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Mold and Health:
Myths & Facts

Mold and Health: Myths & Facts | Mold Testing | GOT MOLD?

MYTH No. 1  

‘Toxic’ Mold is the only dangerous type of mold.

“Toxic” mold or “black” mold is often touted by the hucksters in the mold industry as being the one that makes people sick, the one you must eliminate. This is pure scare tactic.

Yes, there are some strains of mold that seem to be more toxic than others. But there is no such thing as good mold, or even tolerable mold, unless you like stinky cheese. Mold in your home is a problem, because it signifies a moisture problem. Moisture inside your home enables mold growth, and it can also lead to rot, threatening the structure itself.

On top of that, any mold problem that’s allowed to continue often will pave the way for the dreaded “black mold.” The most infamous “black mold,” stachybotrys chartarum, is what’s known as a tertiary mold. It’s very slow to develop and usually follows earlier mold growths, actually feeding off the previous mold colony.

Stachybotrys is also the most difficult to detect in air samples, because its spores are heavy and reluctant to become airborne. And the cheap Petri dish, or settling plate, test kits you can buy in the big-box stores, which often brag about detecting “black mold,” actually won’t grow stachybotrys at all, because the culture medium is wrong.

There are more than 100,000 species of mold (experts are still debating how many), and 50 to 60 of them have been found to be hazardous to human health, especially for people who have sensitivities or suppressed immune systems.

Bottom line: Indoor mold is bad for your house and bad for you and your family.

MYTH No. 2

It has not been proven that mold is a health risk.

The negative health impact of mold exposure is well documented. If any health practitioner scoffs at the idea that mold exposure can make people sick, this is not a professional you want to place your trust in. He hasn’t done his homework.

“Health effects (of mold exposure) generally fall into four categories. These four categories are allergy, infection, irritation (mucous membrane and sensory), and toxicity,” says Dr. Harriet Ammann of the Washington State Department of Health’s Ecology Department.

Dr. Ammann’s highly detailed and footnoted paper will glaze most readers’ eyes, but there’s an excellent example of mold toxicity available that nearly everyone knows about: peanut allergy. Some experts argue that people who are allergic to peanuts are not allergic to peanuts, really, but to a toxic substance produced by a mold that grows on peanuts, called aflatoxin b.

Whether afflatoxin b. causes life-threatening allergic reactions or not, it is documented as a direct cause of cancer, one of the most potent carcinogens known to science, and it’s produced by a fairly common mold. A number of institutions have documented the negative health effects of mold, including the Mayo Clinic, the US EPA, Berkeley Labs, Brown University, and the University of Tulsa.

Bottom line: If you are exposed to indoor mold, get rid of it, or get out.

MYTH No. 3

If you can’t see it or smell it mold is not a problem.

Mold can grow very well in complete isolation, inside wall cavities, between floors and ceilings, in attics. Not only can you not see hidden mold, if it’s cut off from the flow of air that you’re breathing, you’re unlikely to smell it, unless you’re a Mold DogTM like the ones used by GOT MOLD?.

But mold has a nasty habit of producing chemicals that can penetrate walls and get into your lungs anyway. These chemicals are of two types: microbial volatile organic compounds (MVOCs), and mycotoxins (poisons produced by fungi). These chemicals can make some people very sick, and they rarely know what hit them.

And then there’s the unavoidable fact that indoor mold growth is a symptom of excess moisture, and excess moisture will eventually wreck your home.

Bottom line: If someone is chronically ill in your house, and especially if they feel better when they’re away than when they’re home, a professional mold inspection is needed.

MYTH No. 4

Bleach kills mold.

Liquid bleach is a solution of chlorine in water, usually 6 percent sodium hypochlorite, thus 94 percent water. Smearing bleach on mold may appear to kill it, but the effect is superficial and very temporary. Once the chlorine is gone – and it evaporates rapidly – what’s left is all that water, feeding the mold.

There are many chemicals that kill mold. They’re called biocides. That means they kill life. (Bio = life + cide = kill.) Also: Anything that will kill mold is also a potential health threat to you and your pets. Even if you close up a house and gas it or fog it with one biocide or another, what you’re left with is a house full of dead mold, which can be every bit as dangerous to health as it was alive.

Moldy materials in a home must be carefully removed by properly trained professionals – after the moisture problem is identified and solved – and replaced with new, clean, dry material, or the problem will persist.

Mold removal, known as remediation, is done much like asbestos removal. Workers in “moon suits” and respirators isolate the work area with plastic sheeting. They set up HEPA-filtered fans blowing outdoors to create negative air pressure in the work zone, and begin removing moldy drywall, carpet, carpet padding, and whatever else cannot be cleaned. All that material is then bagged, and the bags and wiped down and carried outside to avoid contaminating the rest of the house.

Bottom line: A little mildew on your shower tile can be cleaned up with bleach. Anything else likely requires professional help.

FACT No. 1

Mold is everywhere and mold problems exist indoors in every climate.

Mold is, literally, everywhere on the planet, in every climate. A house in the Mojave Desert can have a mold problem as easily as one in Florida or New Orleans.

Mold needs three things to thrive: moisture, food, and the right temperature. Moisture can collect in walls, attics and crawl spaces in the driest of climates with a little help, such as a roof or siding leak, plumbing flaw, and pressure differentials created by air conditioning, or even a poorly vented bathroom.

Food for mold is pretty much everything we build with and everything we own. Mold loves household dust… even in the kitchen sink. And the warmth mold needs is the same temperature range humans prefer.

Bottom line: Every home has mold but not every home has a mold problem. If you think you might have a mold problem, don’t ignore it. Get help.

FACT No. 2

Mold affects everyone differently.

Some people can live in a house teeming with mold growth and never be bothered by it. Others need only open a musty book to begin a fit of sneezing, watering eyes, headache, dizziness, you name it.

One person in a mold-infested home may develop serious, debilitating respiratory problems, while another person in the same home may just have an occasional headache, or a little brain fog, or nothing at all.

Frequently, the person most affected by indoor mold exposure has an immune system already compromised by other factors: they’re infants, or elderly, they’re on immune-suppressant drugs, they’ve been treated often with antibiotics, they’re on chemotherapy for cancer, and so on.

But not always. Some people are the proverbial canary in the coal mine. They are sensitive to mold and its byproducts.

Bottom line: If someone in your home is chronically ill, always consider the possibility that something in the environment, such as mold, is the trigger.

FACT No. 3

A clean house (and/or new house) doesn’t prevent mold from growing.

Despite what you might think, new homes are more likely to have serious mold problems than old homes. Surprised? Modern construction materials, such as drywall, absorb more moisture than older products such as plaster. The way buildings are built today, they also dry more slowly when water gets into places where it shouldn’t be. In addition, many of the things we now build houses out of contain nutrients ideal for mold growth. Making matters worse, most houses have very little fresh air exchange, so when mold and the other byproducts of dampness begin to proliferate, it becomes concentrated, causing potentially serious health problems including asthma attacks, sinus problems, allergies, fatigue and numerous other ailments.

Mold is not about dirt, or sloppy housekeeping. Mold is about excess moisture, somewhere. Too much humidity in the air – anything over 50% relative humidity – can encourage mold to develop in dark corners, behind furniture, in closets, walls and other places.

Structural flaws that allow even tiny amounts of moisture to develop inside of a house – insulation errors, unseen plumbing leaks, any number of water-related situations – can give mold the foothold it needs. No amount of cleaning will eliminate it.

Bottom line: If you think you may have a mold problem, don’t be embarrassed, and don’t deny it out of pride. You owe it to yourself and your family to nip it in the bud.

FACT No. 4

Home inspectors don’t know mold.

Home inspectors – the ones who check out a house prior to sale – are generally ignorant about mold. Many inspectors will see mold and ignore it because there’s no rot or obvious moisture. Others may not see it at all.

Even some mold inspectors don’t actually recognize mold when they see it. In a GOT MOLD? job several years ago, the homeowner had already hired three other inspectors, none of whom found mold. When Jason Earle walked into the room in question, he was stunned. “The entire wall was black with mold. I didn’t need a dog to find that,” he said.

The smart home inspector will recognize mold on sight and will tell the homeowner, or the prospective buyer (whoever hired him), about it. The really knowledgeable inspector will refer you to a reputable mold assessment company like GOT MOLD?.

The not-so-smart inspector might tell you to “clean” it up, treat it with bleach, or whatever. Don’t do that.

Bottom line: Don’t expect a general home inspector to know how to deal with mold, even if he can find it, and even if he’s recently painted “Mold” on the side of his truck. Seek an expert. You wouldn’t trust a fitness trainer to diagnose or treat you for cancer, would  you?

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How to Find Mold in Your Home

Download “How to Find Mold in Your Home”

Professional Tips and Techniques

Yes, you can inspect your home “like a pro,” if you have the basic information and know the visual clues most professionals use. The primary advantage most professional inspectors have over you is experience, much of which can be replaced by knowledge. We offer you this knowledge, right here, right now, no charge.

The purpose of this e-book is to educate you about indoor mold and the process of mold assessment. Our hope is to ensure you have the right information to take whatever steps are needed next, or to rest assured you have no current problems.

There are three kinds of mold:
1. Mold you can see
2. Mold you can smell but can’t see
3. Mold you can’t see or smell

The third type, hidden mold, can be the most damaging because it’s allowed to thrive much longer. Most people who see or smell mold take action, but it’s the unseen mold that is the greatest hazard to health and wealth.

