testing—meaning the company only performs testing, and not remediation. This is a very important distinction. Here’s why:
When a company performs both testing and remediation, there is a financial benefit in finding a problem. If the company does find mold or lead, it is reasonably sure that the property owner will likely want to remedy the situation. The natural inclination is to ask the same company to do the work. But this raises some issues: are the workers at a remediation company properly trained or certified to test for environmental issues? Or will they “find” a problem in order to land a job? The bottom line is this: there’s an inherent conflict-of-interest if a company both tests and remediates, and the homeowner might wind up paying more and not solving the actual problem.
While there are some companies that are honest, there are enough unreputable ones to cause concern. These companies often find a “problem” that isn’t necessarily there, or may exaggerate findings in hopes of creating a bigger repair job for themselves. As we’ve pointed out, this is a clear conflict-of-interest—it’s even against the law in New York State. So, why take a chance on bloated repair bills or an improper test? Your health could be at risk.
How the Laws Have Changed
In 2016, New York State passed a law that bars a contractor who assesses a home’s mold problem from also doing the cleanup. This necessary measure was taken when unscrupulous contractors took thousands of property owners for a ride after Hurricane Sandy. The law seeks to prevent scams in which a disreputable remediation company exaggerates or lies about a mold problem in order to make large profits fixing minor problems. The law also requires NYS certification and licensure for conducting mold testing or remediation. These rules seek to prevent unskilled workers from improperly handling mold contamination and reduce the risk of cross contaminating clean sections of a property. RTK Environmental Group fully supports New York State’s strict standards as they can save property owners thousands in repairs. Only a few states have such laws, so it’s up to consumers to do their homework.
Opt for Trusted, Independent Environmental Testing
RTK Environmental is an independent, licensed, and certified testing company that performs only high-quality environmental testing and does not do remediation. RTK’s results are unbiased because RTK has no conflict-of-interest. If asked, RTK will refer property owners to at least three reliable and reputable remediation companies. We want to be sure that our clients are protected from mold remediation scams. It’s why RTK has been trusted and recommended for over 25 years. Click here to book a test.
‘One-stop shops’ that do both mold testing and remediation tend to magnify the problem in hopes of charging large fees for the remediation to follow, which may or may not be necessary. This became clear on Long Island after the disaster of Superstorm Sandy.
If a company offers you testing and remediation services: think twice. Why? You may wind up paying thousands of dollars for exaggerated repair estimates or an improper and ineffective remediation, and you won’t know if the problem exists or not. An independent mold test can save you thousands. Also, it is now illegal in New York State to conduct mold testing and remediation on the same job. You must hire two independent companies.
There is a lot of information circulating about mold. Unfortunately, when it is incorrect, it may cause homeowners to spend money for the wrong reasons or on the wrong solutions. RTK Environmental has created a list of common misconceptions and the top questions on mold. To find out whether or not you’ve been getting good advice about mold problems, read on.
Robert Weitz, an environmental testing expert, answers your questions. He’s a certified microbial investigator and principal at RTK Environmental Group, a leader in the field of testing and consulting in mold, lead, asbestos, water, soil, radon, and indoor air quality. What sets him apart is his passion for working with his clients, with whom he shares his 30+ years of knowledge and expertise on a daily basis. Mr. Weitz helps homeowners and commercial property owners by assessing their environmental situations, identifying root causes of mold, and explaining the best methods to address the issues.
Q: What is mold?
A: Mold is a fungus that devours other natural components. It can consume fruit on your kitchen table, damp wallboard, or fabric that is neither dry nor aired. Mold can look like discoloration, and appear like fuzz or a black smudge as it consumes whatever it has latched onto.
Mold is spread by spores, which are usually airborne. When they land on a wet or damp surface they start to grow. Mold multiplies at an extraordinary rate and will consume whatever component it adheres to.
For example, Sheetrock, or wallboard, is nothing more than paper with gypsum on the inside. When these materials get wet, the mold attaches itself to the paper and grows. If left alone, the paper will deteriorate over time. When the mold works its way inward, it will attach to that inner surface and eventually to the wood structure beneath. If left untreated, the degradation will develop into large-scale rot.
