Tips for hiring a mold remediation company

In this article, I will reveal some key tips to consider when sourcing out your best option before hiring a mold remediation company. If you are unfamiliar with the potential dangers of mold contamination to your health and pocket book, take a look at this article first… Ok, now that we are up to speed, consider these two important questions:

 1) Where is the mold coming from?

Unless obvious, you will need to know the source(s) so it can be prevented in the future. Initially, many remediation companies are primarily concerned with testing the air quality for mold spore counts and removing the mold.

Although a good indicator of the indoor air quality as it relates to mold, air sampling and lab reports cannot help you figure out specifically where the problem exists. In addition, remediation contractors make the bulk of their revenue by removing the mold and restoring the home to safe conditions. This is great in the short term but will not prevent the mold from coming back. So your best option is to hire an independent mold inspector to determine where the mold is coming from, why it is growing and what to do about it. Mold inspectors leave the mold removal to the remediation and restoration contractors.

 2) How much mold can be identified, or how big is the problem?

This next question is so very important because the answer will help you determine how it effectively needs to be dealt with. In another article, I detail the severity of mold contamination, in relation to how much is found. Essentially, if you see more than 10 square feet of mold growth, you will need to call in a mold remediation company to rectify the problem.

Alright, so how do we choose the best mold removal company?

Below I have listed a number of questions that will help put you choose the best company for your needs…

Do they offer pre & post indoor air quality testing or recommend a third party?

It is standard practice for mold removal companies to conduct pre and post indoor air quality testing for mold. Typically they do this to maintain control of the remediation process. It also saves them time.

A few select companies will suggest you have an independent, 3rd party mold inspector come by to perform air quality testing before (if necessary) and after the job has been completed. This is further assurance that the company is ethical and confident in the work they do. Air testing by a 3rd party mold inspector will be able to verify through the lab reports if the air quality is safe upon completion of the remediation job. I wouldn’t suggest that all companies doing their own testing are unethical, however, to be sure that the testing is unbiased, it would be best to go with a mold inspector, not a remediation company.

Also, it is not unusual for remediation companies to conduct air quality testing as soon as they arrive on site. This should be avoided, as a thorough inspection needs take place first. Also, it is not recommended to test the air for mold when it is visible. This is not necessary and a waste of money.

Regardless of which company performs the air samples, they should be sent to a qualified American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) approved lab for analysis.

Does the company have a proven track record? How experienced are they?

One way to find out about the company is to check the Better Business Bureau (BBB) to see if there have been any complaints. You can also do an internet search titled “reviews for company” in Google. Many companies don’t have a lot of reviews. This does not necessarily mean they are bad. However, if a company has a lot of positive feedback, and provides an opportunity for clients to do so, then this is a good first step. You also want to find out if the companies will provide references for past work completed, and if they offer a guarantee for their work.

It is advisable to find out how long the company has been doing business and how much experience their employees have. You should ask the contractor if this is their full time job, or just a part time endeavor. Often a strata or property management company will use handymen, as they charge less. In addition to being less expensive, they typically lack the necessary training and expertise needed to perform the job. So always choose a remediation company over a handyman.

Does the company take the time to learn about your mold problem?

This is an important part of your search. The company representative should ask you a number of questions over the phone to learn as much as possible prior to booking a visit. Some questions include…

  • When did you first notice the mold?
  • How did you discover the mold?
  • Is there a moldy or musty is an odour?
  • Where is the mold?
  • Is this a reoccurring mold problem?
  • Have you spoken to any other companies? What did they tell you?
  • Have you had any prior testing done?
  • Are you aware of any present or past leaks?
  • Do your use your kitchen and bathroom fans?
  • Has the outside of the home and or the roof been inspected?

 These questions will show you that they truly want to understand and solve your mold problem.

Mold Remediation

Remediation contractor at work

 Will the company provide a clear scope of work along with the quote?

 After their initial assessment the company should provide a detailed plan (scope of work) on how they will remove the mold and restore your home to a safe living environment. The quote and scope of work should be detailed and specific, yet absent of additional work that is not required. It should include details about containment and equipment use.

