Mold Information & EPA Links

Recently, I had an agent email me that there was mold in one of my homes listed for sale.

Being a blue cheese loving, scientific, germ-a-phobic, hypochondriac, and having several clients with severe mold and respiratory issues, I have spent considerable time studying “mold issue”. But I forget that other people are not as diligent when they say “THERE IS MOLD!”

Two recent experiences, opened my eyes to the lack of facts that most professionals have when they make these statements and what to do about them. So I began compiling research from the EPA Environmental Protection Agency.

Here is a link to the the epa mold document with the facts on mold and cleanup they give the recommendations on how and who can do mold cleanup.

here is the EPA link concerning mold cleanup
http://www.epa.gov/iedmold1/moldresources.html#Basics

here is another epa link concerning mold cleanup –
http://www.epa.gov/mold/cleanupguidelines.html

here is another epa link concerning mold cleanup and testing
http://iaq.supportportal.com/ics/support/default.asp?deptID=23007

These are just a few guidelines to what the epa says about mold.

The EPA says “Molds can be found almost anywhere; they can grow on virtually any substance, providing moisture is present. There are molds that can grow on wood, paper, carpet, and foods.”

Also according to the EPA, “There is no practical way to eliminate all mold and mold spores in the indoor environment; the way to control indoor mold growth is to control moisture. ”

Mold is complicated, the best resource I have found is the EPA website –
http://www.epa.gov/iedmold1/moldresources.html

If mold is concern, I strongly advise any buyer to have it tested by an expert. Especially if they has asthma or allergic reactions to mold or any other indoor air pollutants.

According to the EPA – “Molds can trigger asthma episodes in sensitive individuals with asthma. People with asthma should avoid contact with or exposure to molds.”

The Other Rolling Stones – In your basement

The Other Rolling Stones by Don R. Carter PE

Granted, this report is only relevant to a small percentage of Kansas City Homes – those who have pre-1960’s mortared limestone basement walls.  That said, we are seeing enough problems with these walls that knowledge of a potential risk should benefit those who do have them.

I like the old limestone walls because they are more robust than concrete and by any measure a better wall than masonry block.  Cost is the obvious reason they fell out of favor, clearly not performance. Typically 18” to 22” thick, these walls have so much mass that trees, water and earth will not overwhelm them, at least not to the extent that they do the lesser walls.  But while the limestone itself seems to be immune to deleterious effects from ground water, this is not true for all mortars.  We see about half dozen houses a year where mortar that bonds the stones together has been reduced to sand and a screwdriver easily penetrates right into the joint (photo).  This means the stones are no longer connected and stability is reduced to that of a gravity wall, that is, stones dry stacked one upon another.  In most cases, the wall still functions from its own dead weight, but it is no longer the wall it was intended to be.  And, sand is symptomatic of a greater problem.

So what happened to the mortar?  Chemistry is what happened. Things in nature try to achieve something known as pH balance. Acids have pH values under 7, alkalis above 7 and balance near 7. Rain is essentially distilled water that forms from evaporation and condensation, and being soft water previous generations often collected it for laundry and hair washing.  But with no appreciable minerals in it, rain water is out of pH balance so it sucks lime out of the mortar to correct its imbalance.  This takes a long time and happens primarily in locations with faulty water control such as improperly tapered grade or poorly functioning gutters and downspouts.

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If you have limestone walls, use a screwdriver or ice pick to randomly stab a few mortar joints in each face.  If the probe penetrates a joint by more than a fraction of inch, you are likely going to find sand.  Repairs are fairly straight forward, reasonably priced and often optional.  I won’t try to define the solution here, but if you see sand send us an email and I will share repair information along with some names of people who can do the work.

Kansas City Structural Engineer

Don Carter is a licensed structural engineer and managing general partner of Foundation Engineering Specialists LLC, a company specializing in residential
design and assessments: don@fdnengineering.com.

