Most of us have heard of “Duct Cleaning Services”. The goal of this service is to stop the spread of the dirt and debris from the ductwork into the air we breathe. By debris we include mold spores, dust mites, pollen, pet allergens. house dust, and a host of other particles. These “airborne chunks” can affect respiratory health, induce allergies and are disgusting to know that we are breathing. Cleaning ductwork is an essential part of a healthy indoor air environment that is recommended after most mold remediation jobs and for respiratory health patients.
There are many choices in the duct cleaning service industry and a wide range of price points and quality of workmanship. Most people do like to save money, but also want the job to be done correctly.
The typical cost of a quality duct cleaning job in a 3-bedroom average size home is usually in the $500 to $800 range depending upon the amount of ductwork and the way it is laid out. This is an important job that should be done correctly. A “once over and not look back” budget coupon job is not worth the money no matter how low the price.
So How is a Consumer to Know if They are Getting a Good Job?
Great question! Let’s talk about how the job should be properly preformed. My previous understanding of the process was through literature and technical videos. To get a better understanding of the process, I asked Mold Medics of Greater Pittsburgh to allow me to go on a job with them and watch the actual work being done.
The air duct registers should be removed and cleaned. The ductwork sections closest to the register is then swept out with a HEPA vacuum. There are usually large chunks of fallen dirt and debris from original construction and the regular sweeping of floors in the ductwork near registers.
It is best to vacuum out the dirt near the registers out of the ductwork rather than pushing it through the rest of the ductwork. After sweeping out the ductwork close to the registers, the openings in the registers are covered with a plastic film to create a seal. This is done to maximize the suction on the individual section of the ductwork lines as it is cleaned.
The Proper Equipment and Workmanship is Critical to Having the Duct Cleaning Job Done Right.
There should be a massive vacuum machine to suction dirt. By massive I mean about six feet tall and a couple of feet in diameter. It can set in a service truck or be wheeled into the home. Most technicians will bring the machine into the home for optimal suction. The 6” or larger suction hose is attached first to the return air system after cutting a hole in the ductwork. The is also a separate air compressor to push the dirt down the ductwork into the suction machine.
One by one, each duct has the temporary plastic cover removed from the opening where the register was removed. The surfaces of the ductwork are agitated with a spinning “whip” made of plastic ribbons mounted on a flexible pipe. That whip hose also supplies the compressed air to loosen the dirt. This compressed air is pushing the dirt down the length of the duct while the vacuum equipment is sucking in that dirt and debris from where the suction pipe is attached near the furnace.
Once all the individual ductwork runs to the rooms have been cleaned, it is time to clean the main horizontal runs. These main ducts are usually on the ceiling of the basement or along the joists of the attic depending on where the furnace is located.
Cleaning these longer horizontal runs requires cutting a one-inch round access holes every few feet. The combination whip and compressed air hose is inserted into the end of the ductwork most distant from the furnace. Each duct is cleaned, and the dirt pushed toward the furnace area section by section. The access holes in the ductwork are then filled with plastic caps once that process of pushing the dirt and debris toward the furnace is complete.
High quality suction and compressor equipment is needed to move the dirt from the ductwork to the massive collection bag in the suction machine. To the contrary, low quality equipment can loosen the debris in the ductwork and unfortunately result in increased levels of the dirt and debris in the air from the ductwork.
The cleaning ductwork process leaves us with dirt in the furnace main return air duct, plenum, furnace blower and air conditioner A-coil.
No job is done until the holes cut in ductwork are filled, the registers are back in place and the tools and equipment are out of the home.
Poor Quality Duct Cleaning Jobs are More Common than You Might Think
I often check the condition of the blower, return air and other components of the furnace during an environmental assessment. When I check these in a building where a duct cleaning job has already been completed, more that 50% of those cleaning jobs still have heavy levels of dirt and debris in these areas. Some of the A-coils have even been covered in mold growth after a “duct cleaning.” I have also removed registers and reached down the ductwork and been able to pick up pieces of dirt after a cleaning. This is disgusting for me and disheartening for the people who paid to have their ducts cleaned.