 There are several remediation companies operating in each city, so be sure to ask for a few quotes to compare. If you are not 100% clear on what they are providing for you, then ask them to explain and justify it. And last, make sure that you have a full scope of work along with the quote before the job begins. This will protect you from additional charges that “come up” after the job begins.

Do the company technicians have the appropriate credentials, training, insurance and experience for the job?

 There are very strict protocols set out by associations and organizations offering certifications. The Institute of Inspection Cleaning & Restoration Certification (IICRC) and the Restoration Industry Association (RIA) are two such examples. Remediation companies are required to follow these protocols when removing mold. You’ll want to ask if they do so and if their employees are certified.

They should belong to a relevant association, such as the Indoor Air Quality Association (IAQA). Find out if the company has other experts that can be called in to help them, such as Industrial Hygienists. You should also ask if they work with insurance companies in case you want to make a claim.

 Do they use safe cleaning agents during remediation?

 There are many cleaning products and chemicals that are used remediation contractors. Some of the chemicals in the cleaners are not approved by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Properly certified contractors are knowledgeable about cleaning and restoration methods, chemicals and cleaners. Ideally, they should be using non toxic Eco-friendly natural products. Ask if any of the products they use have been linked to heath issues, and therefore not recommended for use.

 Are you getting fair value?

 When you take a look at the quotation, ask yourself if everything seems reasonable. This may be difficult, especially if you are not experienced at studying their quotes or scope of work.

As mentioned earlier, it is best to compare quotes from a few different companies. You may consider calling an established, credible mold inspector for an opinion. Ideally the scope of work from each company should be relatively consistent. If a big discrepancy exists between the companies, you will need to probe further to find out why.  

 Some companies will offer a free estimate in an effort to earn your business. This is great, but should not be expected. I do not recommend choosing a company for this reason alone. Remediation companies charge by the time it takes to complete the job, the service required, labour and the products they use. So, in reality, the estimate is only free if the company does not get the job. You can be sure that they will build the cost of the “free” estimate into the final bill.

 For more information on this topic, feel free to contact me at 604-729-4261

Read More

Is winter construction linked to mold?

In this article I will highlight some important considerations to think about if you are planning to buy, build or have recently purchased a new home that was built during the winter.

Before we dive into the details, lets talk about mold

Mold in our homes is becoming a frequent topic of discussion as we learn more about the damage that it causes, and potential impact on our heath. Much of this conversation leads to the necessary remediation efforts to remove mold when it becomes problematic. The focus is typically reactive.

The next step usually involves figuring out ways to prevent the mold from coming back. I guess it is human nature to learn from our mistakes so we don’t make them again. The more expensive or dangerous the mold issue is, the more we pay attention.

It would be extremely rare for people to ask me if their newly constructed home may end up with mold issues, resulting from the original construction. Home buyers do not seem to consider whether or not their new homes may actually be harboring mold.

As you will discover below, I believe they should be thinking about this, especially since mold is often not discovered until the homeowner begins to notice heath issues similar to mold exposure (allergy or flue like symptoms, dry throat, etc) or they smell a musty or moldy odours. I also think that it might have something to do with our tendencies to be reactive, coupled by the fact that mold is still a mystery to most folks.

So why is mold a mystery?

The sole reason mold exists is to break down dead organic materials in our outdoor environment. So essentially, mold is nature’s recycling program. If we didn’t have mold, we would be walking around waist deep in vegetation and debris.

Mold is a type of fungus and their spores are everywhere, so getting rid of them is not possible. Mold needs moisture, moderate temperatures and a food source (organic material) to live. Aside from the moderate temperatures and food sources, the single most important ingredient for mold to grow is moisture. Remove the moisture and the mold will stop growing.

However, what many people don’t think about or know is that mold is remarkably resilient. It can dry out, and remain dormant for thousands of years, only to start growing again when the conditions are once again ideal.

