Volunteer Mold and Indoor Air Quality Experts are available for consultations Monday through Saturday, 8:00AM – 9:00PM. Contact us today!
In our practice we are often called upon to find answers to our clients’ mysterious indoor air quality concerns. To begin our inspection we normally start with a brief client health survey. We ask specific questions about our client’s health and experience in the building. Oftentimes the combination of our inspection and clients’ answers point us to poor air circulation and CO2 levels.
We recently were called in to perform an assessment by a commercial office client to determine the source of illness of some of their clerical staff. The office was a call center providing billing and commercial client services.
Our survey found that all (seven) of those persons complaining of fatigue, headaches, dizziness and nausea were located in the same area of cubicles in a small segregated office space (12 x 26) served by one HVAC unit. The space was staffed by seven women, mid 30’s to late 40’s, clerical staff that handled a phone bank Monday through Friday, 8AM to 5PM.
Management said that the womens’ complaints were very consistent. All stated that they felt well on Monday morning but felt progressively worse as the day and the workweek went on. Absenteeism was high and regular every week for this one group of workers.
We performed an Indoor Air Quality Inspection (IAQI) of the entire office including mold scans, air sampling and infrared thermal imaging. Nothing stood out as a smoking gun. During our time in the office we noted that the air in the space “felt” stuffy, and we developed headaches. We noted that this area had one HVAC that served only the subject area and two adjoining bathrooms. Further evaluation of the HVAC unit revealed that there was no fresh air intake, the unit was only recirculating stale air.
When we performed a CO2 air sampling at 3:00PM that Monday, we found a “smoking gun” and probable cause. Initial sample results in the office cubicle area showed CO2 levels of 2,950 ppm. Other areas of the office, outside the subject cubical area, showed CO2 levels in the 870 to 900 ppm range. Exterior control sample indicated a level of 235 ppm. The measurements and symptoms were consistent with stated symptoms of carbon dioxide exposure of the workers in the segregated work space.
We recommended monitoring CO2 levels for a seven day period which would include a typical staff work week and non use weekend periods. What we found was most interesting.
Monday morning at 9:00AM (start of work week) CO2 levels were 300 ppm. Levels increased steadily through the day, reaching 1,880 ppm. Tuesday levels, starting at 9:00AM, went from 1,220 ppm to 1,900 ppm at the end of the workday. Like a battery charging, the CO2 levels continued to elevate through Friday late afternoon when they peaked at 5,300 ppm.
No wonder the workers felt ill.
Our Quest For Energy Efficiency May Be Killing Us…
In the drive to increase energy efficiency, there’s a push for making buildings tighter, and less expensive to run. There’s some risk that, in that process, adverse effects on occupants will be ignored. If people can’t think or perform as well, that could obviously have adverse economic impacts, increased absenteeism and poor morale.
Our recommendation to have a fresh air intake installed to the HVAC unit to provide a mix of conditioned air with fresh air from the outside of the building was implemented and the positive impact was immediate. CO2 values dropped to 210 ppm to 315 ppm all week long and an employee health issue was eliminated. Absenteeism dropped to a level below company averages for the other 40 employees in the adjoining space.
Volunteer Mold and Indoor Air Quality Services in Knoxville, TN, performs CO2 testing and monitoring in addition to a vast array of indoor air quality services.
Call Bob Byrne at Volunteer Mold and Indoor Air Quality Services, 865 385-0170, to discuss your home or work place concern.
A new research facility
A bright young research scientist recently called us to ask questions about our inspections processes and revealed that she was wanting to move from a small commercial rental space (2,500 sq. ft.) into a large free standing building (15,800 sq. ft.).Her successful young business was bursting at the seams with staff and clients frequently tripping over themselves.
In her mid thirties, she had never owned a commercial business. Dr. S was learning to ask the right questions and understood the need for a third party building professional review.
We ask questions, lots of questions, to gain an understanding, to better serve our clients. Understanding the uniqueness of the clients’ situation helps us to serve better.
First we learn about our client and their needs:
- Her practice was engaged in clinical research trials testing medications for pharmaceutical manufacturers.
- She would have 30 staff members who would range from administrative types (bookkeepers, clerical, data entry) to nursing and research scientists.