Lead dust or lead in drinking water can easily rob a child of 10 IQ points, or be the cause of behavior problems. These problems last a lifetime and there is no remedy or cure, only prevention. The damage done to a child is damage done to all of us. We need to be responsible to avoid lead hazards. For an article I wrote about what you can do about lead in the home, got to http://www.envirospect.com/Lead Health Effects of Lead in Children According to the EPA Damage to the brain and nervous system Behavior and hearing problems Lowering of IQ Slow physical growth Anemia Health Effects of Lead in Adults According to the EPA Nervous system effects Cardiovascular effects Decreased kidney function Reproductive problems Miscarriage and premature birth in women Keeping Your Home Lead Safe Keep all surfaces well painted. HUD suggests no more than 1 square inch of peeling paintRepair the causes of peeling paint such as leaks promptly Keep the home dust freeWet mop wood floors that may contain lead Wet wipe friction areas such as where windows and doors rub Do not use steel wool or friction pads on surfaces that may contain leadRun water for 30 seconds before using for drinking or food preparation to reduce lead in lines Use only cold water to prepare foodsTeach children to wash hands and remove shoes after playing outside Use lead safe procedures for hobbies that use lead such as ceramics, stained glass, fish lures. Do not use sweepers with beater bars of mops with scrubber strips on finishes that contain lead Do not shake or beat carpets in homes that may contain lead dust. Testing for lead Physicians can test for lead in blood. This is a simple test that should be conducted if there is any possibility that lead exposure could occur in the home, school, daycare or any other place a child may spend time. Surfaces can be tested for lead using 3M Lead Check Swabs. These EPA approved tests determine of lead is on the surface of tested finishes and are available from 3M directly or other retail outlets. Call 800-949-3552 or go to www.leadcheck.com/contactus to order Layers of paint can be tested using EPA approved D-Lead test systems. These tests use a punch tool and allow testing of all of the layers of paint at a location. These can be used for applying the EPA RRP rule. Locate a distributor at www.esca-tech.com or call 414-962-3006 XRF standing for X-Ray Fluorescence is a HUD approved methodology that would only be available from a highly trained and licensed lead assessment professional.
The damage done to a child is damage done to all of us. We need to be responsible to avoid lead hazards. For an article I wrote about what you can do about lead in the home, got to http://www.envirospect.com/Lead
Health Effects of Lead in Children According to the EPA
Damage to the brain and nervous system
Behavior and hearing problems
Lowering of IQ
Slow physical growth
Health Effects of Lead in Adults According to the EPA
Nervous system effects
Decreased kidney function
Miscarriage and premature birth in women
Keeping Your Home Lead Safe
Testing for lead
Physicians can test for lead in blood. This is a simple test that should be conducted if there is any possibility that lead exposure could occur in the home, school, daycare or any other place a child may spend time.
Surfaces can be tested for lead using 3M Lead Check Swabs. These EPA approved tests determine of lead is on the surface of tested finishes and are available from 3M directly or other retail outlets. Call 800-949-3552 or go to www.leadcheck.com/contactus to order
Layers of paint can be tested using EPA approved D-Lead test systems. These tests use a punch tool and allow testing of all of the layers of paint at a location. These can be used for applying the EPA RRP rule. Locate a distributor at www.esca-tech.com or call 414-962-3006
XRF standing for X-Ray Fluorescence is a HUD approved methodology that would only be available from a highly trained and licensed lead assessment professional.
We are only a few days into fall, but Mother Nature’s change of our environment is just around the corner. Fall is the time to get the winter preparation done. The sad news is that even if your personal preparation for cold weather is packing the car and heading south, your home still needs preparation for freezing weather.
The First Step is to Assemble Your “Cold Weather Team.”
One of the first members of the team should be a good furnace company that will service “no heat” calls for their regular customers. The most important part of that sentence is the “regular customer” part. You do not want your first contact with a furnace company to begin with the sentence: ”You don’t know me, but I don’t have any heat.” The story here is to call a reputable company, have them service the furnace for winter and become a part of their customer list. Your bonus is that with proper service and adjustment fuel costs go down and the safety and life expectancy of a furnace go up.
