Before moving into any residence, you should inspect it thoroughly for water damage and mold. You can either use a certified mold inspector or learn how to do it yourself.
If you are looking to save money and inspect your property, there are some steps you will need to follow to perform a thorough inspection.
Many of the observations made during an inspection are going to be made using your eyes and nose. This is why when you inspect a property, you need to carefully look over almost every inch of the exterior and interior.
You are looking for and smelling for the obvious signs of water damage and mold, such as peeling or cracked paint, discolored or black drywall, warped wood, cracks, and signs of lack of property maintenance.
You will also need to pay close attention to the areas that are most likely to experience problems such as plumbing pipes, sinks, underneath sinks, windows, roofs, attics, crawl spaces, showers, toilets, water heaters, behind refrigerators, flooring, and near exterior doors, etc.
In this guide, I will explain how to do this most effectively and safely.
The end goal of an inspection is to answer 8 general questions:
1) Is there water intrusion in the building?
2) Are there any components in the building that are water-damaged?
3) Are there musty, moldy odors in the building?
4) Is there any visible, apparent mold?
5) Is that which is visible mold?
6) Are there indications of hidden mold growth?
7) Are there conditions conducive to mold growth?
8) What should be done if mold growth is discovered?
You are going to need a few tools to properly perform a mold inspection.
EYES AND NOSE:
The main tools you will be using are your eyes and nose. You will use these to check both the outside and inside of your property for excess moisture, water damage, and mold growth.
The first rule of thumb is that if you see or smell musty or mildewy odors, you should assume that a mold problem exists. For example, when you smell mold, you are breathing in its spores and its toxic essence. This most likely means that it is airborne and you may have a minor or potentially serious problem on your hands.
But don’t panic. The goal is to assess the extent of the problem.
NOTEPAD OR VOICE RECORDER:
You will want to have a notepad or voice recorder to note your discoveries as you walk around the outside and inside of your property. This way you do not forget things or miss anything.
You will need a camera to take pictures of any areas of concern where you see water damage and or mold. Most cell phone cameras will work just fine. These pictures you will reference later to refresh your memory and show your insurance adjuster, for bids from contractors to fix the damage, and can be used for litigation purposes if you are planning to file a lawsuit.
You can use a flashlight to find mold in the dark, but you will need a light source to inspect the entire area and see all of the details.
Hidden mold is hard to locate. The best way to locate it is by a thorough visual inspection with a moisture detector to check behind walls and study areas where there are plumbing, roofs, and foundation areas of concern, etc.
A good moisture detector is fairly cheap. You can pick one up for approximately $30-50.
A good infrared camera is much more expensive and can cost anywhere from $300-$1,000. You may also want to use a humidity meter to check the humidity levels of the property. They are pretty cheap at only about $10-$20.
MASK AND GLOVES
If you are going to be in an area with high levels of mold, it might be a good idea to wear an N95 mask, which is approved for use against mold spores.
DIY TESTING KITS
Last but not least, you will need mold testing equipment to sample visible mold and or dust particles. They are called Do It Yourself (DIY) home mold test kits.
You can get by without this equipment, but I highly recommend them if you want to do this right and safely. Now that you know what you need to inspect your property, it’s time to perform the inspection.
Steps to Perform Your Mold Inspection
STEP 1: INSPECT THE OUTSIDE OF THE PROPERTY FIRST
Walk around and inspect the exterior of the property
First, you should inspect the property from the ground level. When you do this, you need to be like a common sense detective searching for possible hazards that would cause water to enter or leak into the home.
LANDSCAPING AND LOT
Walk around the perimeter of the property to visually study the landscape and lot the property sits on and the exterior of the building.
I like to start with the front of the home and work my way around clockwise to the back fence or wall and then work my way back around counter-clockwise to the front again and then to the other side of the property to the back fence or wall. I then inspect the backyard of the property.
Does the property sit at the bottom of a hill or a slope?
Buildings that sit at the bottom of any kind of slope without proper retaining walls and water diversion systems will experience flooding and water damage at some point, and most often, multiple times in the life of the structure.
