How to Control Moisture in Your Basement This Summer

In recent newsletters we have discussed asbestos and household mold, a common concern in many homes. For this newsletter we wanted to focus on controlling humidity in your home, especially in the basement, which are prone to problems related to excess moisture.

RTS Environmental Services wants to help by providing you with the facts about moisture in the home so you can take the steps necessary to prevent a small problem from becoming a major crisis.

Keeping Humidity in Check

Whether you use your basement for storage or as a living area, the lower level of your home is vulnerable to damage from humidity that can eventually lead to problems with mold and mildew. Controlling the humidity in your basement is the key to creating a healthy and livable space that your entire family can enjoy.

Household occupants are usually very comfortable when the temperature and relative humidity are maintained within the ranges of 68 to 72 degrees and 25 to 50 percent relative humidity, but maintaining a proper humidity level isn’t always easy. Normal household activities such as cooking, cleaning, bathing, washing and drying clothes – even breathing and perspiring – can raise the humidity level too high.

It has been estimated that the typical family of four converts three gallons of water into water vapor per day. It takes only four to six pints of water to raise the relative humidity of a 1,000 sq. ft. house from 15 to 60 percent. To avoid the problems of excess moisture it is necessary to limit or control the amount of water vapor in the house.

For effective humidity control in your home, follow these suggestions:

  1. Ensure that the exterior of your home has a sloped grade and moves water away from the foundation.
  2. Extend the down spouts by at least 3 feet away from your foundation and assure the gutters are free of debris.
  3. Operate a dehumidifier in the basement especially after heavy rain and humid weather.
  4. Additional air movement also helps to mix humid air with dry air allowing a dehumidifier to be more effective at drying. Operate an inexpensive circulating fan in rooms with poor ventilation.
  5. Check your clothes dryer vent to assure it is pushing its exhaust outside and not into your house or attic.
  6. Retrofit your HVAC unit (Heating, Ventilating, Air Conditioning) to provide effective return inlets low to the basement floor if one does not exist now.

We can help answer these questions…

Contact Information
RTS Environmental Services, Inc.
Tel: 1-800-722-5589
301-607-6276 Maryland Line
Fax: 301-831-6235
Email: info@rtsenvironmental.com

www.rtsenviro.com

Prevent Mold Before A Problem Occurs

“A Mold /Moisture inspection is also an education in Moisture Prevention.”

A great mold inspection begins with honesty, integrity, and an education. At RTS, we endeavor to help you understand those elements of your home which are significant to preventing mold growth, as well as outlining possible areas of improvement for overall indoor air quality and home health.

Primarily this is understanding the role of moisture control in and around your home. All homes are unique in construction features, materials, aspects of foundation, ground water, drainage, heating & cooling systems, ventilation, and hundreds of other variables.

Part of the inspection is understanding how any number of these variables affects your home and its potential for moisture in any form to produce mold growth. For example, what if you have a full in ground basement and little air exchange between floors and a high ground water table? We would be interested in knowing your relative humidity, if you have a humidifier on your HVAC system, and if you operate a dehumidifier. Under these circumstances, we might suggest you get a dehumidifier and to use room fans to keep air moving in your basement. Also, to be very cautious in regards to operating the humidifier. This set of instructions would orient you to better understanding the role of humidity (high, ambient moisture in the air). These simple controls prevent many molds from blooming on surfaces in your basement due to high relative humidity and stagnant air.

Mold in Your Maryland, Virginia, and D.C. Home Attic

In order to prevent mold from growing, well ventilated attic spaces are critical. Without proper venting (air movement and exchange) many bad things can occur, especially involving mold growth on wooden structures such as roof sheathing or truss members. The following are some of the reasons why mold may begin to grow in an attic:

  • Too much humidity from the HVAC system humidifier
  • Insufficient soffit venting (from the eaves)
  • No ridge venting (at the roof peak)
  • Inadequate gable venting (side vents)
  • Not enough insulation (poor thermal envelop)
  • Clothes dryer venting into the attic (source for high humidity)
  • No bathroom vents, so humidity builds in attic (source for high humidity)
  • Bathroom vents into attic (not above the roof line) (source for high humidity)

These are important items to look for in a mold/moisture inspection involving an attic. We look for these potential problems especially as a means to prevent mold prone environments and educate you on the best approach to prevention as well.

