Does a home buyer really need a Mold Inspection?
As I have discussed on several occasions in past articles, I have seen a lot of changes in the home inspection business over the years. The basic scope of the inspection hasn’t changed in over 40 years. However, the number of “red flags” that we look for and disclose has increased ten-fold.
I want to speak about one red-flag and point out some misunderstandings about mold inspections and testing within the home inspection process.
Mold is Gold!
20+ years ago, I attended a seminar that was specifically targeted at getting home inspectors into the business of mold testing. After 3 full days of teaching the class and explaining the causes and possible effects of mold in homes, the presenter put up a slide (yes, we were still using slides back then) that announced that “Mold is Gold”. This was followed with another slide that told us how we could order our mold testing equipment and supplies (not coincidentally from the presenter’s mold testing company). I was not happy.
“If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bull****.”W.C. Fields
I turned to my neighbor in the class and told him that I didn’t feel at all prepared to go out and start doing mold testing. More important, I was not sure how I could explain to a client what the results of the mold tests meant. Sure, I could confirm that there was mold in their attic, basement, kitchen, or bathroom, but in the end, what did we really know about the problem after the mold testing was done? How was I going to explain to my clients the difference between stachybotrys and aspergillus? What are the health effects to my client? How was I going to explain that one mold was worse than another? It wasn’t until a few weeks later that I understood that the class that I attended was a weekend long discussion of the classic W.C. Fields quote, “If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bull****.”
Am I a mold tester?
Still, not wanting to miss an opportunity to provide a needed service, but also concerned about being seen as a scam artist, I decided to do a little more research about the health effects of mold, and how the problem is dealt with in a home. Most important, I was interested in whether or not testing for mold was actually needed. The US EPA, Illinois EPA and Illinois Department of Public Health all had basically the same conclusions. In the August 2003 revision of their brochure “Mold and Mildew”, the Illinois Department of Public Health stated that “Testing for molds is very difficult and expensive. Homeowners must hire a contractor to test their homes. Even if testing is done, no standards exist to judge what are acceptable amounts of mold. Testing cannot determine whether health effects will occur. Mold is normally found outdoors, and counts fluctuate from day to day depending on the season. Due to the uncertainties associated with testing for molds, IDPH does not recommend it in most cases.” I had my answer. We decided then and there not to perform mold testing in conjunction with our inspections. I periodically check all of these sources, including the Centers for Disease Control, and see that these organizations all have pretty much the same statement that the IDPH had in 2003. Nothing has changed. Repeat- NOTHING HAS CHANGED.
What to do?
Based on the information that I gathered back then, I decided not to become a mold tester. We’ve maintained that position for over 20 years. I’ve seen many businesses come and go that will do mold testing in conjunction with a home inspection. I remember a very compelling case from one company who had a mold-sniffing dog. They were convincing that their dog could find mold even in areas where it isn’t visible. Incredibly, we still get questions and concerns at a large percentage of our inspections about mold. In most cases, the people already know that there is mold somewhere, as they’ve seen it while walking through the home. In other cases, we keep an eye out for signs of mold, but explain to our clients that we’re not a mold consultant and don’t do mold testing.
It’s our position that a visual inspection for mold is usually enough. There are some cases where people have a known allergy or weakened immune system. In those cases, we strongly urge people to have a specialist look further into their new home to determine if there are issues.
While I’m a believer in the adage “If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck”, I do support mold testing in some instances. In some situations, supporting information is needed to prove that a material is mold. There is no work-around in those cases. Mold testing is required in some instances.
“Testing for molds is very difficult and expensive. Homeowners must hire a contractor to test their homes. Even if testing is done, no standards exist to judge what are acceptable amounts of mold. Testing cannot determine whether health effects will occur. Mold is normally found outdoors, and counts fluctuate from day to day depending on the season. Due to the uncertainties associated with testing for molds, IDPH does not recommend it in most cases.”Illinois Department of Public Health “Mold and Mildew” 8/2003
Use a Professional
We urge any clients or potential clients to be careful of people offer mold inspections along with their home inspection. In particular, be careful of companies that perform both inspections and remediation (cleanup) of mold. Professional mold tester Brian Bussey of Bussey Environmental in Evanston, IL, mentioned that a specialist is required to help determine what the effects of different types and amounts of mold mean. We recommend that an industrial hygienist, such as Bussey, be consulted to help sort out the meaning of a mold test. A stand-alone consultation for mold testing will cost around $400 or more (2019 prices).
The home purchase journey has a lot of twists and turns. Don’t be surprised if your inspector recommends a specialist’s review of certain items found during the inspection. Environmental consulting, in particular, requires special knowledge of the various pitfalls that are encountered.