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What is a mold inspection?

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What is a mold inspection?
by: Joshua Luttmer

A mold inspection is a must when buying a home. Mold inspections are different from other types of home inspections. The cost of mold inspection will depend on the size and condition of the house. What is the cost of mold inspection for a house? How can you determine if mold testing and/or inspection are worth the cost?

A mold inspection might be required in a variety of situations. Let's take a look at the different situations where a mold inspection might be necessary, what mold testing is and how much it costs.

What is mold?

Mold is a type of fungi and thrives in moist, dark areas of your home. Mold spreads through the emission of spores. These microscopic particles are often as small and tiny as one cell. The spores tend to float around in the air until they land on a surface where they are able to grow. Mold spores can be found outside and inside your home, they are pretty much everywhere, all around you at all times. Without some massive industrial filtration system, it would be nearly impossible to eliminate all of the mold spores in a home.

Mold spores can only grow on moist surfaces though, so it is important to keep your home's interior on the dryer side of the relative humidity (RH) scale. Experts recommend that you keep the RH in your home between 30-50% to maximize comfort, while also preventing conditions conducive to mold growth. Mold prevention is as simple as cleaning up all standing water from spills, fixing leaks in your roofing, plumbing, or HVAC system, and making sure that your bathroom and kitchen vent moisture to the exterior of your home.

Mold should always be remediated if found growing because it can damage surfaces and even the structure of your home.  Additionally, mold can exacerbate or even cause asthma and allergies.

When should you inspect for mold?

Mold can sometimes be easy to spot, but not always.  However, if you do see it growing, it is a sure sign that you should have a mold inspection performed by an IAC2 certified inspector to confirm that what you are seeing is in fact mold and potentially determine the the type or species. Mold can also grow in areas you aren't able to see like between walls or in your ventilation ducts. The following are just a few of the situations that should prompt you to inspect your home for mold issues.

  • When there has been previous water damage. Mold can be found in a basement that has been flooded previously, areas near roof leaks, or where a water pipe broke and leaked water. Mold can be found in any area that was wet or not dried quickly (typically 48 hours).
  • If there is apparent mold growth you can see. Should you see any color of substance that you think looks like mold, an inspection is necessary to determine if what you are seeing is actually mold.  Keep in mind that mold can grow in a wide variety of colors, shapes and textures.
  • If there are musty smells.  Even if you cannot see any mold growth, it may be growing inside of a wall, underneath carpeting or behind some old wallpaper.
  • If a house is unoccupied for a long time, it can lead to conditions that may promote mold growth such as higher relative humidity levels, warmer temperatures and even the darkness. This is particularly true in areas that have high humidity naturally such as in southern states and coastal areas but don't be mistaken, mold can grow nearly anywhere.
  • When purchasing a new home. You never know what the previous owner may have experienced while living in the home and they may not disclose it either.  It is impossible to determine the extent of any water damage that may have occurred in the house you plan to purchase. A mold inspection is the only way to determine if mold is present.
  • After mold remediation. Regular mold inspections are an excellent idea after you've gone through the difficult and expensive steps of dealing with mold problems to be sure that it isn't coming back.

Mold testing vs. mold inspection

You might find mold testing and mold inspection costs when you search the web. Mold inspection is a simple way to identify the presence of mold. It also determines the area of concern, often in square footage.

Mold testing is used to determine the type of mold present in your home or verify what you are seeing is actually mold. Keep these things in mind:

  1. It is extremely difficult to perform a scientific mold test in a home. Therefore, results can vary widely from one test to the next, regardless of remediation efforts.
  2. Second, mold spores can drift into indoor spaces from outside. Mold tests will usually reveal a long list, but not all of the mold species are usually growing in your home.
  3. Third, the EPA has not set guidelines for an acceptable amount of mold or mold spores in a house. The Minnesota Department of Health, the New York State Department of Labor and others agree that mold testing can be ineffective. They recommend hiring professionals to inspect for active growth colonies. Some mold inspections may include sampling or testing, especially in states that require it.