Contact Information
RTS Environmental Services, Inc.
Tel: 1-800-722-5589
301-607-6276 Maryland Line
Fax: 301-831-6235
Email: info@rtsenviro.com

Forms of Asbestos Commonly Found in Homes

Asbestos materials were used in many building materials starting at the turn of the 20th century (1900’s) when industry became available to mine it as a mineral and refine it as a fiber to be used in hundreds of applications.

An asbestos inspection is meant to identify those materials in a household and determine if there is a risk associated with the content and form of asbestos. As you know, asbestos is linked with causing cancers and disease with a strong correlation to occupational exposure (exposure through mining, refining, or installation activities). There is no good data regarding incidental exposure of asbestos fibers in a residential setting, but we do know that identifying and limiting exposure through prevention is the best course of action.

The following are common building materials which may contain asbestos and their characteristics relative to exposure:

Floor tile: Installed from 1930’s to1960’s vinyl floor tile is the most common form found in housing. It usually is identified as a 9 inch square tile with a low concentration of asbestos bound up in a matrix of vinyl (some larger tiles are also suspect). The mastic or glue which was used also typically contains asbestos. This is a relatively low risk material given the form and durability and can be left in place if it’s in good condition.

Pipe Wrap Insulation: Installed mainly in the 1920’s through 1950’s. This is a thermal system insulation usually found on heating system pipes associated with boilers. Often older boilers are also insulated with an asbestos jacketing material. The asbestos content in these materials is usually high with a typical content of 40% to 60%. This material is also easily disturbed and will produce airborne fibers with hand pressure. When in poor condition, this material is usually removed with abatement methods.

Duct Connectors: This is a textile form of asbestos often overlooked or unrecognized as an asbestos material. It is found as part of a duct manifold system which connects an HVAC unit to the rest of the duct work. It is literally part of the duct where the air stream flows across it. It was meant to allow of connecting and isolating vibration. The risk is difficult to define although the fibers are usually tightly bound in the textile fabrication and not often considered to be high risk.

Structural Blown-on insulation: This is the worst kind of material to encounter given it is loose and easily disturbed. It is often found in commercial buildings or larger apartment buildings (the World Trade Center in NY City had this insulation on the structural steel). It is usually of very high concentration of fibers 50% to 80% and goes airborne by simple contact. This material is rare to find in single family households. Larger apartment buildings built in the 60′ and 70’s often have this applied to the structural steel.

Other forms to consider — here is a list of other forms of asbestos commonly found in households:

Transite board – A hard cementious board often installed on walls surrounding boilers
Duct Canvass – A paper-like covering used to cover metal ductwork.
Exterior Shingles – Hard cementious siding found on many neighborhoods in northern states.
Asbestos Duct Pipe- Found embedded in concrete slabs, this material gas a textile core impregnated with cement and is was used to duct air through slabs of concrete.
Let us know if you are interested in knowing what you have in your home. The time to know is especially important prior to major renovations or changes to older heating and HVAC systems.

Please contact RTS Environmental Services at 1-800-722-5589 – www.rtsenvironmental.com

Is Mold Dangerous?

We get that question a lot, as well as… “Is that the toxic black mold?” or “is that the dangerous mold”. Here is a common sense response to this often asked question.

After much research and literally thousands of mold inspections, ultimately the answer depends on your own personal susceptibility:

Generally when mold of any kind is actively growing in small surface area (less than a few sq. ft.) it does not cause a significant health issue (Air Quality issue) to most of us.

However, those who are otherwise highly sensitive, allergic, or prone to be bothered by mold of any kind will demonstrate a side effect right away and more often than not, it has nothing to do with what type of mold it is. In fact a mold group called Penicillium / Aspergillus tends to be the mold which irritates most people first. Why…….

It’s the first mold to grow (Penicillium / Aspergillus is very opportunistic) and it can grow under many conditions needing less moisture and grows on many material types like leather and vinyl.