- Her clinic would see between 60 to 100 subjects per day, five days a week.
- Controlled environments for every staff member and clients was critical.
- Handicap access was critical throughout the facility.
- Proper lighting, personnel flow, and parking were all critical.
- Access to WIFI, desktop computers, iPads and camera security systems was a high priority.
- We reviewed blueprints, prepared by her selected general contractor, of planned changes vs. actual office conditions.
- Dr. S knew a lot about pharmaceuticals and research, and little about building science.
- The building was 35 years old and had been unoccupied for more than 5 years.
- The general contractor had provided the doctor a detailed renovation budget and scope of work.
- The client insisted, based upon her father’s recommendation, that she get the building inspected prior to closing on the sale. Her general contractor said he saw no need for a third party inspection, as he knew what the buyer needed.
Key issues uncovered in the inspection – not in the budget or plans.
Some key issues emerged during our evaluation of the building that the general contractor, the buyer and the realtor hadn’t considered or budgeted for.
- The building had 120 fixed windows with a single pane glazing. Costs of cooling and heating the facility were going to be quite high. This item was not listed on the general contractor’s scope of work or budget.
- Our infrared thermal imaging scan of the building envelope revealed water leaks around 43 of the windows with hidden moisture in the walls.
- Our fiber optic scoping of the main HVAC return and supply trunks revealed fiberboard interiors that were highly contaminated with biological growths.
- A strong musty odor in several of the offices along the front of the building was a clue that mold was growing in the wet walls. This condition was later verified in our air sampling by our local lab.
- Two electrical panels had faulty wiring and missing breakers. This item was not listed on the general contractor’s scope of work or budget.
- Entry and safety egress doors were inadequate and placed improperly based upon revised floor plans. You guessed it … not in the budget.
- Based upon numbers and conditions/issues with windows, comfort along the 125 ft. south facing wall, with 55 windows, energy costs and requirements would be exorbitant.
Conclusion of the inspection:
We performed a walk through with the client and her father after the inspection and shared our findings and recommendations for correction. We recommended that she ask the general contractor have specialists come out, review our findings and recommendations and gather estimates for additions to scope of work to meet the client’s requirements. Our client’s head was spinning as we reviewed our findings.
The client called us a few weeks later to let us know:
- The additional scope of work to correct issues including replacement of windows and remediate mold issues was more than $120,000.
- She, with the help of her realtor, was successful in renegotiating the sale price down nearly $100,000 dollars with the help of our inspection and cost estimates supplied by additional contractors.
- She found a new general contactor and hired him based on the questions she now knew how to ask.
A happy, informed client with solutions in hand is our goal.
Now, nearly 30 months later, our client is operating her business in a safe and comfortable environment, meeting the needs of her clients and staff.
Typical College Housing- Often VERY Unhealthy:
College housing, in a dormitory or off campus, is often subpar, exploiting the student’s need and parent’s pocketbook. Often referred to as college slum chic, it falls short of our typical standard requirements. As a building inspector I am frequently amazed at the poor maintenance practices of universities and private property owners.
Living in a University town, I frequently get calls from concerned parents about the health and safety of their children’s housing.
Think for a moment of how student housing is operated:
- Occupied for 9 months at a time and then vacant for two to three months per year
- Conditioned air units are frequently shut off during summer months of non-use to save energy
- Conditioned air units are usually “patched” to just keep them working at minimum standard level
- Leaks, standing water and other issues often go unreported by occupants
- Poor general hygiene of occupants in their first home away from home
A Recent Call:
I typically receive calls from panicked moms in the early to late fall. Students by now have been living the college slum life for a few months and are presenting many respiratory symptoms.
Typical Health Concerns – Not So Much!
This mom noted that her daughter’s symptoms included:
- Frequent coughing
- Daily headaches
- Difficulty sleeping due to the above symptoms
Her previously healthy and energetic daughter was getting progressively worse. Asthma symptoms that had not been present since the daughter was 13 had returned. The mom was understandably panicked.
We met the mother and daughter at her rented off campus apartment. After taking a tour of the common areas and the daughters living quarters we sat and talked with them both to gather more information. A few of the other girls sharing the house joined us to reveal that they too were experiencing similar symptoms and health concerns.