If you are on a slope, or you have exterior flowerbeds or concrete that is higher than your weep screen, check for water that may be coming inside from the outside going underneath your flooring.
Check the yard to see if there is a downslope into the structure or any hills where water can be flowing downhill into the foundation or basement.
SIDING, DOORS, AND WINDOWS
As you are doing this, check underground drainage systems, items that penetrate the exterior, siding or covering materials, and obvious signs of water damage. If there is stucco, look for cracks and crumbling stucco. If it is wood, check for cracking paint and warped or water-damaged wood.
At the same time, you will also be checking the cladding, flashing, trim, exterior doors, windows, decks, stoops, steps, stairs, porches, railings, eaves, soffits, and fascias.
If you see water stains and/or damage, use your moisture detector and infrared camera to see if it is still an active leak or wet. Take pictures and note this on your clipboard or voice recorder for reference later.
While you are walking around the property, you will also be looking at the plumbing and water lines. You will need to inspect hoses, water fixtures, lawn sprinklers, main water lines, water supply lines, visible drain(s), and waste and vent pipes.
To inspect the roof, you can do it from the ground level, but it is always best to walk the roof to perform a complete inspection. But please be very careful if you do decide to walk on the roof.
This is the most dangerous part of the job. Many people are seriously injured and die from roof falls every year. When in doubt, just try to do a good visual from the ground or hire a professional mold inspector.
What you are looking for are cracked or missing roof tiles. You will also inspect the roof drainage system, including gutters and downspouts; the vents, flashings, skylights, chimneys, and any other roof penetrations.
As you can see from the list above, you will be checking everything around and in your home. A simple rule of thumb is to start at the dirt level the property sits on and then move your eyes visually to the water lines, plumbing, foundation, trim, siding, doors, windows, trim, gutters, roof, etc.
Once the outside inspection is completed, it is time to inspect the inside of the property.
INSPECT THE INSIDE OF THE PROPERTY LAST
You are going to inspect the inside similarly to what you did on the outside. I like to start at the front door and work my way clockwise around the home as I visually inspect the interior from top to bottom.
The first thing you should do before you start the inside inspection is to review your outside inspection notes to locate any areas of concern and/or water damage.
As you walk the inside of the home, you will need to remember these areas so that you can check the inside for any visual and/or hidden damage.
Likely areas of past leaks and water damage will include the basements, carpets, tiles, wood flooring, walls, drywall, doors, windows, window sills, ceilings, drain pans, ductwork, vents, bathrooms, laundry, and attics should all be thoroughly inspected.
CHECK WALLS AND CEILING FOR WATER DAMAGE AND STAINS
You should be looking for any obvious water stains, standing water, moist surfaces, or mold growth. Mold will often show up as a dark stain on the surface of a wall or ceiling.
If there are any cracks in the plaster or drywall or discoloration, this may indicate that water has been leaking into the area. It’s important to check near your roofline as well as in areas where plumbing fixtures are located (such as bathrooms).
This can be difficult to see if the room does not have any windows or natural light, so you may need to use a flashlight and/or provide some additional light from another area of the house.
Remember, if you see discoloration, water stains, and/or bubbles, use your water moisture detector and infrared camera to check for active water leaks.
FLOORING AND CARPET
If the property has used carpet, you will need to check for moisture and or mold growth. Check to see if the carpet is directly installed on an unsealed cement slab such as on basement floors. The cement can conduct moisture and promote mold growth.
Carpet that has been steam cleaned in the past acts as a sponge for water and can take anywhere from 48-36 hours to dry. Hence, it is the perfect growth medium for mold.
You will want to use your moisture detector to check different areas of the carpet. I recommend you do this with carpet around the front door, bathrooms, kitchens, and laundry rooms where plumbing leaks may have happened in the past, so you can check to see if there is any hidden mold growth.
Also, check the wooden tack strips under the carpet for water damage, mold, dry rot, and or rust around the tacks.
As you are checking the flooring, i.e., the carpet, tile, and or wood floors for damage, you will also want to look for stains and streaks on walls, doors, window sills, and ceilings. Check for bubbles in the paint, drywall, and or loose wallpaper.