It’s extremely important to know that where you find visible mold, there is a high probability of hidden mold, often in much greater quantity than the visible part.

A careful, educated inspection of your home, in pursuit of moisture problems, past or present, is the smartest thing you can do, because indoor mold growth is a symptom of a moisture problem and excess moisture is the enemy.

The next smart step is testing. In the event you discover a mold or moisture problem, the next step is to determine whether it has caused an air quality problem. The most affordable, easiest and most scientific way to do that is to purchase and use the GOT MOLD?® Test Kit.

If your inspection finds nothing, but you still suspect there is a mold problem, air sampling often can confirm your suspicions and help you get control of your problem.

By reading and following the instructions in this booklet, you can gain a good understanding of your indoor environment and where to test for mold. We will guide you in an inspection of outside and inside conditions that may indicate the presence of mold.

Our motive is simple: We want you to become a more educated consumer, so that you will be better prepared to use the GOT MOLD?Test Kit if you decide you need it. We also believe you will understand, when you’re finished, why the best choice for your first course of action when you find a problem is the GOT MOLD?Test Kit.

Download “How to Find Mold in Your Home”

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Are You Looking For a Free Mold Inspection? Click Here!

Are You Looking For a Free Mold Inspection? Click Here! | GOT MOLD?

You’ve surely heard the phrase “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch!” We hear it all the time, but have you ever wondered where that came from? As it turns out, the “free lunch” refers to the tradition of pubs and taverns providing a complimentary midday meal to their patrons. Of course, the offerings consisted of something sufficiently salty so that anyone who ate the “free lunch” ending up drinking plenty of paid-in-full grog to wash it down. The food may have been free, in theory, but money still changed hands.

Week-in and week-out we get calls from people looking to book a “free inspection,” usually immediately, later on the same day. Umm…okay. So, we have to let these folks down easy. See, first of all, we’re usually booked at least two weeks out, with actual, real, live, paying customers. Imagine that! So, it’ll be difficult for to make it over at 2pm today. Sorry.

The problem is this. We are a mold inspection company. In other words, that’s what we do for a living. The companies that come and do free inspections aren’t actually mold inspectors. They are mold remediators. The people who offer free services are doing so with the hope of getting paid some other way, and they are also often providing services that they are woefully unqualified to provide. You wouldn’t want us to come out and give you a free root canal, would you?

Also, a proper inspection takes several hours on-site and usually costs +/- $1500, including the testing, which consists of analysis of samples we collect and overnight to an independent, third-party laboratory. The lab certainly doesn’t do that for us at no cost, so how could it be free, unless we were making money some other way? The “free inspections” people seek, which we clearly and rightfully charge for, generally represent a total investment on our part of nine to ten hours, the byproduct of which is a comprehensive written report documenting our findings and a detailed remediation and repair plan. It also almost invariably involves additional hours of consultation in person, on the phone and by email as well. Trust me when I say this: a free mold inspection like this doesn’t exist. In fact, a free inspection of any sort doesn’t really exist.Let’s take a look at it this way. First of all, who would value their time at precisely zero dollars per hour? If you said, “No one!” then pat yourself on the back, you’re a lot smarter than these companies are giving you credit for. Also, if a “professional” values their time that way, why would anyone else attribute any greater value to it? During a free inspection, someone from a mold remediation company — not a mold inspection company — will come out to your home and look for a mold problem, whether you have one or not. In all cases, they are hoping to find one and attempt to sell you mold remediation services. You may be thinking, “That sounds more like a sales call” and you would be right. For a mold remediation company, the “free inspection” is really just a way to get their foot in the door. Your door.

Sometimes they even offer “one-stop-shopping” and offer to do the testing before and after the remediation. That sounds like a conflict of interest, doesn’t it? It is, especially if you’re concerned about your best interests, but that’s not even the worst part.

Now you’ve arrived at the reason that we exist.There is such a blatant conflict of interest when companies perform both mold remediation and mold inspections, that it’s actually illegal in several states and there are many states where similar legalization has been proposed. Texas and Florida are two standout examples. In fact, we wrote an article about this very thing not too long ago. You can find it here. It’s been illegal in the asbestos business for ages, and it should be illegal in all 50 states when it comes to mold too, in my opinion. Eventually it hopefully will be. In the meantime, you, the consumer, need to be aware of the landscape and protect your own interests, because there are more companies out there doing it the wrong way than the right way. That’s for sure.

Unlike the many companies that do both mold testing and mold remediation, often testing their own work – a major no-no – we perform mold inspections, mold testing and mold remediation consulting. That’s it, and that’s all. We charge for our time, expertise and advice. We don’t benefit from the size of the problem you have, whether it be large, small or non-existent. What we care about is a healthy and expeditious resolution to your problem, especially since the vast majority of our business is word-of-mouth, often referrals from physicians who believe their patient’s house may be making them sick. We have no financial arrangements with any contractors. In fact, it’s our job to pass or fail the project at the end. How much of a conflict would that be? We fail contractors every week and hold their feet to the fire. We never look the other way. In fact, we are known for being fairly hard on the contractors. They love us when we refer them business and hate us when we fail them because they still have more work to do. Oh well!

So, what does a proper mold inspection entail? First of all, it’s at least usually a 2-3 hour commitment on-site, that begins with learning about the background of the building and the concerns of the occupants, followed by a comprehensive physical inspection of all accessible areas of the building, inside and out. Various screening methods are employed to “peel the layers of the onion” away. In our case, we’re equipped with infrared cameras, laser particle counters, electronic moisture detection equipment, and many other tools, all utilized by a very experienced, highly trained specialist. Following the first phase of the inspection, a testing strategy is developed and approved by you, the homeowner. Samples are collected in accordance with industry standards and sent to an accredited third-party lab for analysis. When the results come back, a document is generated containing all of the observations made, including building defects, deficiencies, repairs needed, and a comprehensive remediation plan, along with the laboratory report and a written summary of the analysis, in language that anyone can understand. It’s a step-by-step game plan designed to be the blueprint for restoring the property to a “normal,” healthy condition.

And it doesn’t end there. An environmental consultant, like GOT MOLD?, would then help you select the contractors, and come back when the contractors think they’re finished to do the requisite inspection(s) and testing, and make sure the work has been completed satisfactorily, before you release the final payment to them. If more work still needs to be done, the contractor must then come back and do what’s necessary to complete the project at no additional charge, as many times as the need to, until the project is granted final clearance. Then they get paid. And you can breathe easily, knowing that you’ve actually gotten what you paid for. Try getting all of that for free, no strings attached.

P.S. After this post went up, an ABC Special was brought to our attention. It features some other NJ mold companies and their unsavory tactics. You may find this very interesting in your search for a competent company that you can trust. Just click on the image below to watch this brief and enlightening piece.

ABC News: Find out what seven mold inspectors are prescribing and what the experts have to say about it.

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Who doesn’t love that new car smell?

Who doesn’t love that new car smell? | GOT MOLD?

Who doesn’t love the way a new car smell? It’s thrilling. A confirmation of accomplishment. The new house smell is no different. Whether it’s a freshly completed renovation or the special feeling of being the first owner of a newly built home, we associate powerful, positive, invigorating feelings to those aromas. #winning

But should we?

The truth is that this alluring potpourri is actually quite toxic. What you’re smelling are noxious chemicals being released from the plastics, paints, adhesives and finishes, known as volatile organic compounds, or VOCs. Even though they usually dissipate over time, they’re linked to a whole array of illnesses, and while this probably isn’t completely news to you, what I’m saying is that ignoring it may not be such a good idea. A hot new car is very attractive. A third eye, not so much.

You may have read about the Tesla owner who fell asleep while driving, sober, around noon, resulting in him killing a cyclist, and potential jail time. He’s blaming a high concentration of new car fumes for the overwhelming sleepiness he experienced, and he might be right. One of the most common symptoms of VOC exposure is fatigue, in addition to adversely affecting cognitive functions. Probably not an ideal environment for the interior of an automobile. Someone might want to do something about this. Perhaps if Congress spent less time on inane issues like steroids in major league baseball, they’d be able to work on stuff that matters, like this. Apparently it’s a common issue at all levels in the industry. According to official documents from Bentley Motors, an “obnoxious odor” was a problem in cars made from 1999–2002, and was traced to a rust inhibitor. Like many things in life, it’s a tradeoff, especially with cars. You want new wheels, but unless you have Mark Cuban’s budget, you aren’t in a position to choose the materials your ride is comprised of.

Your house is a very different story.

They say we spend about 90% of our time indoors. This includes cars and public transportation.

Although it sounds like an awful lot, the good news is that we have the most control of our destiny in our homes. You just need to do your homework, and be an informed consumer. These days, even the worst offenders in the building materials business are making stuff that’s far less toxic. It’s pretty awesome. In fact, it’s no different than the household cleaning products business. Before they used nasty chemicals and snappy marketing to sell low-quality stuff to the American public, as if it were better than what our grandmothers used in the days before Windex existed. Fast and cheap was their mantra. That’s the former paradigm. Thankfully things have changed. It used to be a take-it-or-leave-it type of thing, but the consumer has spoken, and their voice was heard. We now have a plethora of healthy options.

I often say that clean doesn’t have a smell. Some of the odors that we encounter every day make us feel clean. Bleach has it’s place, but it’s in the washing machine. Sanitizers are for the hospital, not the home. Contrary to what most people think, there’s no need to use chemicals during mold remediation. They cause more harm than good. Do the research. Oh, and about air fresheners? I’ll save the keystrokes and electrons. Just throw them away.