If you have a fireplace you plan to use, have it cleaned and checked with a camera system before you use it. There will be house fires started with fireplace use and you do not want the picture of your burning home to be on the 11:00 PM News.
Find a “house buddy” for your Cold Weather Team. This can be friend, relative or neighbor. This is a simple concept. You are away from home on a winter vacation, the power goes off. You want your house looked in on. You call your house buddy and they make sure everything is Okey dokey, or they call in the cavalry, whichever is appropriate. You do the same for them. With today’s digital doorknobs, you don’t even need to swap keys. The door combination is all that is needed.
Set Up a Winter Emergency Kit
You know the basics. Purchase enough bottled water to last a couple of days. At the same time pick up some non-perishable food. If it is canned, add a can opener to the kit.
Most of the old winter preparation lists suggest candles and matches. Modern technology has made that an unnecessary fire risk. We own a fair number of the LED lanterns and flashlights for emergencies. As a bonus, the LED lights last longer than candles.
Have a method ready to check what is going on in the world. A backup battery unit to recharge your cellphone in a power outage is essential. Facebook and other social media on your smart phone can be a life saver. The unit I use can recharge my cellphone 3 times. Even if I never need it in a natural disaster, it is great for a day at the airport.
Check Your Winter Weather Safety Early Warning System
Install smoke detectors in every level of your home and in each bedroom. If you have any fossil fuel appliances, have carbon monoxide detectors in the home. Test each device for operation and install fresh batteries before winter.
If you have crawl spaces or are away from home for vacation, consider a freeze alarm that can call your cell phone and warn you before your house freezes.
Take a Long Hard Look at Attachment Issues
I am not referring to any emotional ties. You are used to “cleaning gutters” being on the winter preparation list. What you need to add is checking that the gutters and downspouts are tightly secured to the home. Ice loaded gutters can cause injury or damage when they fall.
At the same time as you are checking your gutters to see if they are secure, check decks and porches for proper attachment to the house. In the course of inspecting homes, I can tell you that I often found loose gutters, porches and decks.
Check your trees near your house and power lines. A falling tree or even a tree limb can damage your home or leave you without power. Add snow and ice to a dead limb and it can be downright dangerous.
The Forgotten Winter Preparation Steps That May Surprise You
Check your clothes dryer vents. Lint packed vents can be a fire hazard. With the newer dryers, partially blocked vents can also cause damage to the dryer. Ask how do I know? Ooops, I forgot that one last year and it cost me a new heating element for our clothes dryer. You may want to learn from my $200.00 oversight.
The Common Winter Preparation Tips
Where to Seal and Where to Vent Your Home
There are some great ways to save energy and increase home comfort. Plastic to cover windows, foam gaskets for exterior outlets and switches, reducing heat to unused areas of a home are all great ideas.
There are some other commonly done items that are not so good to do. Do not block vents for the attic or crawl spaces. This traps moisture in the home which can start the growth of mold. High moisture also reduces the insulation properties of most insulation systems.
Energy savings where it makes sense is great. Creating moisture and mold problems is not a good idea.
Let’s hope for a month or two of beautiful fall days before the snow flies. There needs to be time to enjoy the trees sporting the beauty of fall colors and get the fall list done.
Though not part of the approved school curriculum, mold that is found in the school is really a science experiment. Anywhere on earth that there is food and water, something will grow. It can be the deepest ocean or highest mountain. It can be the north pole or south pole or anywhere in between. That scientific fact is that books, paper, wood floors, drywall, dust, or any other material or any other substrate that can grow mold will grow mold within 48 hours of leaks or high moisture occurring.
The most common sources of mold problems in a school are:
The first step in preventing recurrence of mold is determining the conditions that were mold conducive. If mold grew in a school over the summer because the air conditioning was not run, or there are roof leaks, or any other reason, it will return if the cause of mold is not corrected.