“Black Mold” is a mold species called “Stachybotrys” (pronounced Stacki-bot-tris) which tends to grow on paper and processed wood fibers easily such as found with drywall. There is a potential for this mold to have what is called a “Mycotoxic” affect although it is rare and not well substantiated scientifically.

Generally many mold types tend to grow in conditions where moisture, wood based materials, and sustained high relative humidity work together to produce an Air Quality issue. Whether or not the mold type is Stachybotrys or Chaetomium or Cladosporium or Penicillium / Aspergillus or dozens of other mold types which are seen in both indoor and outdoor environments, it doesn’t necessarily matter because ultimately your reaction to mold is based on your own personal sensitivity to it.

Molds such as Stachybotrys may be potentially “Mycotoxic”, but there is a lack of real evidence that there is a direct relationship to exposure to it and a known toxic affect in most people.

What’s the lesson here….Know what your conditions are for mold growth and prevent the growth. If you have uncertainties, RTS can help you better understand air quality and mold in the indoor environment with an inspection and consultation. An inspection is especially important for those who are sensitive to molds.

Please contact RTS Environmental Services at 1-800-722-5589 – www.rtsenvironmental.com

Crawl Spaces and Mold Problems

If I made a list of building features or scenarios where mold growth is almost always an issue, Crawl Spaces or Void Spaces (areas you can’t actually crawl in to access) would be at the top of the list.

Here’s why:

• Often the floor of a crawl space is below grade and water will pond on the floor of the space providing a damp, cave like environment.

• Humidity levels are high due to passive venting or marginal to no ventilation which accumulates humid air which condenses (every day) especially in the months of June through September.

• Exposed dirt – often there is no or a poorly installed vapor barrier sheeting over the dirt to reduce moisture movement from the soil into the crawl space.

• Outside conditions that are causing wet crawl space conditions such as roof issues or gutter/ downspout drainage by the home foundation.

• Insulation installed upside down exposing paper backed surfaces to the moisture which always grows mold in large surface area.

• Other causes such as dryer venting into the crawl space, condensation lines pouring into the space, plumbing leaks, uninsulated ductwork, cardboard boxes and wood debris stored in the crawl space.

All these variables and conditions produce opportunities for mold growth to be at its most conducive conditions.

When RTS Environmental does a crawl space mold inspection, we inspect the exposed, joists, infrastructure, insulation, venting, sub-flooring and vapor barrier conditions. We look at all of the factors listed above and educate you so you are informed as to the existing scenario and how to remedy or prevent mold form becoming a problem. RTS has the know-how, experience and certification to inspect and fix, if needed, your crawl space scenario.

If you suspect that there may be mold in your home’s crawl space and wish to have better insight to determine the severity of the problem, give RTS Environmental a call to discuss this with a certified mold inspector.

Please contact RTS Environmental Services at 1-800-722-5589 – www.rtsenvironmental.com

Asbestos Vinyl Flooring: The Basics

Asbestos vinyl flooring was widely used until the early 1970’s and so many homes in this area have asbestos containing tiles or flooring mainly in basements and often in kitchens. Typically 9 inch square tiles can be presumed to contain asbestos although testing for asbestos done by a certified asbestos inspector will confirm if it is or is not with other size tiles such as 1 foot square tiles. Also the glue that was used often contained asbestos as well. A material with greater than 1% asbestos fibers is considered to be an asbestos building material.

Vinyl tiles in good condition are considered to be “non-friable” which basically means they cannot be crushed or pulverized with hand pressure. Unlike thermal insulations such as pipe wrap which is considered to be “friable” because it can be easily disturbed to send asbestos fibers airborne.