Mold is also mysterious because unlike plants, which need sunlight to photosynthesize, mold cannot do that, so it must grow in dark areas and often hidden from sight. That is why it can be discovered indoors behind walls, furniture, in crawlspaces, attics, behind shower walls, etc. Unfortunately for us, mold does not know that we would be much happier and healthier if it just stayed outside.

Getting back to winter construction…

Here in the Pacific Northwest, or more specifically Vancouver (which I commonly refer to as “Raincouver”) we live in a rain forest. We get a lot of rain from October all the way through to May – more than ½ the year!

In fact, this year we had record rainfalls in October. According to CBC News, It rained 28 out of 31 days in Vancouver, surpassing the old record of 26 days. November was wet too with 25 days. It’s now December, and we are getting snow. Vancouver snow does not tend to stay around for long, so it causes more wet slushy conditions.

While driving through the city these past few months, I witnessed several homes under construction and piles of wood that were completely saturated from the rain. Not only was the structure wet, the concrete foundation walls were soaked. Considering these circumstances, I would suggest that winter construction is not the ideal time to build a home, especially here Vancouver, Seattle, etc.

As a home and mold inspector, I began to wonder…

With all of this rain, how do we know that the building materials that go into the new homes are not going to become moldy?

In reality, we have to rely on the supplier to send dry materials to the site. Next, the builder must ensure that the construction materials stay dry or below 19% moisture content before they can be used. After all, once the building has been finished (covered by drywall and insulated) there is no way for us to see what is actually going on behind the walls.

In addition, houses are going up faster and faster these days, as there is a lot of money on the line when projects are delayed. As a result, some builders may in fact be pressured to complete the houses as quickly as possible, without taking the necessary steps to keep the construction materials and framing dry.

No matter how tempting it may be, I’m not going to be a “mold prevention vigilante” running around with my moisture meter, testing the framing, piles of lumber or drywall in all of these construction sites before the homes are closed up.

Organic, wet materials can begin to spawn mold growth within 24-48 hours. Along with the other issues mentioned, even if a small area of mold begins to grow before it dries, a seemingly harmless leak, trapped moisture from evaporation or condensation can result in a serious mold problem anytime in the future. This is especially true with newer, tightly built energy efficient homes that lack proper ventilation.

So what is the answer?

Construction during the winter poses some unique challenges for builders as they work through wet, cold conditions. The first step goes back to the beginning of the article. We have to change the way we think about dealing with mold, by being proactive, rather than reactive. This involves understanding the procedures that a builder needs to take in order to protect the framing and construction materials from moisture, throughout the entire building process.

This can be accomplished through:

  • The use of drying & heating equipment
  • Setting up containment areas
  • Installing tarps
  • By frequent moisture testing

These measures can reduce the risk of hidden mold following construction. However, if mold related issues become apparent soon after construction, complications may arise with respect to resolving these issues.

Based on what I am seeing, I think that building a home during the winter (especially in wet climates) can lead to future problems. Taking the precautions to keep the home dry will likely be an expensive undertaking. If you do plan to have a home built in the winter, consider the following questions…

  • What steps are builders required to take to ensure that a building stays dry during construction?
  • Who is enforcing these rules?
  • Do the Homeowner warranty programs cover mold damage in new homes?
  • Are insurance policies are available, and if so what do they include with respect to mold?

At the end of the day I believe that much consideration should be given to this topic, so home buyers will be aware of the potential implications related to the impact mold can have on new homes, our health and pocket book following winter construction.

Read More

Managing Risk in a Red-hot Real Estate Market

Screen Shot 2016-04-24 at 4.24.28 PM

Did you miss out on a home inspection when you bought your home?

With the real estate market in the lower mainland on a steady rise with too little inventory and excess demand, it is no secret that homebuyers are facing the domino effect of challenges.  The “dance” unfortunately includes skyrocketing prices, tight closing dates, and bidding wars.

Under normal market conditions, homebuyers submit an offer and make a decision to buy the home, subject to a home inspection. The homebuyer has more control over the buying process. They are clear on their perceived value of the home & the investment that they are about to make based on the condition of the home. They can also identify, should they proceed with the purchase, what needs to be done following the transaction.

