Mold Testing and Inspection

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I know if my building has a mold problem?

Visible signs of mold

  • Visible mold growth can present with a wide variety of colors and textures.  You may see the classic fuzzy black mold that we often think of, or you may see green, blue, or even orange spots.  The growth may be thick and 3-dimensional or may simply show up as black spots on walls, ceilings, carpets, or wood.  If there is a suspicious area in you building, feel free to send us a few photos and we may be able to provide some additional information for you.

Visible signs or history of water damage

  • If your building or home has had a history of water damage that was not professionally dried, or you are seeing discoloration or water marks on surfaces there may be growth hidden under floor coverings or within wall cavities.  Water damage should always be immediately addressed in a professional manner to prevent mold growth or wood-rot.

Persistent musty or mold odors

  • Sometimes mold may be due to high levels of humidity or hidden water damage that may not be readily visible on the surfaces of the building materials.  In these cases, you may notice a persistent musty or moldy odor at certain times or in certain locations.  To determine if these odors are due to a serious issue, you may need a professional inspector to perform moisture testing, infrared inspection, and other types of testing.  Odors don’t always represent contamination, but it can be difficult for a homeowner or building manager to make that determination without professional equipment and experience.

Chronic irritation (skin, eyes, sinuses, throat or lungs)

  • Although a wide variety of medical conditions may be causing your specific health problems, excess levels of  spores in the environment can trigger similar histamine responses as other allergens.  An inspector can collect air samples in the suspect areas of the  building and send them off for lab analysis, the results can then be interpreted to determine which type and quantities of mold spores are present in the building’s air.

How can mold be tested?

Direct sampling

  • A direct sample of the mold growth or suspect materials can be gathered either in bulk or via a tape-lift.  This sample is then sent to a qualified laboratory to determine if the material is a fungus, what type of growth is present, and what stages of the fungus’s life-cycle are present in the sample.  This method of testing may help to determine if a specific area of discoloration is mold growth and if that growth is the same type of spores found in the air samples.

Air sampling

  • Air within the building is drawn through a cassette by a special pump whose flow is measured in liter per minutes (lpm).  The cassette contains a small glass slide with an adhesive coating.  As mold spores from the air make contact with the slide they are trapped and preserved for lab analysis.  The air sample is then sent to a qualified lab and the types of spores are identified and reported by quantity (m3).  Air samples can help to determine if excessive mold spore levels are likely in the building, and can be a valuable tool for evaluating air quality and verifying that remediation has been properly completed.
  • Occasionally a client will need more detailed information about mold growth that is found in a building.  In this case a sample of the mold can be grown in a lab and identified by species.  This can sometimes be helpful information for a doctor if a building occupant has been hospitalized or made seriously ill due to a fungal infection.

What is toxic black mold?

“Toxic black mold” is a term that has been applied to a specific species of mold named Stachybotrys Chartarum. This specific type of mold has been shown to generate mycotoxins that have been linked to severe health effects such as neurologic and liver issues. With that being said, the inhalation of these spores has not been shown t cause these toxic effects in humans. Some people may use this information to create a panic in customers to increase the sales of high-dollar mold remediation services. We do believe that excess levels of mold spores can cause a wide variety of health concerns for building occupants, but these problems should be addressed practically and professionally with scientific based information. If you feel that you may have mold concerns in you home, or may be getting pressured with scare-tactics, please feel free to contact us today.

How is the term used in the industry?

As discussed above, the phrase “toxic black mold” is often used as a high-pressure sales tactic by less-than-reputable contractors. This industry is very poorly regulated and some company’s go by the motto “mold is gold”. We believe that building owners should be well-informed as to the actual health concerns in the home or office, and should be allowed the time needed to make appropriate decisions. If you are concerned about toxic black mold, you should be seeking the advice of a qualified and neutral inspection company.

What causes black mold?

Stachybotrys Chartarum often grows within wall cavities, due to hidden plumbing or siding leaks. This specific species requires a large amount of moisture and generally is not present when mold is simply due to high humidity. This doesn’t mean that other molds can’t cause health problems, but if a contractor looks at some growth and immediately calls it “toxic black mold” you may want to take a step back and determine if you are really getting an impartial evaluation.

