Interview: Linda Lauver, Mold Consultant

Just a few weeks after giving birth to our daughter, my wife was sitting in the baby’s room and saw mushrooms sprouting from the ground. Like, literal mushrooms. An interior pipe had burst in just the right spot and we were the new, panic-stricken owners of home with potential health hazards. It was fairly crazy and pretty horrible timing (but in the end, we got nicer floors and a renovated bathroom). We also learned a fair amount about mold and mold remediation.

Our mold consultant and her assistant, Hansel, were a wealth of information and helped us out greatly in the process. While this problem was quite a hassle and stress, it was made easier by their expertise. Should you ever have similar issues, I’d recommend making a call to Linda and her crew.

What is your background? How did you become involved in mold inspections?

Prior to becoming a mold assessment consultant I owned and operated a commercial construction company specializing in the installation of water features such as swimming pools, fountains and whirlpools as well as other health and fitness related products. I had a baby and decided to sell my business and be a full-time mother. When my baby was 17, I started thinking about going back into business.

About 14 years ago we discovered a mold issue in our home. Our insurance company told us to move out of our home. After questioning our sanity, we decided to do so. My husband, our son and I were all experiencing significant health issues. Much to our surprise, our health issues subsided almost immediately after moving out of our home. When we were well, I understood that mold related illness was real. I threw myself into research and since I had a construction related background I knew that mold assessment was what I wanted to do. I went to California and obtained training and equipment to do mold assessment. I immediately went to work as a contractor performing mold assessment for insurance companies.

In 2013 we performed over 400 mold inspections for homeowners, buyers, sellers, insurance companies, hospitals, hotels, schools, high rise buildings and other clients.

Are there ways homeowners can do a preliminary check of mold themselves? Are there warning signs to be on the lookout for? 

Homeowners can perform a preliminary check for mold is simply looking for signs of past or present water penetration. Water damaged particle board cabinets almost always have mold growth. If a homeowner observed signs of water damage, we recommend contacting a mold consultant for an inspection and testing.

Should people be doing scheduled checks or inspection of mold?

Homeowners should take time to look for plumbing leaks and water intrusion. If they are unable to do so, we recommend periodic moisture and mold inspections. If a water intrusion event occurs it is very important for the homeowner to have a third-party moisture inspection to document what has occurred and make recommendations to mitigate damage.

Mold insurance is quite expensive and often doesn’t cover “natural” mold: Can you explain that?

Mold insurance is very expensive and usually pays only in the event of a covered water loss such as a roof leak or plumbing leak. Mold growth due to high humidity conditions is not usually covered under mold insurance. I believe that mold insurance is very important. If we have a hurricane or catastrophic event where electricity is off for days or weeks after water intrusion has occurred, mold growth will occur as well. Without mold insurance the homeowner may get a new roof but lose all furnishings and contents. After Hurricane Ike, I worked for numerous insurance companies and witnessed such losses.

Mold in Houston is just a fact of life, correct? What are the most common types and what are the most dangerous? What can they affect?

The most common molds found outdoors are Cladosporium and Aspergillus/Penicillium therefore, they are usually present indoors. High levels of any mold can cause health issues therefore, indoor mold growth should be removed.

Stachybotrys and Chaetomium are molds that are usually related to wet conditions existing for numerous days. There are many molds that can contain toxins and cause significant health effects. Stachybotrys can contain mycotoxins and neurotoxins. Certain species of Aspergillus and Chaetomium contain toxins as well.

The Center for Disease Control reports that mold exposure can cause harmful health effects. Mold exposure can affect anyone. Symptoms can be anything from minor allergies to migraine headaches, lung infections, skin infections, neurological disorders, gastrointestinal effects, COPD, asthma, pulmonary bleeding and cancer to name a few. The very young, the elderly and people with immune deficiencies such as autoimmune disease, cancer and transplant organs are the most at risk.

How quickly can mold spread throughout a home?

Moisture is essential to mold growth. Mold growth can start within 24 hours of wet conditions. The quantity can double every 24 hours as long as wet conditions exists. Once the moisture source is eliminated, the mold dies and growth ceases. Dead mold is just as dangerous as live mold, therefore, mold growth should always be removed.