What happens during a mold inspection

A mold inspection is a visual inspection of a home, similar to a standard home inspection. A flashlight is all that's required, along with tools and other equipment needed to reach restrictive areas. Infrared cameras are sometimes used by mold inspectors in an attempt to find hidden moisture intrusions. A moisture meter can also be used to determine if an area is wet or damp.

The mold inspection will most likely involve a conversation between the inspector and the property owner about areas that have mold growth or have had water damage or moisture problems in the past. The inspector will visually inspect the house thoroughly, looking in places known to be more likely to  find mold growth. To get a better view, an inspector might have to remove or damage some drywall to see inside of that area and this may involve extra fees and/or signing a damage waiver. The inspector will attempt to determine the source of moisture, odors or mold and work with the homeowner to create a plan for remediation.

Some municipalities require that mold inspectors have a license. Look for contractors with extensive experience in mold inspection.  The International Association of Indoor Air Consultants or IAC2 certifies mold inspectors and their website is a good place to look for a certified expert.

What factors affect the cost of a mold inspection

The cost of a mold inspection is affected by two factors: the size of your house and whether the inspector must remove or destroy any parts of the property to complete the inspection.

A large house will cost more to inspect, simply because it has more square footage which equates to more time spent on the job. Due to the additional time and effort required, an "invasive" inspection that involves digging under or through drywall, crawlspaces and confined areas will cost more.

What is the cost of a mold inspection?

Although the cost of mold inspections can differ from one region to another, it is usually less than $500. You are likely to find greater variations between contractors in the same area than from region to region, so doing the legwork of contacting several mold inspection companies may be in order to get the best price.

A mold inspection will cost you about the same amount as a regular inspection of your home, which is generally required when you buy a new house. For houses below 4,000 square feet, mold inspections normally cost $300-$600 on average. The cost of mold inspections for larger homes (above 4,000 sq. ft.) increases to $700 to $900. These costs may only be for the inspection and may not include testing. Inspectors such as Caliber Inspections which follow IAC2 standards of practice generally includes up to 3 mold tests with with a "complete" mold inspection.

While some contractors who specialize in mold remediation may offer a free mold inspection, most will charge for it.  And most would agree that an unbiased opinion is valued in situations where a positive result of a test would include additional profit for the inspector.

How to find the right mold inspector

You should look for a contractor who has experience in mold  inspections. Get estimates from people in your local area. You might find a wide range of prices, so it may be worth shopping around if you want to get the best price.  As mentioned before, it is important to check if they are certified in mold inspections as most states do not regulate the mold inspection industry.  The only way to ensure that you have a true expert is to hire one that has gone through the rigorous training such as IAC2 provides.

To find out if mold inspectors require a certification or special license, check with your state's labor department.  For those of you in Colorado, certification is not a required. You will want to only work with properly certified contractors regardless of whether it is required.

After the inspection

The next step in a mold inspection, assuming that mold testing proved positive results, is to create a remediation plan. The first step is to remove the moisture source that allows the mold growth. If you do not remove the source of the moisture, the mold will grow back.  Next, you or a mold remediation specialist can then scrub and wash hard surfaces all around the mold growth. Then, soft surfaces such as carpets and foam tiles must be removed and replaced. It is difficult if not impossible to remove all mold from porous surfaces.

If the mold is in a small amount of area, this can be done by yourself. The EPA recommends that you call a professional if the mold damage is more than 10 square feet. Mold can be dangerous to work with, especially for someone with allergies or asthma. It is best to leave larger contaminations to professionals who have the right safety gear and cleaning equipment.

Mold can be a serious problem. It is possible to save thousands of dollars by catching it early enough so that it doesn't grow out of control, so keep an eye on your basements and crawlspaces.  Make a plan to check in areas that don't receive frequent traffic at least a few times per year. A mold inspection or mold test is well worth the few hundred dollars if you're looking to buy a house. It is important to remove mold from your home as soon as you notice it so that it doesn't become a bigger problem.

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