How can you test for toxic black mold?

No one can accurate evaluate the type of growth in your building by simply looking at it. Many species create 3-dimensional black structures at certain points in their life-cycle. Just because it is mold that is black in color does not mean that your building has become infested with “toxic black mold”. The only real way to determine the type and level of growth is to send samples off to a qualified lab. This can be done with direct samples, or air samples to accurate quantify the types and concentrations of mold spores.

How is mold testing done?

  • Swab testing

    Swab testing is performed by an inspector to test fungal growth for the exact species.  The inspector uses a sterile cotton swab to gather some of the mold growth which is then sent to a lab to be cultured and analyzed.  This type of testing can be useful when occupants have become ill with a fungal infection, but does not add much useful information to the inspection that an average building occupant may need.

  • Tape-lift sampling

    Tape-lift testing is performed by gathering a small portion of the suspect material on a clear piece of sticky material and then placing it on a glass slide.  The sample is then sent to a lab for analysis under a microscope.  The general genus and characteristics of the tested mold is then reported to the inspector.  This type of testing can be useful to determine if a discoloration is actually mold growth, or if the spores found in an air sample are being released from a specific location of mold growth.  The truth of the matter is that mold growth is often readily visible by an inspector, and the actual type of mold growing may not be relevant to the source of the mold or the plan for remediation.

  • Mold spore air testing

    An air test is performed by pulling a measured amount of air through a plastic cassette.  The particulate material in the air will then stick to a glass slide that is enclosed in the cassette.  The sample is then sent to a lab for visual analysis.  The lab technicians will count the individual types of mold spores found in the sample and generate a report of spores per cubic meter.  The inspector will generally take a baseline sample of the outside air for comparison.  The indoor mold spore sample and outdoor air test are compared and a determination is made as to whether it is likely that there is a high fungal reserve in the home.  Due to the nature of this type of testing, it is important to understand that it can only provide a general idea of the mold spore levels in the home.  Mold spore testing is a good piece of information to add to an indoor air quality inspection, but it’s relevance is based solely on the experience and interpretation of the inspector.

How is mold spore air testing performed?

Air sampling for spores is a very basic and low-tech procedure that many companies offer, but few know how to interpret the data.  Air is drawn through a small plastic cassette at a measured rate for a specific duration of time.  The air passes into the cassette and spores stick to a glass slide that is located within the cassette.  The unit is then sealed and sent to a qualified lab for analysis and reporting on the type and quantities of mold spores found in the air.

What are the results of spore trap analysis samples?

Our lab counts the individual types of spores found in the sample and extrapolates the statistical number of spores per cubic meter.  The spore types are grouped into genus or categories of genera.  This data gives us a quantitative number that we can use to determine the extent of possible fungal contamination, and the likely sources.  Of course, all of this information is combined with the history of the property and our on–site inspection to determine the next course of action.

Outdoor Samples?

While there is a lot of disagreement as to whether outdoor spore levels are crucial to a proper mold assessment, we believe in erring on the side of caution and include these levels in each of our projects at no additional charge to the customer.  We then apply a coefficient based on the type of mold found and use that to determine if the air has low, medium, or high levels of mold.

How much does testing and inspection cost?

Mold inspections can range in price from $100 per sample and as little as $150 for a limited inspection.  It is important to define the scope of the inspection and testing services that are needed before a formal quote for the services can be generated.  The inspectors at Hawk Environmental Services will take the time to discuss the specifics of your project and define a clear scope of inspection that will be presented in writing prior to the start of work.  We can guarantee that the areas inspected, general inspection methods used, and number of samples will be fully determined before any costs are incurred by the client.  Some of the things that may affect the costs of inspection are below:

  • The location of the building. (we service all of Washington state, but additional travel fees may be added for building significantly outside of the greater Seattle Tacoma area.
  • The areas to be inspected. (we can provide inspection of a single room or an entire building including attics, crawlspace, and storage areas)
  • The size of the building
  • The number of samples needed
  • The type of testing requested
  • Special building concerns (tall warehouses or industrial facilities may require the rental of special lifts and safety gear)