However, under the current extra-ordinary conditions of the market, homebuyers have been forced to change the way they do their due diligence as a consumer.  Many buyers are arranging home inspections before they even submit offers for sale, while others are choosing to do inspections after the home has been purchased.

In cases where inspections are arranged prior to making an offer, ideally the inspection goes well, they submit a clean offer and get the deal done. Now they can start on a budget and prioritize the “fix it” list before moving in.

However, this gamble is more often met with frustration, because buyers need to move and buy another home quickly. In addition, they have been put in a position to compete for a new home only to get outbid by a higher offer. The cycle can go on and on.

Anticipating the repetition of these experiences on subsequent properties, buyers will need to set aside more funds for inspection services.

Even more concerning are scenarios where accepted offers have unrealistically short time frames or are subject to “no inspection”, putting buyers in a vulnerable, risky position.


What if you find yourself unable to have a home inspection done prior to closing?

Until the conditions that are creating this market change, this is the inevitable reality.  So what is a homebuyer to do?  What if you find yourself unable to have a home inspection done prior to closing?  Is it worthwhile to get an inspection post-purchase?

Absolutely. All homes need repairs and maintenance. It is better late than never.

Should you wait a few months, or get it done sooner?  I recommend having it done as soon as the current homeowners move out. This way, all of the storage and furniture will be out of the way and the home will be easy to view, with few limitations (areas that cannot be seen due to carpeting, furniture, appliances, wall hangings, etc)

Further, it makes sense to know what repairs are necessary before you move all of your furniture and belongings into the home, especially if you plan to renovate. Your inspector will be able to give you a report, detailing what needs to be repaired, and ideally, list the priorities.

If you missed out on an inspection and have already taken possession, then it would be wise to arrange a maintenance inspection. Again, this should be done as soon as possible.


New Home Purchases:

Should you get a brand new home inspected? If so when?

With newly built homes, there is usually a warrantee program provided by the builder. Often, home buyers will wait until just before their first year expires before they go ahead with the home inspection. After the inspection, they can go back to the builder and have the deficiencies fixed.

Yes, it is wise to have a new home inspected. However, I believe it is best to arrange the inspection when or shortly after you take possession, in case there are any conflicts, which need to be resolved between you and the builder (this happens quite often, unfortunately).


Buying and older home?

If the home is older, (before the 1980’s) your risk factor can be significant… Any safety or environmental issues like faulty wiring; structural flaws, asbestos or mold can be dealt with before you move in. Expensive environmental concerns, such a leaky oil tank will need to be addressed as soon as possible, along with a sizable budget.

As with all inspections, see if you can get your hands on permits, paperwork and receipts for new boilers, furnaces, water heaters, roof replacement, renovations, testing for asbestos documents and a scan for a hidden oil tank, if possible.

At the end of the day, regardless of market conditions and risk factors all homes will need to be inspected whether they brand new, old or in between.

For more information on this topic, or anything mold related feel free to contact me at 604-729-4261 or and I’ll help you out.

Read More

Thermographic Inspections… Are they necessary?


The first thermographic cameras were extremely large, expensive awkward machines.

Over the years, the technology has improved, much reducing the size and prices of these amazing cameras.

Although still considered expensive as tools go, they are more affordable each year, so inspectors are beginning to add them to their arsenal of inspection equipment.

Throughout the article, I will also call them by their other common names, infrared thermal cameras, infrared imagers and thermographic cameras.

Essentially, infrared thermal cameras detect & measure temperature patterns on a given surface. The temperature differences are assigned colours for easy identification.

When combined with other tools, they can help identify a number of issues within a home. Although they are powerful and sensitive tools, they cannot see through walls, like Superman, or even through glass, as many people believe.

These cameras have gained recent popularity in the home inspection field due in large part to familiar TV programs, where they have been used to successfully find hidden defects. In addition to home inspectors, engineers, medical personnel, the military, contractors and a whole host of trade professionals are using these cameras with greater frequency.

Often the thermographic inspection will be an add-on service to a regular inspection. Thermography is not covered under the standards of practice we are governed by.