Asbestos Prevention and Healthy Tips for the Home

Asbestos Prevention and Healthy Tips for the Home


The road to owning a home is a wonderful experience, but one that requires new responsibilities. Homes that are newly purchased may require additional remodeling or repairs.

[Read more…]

Structural Pier Types

Home Front by Don R. Carter PE

The day the house fell
The Day the House Fell1 is the title of a book by Richard Handy, wherein he states, “About half the houses built every year in the U.S. are founded on expansive clays.  Half of those will eventually show some distress. Of the houses with expansive clay problems, chances are 1 in 5 that the house will become seriously affected.”

USDA maps show that 60 percent of Johnson County soil types are expansive clays, so if I’m doing the math correctly, that means that 1 house in 17 will have foundation problems. If this seems high, look in the Yellow Pages; you’ll find nearly 80 companies offering foundation repairs. Someone is keeping them in business.

The previous “Home Front” presented basement wall repair options, and in this issue we discuss realigning a crooked house. If you have sheet rock or plaster cracks, doors that stick, uneven floors, windows that won’t open, or basement wall splits, these are classic signs of a misaligned house. Misalignment can come from settlement or heave; either way, the cause is probably expansive clay soils rearranging your footings. Here are the popular systems used to correct settlement:

kansas city foundation pieringUnderpinning. This method uses drilled or hand-dug holes positioned beneath the foundation footing. The depth of the hole is subjective, but the goal is to go deep enough to get past expansive clay and into sound soil. The hole is then filled with concrete to produce a pedestal from which jacks and shims lift and hold the house. It’s an old concept, with nearly 100 years of mixed history.

Helical piles. These are the screw-in devices shown in the last issue as tension tiebacks. They also work in compression, and can be screwed into the soil to a predefined torque, then used as jacking platforms. They work in lightweight structures where push piers won’t.

Auger piles. Sometimes called mini-piles, auger piles are made by drilling small-diameter holes under footings and filling them with steel and grout. Similar to underpinnings,they are smaller and thus more of them are required.

Pre-cast cylinders. This system works by pushing precast concrete cylinders into the ground to refusal. To make sure cylinders stay in line, a steel cable is strung through them, somewhat like beads in a necklace. Once in place, cylinders get a jacking pedestal on top and the house is lifted from that. There are mixed results with this system.

Push piers. This relatively new system uses a hydraulic jack stand and the home’s own weight to push steel tubes into the ground. Think of a bumper jack without a base plate. Instead of the house going up, the jack shaft goes down, penetrating into the ground. I put five push piers under my house in 1990 and they have held well. Push pier advantages are certified product capacity (required by some cities), reduced secondary damage to landscaping, and faster turnaround.
Each system has one thing in common: They are only as good as the person who installs them. Do your homework, as there are a lot of pretenders in the foundation
repair business. If you need a tiebreaker, call one of the several engineering companies that specialize in foundations.

1 The Day the House Fell, by Richard L. Handy, PhD, © 1995, ASCE.

Kansas City Structural Engineer

Don Carter is a licensed structural engineer and managing general partner of Foundation Engineering Specialists LLC, a company specializing in residential
design and assessments: don@fdnengineering.com.

Some Common Types of Mold

Aspergillus / Penicillium:
are two separate genera of molds so visibly similar, they are often grouped together. They comprise of approximately 400 different species, produce dry spore that are easily dispersed through the air, and serve as a source of food for mites therefore also being dispersed by mites and other insects.
Outside: They may be found in soils, fruit rot, decaying plant debris, compost piles, and some petroleum based fuels.
Inside: Commonly found through-out the home on decaying fabrics, carpeting, wall board, moist chip boards, behind paint, on wall paper and adhesives, and house-hold dust. Can also be found in dried foods, dry cereals, nuts, apples, cheeses, herbs, onions, and oranges when isolated from blue rot.