It’s also the same with food and personal care products. Coca-Cola and McDonalds are struggling while Whole Foods is booming and Acme and Shop-Rite are so busy shutting down stores they can’t be bothered to get the flies off their piles of rotting veggies.

Now, back to the point of this piece.

The new house smell is a serious issue, so I’ll share some of my thoughts, but the truth is that it’s too much for a little blog post. I’ll have to break this down into a few chunks, or write a real article about it, but in the meantime, here are the basics. The key is prevention, which is really about awareness and avoidance. Mold and other allergens can be cleaned up, but these chemical bad guys are much tougher to deal with.  Believe it or not, I’d rather buy a moldy home than a chemical-laden one. The fact that homes still get built – legally – with materials of comprised of well-known carcinogens simply stuns me.

If we want to reform healthcare and have a healthy society, let’s start with common sense. Let’s not make carcinogenic houses, cars and workplaces. Don’t even get me started about schools. We raise and educate our next generation in moldy, stale buildings and feed them non-food, while teaching them how to barely pass tests, like automatons. Barf.

Again, this is fodder for a future post.

Back to VOCs…

I’ve seen VOC problems affect a home from something as simple as a shopping excursion at Pottery Barn or IKEA. This is easy to deal with. You remove the source.

Once they’re embedded in your home though, it’s a different story. It’s bad news when your whole house is painted with builder’s grade paint, or when your hardwood floors are finished with the stuff from the bottom builders’ supply store shelf. I’ve actually had contractors verbally agree to use the healthy stuff, but throw it away when we left, and then proceed to use what they usually use. This resulted in them sanding off the finish and re-doing it on their nickel, then paying for the house to be HEPA-vacuumed. Needless to say, nobody was pleased except the guy we paid to clean it up.

Even though I’ve only talked about man-made VOCs, mold makes VOCs too, but they are called mVOCs, with the “m” standing for microbial. Interestingly, many of the compounds active mold growth produces look a lot like industrial chemicals. This explains why the vast majority of our most mold-sensitive clients are also sensitive to chemicals and fragrances. This syndrome is called Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS) in some circles, but a woman down in Texas named Dr. Claudia Miller has renamed it TILT, which stands for Toxicant-Induced Loss of Tolerance. She’s written quite a bit on the subject. If you’re interested, you can start here. It’s estimated that 3-5% of Americans suffer from MCS/TILT.

When we are faced with client that has a VOC problem in their home, the first thing we have to do is identify the source(s), which often includes mold. The primary motive behind this part of the process is to determine exactly what the remedy(s) will be.

With an indoor air quality problem, you only have three options.

1. Source control: Get rid of it, if you can, but if it’s the paint on your walls or the insulation inside them, much easier said than done. Nonetheless source removal/source control is always best. In the cases where this isn’t practical or possible, we go to…

2. Filtration: Using special filters, which contain activated carbon/charcoal, the airborne chemicals are trapped, and over time, you can reduce the chemical load on the house. These are expensive, since they require a significant amount of carbon to make a dent in a sick home, and the filters need to be replaced regularly to remain effective. ($$$$)

A much better option, for several reasons, is…

3. Dilution: Introducing fresh air from outside – to dilute the not-so-fresh indoor air – seems like a no-brainer, but it’s only practical when the weather’s nice. Just opening your windows on a nice spring day won’t cut it. Also, who wants to watch their hard-earned cash go out the window with the VOCs? Thankfully, there is a solution. There are devices known as heat recovery ventilators (HRVs) and energy recovery ventilators (ERVs), which allow fresh air in, while sending the stale air out, while keeping your utility bill in check. Ask your HVAC guy about them. They are mandatory in many commercial buildings, but not in residential, even though every home should have one.

If you think your home may have a VOC problem, there are a couple of things you can do. You can take the first step on your own, with a DIY test kit from a company like PRISM Analytical. They have a great product which we use professionally, that detects man-made VOCs, as well as kind that mold growth produces. It’s affordable and effective. Here’s a link to their site. If you would rather just cut to the chase, you can hire an environmental consultant with specialized experience in this field, such as GOT MOLD?. They will identify the sources, and prescribe a step-by-step solution. Keep in mind, you don’t want to have the same people doing the inspection, also doing the remediation work. That’s a conflict of interest.

Either way, if you are having symptoms that you think may be related to something in your home, it’s important that you take action.

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Mold Sickness & Lyme Disease

Mold Sickness & Lyme Disease | Mold Testing | GOT MOLD?

I sat down to write this post today, without knowing that a new Lyme Disease-causing bacteria was recently discovered by Mayo Clinic researchers. It just so happened to show up in my newsfeed as I began writing.

Apparently, some of the symptoms are different, but the good news is that the treatment is the same. Of course, if you know anything about Lyme, you know that the treatment can be anything but straightforward, ranging from a round of antibiotics, to myriad other methods, depending upon your genotype and other confounding variables, including possible mold exposure. The treatment process can be a matter of months to a matter of years. Some people recover quickly and move on. Others seem to suffer forever, with symptoms that mirror multiple sclerosis, and other nasty diseases you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy.

We have consistently seen a direct connection between Lyme disease and mold-related illness since we opened our doors almost 14 years ago. We’ve helped hundreds of Lyme patients rid their homes of mold, and begin their healing. It’s hard enough to deal with one of these issues, let alone both at the same time.It’s a complicated subject, and thankfully, the science seems to be emerging more quickly than ever before. But just as the awareness grows, there remain naysayers in the medical community that don’t think that Lyme is complicated at all, and dispute the validity of something known as Chronic Lyme Disease. Here’s an example of the rhetoric from that camp.

So, here’s why I’m writing this post.

This is a very personal issue for me, and the main reason GOT MOLD? exists.  In the early 90’s, as a child, I was diagnosed with Lyme while living in a moldy home, and dealt with all of the associated issues. I gained weight, developed terrible brain fog, candida, fatigue, and whole host of other life-altering symptoms. It’s taken me 20 years to overcome many of them, while a few still linger. This was long before mold illness or Lyme disease were taken seriously. There were certainly no such thing as mold inspectors or mold remediators. Lyme doctors were marginalized and attacked back then. My doctor, Dr. John Bleiweiss, an early Lyme disease pioneer, committed suicide after being sanctioned by the AMA, well aware of what the road ahead involved for him and his family. It was terrible.

Lyme is a tough disease. It’s tough to diagnose properly; it mimics other diseases. It’s tough to treat; the offending bacteria have developed some pretty effective defenses, and know how to hide. The symptoms can be brutal, often times creating a whole host of other sensitivities to things as basic as light and fragrances. Because it’s a biotoxin-based illness, it also works against you in the case of mold exposure, where the two amplify one another. And if you’re one of the “lucky” 24% of the population that has a hard time processing these toxins, due to your genetics, you’re in for a real treat.

Dealing with a mold problem can be quite a challenge, especially if it’s making you ill. The costs can be daunting and finding competent medical care is extremely difficult for many. The initial investigations are wrought with worry, and the work itself is akin to a home invasion. It doesn’t help that people often think you’re crazy, and the whole process can make you crazy even if you aren’t already. It’s not uncommon for mold-sensitive people to set up tents in their yards while remediation is done, or to “buy time” while they’re working on a solution. By the way, this is all happening while you’re too tired to take out the garbage.

We are not Lyme experts, but we know buildings, and we know mold better than anyone else out there. Just as important, we understand how Lyme and mold and all of the other associated issues work together, and we have deep experience working with Lyme-literate (LLMD) and mold-literate (MLMD ) doctors, including Ritchie Shoemaker, and those he has trained in the Shoemaker Protocol, which makes us an invaluable asset in your fight to regain your health. This is not our first rodeo.

If you are suffering from Lyme disease, and also concerned about a possible mold problem in your home or workplace, we’ve been there, and we are here to help.

Lyme Disease and Mold FAQs

Is there a connection between Lyme disease and mold-related illnesses?

Yes. Lyme disease is a biotoxin-based illness. In the case of mold exposure and sensitivity, the two amplify one another.

Can you get Lyme disease from mold?

Yes. If you have chronic Lyme disease and not getting better, exposure to toxic mold may be a contributing factor.

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100% Guaranteed Mold Prevention!

100% Guaranteed Mold Prevention! | GOT MOLD?

I love it when I see mold remediation firms, and companies that sell the products they use, offering multi-year guarantees or warranties. It helps me to know –  immediately – who I will never refer clients to. See, mold growth can occur within 24-48 hours of a water event, or excessive dampness, according to the EPA. So, how does a company that removes black mold offer a guaranteed mold prevention, if they have no way of knowing whether or not there may be another unattended flood or leak, or if your dehumidifier dies while you’re sunning yourself in the Caribbean? They can’t, except with some fancy fine print. Caveat emptor.

See, if the conditions are right for mold, which simply means dampness for any extended period, no amount of mold-killer, or anti-microbial, or anything will prevent it. I’ve seen mold growing on dust on glass. I’ve seen mold growing on every surface you can imagine.

There’s a company called Anabec, which makes a whole slew of products commonly used in mold remediation. They, and the contractors who use their stuff, offer warranties on their mold prevention and remediation products ranging from 10 to 50 years! Must be powerful, eh? Well, actually, here is their fine print, which I copied from their website.