- Building maintenance issues were performed by a handyman. His workmanship, or lack thereof, was apparent throughout the old 4,200 square foot home.
- There was no central heat or air system in the building.
- Relative humidity levels in the home were 78% or higher dependent on what area was sampled.
- Windows were “fixed” and could not be opened.
- Bedrooms were serviced by “window type” air conditioners that were about 10 years old, dirty and unmaintained. Typically these units have a useable life of 3 to 5 years.
- Bathrooms lacked exhaust fans. (Imagine the length of a typical 19 year olds’ shower with no exhaust fan to remove moisture!)
- Bathroom walls, floors and ceilings had large microbial growths on them.
- Two of the girls showed me photos of mushrooms growing near their showers and toilets.
- One of the bathroom floors had five layers of vinyl and a leaking toilet and tub waste supply.
- Three bathrooms had “spongy” sub floors.
- We performed infrared thermal imaging on the building envelope and in interior areas. Infrared revealed water leaks in two walls of the client’s bedroom.
- Due to budget constraints, minimal air sampling was performed in few limited areas.
- Lab results confirmed high counts of stachybotrys and aspergillius/penicillium type molds. No small wonder why these young adults were so ill.
Mom was horrified:
With results in hand the mother contacted the landlord/property owner and the parents of the other girls living in the apartment home. The landlord, upon reading our report, assured our client that he would get his guy to correct the conditions.
Despite our specific warning that the home needed to be professionally remediated they did not do so.
Pandora’s box is opened:
A few days after delivering our report, the daughter sent us a cell phone recording of the “Maintenance Guy” pulling up rotted bathroom flooring covered in mold. A few weeks later many of the girls were extremely ill with multiple respiratory complaints and 4 have moved out, including our client’s daughter.
We never heard from the landlord regarding our inspection or findings. We suspect we wont get a Christmas card from him this year.
A recent referral from our client led to a conversation about the status of her daughter. Having removed her from the apartment she began to return to improved health. She is receiving breathing treatments and has greatly reduced her medication intake. Her ongoing asthma issues continue.
The conditions we find in many of our student housing commercial building inspections is fairly consistent. Many of the building owners react professionally and resolve concerns professionally once presented with a third party report from professionals.
Exposure to certain molds for even short periods of time can have a lifelong impact on many of us. A professional inspection and testing is always prudent.
Early this morning we inspected a manufactured home. As inspectors, we come equipped to every job with lots of expensive tools. Moisture meters, thermography cameras, air samplers and of course our trusty flash lights, among others. Often the tool customers don’t see us carry into their homes or businesses is the most critical.
Basic Tool Set – Eyes and Ears
One’s skill as an inspector is nearly entirely dependent on using our eyes and ears properly.
The client’s concern was an odd odor in the bathroom shower area. The wife could smell it all the time and the husband told us he smelled nothing and that she was just imagining things. As a man who has been happily married to the same woman for thirty-five years, I will admit I have said the same thing a time or two. And I have learned that that the wife is most always right.
Seeing The Unseen
We spent thirty or so minutes taking moisture readings and sniffing around the bathroom for the source of the offensive odor and looking up at the sub floor from the crawl space.
We noticed a wet spot under the shower tray and it looked like it was coming from the behind the shower wall. We reported this to the couple and at once the wife said “see, I told you” to her sheepish husband. We suggested that there may be a water leak behind the shower wall, in a pipe or at the control valves.
The wife told us to open the wall and just cut out what we had to as she had wanted to remodel the bathroom for more than 15 years.
All Clear To Demo
We normally don’t do destructive inspections but at the client’s go ahead we took out a multi saw and proceeded to cut out the shower wall surround fiberglass panel.
Peeling back the wall revealed one of the worst mold infestations we had seen in one area. The wall board behind the tub surround was thick and slimy with mold growths.
We found a very small water leak at a water supply fitting to the shower valve that had been leaking for years. Further inspection revealed that the floor beneath the shower tray was about to fall through.
We performed a full remediation of the shower and adjacent walls by setting up containment, repairing the water leak and removing all of the damaged sheet rock materials.