Mold Inspection and Testing
Q: I think I see mold growing in my home. Do I really need an inspection before fixing the problem?
A: Mold detection can be tricky. It is impossible to see every area where it may be present unless you have the right technology. And do-it-yourself mold testing kits can be unreliable. The best way to determine the full scope of your mold problem is when comprehensive samplings are taken during professional testing by a certified and trained mold inspector. At RTK, that’s what we do.
Q: When should I test for mold?
A: You should test for mold when you see it, or when you suspect it’s present—if people or pets are experiencing allergy-like symptoms, if there’s a foul or musty odor in the air, or if a basement or other area is perpetually damp. You should also test if you’ve had a flood, leak or sewage back-up, if an ice dam has formed on your roof, or if you plan to purchase or sell your home. An RTK inspection will ensure reliable results.
Q: Do I need to test only before I renovate and remediate a mold issue, and not after?
A: Wrong! While you should test before a remediation to pinpoint exactly where the mold issue is and have a blueprint for removal, testing after the remediation and renovation is just as important. By testing after the job is done, you can be assured that remediation was done properly. This can help avoid future problems.
Q: What should I expect during a mold inspection?
A: Relax—a mold inspection is a fairly easy process. Reputable mold testing companies often provide specific instructions to prepare you for the inspection. You need to close all outside doors and windows, and leave internal ones open. During the mold inspection, you’ll discuss with your inspector your concerns and symptoms, and discuss anything else that may be pertinent for the inspector to know. A thorough investigation and visual assessment of the area will follow. Next, the inspector will take air and tape lift surface samples, which will be sent to an independent laboratory for analysis. Once the results are in, you should get a thorough report in clear language with the findings and recommendations for remediation.
Home Mold Test Kits
Q: Is a home mold test kit reliable?
A: No. Mold is naturally occurring and present in almost every environment. Home mold test kits that use ‘settle plate applications’ (set the dish out for 24 – 48 hours and spores are supposed to fall into the dish) generally do not measure airborne particles accurately. Since most environments contain mold, it is difficult to determine whether the mold spores you collect are from a dangerous indoor colony or just part of the normal outside environment.
Do-it-yourself mold test kits often cause people to make uninformed decisions. The levels of spores that are analyzed by the lab are not accurate. They also cannot detect hidden mold with the result that those who rely on these kits, do either too little or too much based on the results. When professional inspectors take a spore sample, they forcefully draw air into a spore trap. On the contrary, home mold test kits only rely on air currents in a room over a period of time. So, the results are not accurate.
Q: Is all black mold toxic?
A: No, but it is still a health hazard. Mold of any color can be classified as either a “toxin” or an “allergen.” While toxic mold can create the most serious health problems, all types of mold and mildew can cause health issues, especially among those who suffer from allergies and asthma. Mold is a leading cause of airborne allergies.
Q: Should I be concerned with mold if it is not black? Does the color of mold matter?
A: The color of mold has no bearing on how dangerous it might be. There are over 100,000 kinds of mold, and the only way to be sure what kind is growing in your home is to have a mold test conducted by an environmental inspector. They can provide you with an unbiased assessment of the situation and recommend safe, effective ways to resolve the problem.
Mold and Your Health
Q: Can mold make you sick?
A: At worst, toxic mold can cause serious health issues; at best, mold and mildew aggravate allergies. Mold causes breathing difficulties, skin rashes, headaches, cough, wheezing, and asthma.
Q: What are the symptoms of mold exposure?
A: Symptoms vary and depend largely on how sensitive your body is to exposure to mold. The most common symptoms include cold and flu-like symptoms like chronic cough, shortness of breath, sinus congestion, chronic fatigue, and weakness. But studies
show that toxic mold exposure can also cause difficulty concentrating, a tingling or numbing sensation on skin, headaches and light sensitivity, joint pain and stiffness, poor memory or difficulty finding words, fibromyalgia, and multiple chemical sensitivity, which causes varying symptoms due to low-level exposures to commonly used chemicals. It’s a long list, for sure.
Q: How is one exposed to mold?
A: There are several ways. Skin contact is the first way. People who are highly allergic to mold may develop a rash where the mold has made contact with the skin. Another way is by inhaling mold spores. Finally, you may ingest food that contains mold. Avoid foods like mushrooms, cheese, dried fruit, and fermented products if you have a mold allergy.