Property Owner Obligations
 
The Anabec products are not an alternative to good housekeeping and maintenance practices and it is the property owner’s obligation to insure there  are no pipe leaks, high humidity levels, moisture intrusion, etc.
 
The owner’s obligations are:
  • The Owner will maintain treated surfaces in accordance with general good housekeeping and insure treated areas are kept dry.
  •  The Owner is responsible for making immediate repairs when necessary to stop water intrusion in treated areas, interior areas, and roof or exterior walls to stop any moisture intrusion. Failure to recognize and repair such conditions will render the warranty void. 
  • The Owner shall at all times maintain environmental control of the indoor air by ensuring a consistent relative humidity of 65% or below and sufficient ventilation in all indoor spaces. Shutting down the HVAC system for any extended period of time has adverse effects on the indoor building materials and will render the warranty void.
  • Any claims of the terms of this warranty must be made immediately with verbal communication and in writing directly to Anabec, Inc. and the Anabec Qualified Contractor within 7 days of discovery of any mold re-growth on the surface.

This is truly amazing to me. If you follow their guidelines above, they should offer a lifetime warranty! Why limit it to 10 or 50 years? If you keep surfaces clean and dry, mold will NEVER grow! End of story!  So what they’re saying is that if YOU do YOUR job, they will graciously guarantee that their products will work, but only if YOU do YOUR part, which is to make sure that the conditions for mold growth don’t exist. Which means you don’t need their products.

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Say “No” To Biocides:
No Need To Kill Mold

Say "No" To Biocides: No Need To Kill Mold | GOT MOLD?

We fix sick homes. Every day, people with asthma, allergies, sinus problems –  and a plethora of other sometimes seemingly unrelated maladies – suspect something in their home might be at the root of their woes and call upon us to do the sleuth work. More often than not, when we find a mold problem and it gets corrected, people begin to see improvements in their health and quality of life, sometimes dramatic improvements.

I’m writing this article because I am constantly faced with this preconception that getting rid of mold somehow involves killing it first, as if you have to sneak up behind it and snuff it out before it knows you’re there. Yes, this stuff can be dangerous, but not like that.

You see, most homeowners and contractors feel that if you kill mold, by spraying or fogging some EPA-registered chemical, that you’re going to make the job easier or more effective. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The purpose of mold remediation, as described in the IICRC S520 Mold Remediation Standard, is to restore an affected property to a “normal” condition. Here’s what’s involved. It’s really simple.

  1. Fix the water problem.
  2. Isolate the work area.
  3. Remove affected materials that cannot be cleaned, such as wallboard, insulation, ceiling tiles, carpet, carpet padding and other porous items.
  4. Clean the remaining surfaces that can be cleaned such as wood, glass, metal, plastic, concrete, tile, etc., using HEPA vacuums and good, old-fashioned, elbow grease. Chemicals need not be involved.
  5. Scrub the air with HEPA filters.
  6. Verify microscopically that the air and surfaces no longer contain abnormal levels of fungal material.

Mold remediation isn’t about killing mold, it’s about removing it and fixing the water problem. Even if you “kill it,” dead mold is still allergenic and potentially toxic, according to the EPA. Leaving behind dead mold doesn’t do you any good. In fact, all you’re doing when you use a biocide is adding another toxin, an additional step and more cost. It’s not a shortcut, it’s a boondoggle.

Are we trying to make the house healthier or sicker? Many of the products sold as biocides/antimicrobials/fungicides are more dangerous than the mold and its byproducts. Do you really want to trade one toxin for another?

The funny thing about biocides is that many of them are water-based, and the active ingredient evaporates relatively quickly. Bleach for example, is 3% sodium hypochlorite and 97% water. When you use bleach during mold remediation, the sodium hypochlorite dissipates rapidly, leaving behind what? Water! Congratulations, you’ve just added water to a water problem. Spores will settle on the dampness you leave behind, eat the dead mold you didn’t remove, and grow right back again. Nice, eh?

Not only are you adding an additional, unnecessary toxin to your home or workplace, you may also be stimulating the mold to produce more of the very thing most people worry most about when they have a mold problem: mycotoxins. Mycotoxins are the toxins some molds produce from time to time. There is strong evidence that chronic exposure to mycotoxins is less than ideal for human health. Research has also shown that mycotoxin production can actually be stimulated by fungicides.

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There are a few circumstances when biocides are prudent and should be considered, like when bacteria is a concern, such as after sewage spills or certain kinds of floods, and in certain circumstance involving individuals with compromised immune systems.  Other than that, the vast majority of mold remediation cases should be free of chemicals and killing agents.

We as a society have already done immense damage to ourselves and to the environment with our obsessive use of antibiotics, antimicrobials, herbicides, pesticides and other poisons. In addition to the damage it can do to us as individuals when misused (which is almost always the case), these compounds are also creating new microbes that are resistant to the very poisons we lavish upon them, making stronger heartier foes in the microscopic world. It’s the law of unintended consequences. Is this really what we want?

Interestingly, with this very knowledge in mind, a new company called Homebiotic, has created a probiotic surface spray for moisture-prone areas, like under the kitchen sink, or in a bathroom where you may have poor ventilation. While they do not make claims that it kills mold, since it’s neither a fungicide or a pesticide – which is the whole point – the idea is that friendly microbes colonize the surface and go to work for you, as a preventive measure. The formulation is based upon proven organisms, and there’s some additional testing underway to quantify its effectiveness on different surfaces and other applications, but in the meantime, my own experiments have proved it to work very well.

Finally, there’s a constant desire by contractors and homeowners to apply antimicrobial paints and finishes to surfaces during remediation. This is another unnecessary and wasteful step. Most of the antimicrobial value of these paints dissipates in a matter of months, leaving behind nutrition to support fungal growth if the right amount of moisture is present. In all cases, the mold won’t return without moisture. So adding a coating isn’t necessary if it’s dry. If it’s wet, the mold will return no matter how much antimicrobial paint you apply.

At the end of the day, there’s only one truly effective antifungal. It works every time with no adverse reactions, and it never dissipates. It’s called anti-dihydrogen monoxide, or anti-DHMO.  To understand it, you must first understand its opposite. DHMO is a very simple compound, comprised of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom. It’s otherwise called H2O or, by us laypeople, water.

In other words, keep things clean and dry, and you don’t need chemicals, and you won’t need to hire us. But if you do find yourself trying to make sense of what steps to take next when you think – or know – you have a mold problem, we’re here to help.

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The Renter’s Playbook

The Renter's Playbook | Mold Testing | GOT MOLD?

No matter whether you rent or own, your home should be where you feel safest. It should be where you rest and rejuvenate. It’s a place where you take care of yourself and those you love. The renter’s playbook has guide to help you.

When you own your home, and you think you may have a mold problem, in most cases, it’s simply a matter of figuring out the why’s and how’s, and then getting it taken care of, assuming it’s in the budget.

When you rent, it’s a whole different ball of wax. You usually have to involve your landlord, and that’s where things start to get messy. The first decision is whether or not to do testing, and if so, who’s paying for it. Renters call us all the time to get prices, hoping their landlord will spring for the inspection, only to be disappointed and find out that they’d rather just send in some maintenance staff to either rip it out or paint over it, neither of which are acceptable practices as the first step when there’s a potential mold issue of any significance.

Alternatively, your landlord will often bring in their own mold “expert” to take a look, rarely taking samples or performing a comprehensive inspection. Their purpose is to help the landlord figure out why it’s your fault, or find a cheap solution. Rarely does it follow the ideal path of resolution, where a proper remediation is planned and executed.

So, when you’re in this situation, what’s a person to do? Call the Department of Health? Unfortunately they aren’t usually very much help in the beginning stages. Sometimes the Local Housing Authority will go to bat for you, but it depends on where you’re located. Should you get a professional inspection done? Do you really want to pay for testing, which can sometimes
be more than your rent? It depends. In some cases it makes sense to do so, especially if you have a really tough landlord or the mold problem is severe and your health is at risk.

The most important first step is for you to know your rights as a renter. The laws are different from state to state, so do your own research or consult an attorney, but in most jurisdictions there’s a legal doctrine known as the Implied Warranty of Habitability (“IWOH”). In essence, what this means, is that your landlord has an obligation to provide housing that is fit and habitable. What’s interesting is that you’ll see no language in the lease about this, hence the reason it’s called the implied warranty of habitability. It’s a given and it need not be explicitly said in the rental agreement. People renting out housing have certain fundamental obligations.

How you define fit and habitable? The unit/building has to be substantially compliant with state and local building and health codes. Above all, the rental unit must not have conditions that would be a threat to the health and safety of the tenants. It’s pretty simple.

Issues that may cause you to invoke the warranty of habitability may be as simple as appliances that aren’t functional, or as severe as gaping holes in your roof or broken windows, exposing you to the elements. Significant leaks and mold are potentially just as serious. Since most people reading this are worried about mold, let’s focus on that.

It has been said that common sense is not so common, so I will say this even though it’s as basic as you get. When you’re dealing with a mold problem, you’re actually dealing with two issues; the moisture source, and the mold. One causes the other, and if you don’t correct the underlying water problem, the mold will most assuredly return. This is why so many landlords get into trouble with mold. They spray some bleach or slap on a coat of paint, like I said earlier, only to see it return again. It can be very frustrating to deal with this approach as a tenant, especially if someone in the house is having his or her health affected by the mold. So what do you do?