Cladosporium:
is profuse and is essentially a cornucopia of spore when air monitoring either inside or out-doors. This genus contains approximately 20-30 different species, most abundant in dry weather, branching chains produce dry spores that are released by twisting of the spore-bearing hyphae as they’re drying.
Outside: Can be found in many soils, plant litter, and old plants and leaves, some of the species are plant pathogens.
Inside: Found just about anywhere indoors including but not limited to bathroom tiles, kitchen tiles, moist windowsill’s, laundry areas, textiles, and any other wet areas of the home. Some species of cladosporium grow at temperatures at or below 32 degrees (F) and can be found on many refrigerated foods.

Alternaria:
is one of the most common found molds geographically and contains approximately 40 -50 different species, very few
of which are commonly found indoors, and is easily dispersed through the air.
Outside: Found in soils, textiles, dead organic debris, foodstuffs, and is a plant pathogen that often found on dead plants.
Inside: When moisture is present, alternaria can grow on just about any organic substance.

Acremonium:
Is a slimly mold commonly found in areas of extreme moisture around the home and can be dispersed through water flow or droplets. The old dried – up spores are capable of dispersion by air. This common mold includes
approximately 80-90 different species.
Outside: Found in soils, dead organic material, foodstuffs, and hay.
Inside: Requires extremely wet conditions in order to multiply, and under such conditions can likely be found anywhere in the home.

Ceratocystis / Ophiostoma:
separate genera that are so similar that they are generally grouped together, and represent approximately 50-60 different species. The production of wet, slimy spore is typically dispersed by water flow, droplets, or insects.
Outside: Sometimes referred to as “lumber mold” this genera is commonly found in lumber yards and forests.
Inside: Can typically be found on wood construction materials.

Chaetomium:
contains approximately 80-90 different species, and is common geographically. These spores are formed inside of fruiting bodies, and are released by being forced through small openings in the fruit body being dispersed by wind, water flow or droplets, and insects.
Outside: Found in soils, dung, wood materials, straw, cellulose substrates and various seeds.
Inside: Very common on sheet rock paper that has been saturated by moisture, and on cellulose and wood construction materials.

Stachybotrys:
is ubiquitous, and represents approximately 15 different species, requires a significant amount of moisture to reproduce slimy spore and is commonly dispersed by water flow, droplets, or insects.
Outside: Found in soils, decomposing cellulose material, decaying plant debris, leaf litter, and seeds.
Inside: Common on wet materials such as wall board, jute, wicker, and other paper materials.

Mold

mold on drywallWhat is it? Where is it?

Medical research indicates that mold is the number one cause of allergic symptoms. Mold naturally occurs in home, office, and school environments, and many thousands of different molds exist, but only a few of them are known to cause significant health problems, of which Stachybotrys chartarum (toxic black mold) and Aspergillus niger(widespread in indoor environments) are the most common. Mold can be found in every area of your home: attics, basements, bathrooms, carpeting, ceilings, chimneys, closets, raised foundation crawl spaces, doors, flooring, garages, kitchens, ventilation systems, walls and framing, and windows. It grows in most building materials, including concrete, dry wall, carpeting, wall paper, fiberboard, ceiling tiles, and thermal insulation. [Read more…]

Wood Rot aka Dry Rot

wood rot sidingFirst off, dry rot isn’t dry. It’s wet and nasty and destroys your home. This is far and away the most common discovery that I see on home inspections and that’s why I recommend that a homeowner takes care of it before the home even goes on the market. If the inspector doesn’t find wood rot it should be an indication of home that has been well maintained and give the buyer more peace of mind that other issues have been maintained as well.

On windows if just the sill and brick mold (the exterior trim on the window) are bad I recommend repairing it. If we find the jambs (the sides that hold the tracks) are starting to go or maybe the sashes (the moving parts of the window) it may be more economical to do a replacement window. Sometimes I suggest a full replacement unit, depending on homeowner preferences and how much longer they will be there. [Read more…]

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