More and more clients are requesting that we (home inspectors) use them during our inspections; however, it is important to mention that they are neither appropriate nor effective for every inspection.

Take this example… thermal imagers have been used on TV to reveal suspected areas of missing insulation within the exterior walls of a home. The camera picks up the temperature signatures on the wall surface. So when a cold stud (behind the wall) is attached to the wall, the image in that area may show a contrast of colours. What we are seeing is a transfer of heat from a warm surface (wall) to a cooler one, (the hidden stud) and represented as an outline.

This particular application will only be effective if there is a temperature difference of 15 degrees between indoors to the outside. So, if you live in Ontario in during the winter, then the power of this camera can be quite effective.

However, in BC you may not get the same result due to our mild weather. This is certainly useless in the summer when the weather is warm. So question the particular situation when you see this on TV.

Below are some examples of how inspectors can use this technology given the right temperatures and circumstances… based on proper training of course.

Detecting moisture issues 

Water has the ability to either retain heat or cold extremely well. So if there is a leak inside a wall cavity from the outside, and you scan the area, you may be able to see it when the temperature is cold enough.

 Locating areas of heat loss & air leakage

This approach are best utilized when the inside of the home is pressurized and the camera is adjusted to a greyscale palette. When applied and interpreted correctly, one can use this information to improve on energy efficiency, while saving on heating costs.

Seeing electrical issues

With this application, one can look for large temperature differences in service panels and receptacles that cannot be seen by people without the camera. This can be useful for detecting possible fire hazards before they happen.

Finding missing insulation

As mentioned earlier, this is a useful application in the winter, or evening when the temperature difference is suitable.

Locating pests

The camera can easily pick up the body temperature of rodents or other critters in the attic. This can be a super verification tool for pest management companies.

Testing radiant in-floor heating

Thermographic cameras are excellent for looking at the performance of the in-floor heat pipes. After the heat has been on for a number of hours, the outline of the pipes can be seen with absolute clarity. On the flip side, we can easily identify where a leak has formed. Leaks will usually appear as blotchy areas.

Leak in radiant heating


Commercial roofing inspections

This is best done at night, or when the sun goes down. An infrared camera can easily pinpoint any moisture within the layers of the roof insulation or membranes. Note: this is only applicable for flat roofs. This works so well because the water will retain the warmth from the heat of the sun during the day, while the outside air will be cooler… so any trapped moisture will be easy to see.

As mentioned, these specialized cameras are extremely sensitive tools that require adequate training to properly operate & interpret. All findings must be verified for accuracy.

Before hiring an inspector to conduct a thermographic inspection, ask him or her about their training. Ideally, the inspector should have a level 1 certification from a credible and recognized institution. Proper training will take five to seven days on average to complete.

At the end of the day, thermographic imagers/cameras are excellent when used correctly and for very specific applications, so consider whether it is needed, especially if the cost is extra.

For more information or questions, feel free to contact me and I’ll help you out.

Read More

When Is The Best Time To Hire A Home Inspector?

Finding a good inspector when you need him/her can be tricky business. It is best to the find one when you want, rather than scrambling at the last minute because you have to close on a deal.

Considering property prices, I suggest setting aside enough time to research the best inspector for your needs. The top inspectors will be booked up to a week or more in advance, especially during the busy season. (Spring & Summer) Take care of the “inspector interview” long before the offer. It is much less stressful this way. Also, in my opinion, only you should be the one to choose the inspector, although many real estate agents will offer their suggestions.

If you want to sell your home and would like to know the deficiencies prior to listing it, call an inspector for a Pre-listing inspection. You can address the problems before the home goes on the market.

After the inspection, you can share the findings with potential buyers. This can make your home easier to sell. More than likely, the buyers will find their own inspector as well. If your pre-listing inspector does a good job for you, there will be few issues. The added bonus… Now you have someone for your own purchase.

Consider the following questions as you choosing your inspector.

  • Will they allow you to tag along during the inspection?
  • Do they communicate clearly?
  • Are they open to taking calls and providing advice after the inspection?
  • What kind of report do they provide? Do they include photos with their reports?
  • Are they licensed, insured and belong to a professional association like CAHPI?
  • Will they provide their standards of practice and contract before the inspection?