  1. Document, document, document: Get a notebook and keep detailed notes on every interaction with your landlord and building staff regarding your apartment and the issue(s) at hand. Every conversation, every time maintenance attempts or performs a repair. Dates, times, names, etc. This is very important, especially if this drags on for a long time. If you ever have to go to court, that notebook will be your best friend.
  2. Protect yourself: Usually people call us because someone is either getting sick from the mold, or is highly susceptible to mold-related illness. It’s very disempowering to have a problem like that and not be able to take action. If where you live is a threat to your health, you need to pull out all the stops. First, talk to your doctor. Explain what’s going on. They may tell you to move, which you may have to consider. If not, it often helps to have them write a letter which clearly states that you, or the person you’re caring for, has a medical condition which is exacerbated by mold exposure. People with more serious health problems, like a compromised immune system, cannot live in a moldy environment under any circumstances. A strongly written letter from your physician gives you a lot of leverage, especially if you have to go to court at some point. If you choose to stay and see it through, get yourself a good air purifier or two to reduce exposure. You don’t have to spend a fortune. Here’s a unit we like a lot. Also, if you can, consider relocating temporarily, although I know that’s not often practical or possible.
  3. Notify the landlord in writing: In addition to the contemporaneous notes, when you have a repair or maintenance issue, and your landlord has proven to be unresponsive, or dismissive after a verbal request, you must put your request in writing. There’s no hard and fast rule about how many times or how often you should request something to be taken care of before you escalate things, but I feel that three letters is enough. The first one is friendly. The second one reminds them of the first one and reiterates your request and concern. If someone is getting sick from the mold, you must say so. The third one let’s them know what you’ll be doing next.
  4. Seek legal counsel: Find a local attorney with landlord-tenant dispute experience. There are non-profit law firms in some areas that specialize in things like this. Sometimes they can point you toward free government resources, which can make all difference in the world.
  5. Consider getting an inspection & testing done: It’s often a good idea to get a proper inspection done, with testing, to make sure you’re not off-base, and also to make it clear to your landlord that you’re serious about the situation. You can easily get into arguments about how bad it is, or isn’t, but until you have real data and a report from a qualified professional, it’s simply a matter of opinions. Also, the byproduct of a proper inspection is a remediation plan which tells the building owner exactly how it needs to be done, according to the industry standard and/or any regulations which may exist in your area. This will usually wake them up to the reality that they shouldn’t do attempt to do the work themselves. It can save a lot of back-and-forth and wasted effort on everyone’s part, not to mention preventing things from getting worse due to a botched mold cleanup. Don’t ever expect, or even ask, for your landlord to pay for an inspection up front, because one of two things will happen. First, they’ll say no. Second, they’ll hire someone who will tell them what they want to hear and beat you to the punch. Don’t waste your time. Your best bet is to try to get a reimbursement after the fact. The old adage that it’s better to ask for forgiveness than permission applies here.
  6. Withhold rent: Landlords want to get paid. The good news about the IWOH is that it’s a two-way street. They maintain a fit and habitable place for you to live, and you pay rent. If they fail to keep up their end of the bargain, you don’t pay. At least not right away. This is where things get complicated because every jurisdiction has different laws about this. Some allow you to withhold rent and then argue at an eviction hearing about all of the things they didn’t do, which sounds like a nightmare to me, and a risky proposition. Other towns and cities allow for you to pay the rent to the Clerk of the Court, or into an escrow account, so that the funds get released to the landlord only when the unit is deemed fit and habitable. Here’s a link to a piece about this rather murky subject. Do your research. This is often the most powerful tool in your toolbox if you do it correctly. If you play by the rules, you’ll be amazed how quickly they usually rally.
  7. Evict yourself: If you’re fed up, or just looking to get out of the lease, and move on, once you’ve withheld rent and they’re not cooperating, there’s something called constructive eviction, where you essentially terminate the lease without penalties or being subject to the rest of your obligations under the lease agreement, based upon the landlord’s failure to comply with the IWOH, among other things.

The reality is that most landlords are just starting to realize how serious mold can be, and the liability that comes along with deferred maintenance. You’ve probably heard that cheap people pay twice, and landlords often fall into that camp. Don’t be surprised if it’s an uphill battle, but if you handle everything right, you will usually prevail. The most important thing to remember is that it’s your home, even if you don’t own it, and there are things you can and must do to protect yourself and your family. There are resources available to you which give you more power than you can imagine. Get out there are use them to their fullest.

DISCLAIMER: I am not a lawyer, and I’ve never even played one on TV. This is not legal advice, and should not be construed as such. I’m just sharing my experience here. When in doubt, don’t listen to me. Consult with an attorney.

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Don’t Finish a Basement …Until You Read This

Don't Finish a Basement ...Until You Read This | GOT MOLD?

Don’t finish a basement …Until you read this. Due to popular demand, I have been forced to sit down at my computer and put to paper my mold prevention ideas and concepts that apply to finishing basements and other sub-grade living spaces.

First, let me say that if you are reading this you are head and shoulders above the mass of the population that will haphazardly sheetrock and carpet a basement without concern for the inherent problems that traditional finished basements are known for within my industry. My only concern is that the ideas contained in this article gain wide acceptance and my revenue decreases dramatically. If this occurs, I will gladly accept generous donations from the happy applicants of the wisdom contained herein.

Few of these ideas are original. The true value of this short piece is to shine the light on the choices you have as you endeavor to add very valuable space to your home.

If done right, a nice profit and many enjoyable years can grow out of your healthy, well-designed basement. If done wrong or without proper attention to the crucial details, other things will grow out of – and in – your basement. And you won’t like that. That’s why you are reading this. So let’s proceed.

Let’s start with a brief course in mold. Mold 101. Here’s all you need to know for now.

Mold spores are like microscopic seeds that are constantly floating around in the air. In fact, unless you are highly sensitive or there is a large concentration of spores as a result of a mold growth problem near where you are now sitting, the air you are now breathing contains mold spores that are probably not bothering you in the least. Mold spores are literally everywhere; on your clothing, your eyeglasses, the face of your watch, your kitchen table. This is unavoidable. What we really want to avoid is mold growth, not mold spores, since mold spores are, in fact, unavoidable.

Why do you not want mold growth in your house? In a nutshell, here it is:

  • It stinks
  • It ruins your stuff
  • It can make you and your family sick
  • Other nasty stuff likes to join the party (i.e. dust mites, spiders, bacteria, amoeba, nematodes)
  • You may end up having a hard time selling your house

Mold growth occurs when a few specific factors are present. In fact, part of the problem is that these factors are very often present indoors because mold loves the same conditions we do, with few exceptions.

  • Moisture/water
  • Oxygen
  • Comfortable temperature
  • Nutrition/food source (cellulose, i.e., drywall, ceiling tiles, wood, carpet, etc.)

Of all of the above factors, moisture is the most easily controlled. In fact, few of the other factors are easily or cost-effectively dealt with. So, control moisture you must. Moisture control is the mold-prevention mantra.

Also at play is the type of building materials and the way they interact and integrate in modern construction. The way we have built and continue to build homes since the 1970s energy crisis, and what we build them with, makes it very easy for mold growth to occur indoors. Most builders use low-cost materials, over-insulate and insist on putting basements into buildings built in areas with poor soil drainage or high water tables. One of my mentors is fond of saying that we now build self-composting houses – just add water!

When it comes to finishing basements, you have more choices and – at the same time – more problems. Since it is a much smaller space than the rest of the structure, you can spend more money on the specialized building materials that resist moisture and mold growth. At the same time, the added cost can sometimes make it more expensive than it’s worth for some homeowners. For example: Dens-Armor Plus by Georgia-Pacific, a fiberglass-faced gypsum board with no mold-friendly nutrition source for the mold to grow on, is at least 2x the cost of normal 1/2” paper-faced drywall gypsum board. In fact, many of the solutions are twice the price but worth every penny. The way I figure it, you can spend twice as much once and do it right, or you can do it wrong and spend half as much, but end up doing it twice. The first choice is much easier, and you don’t have to pay a mold remediation specialist a small fortune to gut your basement and a remodeler to rebuild it all over again. Look at the savings!

In addition to donations, I accept Thank You cards. This means you can thank me for saving you tons of money in advance. Tons. I really like the Thank You cards. I still prefer donations though.

Moving on.