Failure to correct the underlying cause of environmental hazards as well as the hazard itself, is a waste of money, and serves to mislead parents, administration and faculty into believing that the school mold environment is safe. In school we learned to consider both cause and effect. The same applies in the process of creating healthy indoor air quality.
Schools Can Get Help to Keep our Children Safe from Mold
The EPA provides great online tools available to learn the issues and solutions to mold problems. These are great general guidelines, but can’t address individual conditions. Mold problems are often complicated by being the result of several underlying conditions that require expertise in multiple construction fields.
Unfortunately, learning to use and to then implement these tools is often much tougher than obtaining them. Professional assistance is a good option to get an environmental awareness and mold prevention program up and running properly. Once established, existing staff can usually keep the program running.
Usually an indoor air quality (IAQ) program process starts with an initial site assessment, or information gathering session. The environmental risks are evaluated and appropriate tests then conducted. These could include mold and allergen testing. If there was flooding or sewage backups, testing for a number of common infectious diseases should be added.
An educational staff can’t be expected to have the full knowledge to implement a program, but often, once in place, the good health of school occupants can be maintained through the corrections and adjustments made in the facility. There are several companies that have assessment and monitoring programs that include a yearly Indoor Air Quality Certificate for posting after the assessment and completion of any appropriate testing and corrections.
Fungi are everywhere. There are millions of different fungal species on Earth, but only about 300 of those are known to make people sick.1-3 Fungal diseases are often caused by fungi that are common in the environment. Fungi live outdoors in soil and on plants and trees as well as on many indoor surfaces and on human skin. Most fungi are not dangerous, but some types can be harmful to health.
In thousands of homes and on social media posts across the land, you saw the annual notice heralding the end of summer vacation: “Summer is over and the kids are back in school”. Some will cry, some will cheer, some will only shrug their shoulders. No matter what we do or say, every school year, the emotion, and the back to school sales come to an end and attention shifts to the students actually being in school.
That is “all as it should be” with each new school year. The sad news is that the “welcome back student” message has been accompanied with too many news stories about mold being found in our nation’s schools. It is not an accident that “National Mold Awareness Month” is September.
The bottom line on this is that parents DO NOT want their child sick because they go to school. Our schools that have mold are like the “Jaws” movies. Just when you think it is safe to return, we find out that it is “not so safe.”
When we experience any school environmental issue such as mold, it can be front page headlines, TV, talk show fodder and Facebook news feed material.
Environmental issues in schools are not “just another student health issue”. These problems are a public relations nightmare, a staff human relations mine field, a facility management challenge, a budget buster, a political fiasco and a liability time bomb.
Signs of Mold in School
If a school is flooded or has leaks that are not quickly cleaned up, there will be mold. Whether it is a roof leak, plumbing leak or any other area of wet surfaces, you can count on mold growing.
Parents should take a look around their child’s school. Water stains are the target to look for. Fuzzy or splotchy areas are the bullseye in the search for suspected mold. These can be in almost any area of a building anywhere from the highest ceiling to the lowest floor.
In addition to the visual indicators of mold presence, odor can be indicator. When the odor of mold is in the school or on a child’s clothes, books, papers or possessions, mold should be investigated as a source of the offensive smell.
Sewage backups, leaks and all floods also have a host of water borne diseases and contaminants. When these occur, a professionally conducted disinfection must be conducted even when mold is not visible. Even a little dust left in an obscure corner after the flood is gone can enter through a cut in a student’s hand or their lungs long after the water is gone if the areas has not been disinfected.
Pesticides: Having a professional treat for pests is not a guaranty of safe use of pesticide. Some professionals use too much chemical to avoid return of the pests. In other instances, the problem is consumers not following directions or storing the leftover chemicals in the home. These products are often poisons for people as well as pests. Another common problem is a neighbor of a chemically sensitive individual’s use of chemicals in yards and homes.
New homes: There are hundreds of products off gassing chemicals in new construction. We have found some very unusual sources of toxic gasses in new homes. In one case, the problem in a $750,000 home was defective flexible ductwork. The homeowners could not live in the home until the ductwork was removed and replaced.