Q: Can you take care of a mold problem by yourself rather than hiring a professional?
A: It depends. There’s only one way to fully understand the extent of your mold problem and that is to have a professional, independent mold inspector conduct a test. Why? Mold spores are lightweight and tiny and spread easily, so it’s very easy for someone not accustomed to working with mold to cross-contaminate “clean” areas of their home with contaminated areas. The EPA provides more information on this subject.
Q: Once mold is remediated, will it come back?
A: It could, especially if a water-damaged site was remediated too quickly and reconstructed and was not allowed to dry thoroughly. In such cases, moisture might have been trapped inside at the time the person conducting the remediation sealed up the walls. Sometimes remediation companies are too eager to move on to their next job, so they remove their equipment and fans prematurely. Mold thrives in damp, warm, dark areas. To fully dry an area, it can take up to a week and often more. That’s why best practice is to conduct post-remediation mold clearance testing to ensure the area was remediated properly.
Q: Isn’t it cheaper to hire a company that does both remediation and testing?
A: That’s a bad idea that can cost you thousands more! Homeowners should hire two separate companies for testing and remediation, according to an article in Angie’s List which states: “Hire one company to do the testing and another to remediate to eliminate any conflict of interest.” Unfortunately, companies that do both may offer cheap or free mold testing and then make up the difference through remediation services. Companies that perform both testing and remediation are known to exaggerate—or even fabricate—a mold problem to profit on a costly remediation job. These companies are banking on homeowners who are not educated. This problem became so widespread that in New York State, a consumer protection law now makes it illegal for the same company to test and remediate the same mold job. Laws vary by state, so be sure to check your local law.
Mold Assessment Certification & Qualification
Q: Do mold companies and inspectors need to be certified?
A: This varies by state. Florida, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, New Hampshire, New York, Tennessee, and Texas are currently the only states that require state licensure. To be safe, be sure that your environmental testing company holds the Certified Microbial Investigator (CMI) accreditation from the American Council for Accredited Certification. Choose carefully. To find out if the individual or company you want to hire is certified, search for them on the ACAC site.
In the wake of recent frozen pipe breaks, ice dams, hurricanes, and storms, there has been a lot of information disseminated about mold. Unfortunately, much of it is incorrect, and could end up costing homeowners a lot of money. We’ve created a list of the top mold questions, from black mold to mold certification, as well as common misconceptions. Take this quiz and see whether you’ve been getting good advice or not on these frequently asked mold questions.
Once mold is remediated, it’s gone and won’t come back.
Answer: Wrong. Mold can return to water damaged sites that were remediated too quickly, before the area was completely dry. In these cases, remediators sealed up the walls only to trap moisture inside a dark, warm area, where mold thrives. Don’t get caught in a trap. If you had water damage and had it repaired immediately or incorrectly, you may still find mold reappears, either because the home didn’t fully dry, treatment did not work, or unscrupulous contractors didn’t actually kill it. Trust only an independent, Certified Microbial Investigator to tell you where the mold is and when your home is dry enough to fix.
I only need to test before I remodel and not after, correct?
Answer: Incorrect. Testing after the remediation and renovation is done is just as important as testing before. You need to make sure the mold is gone and that the remediation was done properly to avoid a future problem.
Can you take care of a mold problem by yourself rather than hiring a professional?
Answer: Possibly. If the mold is visible and the area is small enough (less than a 3-ft.-x- 3-ft. square patch), you can probably clean the mold yourself. The EPA provides information on how to clean mold on your own. If the area is larger than that, you should have an independent testing company assess the area and provide a removal blueprint for a remediation company.
It’s cheaper and easier to hire a company that does both remediation and testing, right?
Answer: Wrong. Homeowners should hire two separate vendors for testing and remediation, according to an article from Angie’s List, which states “Hire one company to do the testing and another to remediate to eliminate any conflict of interest.” Companies that offer to test and then remediate may offer mold testing on the cheap, but they could plan to make up the difference through remediation services. They’ll tell you all the mold is gone, but you can never be sure if the problem was properly remediated – or if it existed at all. Many consumers end up paying thousands of dollars for bloated repair estimates or an improper and ineffective remediation. In New York State, a consumer protection law was passed in 2016 making it illegal for the same company to test and remediate on the same mold job.
