Some molds pose a significant health hazard to humans and can result in allergic reactions and respiratory illnesses. Toxic molds can also cause neurological problems and sometimes death. The environment best conducive to mold growth is one that offers three basic necessities: excessive moisture, warmth, and a food source. Investigative assessments by indoor air quality professionals to determine the potential for mold growth or the inspection of known mold populations utilizes instrumentation along with visual inspection.
Areas of particular focus during these investigations are possible leaking roofs or pipes, HVAC systems, and previously flooded homes where mold can grow rapidly in plywood, dry wall, carpet padding and along basement floors and walls.
Since ventilation and temperature are important to prevent mold accumulation, HVAC systems are typically the first target by the investigator. A properly working HVAC system can easily prevent mold growth. However, an improperly functioning unit provides a breeding ground that offers everything mold needs; high moisture/humidity from condensation, warm temperatures and food from dust particles trapped by the system.
Apart from the visual inspection of a given area where the mold may be seen or smelt, scientists get a better picture of a problem area by utilizing handheld instrumentation. The use of non-destructive moisture meters that determine moisture levels in building materials like the Tramex Moisture Meter are placed on the material's surfaces. Other moisture meters that use spikes or probes that can be inserted into the building materials such as the GE Protimeter can even monitor for relative humidity and temperature changes.
Thermal cameras such as the Testo 875-2i Thermal Camera are another non-destructive investigative tool. Thermal cameras allow users to visualize how large a problem area may be. It also allows you to see behind or within inaccessible areas like walls and around HVAC units. Thermal cameras aid the home inspector, hygienist, or consultant by allowing them to conduct investigations quickly and accurately on large scale sites. They provide detailed pictures of the area's temperature and moisture fluctuations. These cameras are also outfitted with data logging capabilities and accompanying software that is helpful when presenting data and educating clients as well as saving the collected data for later analysis.
Most people associate mold areas with a "musty smell" for good reason. As mold actively grows it produces a number of volatile organic compounds or VOCs. These VOCs release a distinct musty/moldy odor. The VOCs mold often release are a mixture of aldehydes, ketones and alcohols. The concentrations of these VOCs are typically low-level and require a very sensitive VOC detector. One such detector is the RAE Systems ppbRAE, capable of accurate detection down to parts per billion (ppb). This unit and similar ones can identify ppb counts and data log them for long term surveys if needed.
Together with visual inspections and monitoring instrumentation the home inspector, hygienist or consultant can develop a complete investigation of existing mold problems and potential areas where mold could eventually develop. By proper education and useful tools they are able to minimize the health hazards associated with mold contamination.