Here are the primary ideas and guidelines to follow:

  1. Stop the water: If you have a damp basement or get water sometimes, you MUST do whatever is necessary to fix it before doing anything else. A dehumidifier is NOT the silver bullet. If you can, you should do whatever you have to do to prevent the water from coming into the basement in the first place. This can sometimes mean excavating outside, fixing cracks and sealing the foundation properly (Big $$$$). Although still expensive, some people install French drains (see more on them later) and sump pumps with battery backup units. This can be helpful but, again, it is not a silver bullet all by itself. You may find that something as simple as re-grading outside, covering window wells or extending the gutter downspouts further from the foundation is enough. You may find that some combination of these may work. In any case, do what you must. Otherwise your allergies and your wallet will suffer.
  2. Monitor the humidity with a digital humidity gauge otherwise known as a hygrometer (available at Radio Shack, Lowe’s, etc. for about $20). Keep your humidity at 45% or below. In fact, you should do this in the other areas of your home as well. Maintaining a moderate humidity in your home is one of the most important things you can do to keep your home healthy and help prevent mold growth, dust mite proliferation, and a whole roster of other nasty stuff. In the basement, do not even think about finishing it until you get a handle on the humidity.
  3. Insulate all cold water pipes to prevent condensation. When possible, insulated ducts are a great idea too to prevent condensation from accumulating on the ducts in the ceiling when the air conditioning is running. But this is not always practical.
  4. DO NOT PAINT YOUR WALLS, even with Drylok or waterproofing paint. Concrete does not support fungal (mold) growth. Paint does. Even most antimicrobial and antifungal paints and coatings will eventually grow mold if the conditions are right. Also, do not attach insulation directly to the foundation walls. It behaves as a moisture trap and can also hide structural problems and cracks in the foundation. Bottom line: basement walls need to breathe too.
  5. How ‘bout a little elbow room?: Although this is sometimes impractical and you can lose a lot of square footage, building the wall at least 18 inches away from the foundation gives you permanent access to your foundation and allows enough air movement that ventilation and dehumidification can work together to the fullest. Also, if you ever need to perform any repairs to the foundation, it can be done with little additional cost and destruction. It also makes upgrading wiring, plumbing, sound systems etc. much easier and less expensive.
  6. Use metal studs or, if you use wooden studs, make sure to put in a pressure-treated sill plate. As a rule, untreated wood and any porous or absorptive building materials should never be in direct contact with concrete. A concrete slab and foundation can contain thousands of pounds of water and will gladly transfer that moisture into anything porous and absorptive it touches. Once the moisture gets in and stays, mold growth, and eventually rot, are inevitable. So keep wood, drywall, carpet, carpet padding, tack strips, etc. away from direct contact with concrete.
  7. Insulate properly: Although some building code officials do not like rigid insulation, it is a preferred material for moisture-prone areas such as basement. Unlike traditional fiberglass batt insulation that you will find in most attics and wall cavities, rigid insulation will not absorb water. Also, rigid insulation contains no nutrition to support mold growth but the paper backing on many kinds of fiberglass batt insulation does. Building code officials don’t like rigid insulation sometimes because in the event of a fire, the gases are deadly. So if that scares you or your local building code official too much, then fiberglass batt insulation is your best bet. Johns Manville makes a Formaldehyde-Free fiberglass batt insulation that is great for families concerned about indoor air quality. You’ll know you’ve found it because it is white, fluffy and encased in plastic.
  8. Heat and air condition the basement just like the upstairs. Consult with a NATE-certified HVAC technician to prevent losing heating and cooling efficiency upstairs.
  9. No carpet. No hardwood floors. Ceramic tile is the preferred choice. Pergo is often recommended but I have my reservations. Pergo, as with all laminate flooring, is made by taking fiberboard planks and wrapping decorative laminate sheeting around it. The fiberboard inside is a favorite on the menu mold likes to eat from most. If you insist on carpet don’t overspend, seal the slab with an epoxy-based concrete floor sealer, use no carpet padding, and install Dri-Core (www.dricore.com) or Sub-Flor (www.subflor.com) raised-floor systems on the slab. Then put your carpet over the raised floor system. If you flood, for whatever reason, the carpet will need to be professionally dried within 24 hours, or it is garbage. Period.
  10. No drywall on exterior walls. This includes “green-board”, “blue-board” or any paper-faced gypsum wallboard. All of it will get moldy in a wet environment. On exterior walls, Dens-Armor Plus by Georgia-Pacific is the only way to go. It has no mold-friendly nutrients and is just as easy to work with as standard drywall. At this writing, the only problem with Dens-Armor Plus is that it is has a slightly different surface texture when compared to traditional drywall. It requires more primer and more paint to even out the surface. When I called Georgia-Pacific to ask them about this they assured me that they are working hard to remedy this.
  11. Get it up: Regardless of the type of wallboard you use, keep at least a 2-inch gap between the bottom edge of the wallboard and the slab to prevent wicking in the event of water intrusion or release. Use molding along the bottom to cover the gap for aesthetic reasons. Do not let the drywall touch the foundation walls either.
  12. Get exhausted: If bathrooms or a kitchen are part of the plan, exhaust fans vented to the outside are a must.
  13. Stuff it: Anything stored in the unfinished areas should be in Rubbermaid containers or, at least, up on shelves.

About French Drains

  1. If you think you have a French drain, you might. But you probably don’t. Most people were told when they bought their house that the gap between the wall and the floor around the perimeter of the basement is a French drain. A vast majority of homes that have this gap where the floor meets the wall actually have something called a “floating slab.” It was designed that way for a few reasons. 1.) The gap allows for a very small amount of water to collect in the gap and not get onto the floor. It should eventually drain, but VERY slowly. The problem is there is no pitch or slant for the water to follow and so the water just sits there and then, most of the time, evaporates creating high humidity or allowing the random debris in the gap to get moldy and decompose; neither being a good outcome. 2.) It allows the floor to “float” slightly and prevents the cracking that may result from excessive vertical pressure from rising water under the floor. 3.) Every state has different laws regarding warranties for new home. Homes in NJ come with a 10-year structural warranty and a 1-year water guarantee. This perimeter gap conveniently keeps the water off the floor long enough for the warranty to expire and the builder to get off the hook. A French drain can be used inside or outside. These were described and popularised by Henry French, a lawyer and Assistant US Treasury Secretary from Concord, Massachusetts in his book Farm drainage. (Thanks to Tim Hurst for this correction.) A true interior basement French drain contains a few elements. There are many bells and whistles but the guts of it remain the same.
    • Perforated pipes and gravel under the floor around the perimeter that are pitched toward the sump pump pit.
    • The pipes terminate, or drain, into a pit, or sump.
    • The pit has a pump capable of ejecting the water out and away from the building.

    If you want to know whether you have a true French drain or not, this requires some investigation. Here are a few questions to get answered:

    • Can you see gravel or stones in the gap?
    • Do you have a sump pump pit with a working pump and pipes that drain into the pit?
    • If you pour water into the gap, does it disappear quickly no matter how much you pour in (think: garden hose full-blast for 10 minutes)?
    • Does it make it into the sump?
    • Can you see a “scar” around the perimeter where it looks like concrete was removed and replaced?
    • If you have a concrete or cinder block foundation, are there holes drilled into the block walls all the way around the perimeter that allow for the cells/voids within the walls to drain into the gap?

    If you answered “no” to more than a few of those questions you probably have a floating slab. If you want confirmation, open your phone book to Waterproofing and call a few of them to come and take a look. Be prepared to endure a sales pitch and sift through the B.S. But you should be able to find out what kind of drainage you have….or need.

  2. If you have a sump pump, a battery backup unit is a must. Just think, when do you lose power? During a thunderstorm or hurricane, right? When do you need a sump pump most? Exactly.
  3. Make sure that the discharge from the pump goes far enough away from the house.
  4. If you get an interior French drain installed or are willing to add to your existing one, a round floor drain tied into it is a great idea especially in the middle of the floor, in the bathroom, or anywhere else that flood and spills are probable and likely.
  5. This one will make my friends in the waterproofing business hate me, but you will love me for speaking the truth. Most installers are crooks. Check the BBB and call at least 3 references. Get an insurance binder, not an insurance certificate, with your name and address on it BEFORE the work is started. Do not give more than a 10% deposit and make sure it is refundable if they fail to deliver the insurance binder. Get everything in writing and go with your gut feeling. You will probably be right.
  6. It is often a high-pressure sales pitch so put on your thick skin and don’t fall for the scare tactics. Most of the systems are so similar in design that the main variable is the quality of the company. Since what you are really buying is a warranty, make sure they will be there when the system leaks or the sump pump fails. Both will probably happen at some point.

Oh, and good luck. Remember my first piece of advice… don’t finish your basement.

But if you insist, at least do it right.

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Why Attics Get Moldy

Why Attics Get Moldy | Mold Testing | GOT MOLD?

As the holidays approached, the ornaments and decorations started coming out of the attic.  In the process, you may have discovered that you’ve got a mold problem. Or maybe you’re selling your house and the buyer’s home inspector found something not so good up there.

In the attic? How’d that happen?

Attics are the least actively used space in most homes. Not only is it out of sight and therefore out of mind, but also nobody wants to spend very much time up there because it’s so hot in the summer and brutally cold in the winter. And that is actually part of the reason why some attics get moldy. Attics are not typically our favorite places, so we don’t dedicate much attention to them, but you can develop a very expensive issue if things get out of control while you’re not watching.

For a mold problem to develop, you have to have excess moisture. No water = no mold. Mold will not grow in a dry, well-ventilated attic. So what causes moisture to accumulation in an attic? A ventilation problem. It’s really that simple.

Let’s start with where the moisture comes from.

People indoors generate significant humidity simply through living. Respiration (breathing), transpiration (sweating), cooking, bathing, cleaning and numerous other activities pump water into the air. Having lots of houseplants can add a lot of humidity. Damp basements and crawlspaces often manifest into a moldy attic. Unused or misused dryer vents and improperly installed bathroom exhaust fans are very common culprits too.

Here’s where I’m going to throw you a curve ball. Most people think it has to be warm and wet for mold to grow, and while that’s partially true, certain molds can grow in very low temperatures, but they still require moisture. Have you ever seen black mold growing on the gasket around a refrigerator?  This is usually a very common mold called Cladosporium. It doesn’t mind the cold so much. It also very commonly grows in attics where there’s a moisture trap. But here’s the key, most mold problems in attics are a wintertime phenomenon, not a summertime one. I know it’s counter-intuitive, but I’ll explain.