Check online to see how others view their work.

Most importantly, find someone who truly cares about protecting you, while providing the best value for the service. You can gauge this by how they react to your interview questions.

For example… Find out if they will allow you to shadow them during the inspection.

It is really a business decision and there is really no right or wrong answer. In my opinion however, clients gain a much better understanding of the home when they can learn throughout the inspection. Others disagree for a variety of reasons.

My last tidbit… With home inspectors as with all professions, I believe you get what you pay for. Anyone with the proper training will learn the skills to be a competent inspector. However, character, ethics & common sense (which can not be taught in any classroom) are the key personality traits that will put any inspector to the test when you really need him. So listen to your gut feeling on this. Hire the one that feels right for you, not the one that fits the last minute time slot or the pocket book.

For more information, feel free to contact me about this or anything home inspection related.

Read More

Safer Stairs – Through the eyes of a Home Inspector

Although every aspect of a home inspection is important, I want to focus my attention for this piece on stairs, both inside and out.

Every year, many people fall down their stairs because they are unsafe for a number of reasons. Preventable falls contribute to thousands of hospital visits each year due to incorrectly, outdated, damaged or structurally inadequate stairways.

If we go back a number of years, the average stairway was unsafe for a whole host of reasons. It seems, people had to fall (while suffering injuries along the way) before changes took place to allow for better, safer stairways. Even today, despite the injuries many to children and the elderly, unsafe staircases continue to be overlooked.

So what do home inspectors look for when we check out the stairs?

The rise & run – The rise, which is the height of each stair, should be 8 inches. Often and especially along the lower and top stairs, they are either more or less than this height. This can cause tripping, so it is important that they are consistent for safety. If you walk up and down the stairs, you will usually be able to “feel” if it is comfortable. The run, or the tread is the surface that you walk on. It should be at least 10 inches. When these areas are off, then this is a sure sign that the rise (height) or run (length) is off. All stairs should be consistent. When building stairs, be sure to hire a competent contractor with experience building proper stairways.

The Landing – All stairs should have proper landings at the top and bottom. Essentially the landing is a platform at the top or bottom of the stairs. This is important for safety, especially if there is a door at the top of the stairs. Older homes often turn at one side, leaving 1-3 inches along the corners. This is no longer permitted with new construction, and subsequently where many people slip. If you have this arrangement in the place where you live, see if you can have it fixed. If not, be very careful and stay to the side that has a wider and longer tread.

The railings – Often, older homes do not have stairway railings, especially in the basement. And if they do, many of the rails are not safe. All railings must be at least 36 inches in height. If facing an open space ithey must have pickets installed every 4 inches. (Have you ever noticed a main hall or entrance stairway where there are no pickets on the rails leading up to the top floor?) Neither have I. This would seem weird, even for a non-home inspector.  So, why is it ok for basements? It isn’t, but people tend to miss this detail all of the time. Interior railings should be properly secured to the wall along the inside and sturdy.

Outside handrails are often too wide. They must be no more than 4 inches wide and round, to allow people to hold on in case they slip. Also, any set of stairs with three or more requires a railing.

The structure – the stairs must be properly supported so they do not move. If they are outside, the posts should be placed in proper footings & the stringers adequately secured. Wood stairs should not be in contact with concrete, as moisture can seep into the wood and cause rot damage sooner than later. Exterior stairs should not rise above one floor without a turn in direction or proper landing.

Maintenance – Exterior wooden stairs should be pressure treated and painted/stained to allow them to last longer. I recommend placing a non-stick adhesive, such as asphalt strips on the treads to prevent slipping. It is a good idea to test the railings to ensure they are strong and secure. Loose and rotten stairways can lead to unnecessary injuries.

Whether you are on a search to buy a home or if you own your own, make sure to check the stairs for safety. If you see areas for improvement, then take the necessary steps, (haha) to ensure they will be safe for you and your family.

For more info, send me an email or call and I’ll help you out

Read More