What does remediation involve? Can your company do remediation? 

Mold remediation is regulated by the Texas Department of State Health Services. Mold assessment consulting firms cannot perform mold remediation services for projects for which they have provided mold assessment services. The requirements for mold remediation are determined by the mold assessment consultant working on the project.

What are questions to ask when interviewing companies to do remediation?

Projects requiring the removal of 25 ft.² of materials due to mold growth are, according to the TDSHS, to be remediated by a TDSHS licensed mold remediation contractor according to a mold remediation protocol prepared by a TDSHS licensed mold assessment consultant.
Homeowners should question contractors about pricing in the event the mold remediation is expanded beyond the initial scope of work so they are not surprised by high fees for additional work. It is also important to request a copy of the signed TDSHS notification form so the contractor understands that he is expected to adhere to the standards set forth in the mold remediation protocol as well as the TDSHS regulations.

If you sell your home after remediating for mold, what can be done to ease a buyer’s peace of mind?

It is very important for the homeowner to have a post remediation inspection and tests performed in order to obtain a clearance report and the Texas Department of Insurance certificate of mold damage remediation as documentation that the work has been successfully performed. We do not find that property values are diminished due to previous mold growth conditions.

AQ Testing Services, LLC
http://www.aqtestingservices.com/
(281) 391-9604
info@aqtestingservices.com

Neighborhood Shirts

A couple of weeks ago I made a shirt for Montrose that I had been dreaming of for a few months. It was based on my high school’s P.E. shirt because that is–or was–the softest shirt I had worn. I worked with Black Swan Screen Printing to find the most comfortable shirt. Many samples were ordered; I might have seemed insane. Softness is serious business, though.

Anyhow, they were made and felt great. Because my wife is a teacher there and the school is awesome, I decided that $3 from each shirt would go to HSPVA Friends. Interest was greater than I imagined and that was exciting.

I hope you like the shirts!

HeightsMeyerland
MontroseOak Forest

Proust Questionnaire: Juan Carlos, the Montrose Rollerblader


Juan Carlos is a Montrose staple. Every weeknight during rush hour, he rollerblades around the intersection of Allen Parkway and Montrose with a truly dazzling repertoire of moves and great clothes. He is seemingly always lost in the music being piped into his ears, but he clearly enjoys the honks, drive-by videographers and encouraging waves that also pass him by. After a long day, his vim and vigor is good reminder that there’s more to life than work. There’s rollerblading. Continue reading

Started From the Bottom and Now We’re at the Top

Earlier this week, the New York Times reported on the low social mobility of Americans: that is, if you’re born poor you most likely stay poor. This finding is at once antithetical to the American Dream and also, likely, a reinforcement of what we already suspected or know about America. Politicians on the right and left recognize this fact–which makes it even a bit more depressing, frankly.

The small silver lining is that Houston residents fare better than every other major city in the South and Texas, besides El Paso. If a child is born into the bottom fifth income bracket, they have an 8.4% chance of rising to the top income bracket as an adult. Compared to the 4% chance the same child has in Atlanta, we seem positively dreamy. But it is still far too low.

The article has been stuck in my mind since reading. Robert D. Putnam, author of Bowling Alone and one of the people referenced, argue that social mobility is based upon social connections. To be honest, I have no idea if this is true—but it intrinsically makes sense to me: schmoozing is key. With that in mind, I wonder what would happen if we set up sister schools not from across the world, but from across the city? If students had to present a science or book report with a partner from another school, there would—seemingly—be a few benefits:

  • Experience (free) online technologies that foster communication. Google Docs could be used in tandem with Facebook Pages or Groups and actually make Facebook not such a time-suck.
  • Practical, real life examples of how good writing begets good communication, and why that is important.
  • Expanded worldview from an early age.
  • De-facto peer teaching.
  • Use of multimedia and the web for presentations. This may add tangible tech skills and stoke interests in kids who might otherwise not be.

Lots of other things, too! And it’s free! While this wouldn’t fix everything, perhaps it’d help a little. Maybe this sort of program and exchange already exists? If you know of something similar, please contact me at michael@mwachs.co—I’d love to learn more about it.