As we all remember from eighth-grade science class, warm air rises in a building. In a case where there’s a lot of moisture in that warm air, when it finds its way into a cold attic, the water in the air will bead up on the cold interior surfaces of the roof like it would on a glass of iced tea on a hot summer day. During really cold periods, this condensation will actually freeze, making some attics an unintended winter wonderland.

In such circumstances, the exposed nails will transform into icicles overnight, and when the sun comes up, the roof warms, melting the icicles, causing it to drip rusty water droplets onto the floor. This cycle of moisture accumulation on the dusty wooden surfaces of the attic is enough to create an environment conducive to mold growth.  Sometimes this takes decades, sometimes only one season. Depending upon how severe the problem is, the damage can range from some minor surface mold, which can be easily cleaned, to complete rot and degradation of the sheathing, requiring a new roof to be installed. Not fun.

Now let’s talk about the ventilation.

Contrary to what you might think, an attic fan is not the solution, as attic fans are designed to operate during the summertime to remove excess heat. Also, the vents on opposite ends of many attics, called gable vents, do nothing. They are worthless for the purpose of moisture control. I’ve seen homeowners try every type of shortcut possible to avoid doing what needs to be done, but in essence, there’s only one solution which works flawlessly: natural ventilation with ridge and soffit vents.

So, what is natural ventilation, you ask? Good question.

When warm, moist air rises into the attic, a well-ventilated attic will allow it to escape through the peak of the roof, through something called a ridge vent. In order to make up for the air escaping through the peak, makeup air needs to come from outside, but in a very specific way, from a very specific place: the eaves through soffit vents. In summary, through natural ventilation, warm moist air from the house escapes through the attic peak, rather than being trapped, while the vents in the eaves allow air to come in from outside, keeping the surface temperature of the inside of the roof closer to that of the outside of the roof. This prevents condensation in the wintertime and also helps keep the roof cooler in the summer, extending the life of asphalt shingles.

No fans. Nothing to remember to do. It occurs naturally and flawlessly, but here’s the key. The ridge and soffit vents have to be continuous and integrated. What that means is that they have to go from one end of the roof to the other end, and they don’t work without each other. Building codes here in New Jersey require new roofs to have ridge vents, but they say nothing about retrofitting the soffits with vents. In essence, the ridge vents are worthless without soffit vents.

There is a specific amount of ventilation needed for every attic. Owens Corning has an interesting tool to perform the calculation.  You should definitely refer to it if you plan on making any changes. Here’s the web address:

http://roofing.owenscorning.com/homeowner/accessories/ventilation/determinerequirements.aspx

The other element is to make sure the vents in the soffits are not blocked by insulation. Many a weekend warrior will install new insulation in the attic to bring down the utility bill, stuffing every bit of insulation possible into the far corners of the attic, including the eaves, only to find that they inadvertently blocked the vents, rendering a functional natural ventilation system worthless.  A few hundred dollars in annual savings becomes thousands of dollars in mold remediation before you know it.

Another common mistake is venting bathroom exhaust fans into the attic instead of through the roof to the outside. When doing bathroom renovations, please don’t make this mistake. It’s a costly one. Similarly, the absence of an exhaust fan in a bathroom used for bathing sends a ton of water into an attic. Get a fan installed and use it very time you shower or take a bath. Some of my clients have connected the light switch to the exhaust fan so that they know the kids are using it without thinking about it. It works like a charm.

So, if you have a problem, what do you do next?

First of all, you should engage a professional, such as GOT MOLD?, who specializes in diagnosing mold and moisture problems. What they will first do is track down the source of excess moisture, assess the extent of the damage to the structure, and determine where the ventilation failed and what needs to be done to correct it.

In all cases where a visible mold problem exceeds 10 square feet, the US EPA recommends you use a professional to clean it up. A quick word of caution here: You should never hire a company that performs both diagnostics/testing and remediation. This is a blatant conflict of interest since they will often be testing and inspecting their own work.

If the sheathing has not been damaged to the point where it is delaminating and losing its structural integrity, you can usually get away with surface cleaning. In this case, a qualified professional mold remediation firm would isolate the attic from the rest of the house as described in the IICRC S520 Mold Remediation Standard, bag and remove all insulation, then clean all exposed surfaces with HEPA vacuums and damp wipes.

Afterward, before final funds are released to the contractor, they would submit themselves to a third-party clearance inspection where samples would be collected for analysis to ensure that the job was complete. Also, the inspector would look to see that the appropriate repairs have been made, including the installation of requisite ventilation. After the inspector provides the green light, the insulation can be replaced. Do yourself a favor and get the formaldehyde-free insulation. And make sure not to block the vents in the eaves!

If the sheathing has deteriorated and the plywood has started to delaminate, you will need to replace the roof. I know this is bad news, but it’s the truth. Once that’s done, then you can proceed with the instructions above, although I’ve seen most of the cleaning of rafters and removal of insulation occur with the roof off, which makes a lot of sense but requires coordination of the roofing contractor, mold remediation firm and Mother Nature. Regardless, make sure the roofer understand what continuous ridge and soffit ventilation is all about and that he/she installs them that way. Also please make sure all of your exhaust fan vents are directed through the roof to the outdoors.

Most people don’t want to spend as much time in their attic as you just did reading about it, but this happens far more commonly than you might think. Hopefully your new-found awareness and knowledge will help you avoid having to call us.

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Create a Healthy Bedroom

Create a Healthy Bedroom | Mold Testing | GOT MOLD?

How do you feel when you wake up in the morning?  Do you wake up groggy and foggy or are you refreshed and rarin’ to go?  Did you know that sleep disorders affect 50 million to 70 million Americans of all ages?

Sleep is one of the most important aspects of our waking life.  Recent research shows that the optimal number of hours is between 6 and 8 hours. Much less and you suffer from cognitive issues and put your immune system at risk. Sleep deprivation is known to increase the risk of numerous chronic health problems including diabetes and heart disease. Drowsy driving can put more than your health at risk. It can put others’ lives on the line too, along with your own.

Sleep much more than the prescribed number of hours and your metabolism can suffer, potentially adding unwanted pounds and, ironically, creating a sense of fatigue.  But it’s not just quantity. Research reveals that quality seems to be even more important. The big question is how?  What needs to be done to ensure that the hours we spend in The Land of Nod add up to real rest and rejuvenation?

If we give ourselves the gift of a full eight hours per night, we’re spending 30% of our life in bed. To make the most of this time and ensure that you get the rest you deserve, there are some things that you can do to make sure that time is well invested, and that you wake up feeling strong and rested, ready to take on anything that comes your way. The items we’ll discuss below are even more important if you’re one of the approximately 100 million Americans who suffer from respiratory problems such as asthma, allergies, chronic sinus problems, which by themselves can make having a good night sleep even more challenging.

The indoor environment is something we have far more control over than most of us realize. So, let’s take a look at what you can start doing to start enjoying the best sleep possible, for the rest of your life.

1. Moisture and Humidity

The target humidity in your home is 45%. Much above 50% and you start to be at risk of mold growth and dust mite proliferation. Below 40% for too long and you’ll start feeling some physical discomfort such as drying of the mucus membranes and dehydration. Far too many sinus infections are caused by low humidity. This is completely preventable.

My house is particularly dry in the winter, and unless we humidify the bedroom, I wake up parched, with swollen glands and sinus problems. Not fun. So, we have two humidifiers running all night and make sure to monitor the humidity in the room with a digital humidity gauge making sure not to overdo it. It has made all the difference in the world.

Also, fans of any kind blowing directly on you will dry you out, regardless of the humidity. If you insist on having a fan in the bedroom, make sure it points away from you or oscillates.

2.    Light and Sound

Our bodies’ 24-hour biological cycles are known as circadian rhythms (from Latin: circa “about” + dies “day”) and are largely driven by how our bodies interact with light, natural or artificial. It’s well known that exposure to certain types of light can limit or prevent the production of melatonin, the sleep hormone. Red-light frequencies, like what we get from fire, don’t create sleep disturbance. Certain spectrums of light, which naturally come from the sun – especially of the blue-type – are actually nature’s way of waking us up. Computer screens and televisions are common sources of blue light, as are many light bulbs. Night lights often have blue light within the spectrum of light they emit.

So as we adapted to become indoor creatures dependent upon electricity, we became more exposed to blue light and other sleep disturbing frequencies during the evening hours. For the best night’s sleep, we should reduce exposure to television, computers and any other backlit screen for at least an hour or two before bed. As I said earlier, most incandescent AND fluorescent (yes, even your super-efficient CFL light bulbs) are major violators.  Some people light candles late at night to bridge the gap, and while this works well, it should be done in moderation for reasons we’ll discuss later.

The other big one is ambient light from outside. Street lamps are huge in blue light. If you have any outside sources, which are detectable in your bedroom, find a way to “black out” your windows to eliminate that light from coming in. You’d be amazed at the difference. The last resort (or perhaps the best test) is to get a sleep mask, which will quickly show you how stark the contrast is between your bedroom “as is” and how it actually should be for the most spectacular snoozing. What you’ll quickly see is that your eyelids are lousy blinds.