Do mold companies and inspectors need to be certified?
Answer: Yes, although many are not. Be sure that your environmental testing company holds the Certified Microbial Investigator accreditation from the American Council for Accredited Certification. In New York, mold inspectors must also be trained, certified, and licensed by the state. Choose carefully. To find out if the individual or company you want to hire is certified, click here to search for them on the ACAC site.
One Company Cannot Test and Remediate on the Same Job, Mold Inspectors & Contractors Must Attend Certification Classes & Be Licensed
The recent cold temperatures caused a host of pipe breaks. For many, these unfortunate burst pipes happened when they were on vacation during the winter recess. Unsuspecting consumers returned home to mold and water damage from frozen pipes that defrosted and ruptured while they were away. When hiring contractors and contacting your insurance company, make sure you know about the new law in New York that protects homeowners from mold remediation con games. The regulations can save you thousands of dollars in unnecessary repairs, as well as protect your health.
The law, which went into effect January 1, 2016, bars the contractor who assesses the home’s mold problem from also doing the cleanup. This necessary measure was taken
to avoid a scam in which a company exaggerates or lies about a mold problem in order to make large profits on remediating a very small problem. The law also requires NYS licensure and certification in order to conduct mold testing or remediation. This will prevent unskilled workers from improper handling of mold and from possible cross contamination that can lead to health issues.
The mold remediation scams come down to contractors who both remediate and test for mold in order to inflate their profits; the more mold they can identify, the more they can profit from remediation.According to the New York State Department of Labor, the law mandates that an assessment be performed to define the scope of mold remediation before the cleanup is carried out, a practice that RTK has employed for decades. of the new law will face civil penalties of $2,000 to $10,000.
If you had a pipe break and need an independent mold test from a NYS licensed mold inspector, please call us at (800) 392-6468.
Homeowner Alert: New York State Law Now Requires Separate Companies to Perform Mold Inspection and Mold Remediation on a Single Job, Saving Consumers Thousands
– Mold Inspectors and Contractors Must Also Now Attend Certification Classes and Be Licensed –
If you own property in New York State, a new law aimed at protecting homeowners from mold remediation con games can save you thousands of dollars in unnecessary repairs, as well as protect your health. The law, which went into effect January 1, 2016, bars a contractor from assessing a home’s mold problem and then doing the cleanup. This necessary measure was taken to avoid a scam in which a company exaggerates or lies about a mold problem in order to make large profits on remediating a very small problem. The law also requires NYS licensure and certification in order to conduct mold testing or remediation, which will prevent unskilled workers from improper handling of mold and possible cross contamination that can lead to health issues.
“This is great news for everyone,” says Robert Weitz, Principal and Senior Project Manager at RTK Environmental Group, which serves scores of clients in New York every day. “When one company does both testing and remediation, consumers may view that as an advantage as all they have to do is work with one company. But as soon as you explain the inherent conflict-of-interest, they understand it right away. Our clients recognize the value of dealing with two companies, to make sure that the work is done properly and efficiently.”
According to the New York State Department of Labor, the law mandates that an assessment be performed to define the scope of mold remediation before the cleanup is carried out, a practice that RTK has employed for decades.
Consumers and lawmakers began to understand the depth of the industry-wide problem when Superstorm Sandy, which slammed parts of New York with storm surges and flooding in 2012, brought an increased public health risk from mold growing in homes and commercial buildings.
It also brought scammers who took advantage of the situation, said state Assemblyman Todd Kaminsky, D-Long Beach, who sponsored the bill.
“Unfortunately, many Superstorm Sandy victims found that those who claimed to fix their
mold problems were actually unqualified scammers who took their money and left their homes in a dangerous condition,” Kaminsky said.
Weitz points to a lack of knowledge at the time about how to properly deal with mold infestation. Consumers didn’t realize how much of a health hazard indoor mold was, and the contractors didn’t understand the complex and technical steps required in removing indoor mold.
“You had contractors haphazardly ripping out walls and floorboards to get the job done as quickly as possible. In doing so, they managed to cross-contaminate entire dwellings, adding expense and health risks for the homeowner,” said Weitz.