Inspect all windows for cracks, and the inside frames and sills of all windows where moisture or mildew might be collecting.
As you walk around, check the water heating appliances, bathroom fans, and dryers are properly vented.
Make sure you check under all the sinks and behind the walls where there are plumbing fixtures. Stick your whole head under there with a flashlight and take your time looking around because it is VERY common to find mold hidden here from past water leaks.
Almost all homes have experienced at some point water leaks and or toilets overflowing from clogged drains. Check under the sinks, around the toilet, and the shower for any visible water damage or visible mold or mildew (same as mold).
Check under the sink in the kitchen. Look for warped and water-damaged wood and mold.
Pull out the refrigerator to inspect under and in back of the unit.
One of the favorite access points and hiding places for toxic molds (fungi) to get into your home is through your heating and air conditioning systems (HVAC).
Check the heating and air conditioning systems. Look for obvious mold growth and excessive dust in intake air vents, ducts, and filters. Make sure that air conditioning drain pans are pitched for effective drainage and that there is no mold growth in the pan.
Your HVAC coils are the perfect breeding ground for microscopic pathogens because the constant heating and cooling of the coils will cause condensation, aka water vapors, and also become dusty, dirty, and can be covered by what is called bio-slime, which is sometimes referred to as Dirty Sock Syndrome.
Look at the air vents and registers all around the home for excessive dust and or mold growth.
MOLD TESTING LAST
After you have done a thorough physical inspection, now it is time for mold testing. It is important because it can help you identify exactly what kind of mold has invaded your home and how far it has spread.
The results of the test can tell you if there are dangerous levels in your home, but they can also give you an idea of where it’s coming from. It will also help you figure out what kind of remediation steps may be necessary to remove the mold from your home.
Do It Yourself (DIY) mold tests are performed by you using either a “tape or culture swab method or via air testing.
Surface sampling can be accomplished by using either the tape or swab method which can provide you with enough information to confirm that the sampled mold growth may be producing mold spores in the air.
Both tests are very easy to perform and are effective ways to determine if your property has a mold problem and also the relative degree of contamination.
A culture swab test is best for when you have visible mold growth that you want to test to determine the kind of mold present, or the area is hard to reach, or the surface is very wet and a tape sample will not adhere to the area of concern.
A tape test is often best performed when no mold is visible or if you are not directly testing an active colony of mold, such as dust on a window sill or elsewhere like the corners of the rooms in the home. Dust samples may also tell you the history of what mold may be airborne.
These types of Do It Yourself (DIY) tests are not destructive to building materials or surfaces when performed properly.
With our home mold test kits, you can take as few as one sample of your property or as many as you deem necessary. We recommend that you take at least two samples or the best option would be that you take a sample in each room or area where there is visible mold.
MOLD SAFE CONCLUSION
Please remember that if leaks are discovered, they should be repaired immediately. If you find mold, don’t panic! The facts are most properties have water damage and mold.
Your goal should be to assess how bad the damage is and then see if it can be properly removed and remediated.
It is probably best to hire a professional who has been properly trained because they know what it looks like when they see it and they also know how to use the proper equipment.
A professional can also identify the types present, which will help you determine if it’s something that could be harmful to your health or not. They should also be able to tell whether there are any indications that other areas might be affected by mold growth as well.
Mold Safe Inspections also offers professional one-hour consultations that will help answer your questions and concerns to give you real solutions to your mold problems. Our consultations will save you hours and hours of research and also a lot of money by helping you not make any costly mistakes.
Our professional Mold Safe consultations are conducted remotely using video conferencing software. You will be given a questionnaire to fill out before the consultation to get the details of your story so we can be fully prepared to give you safe solutions to your problems.
Don’t waste your money, precious time, or your health by doing this all alone.
To order a professional mold consultation, please click on this link to contact us or call 760-818-6830
Moe Bedard is the founder of Mold Safe Inspections and manager at Mold Safe Solutions. A full-service Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) company specializing in property water damage, mold inspections, consultations, and mold remediation.
If you need help with a project, please call 760-818-6830.