Sound is an obvious one. Everyone’s been awakened by an uninvited noise. Some people are more sensitive than others. While it’s often recommended to use earplugs, safety precautions prevent me from endorsing this. What if you can’t hear the phone or alarm, etc?  If your house is very noisy, some people find relief with heavy area rugs and curtains, which absorb sound, but also provide a haven for dust mites, so if you choose this route, keeping your humidity under control is even more important. Also, double and triple-paned windows help to mute outdoor noise sources, but the indoor ones are still a problem. Appliances that create “white noise,” such as fans, can help, but as I said earlier, avoid having the fan blow directly on you. Some people play soothing sounds all night and find that to be successful.

3.    Dust and Other Particles

Dust is a generic term for the visible accumulation of non-descript particles whose origin you would rather not know.  Most household dust is an incredible mixture of atmospheric dust, human skin cells, pollen, mold spores, clothing and carpet fibers, paint particles and other tiny little pieces of our buildings which constantly shed in the process of our world being whittled down by nature’s forces.

The biggest violators in the bedroom are carpets, curtains and downy blankets on the bed. They are HUGE reservoirs of dust, and if the humidity goes up for more than a few days, that’s where the microbial critters start to party. Candidly, carpet in general is bad, especially for those who have asthma, allergies and sinus problems, but when we put it in the bedroom, it’s a real problem. Remove it. If you must, use some area rugs, but keep them clean.

People often ask me about air purifiers. I always respond the same way. They are required appliances in every home. Rarely do we, as a culture, open the windows for fresh air anymore, and when we do, are we really getting “fresh” air?  HEPA-filtered (High Efficiency Particulate Air) air purifiers such as the IQAir HealthPro Plus are incredible allies in this battle against air pollution in our home. Not only do they help reduce exposure to all things impure, they also reduce the amount of dust that settles on surfaces, which inevitably has to be cleaned.  This brings up two points:

  • The key to preventing mold growth is to keep things clean and dry. It’s that simple. When things are clean, and a moisture problem creeps up, mold growth still occurs, but not with the voracity that occurs when things are dusty or dirty. Mold needs moisture to get rolling AND nutrients to accelerate the growth. Keep both under control and you’ll be in the clear.
  • HEPA air cleaners are great, and a must have.  HEPA-filtered vacuum cleaners are just as important. All vacuum cleaners that lack a HEPA filter fail to capture the micro-fine dust, and actually redistribute it throughout your house. It’s not bad enough that this is a huge waste of time, but many of these particles fall into a size range that can cause all sorts of irritation in sensitive people and trigger asthma attacks.

While it’s important to use HEPA-filtered air cleaners and HEPA-filtered vacuum cleaners exclusively, washing your curtains very regularly is also key. And when’s the last time your moved your bed or dresser? If you need to throw on an N-95 dust mask, do it. Dust bunnies don’t bite. Go for it! You’ll be glad you did.

Lastly, candles are an inviting part of an amorous bedroom, but burning them for too long, too often can contribute a substantial amount of very unhealthy, super-fine, combustion-related dust and, in the case of scented candles, release lots of potentially toxic (albeit pleasant-smelling) chemicals into the air. Use candles in short increments, but enjoy the benefits, by all means!

4.    Chemicals and Fragrances

Over the last few decades, we have become a chemical society. We are literally steeped in them. It’s truly incredible. Many of them we cannot avoid or even limit our exposure to. In fact, there is very little known about what we’re actually ingesting or absorbing every day.

On the other hand, there are very clear and distinct ways to consciously live healthier lives and one of them is through better choices about what things we bring indoors and how we use them.  Most new homes are built of materials that emit, or “off-gas,” chemicals which evaporate into the air. Also, many of our household products contain them. They are know as VOCs, or “volatile organic compounds.”  Some common examples are formaldehyde – a known carcinogen – and chlorine. You wouldn’t want to inhale either one, yet you probably often do.

  • Reducing the number of chemical cleaners is a good first step. Believe it or not, most natural cleaning products work better than their chemical counterparts, but up until recently, were far too expensive.
  • Also, reduce the fragranced products you use. Some are stimulating, which you don’t need in the bedroom, but ALL are unnecessary. Clean doesn’t have a scent.
  • When remodeling or sprucing things up, choose No-VOC paints, building products and finishes which carry the Greenguard Certification (www.greenguard.org). The “new home smell” is toxic. So is the “new car smell.” Sorry to break the news to you. The “new new” doesn’t have a smell.
  • One of the worst violators of all is “air fresheners” of any kind. If you’re using Febreeze or Glade Plug-Ins, let me be clear: STOP!  Not only is this horribly unhealthy, but Glade Plug-Ins and other devices like it have been implicated in countless house fires.

5.    Electro-Magnetic Frequencies (EMFs)

Perhaps the most controversial item on this list is EMFs. Electro-magnetic frequencies are much like chemicals these days. We are awash in them. While we are flesh and blood, our existence relies on electrical impulses throughout our body. According to a significant amount of research, this delicate natural balance can be disrupted by the waves of electromagnetic energy emitted from high-tension power lines, badly wired houses and certain very common household appliances. Some things as benign as a dimmer on a light switch can wreak EMF havoc.

These waves can be measured using something called a Gauss meter, named after Carl Friedrich Gauss, one of the lesser known electrical pioneers, along the lines of Nicola Tesla and Thomas Edison.  While these devices are often used to hunt ghosts (this is where you chuckle), they can also sniff out areas of high EMF emission, and they’re not terribly expensive.

I used to scoff at EMFs a while back, but while living in a compact apartment, my tower PC was on the floor between my desk and the head of my bed. I had been sleeping fitfully for a very long time and was also, spontaneously and unrelatedly, inspired to consolidate all of my computers into one laptop. I bit the bullet, made the move and got rid of the tower PC, which also removed the massive power strip and wires from underneath my bed. When I laid down that night, there was an eerie quiet. The EMFs had been accompanied by a white noise, one I couldn’t hear until it was gone. That night, and for very many nights to follow, I recaptured a very healthy, deep, rejuvenating sleep pattern. Do you have lots of electronics in your bedroom? If so, get rid of them.

6.    Mattresses and Bedding

People think nothing of spending significant sums of money on a car, while trying to save money on a budget mattress.  Don’t be cheap with your mattress. You’ll spend more time there than anywhere else in your world. Make it the best it can be.

I don’t want to be the preacher of doom, but very few people would willingly sleep on most mattresses if you knew how they were made and what they were made of.  Fire retardants are required in most mattresses by federal law, and are among the most toxic substances we’re exposed to. Certain mattress types are exempt. Regardless, even without the fire retardants, the chemicals used in the manufacture of most mattresses are simply unacceptable. There are some other interesting materials which are more appealing, but natural latex seems to be the most popular.

Natural latex is a favorite among many people who suffer from allergies, unless, of course, it’s a latex allergy. It’s naturally antimicrobial and dust mites don’t like it very much. That being said, dust mites are more abundant in your bedding than your mattress, but we’ll discuss that later. In essence, latex mattresses are a foam alternative to the spring type. You’ll pay up, but most people love them. They are often encased in organic, unbleached cotton and lack springs, which is also a very good thing. Interestingly, there is some evidence that springs in mattresses can help conduct EMFs, causing amplification of related problems. Who knows? Mattresses without springs are simply more comfortable. If my mattress doesn’t also serve as a radio receiver, all the better.

Bedding is a two-fold discussion. One, the bedding itself. Two, the way it’s handled.

  • Not to beat the chemical issue into oblivion, but less is more. Organic cotton sheets and blankets are the best choice. It’s not hard to imagine why.
  • Using fabric softeners and scented detergents are a sure way to ensure that your sheets are NOT in fact clean. Again, clean doesn’t have a scent.

Lastly, ALL beds should have mattress and pillow encasements to contain allergens as much as possible.

8. Location, Location, Location

Just because your bed is in your bedroom doesn’t mean it’s the best place to sleep. Sometimes you might need to make changes to which room you’ve chosen. Far too many people have called us over the years who were concerned about a basement apartment or bedroom. These are almost always a problem for too many reasons to list here, but lack of fresh air exchange and a high probability of moisture problems should serve as two pretty good examples. By the same token, a bedroom with tons of glass, facing south, might present other problems sleeping past dawn, if you’re one of the lucky few who can blissfully do so.

9.    Other Thoughts…

Although most of these items are generally not a big part of bedroom behavior, all of them can contribute to a poor night’s sleep.

  • Caffeine: Do I really need to elaborate?
  • Exercise: Do it, regularly, but not within two hours of bedtime.
  • TV & Computer: Try to turn them both off a couple of hours before turning in. The blue light and other stimulating qualities can really make getting to bed in the right state, at a decent hour, an unnecessarily difficult task.
  • Food: The rule of thumb is not to eat within four hours of going to bed. Also, eating spicy foods or those likely to cause heartburn can really screw up your night.  One who sleeps well chews wisely.
  • Proper hydration: Having a glass of warm or room-temperature water before bed is not a bad idea. Having two might not be so good, if you intend to sleep the night through without hitting the bathroom. A glass of cold water will likely keep you awake longer than you might like.
  • Alcohol & tobacco: Alcohol may make you sleepy, but it also causes sleep disturbances as it’s metabolized. Try not to drink alcohol within four hours of bedtime.  The nicotine in tobacco is a stimulant. It does not mix with healthy sleep, regardless of what smokers say

I know this is a lot to swallow, but if you only do a few of these things, it can make a dramatic and positive impact on your health, and of the ones you love. We see it every day.

If you have any questions or feedback, please email me: jason@gotmold.com

To your health!

JE