Superstorms aside, most of mold remediation scams come down to contractors who both remediate and test for mold in order to inflate their profits; the more mold they can identify, the more they can profit from remediation.
In 2012, NBC News investigated crooked mold contractors in Rossen Reports: Are mold contractors charging for unneeded work? Hidden cameras revealed that several contractors tried to charge big bucks for unnecessary repairs.
“A home we inspected recently had a leaky pipe in a finished basement. Carpeting, wallboard, some furniture, and toys had to be discarded,” said Weitz. “An unbiased mold inspection will pinpoint the source of the mold and provide a remediation plan that can be given to the remediation contractor of your choice. It’s really the most honest and cost-effective way to clean up an unhealthy mold problem. I’m really glad that New York State has taken the step to protect its residents and businesses from mold scammers.”
Violators of the new law will face civil penalties of $2,000 to $10,000.
One-stop shops that both test for and remediate mold woo customers with “free” tests or low prices, but consumers often end up paying thousands more in unnecessary repairs.
You may think you are getting a deal by hiring a company that offers “free” or inexpensive mold testing. Think about it, though – nothing is free. Here’s where they’ll get you: A company that offers both testing and remediation has a financial incentive to find problems that may not exist in your home.
Many of these companies that offer free and discount mold testing will claim to find mold in your home, and then conveniently offer their own remediation services to fix the problem. What they don’t tell you is that there is mold present in the air in every home and environment, so technically they are not outright lying! It’s the level and type of mold that counts, but they don’t specify what your “problem” is. An independent testing firm, like RTK Environmental Group, that only tests for mold and does not perform remediation work, does not have a conflict of interest. RTK’s only concern is to find the real trouble spots in your home.
Robert Weitz, a certified microbial investigator and principal at RTK Environmental Group, says the result is the consumer may be paying thousands of dollars for bloated repair estimates or an improper and ineffective remediation. “You may think you are saving money, when in reality you end up paying way too much for a problem that may not even exist.”
Investigative reporter Jeff Rossen shed light on this scam when he conducted an undercover investigation on NBC-TV’s Today Show into mold remediation, and the results were shocking. He found that some companies were willing to claim that eye shadow smeared on a wall was mold, and then would charge upwards of $10,000 to remove the ‘mold problem.’
Your best bet is to use an independent and certified testing service, like RTK Environmental Group, so there’s no possible conflict of interest. You’ll sleep better knowing you didn’t have to pay for a problem you never had.
You had your home tested for environmental toxins and now you’ve got the results. Now, you’re thinking, you know if you have a problem and how to fix it.
But what if your mold inspection results were delivered as raw data—a jumble of undecipherable numbers and measurements? You don’t need a degree in environmental science to know that’s not helpful to you as a homeowner. Unfortunately, we hear from customers all too often who have used other environmental testing services that they’ve found themselves having to interpret their test results.
What should you expect from an environmental testing company?
Inspectors should provide a clear explanation upfront of their process and all related fees. If you are being promised the cheapest services, you probably are not getting the best results. And you may find yourself surprised when your bill includes expenses related to sampling supplies and laboratory fees that you didn’t even know about.
If, for example, you had a mold inspection and received a report indicating the presence of mold in your home, how would you know the mold count is cause for concern? What are acceptable levels of Cladosporium, Penicillium, or Aspergillus? After all, all homes have some mold in them—mold spores are in the air, on your countertops and furniture. You shouldn’t have to consult a chart to know whether your mold is alarming or okay to leave untreated.
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), standards for what is an “acceptable, tolerable or normal” quantity of mold have not been established. Officials recommend you ask your environmental inspector who will interpret the test results, and what recommendations they’ll make based on the sampling. What’s more, the recommendations should take into consideration the building’s characteristics and the factors that led to the current conditions, the CDC notes.
At RTK Environmental group, we’ll do a thorough examination of your home and property for the presence of environmental toxins. We’ll tell you about our process, including an explanation of costs, and provide you with a clear interpretation of test results. Because we don’t do remediation, you can be sure our assessment is accurate and unbiased. We can also return for final testing to ensure the job was done right.