Home improvement and building supplies: You have probably heard about the Lumber Liquidators formaldehyde in flooring problem. Carpet, counters, sheathing, and almost every product in the home can have plastic which is made by chemistry that depends on heat, catalysts, timing, mixing and a host of factors that result in the imperfect creation of very complex chemicals. Some of those chemicals can be toxic to people and will evaporate from the materials. Cleaning products: The use of very concentrated cleaning supplies can create toxic residue and fumes. We have found numerous instances of offices becoming unhealthy as a result of these industrial strength products.
Drugs: We have found homes and multi-family units that were toxic with the residue of drug manufacture. As an example, the manufacture of Meth uses Drano, lye and sulfuric acid, and other toxic chemicals
Soil Gases: Many homes and other buildings are built on reclaimed industrial sites and farms. The chemicals and pesticides that may have entered the soil can be very safe in an open field. Buildings constructed over this soil can suck those chemicals into the air occupants breathe.
Stored Products: Just about every container will leak fumes over time. One nasty smelling home we found was venting gases from the stored chemicals that were used to build model rockets. Another home had the chemicals from a photo lab. Another family thought it was a great idea to store chemicals used to dry clean clothing.
Neighboring Environmental Problems: in one case, a neighbor had a side business that used toxic chemicals. He would pour those chemicals down their drains. The chemicals would evaporate into the neighboring home from the sewer making those people deathly ill. A nearby fracking operation was a problem for one homeowner who was using a HRV system to pull outside air into their home.
Misuse of Everyday Products: The safety of products is judged on “normal” use. As an example, many of the plug-in products to make your home smell good anticipate a minimal use in a home. Put one of those in every room and you can have a toxic level of exposure.
Purpose: The purpose of Limited Mold Sampling is to detect the presence of mold in Client chosen areas of the Subject Property.
Scope of Limited Mold Sampling. Limited Mold Sampling consists of a visual assessment for mold problems in area(s) designated by the client to test and the collection/analysis of sample(s) in these designated area(s). Further, the objective of Limited Mold Sampling is to determine whether mold problems exist in the designated area(s) sampled at the time the Limited Mold Sampling is performed. As such, the results of Limited Mold Sampling are not a guarantee that mold does or does not exist in the Subject Property. The results are indicative only of the presence or absence of mold in the areas sampled at the time of the Limited Mold Sampling is performed. Limited Mold Sampling is narrower in scope than other mold inspections and testing strategies that area available. Mold inspections will be conducted only in these Client-defined areas and is NOT a complete assessment of the Subject Property.
Purpose: The purpose of the Mold Screen is to test areas of suspect mold contamination base upon a visual inspection. This is done to detect the presence of a microbial problem in the inspected areas of the Subject Property and is not a comprehensive testing of all areas.
Scope of Mold Screen: Mold Screen consists of a visual inspection in readily accessible area for mold and/or conditions that may indicate the presence of mold. For example, musty odor and/or evidence of water penetration.
Announcing Tick Hunting Season
This particular “Tick Hunting Season” announcement is probably not going to go the way you first thought. The reality is that ticks are doing the hunting for humans and their pets to burrow into the nice, warm victim bodies. We don’t hunt them, they hunt us.
The CDC estimates there are more than 300,000 cases of Lyme infection in the U.S. each year – which is roughly 10 times as many as what is reported. That group of undiagnosed Lyme Disease victims can suffer for years with the disease. You or someone you care about could be one of those victims
There have been countless news stories explaining that the weather this year has been great for the tick population. It’s no wonder that readers and viewers care about ticks. A human taking a pleasant walk in the woods or petting of a dog is all that a bloodsucking tick needs to spread disease and misery.
Symptoms of Lyme Disease
Early signs and symptoms of Lyme Disease include chills, headache, muscle and joint pain, fever and swollen lymph nodes. The sneaky part is that these symptoms can be mistaken as flu symptoms.
When Lyme Disease goes undiagnosed and untreated, the symptoms can progress. They can be debilitating. Each of the symptoms can also be indicative of other diseases and health problems. This is another reason that Lyme Disease can be misdiagnosed for years.