Asbestos is a group of minerals known for their strength, flame/heat resistance, and indestructibility, and was considered ideal for insulation and fireproofing. However, it was discovered that asbestos fibers can potentially become a health risk and the EPA banned its use. Floor tile forms of asbestos are some of the most commonly used in households. Most household scenarios do not pose an immediate risk, but it is a good idea to know what you have before you decide to take some action yourself

There is a lot of misleading information regarding asbestos and its dangers, but the following are some facts and considerations specific to tile forms which may be helpful to you:

In good condition, vinyl tile can be left in place or covered with carpet / padding.
If vinyl asbestos tile is mechanically pulverized such as what would occur with a jack hammer to break up a concrete slab, this will send fibers airborne and cause possible contamination. This scenario actually occurs often when basement waterproofing is performed so know what you have before beginning a waterproofing project.
In a residential setting, in small surface area, asbestos tile can be removed by the homeowner. It is best to be removed in whole or nearly whole tiles. Otherwise if there are a lot of tiles, consider using a professional abatement company.
Do not use hammers or means to break up the tile given this causes a “friable condition” which releases fibers into the air* Wear an N-95 or P-100 dust mask if you think dust will be generated.
When performed professionally, the goal in removing the asbestos vinyl flooring is to remove it without causing any fiber or dust broadcast. Before beginning, the work area is isolated by installing plastic sheeting over all heat registers, doorways, cupboards, etc. as well as turning off the heating and air conditioning system. All furniture and other moveable objects will be removed from the room or covered to prevent contamination and to simplify clean-up. Access to the work area will be limited to one doorway, with a slit in the plastic door covering to make the entrance as small as possible. A

machine called a negative air unit will draw the air through a filter to capture fibers if there are any which go airborne.

Careful clean-up is important when dealing with asbestos, and all potential asbestos dust and particulate must be removed from the work area with special vacuum cleaners called HEPA vacuums.

If you suspect that there may be asbestos flooring in your home and wish to have better insight to determine the severity of the problem, give RTS a call to discuss this with a certified mold inspector, please contact RTS Environmental Services at 1-800-722-5589 – www.rtsenvironmental.com

What Are Bioaerosols?

A healthy indoor environment is important to you and your family. This includes keeping the air free of biological contaminants, which can cause health problems. Scientists call these airborne contaminants bioaerosols.

Bioaerosols are extremely small living organisms or fragments of living things suspended in the air. Dust mites, molds, fungi, spores, pollen, bacteria, viruses, amoebas, fragments of plant materials, and human and pet dander (skin which has been shed) are some examples. They cannot be seen without a magnifying glass or microscope.

Can bioaerosols cause health problems?
Yes. They can cause severe health problems. Some, like viruses and bacteria, cause infections (like a cold or pneumonia). Others cause allergies. Both allergic responses and infections may be serious or even fatal.

An allergic reaction occurs when a substance provokes formation of antibodies in a susceptible person. We call substances which will cause an allergic reaction in some people antigens or allergens. Bioaerosols may cause allergic reactions on the skin or in the respiratory tract. Rashes, hay fever, asthma (tightness in the chest, difficulty in breathing), and runny noses are common allergic reactions.

A few people develop a severe allergic reaction in the lung, which can destroy lung tissue. This is called hypersensitivity pneumonitis. It is not an infection, but repeated episodes can lead to infections of the lung, such as bacterial pneumonia.

Hypersensitivity pneumonitis can be triggered by exposure to very small amounts of the allergen, once a person is sensitive to it. Symptoms can range from tightness in the chest, cough, and difficulty in breathing, to low-grade fever, muscle aches, and headaches.

What are sources of bioaerosols in the home?
Molds, mildews, bacteria, and dust mites like the same conditions that we do–warmth and moderate to high humidity. They need little more than a constant moisture supply for survival. You may find bacteria, molds, and mildews in air conditioning equipment, humidifier reservoirs, dehumidifier drip pans, shower heads, toilets, and ice machines. Water damaged carpets, ceiling panels, walls, and paneling are prime sites for new growth if they are allowed to stay damp. When molds, mildew, dust mites, and bacteria are disrupted or release their spores into the air, this results in bioaerosol formation.

Molds and mildews develop from spores, which are in the air all around you. As soon as spores settle in an area with the right conditions for growth, they establish colonies, which are often visible to the naked eye. These colonies are a source of more spores, can cause unsightly stains, and may release low levels of toxic chemicals called mycotoxins into the air.

Humidifiers are such a common source of bioaeorsols that cause health problems that doctors now use the term humidifier fever. Protozoa, amoebas, and strains of bacteria have been found in humidifiers, and these are readily released into the air with the moisture produced by humidifiers. These have been linked to allergic responses in sensitive people.