Some of Chronic Lyme Disease symptoms are:
Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome (CIRS)
CIRS happens in response to repeated exposure to toxins. This causes the immune system to go haywire. CIRS can be triggered by the combination of mycotoxins, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and other inflammatory toxins found in water-damaged environments. Lyme Disease is often one of the exposures that underlies CIRS
The Role of Mold and Other Toxins in Lyme Disease and CIRS
Only some individuals are at risk for reacting to Lyme Disease or any mold and biotoxin related diseases.
Genetic factors, individual health histories, weakened immune systems, viral, parasitic, bacterial, or other co-infections play a role in CIRS. Auto-immune diseases and exposure to mold and toxic VOCs can also be triggers to those diseases. This is complicated.
Some Individuals Can Not Recover from Lyme Disease or CIRS
These diseases are the sum total of the factors in a personal health and exposure history. It is not easy to reverse the cumulative health events that get people ill. It can be as difficult to identify and correct the contaminants that prevent patient recovery as diagnosing the disease. Once again, this whole thing is complicated.
Professionals to Identify Building Conditions that Make People Ill
Mold and the biotoxins common to a building that has moisture issues is the most logical place to start. This process is more in depth than simple mold testing. It is like CSI (Crime Scene Investigation) for buildings. Hidden moisture is only one of many possible health robbing culprits.
There are products, materials, building practices and dozens of factors that can create exposure hazards for sensitive individuals. Hazards can be as simple as improperly installed plumbing, heating systems, or using the wrong kind of cleaning products in a building. In one recent case, the use of the wrong type of furniture stain on refinished flooring resulted in a toxic soup of VOCs in a home that was so intense that the results were higher than the chart used by the testing lab. Overuse of a toxic chemical by a remediator was a problem rendering another home uninhabitable.
Simply put, when someone is ill in a building, it takes more than considering mold exposure. Professionals with that level of training are rare and often difficult to find. If you are looking for these types of individuals, explore websites for individuals that have more information than mold testing and deal with sick building syndrome from the building science perspective.
Finding the Medical Professional to Treat Chronic Diseases Including Lyme
The practice of medicine is rapidly changing. Traditionally, the reversal of symptoms was the goal of practitioners. As an example, if you had a headache, they would suggest that you take something for the headache pain.
There are now medical practitioners who explore the source of the headache and work to resolve the cause of the headache. These are referred to as Functional Medical Professionals, or Holistic Practitioners. The approach of combining conventional and alternative medicine is referred to as Integrative Medicine
In addition to the use of both new and old treatments to correct the causes of medical problems, these practitioners have new research and information to help them recognize previously undiagnosed conditions. It is not unusual for new patients of Functional Medical practitioners previously had frustrating years of suffering and ineffective treatment. In many cases, prior medical providers had blamed psychological causes for undiagnosed health problems like Lyme Disease.
Many new tests have been developed to determine the exposures that a Multiple Chemical Sensitive individual is experiencing. Many of those tests are available through nationally recognized labs such as Quest or Lab Corp.
There are also treatments that help remove the toxins that have built up in the bodies of individuals suffering for these diseases and syndromes. Web searches will help to identify the medical practitioners that specialize in this approach.
Finding Professionals to Remediate Buildings
Imagine paying to have a contaminant removed from a home or other building, and having the building be more toxic. It happens more often that you would guess.
Many remediators don’t understand the importance of protecting the building and residents from additional exposures. There are principles of containment, negative air and air scrubbing that should be followed. They should always provide samples of chemicals and products before they are used in a sensitive person’s building.
The Road to Recovery
If you know someone that is chronically ill, it could be Lyme Disease or any one of many other environmentally affected diseases. Individuals with chronic and acute diseases, chemotherapy patients, transplant patients, respiratory patients, and many other individuals need to identify and remove toxins from the home for an opportunity for the best possible quality of life and recovery.
The best course is to find medical and environmental professionals that go beyond treating the symptoms and looking for underlying causes.