Dust mites and their waste products are the most common allergens in indoor air. Dust mites eat human and pet skin (dander) as it is shed. It has been estimated that we shed about seven million cells per minute! Dust mites live in rugs and carpets, sheets, mattresses and pillows, and upholstered furniture. Ten to 15 percent of people are allergic to dust mites. Of the people who have other allergies, 40 percent are also allergic to dust mites.

What measures can be taken to control bioaerosols in the home?
First, lower the relative humidity in your home, basement or crawl space, and attic. Relative humidity is the amount of moisture in the air at a given temperature. You may want to see Identifying and Correcting Moisture Problems in Homes. The humidity fluctuates in your home, depending on:

How warm or cool the air is indoors.
How many moisture-producing activities (drying clothes indoors, showers) are taking place.
Whether there is a constant source of moisture (leaks, damp foundations and attics).
How much moisture is being vented to the outside.
If you can keep relative humidity below 50 percent, you can reduce problems with dust mites, mold, and mildew. A hygrometer can be used to measure indoor humidity levels. You can buy a hygrometer from some nursery or garden stores, and from hardware stores.

There is little medical research supporting the use of a humidifier, so try to avoid using one. If your home is extremely dry and you must use a humidifier, a steam vaporizer or warm mist humidifier causes fewer problems. Do not humidify indoor air to a relative humidity level higher than 50 percent.

Dust Mites
It is not known how well any single measure controls dust mite populations. However, it is known that effective mite control requires that relative humidity be maintained below 50 percent. In addition, since you spend about a third of each day in your bedroom, concentrate your efforts there.

  • Wash sheets, pillowcases, and mattress covers frequently in hot soapy water. If someone in your family is allergic to dust mites, buy special vinyl covers for the pillow and mattress.
  • Ordinary vacuuming does not remove or reduce mite populations. Mites are so tiny that they pass through the vacuum cleaner bag. High-efficiency filters for vacuum cleaners may be used in place of conventional filters.
  • Remove stuffed animals and objects that collect dust.
  • If carpeting is used, short-pile is best.
    Some new products may help reduce dust mite populations. Ask your doctor about control solutions for upholstered furniture and bedding.

If you are concerned about air quality in your home, don’t hesitate to call RTS Environmental Services. We provide state of the art Mold & Moisture Inspections, Mold Identification, Mold Remediation, Air Quality Testing, Asbestos Inspection & Removal services in the Greater Washington D.C. Metropolitan area, Maryland, and Northern Virginia.

Consumers: Ask About Your Contractor’s Mold Certification

These days, lots of contractors say that they’re experts. But are they really? Before you hire someone to inspect, test, or remediate mold from your home or business, ask about their mold certification.

Some contractors obtain Mold Certificates from organizations that aren’t very credible. The most credible organizations for certifying mold professionals are the American Indoor Air Quality Council and the American Board of Industrial Hygiene.

The American IAQ Council has several mold certifications related to both mold inspection and mold remediation. The following list describes their mold certifications and the associated experience requirements which are dependent on university level of education:

  • Certified Microbial Investigator (CMI), requires minimum 1-2 years of field experience
  • Certified Microbial Consultant (CMC), requires minimum 4-8 years of field experience
  • Mold Remediation
  • Certified Microbial Remediator (CMR), requires minimum 1-2 years of field experience
  • Certified Microbial Remediation Supervisor (CMRS), requires minimum of 1-5 years of field experience
  • The other recognized certifying organization, the American Board of Industrial Hygiene (ABIH) has a more general certification, Certified Industrial Hygienist (CIH).

You can view our certifications here. RTS has provided thousands of inspections including Radon gas, Lead Paint, Asbestos, and Mold / Indoor Air Quality issues. With more than 20 years of experience in the environmental, mold and asbestos industry, RTS Environmental can protect your family and your home from the dangers of mold.

Contact Information
RTS Environmental Services, Inc.
Tel: 1-800-722-5589
301-607-6276 Maryland Line
Fax: 301-831-6235
Email: info@rtsenvironmental.com