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In this episode, you will learn about mold inspection and remediation.
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About My Guest
My guest for this episode is Michael Rubino. Michael Rubino, CMR, IEP is an air quality expert who helps bridge the gap between the air in our homes and its direct impact on our health. Michael works with over 100 doctors globally to not only raise awareness but also provide solutions to correctly identify and remove the pollutants causing this global health crisis. As President of All American Restoration, Michael specializes in working with people who are immunocompromised or have acute and sustained reactions to mold exposure and has helped heal over 1,000 families. He is also a council-certified Mold Remediator by IICRC and ACAC and is a contributing member, sponsor, and speaker for the Indoor Air Quality Association. He is the author of The Mold Medic and a contributor to MindBodyGreen. Michael has been featured on Gwyneth Paltrow’s The goop Podcast and goop's website, Brandi Glanville’s Unfiltered Podcast, Luke Storey, Forbes, USA Today, and Bloom TV, to name a few. He hosts the YouTube series "Mold Talks" where guests include medical experts as well as mold recovery patients, including media icon Atoosa Rubenstein.
- How important is considering the allergenic aspects of mold exposure?
- What sets the stage for environmental illness?
- What issues lead to mold or water-damage in a building?
- What testing options are used to evaluate a home?
- Is air sampling an appropriate testing method?
- How should a dust sample be collected for an ERMI?
- How is an ERMI interpreted?
- Why is an ERMI score even less helpful post-remediation?
- What is the role of Actinomycetes and endotoxins?
- Can mold dogs be used to identify a mold source?
- What are the 3 main steps in a proper remediation?
- How many sources of contamination are commonly found in a water-damaged building?
- What are the key elements of a remediation plan?
- Is fogging a viable tool for resolving issues arising from water-damage?
- What are the challenges posed by an HVAC system?
- What issues arise from crawl spaces, basements, and attics?
- Can cars be remediated?
- How can one remediate on a budget?
- What personal belongings may need to be discarded?
- What are the criteria for a successful remediation?
- What should one expect in terms of a guarantee from a remediator?
- Can a home be remediated such that one can recover in the same environment in which they became ill?
- What dehumidifiers, vacuums, and air filters does The Mold Medic find helpful?
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April 21, 2022
Transcript Disclaimer: Transcripts are intended to provide optimized access to information contained in the podcast. They are not a full replacement for the discussion. Timestamps are provided to facilitate finding portions of the conversation. Errors and omissions may be present as the transcript is not created by someone familiar with the topics being discussed. Please Contact Me with any corrections.
[00:00:00.29] Welcome to BetterHealthGuy Blogcasts, empowering your better health. And now, here's Scott, your Better Health Guy.
[00:00:14.07] The content of this show is for informational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, treat, or cure any illness or medical condition. Nothing in today's discussion is meant to serve as medical advice or as information to facilitate self-treatment. As always, please discuss any potential health-related decisions with your own personal medical authority.
[00:00:34.17] Scott: Hello everyone, and welcome to episode number 164 of the BetterHealthGuy Blogcasts series. Today's guest is Michael Rubino, and the topic of the show is The Mold Medic. Michael Rubino is an air quality expert who helps bridge the gap between the air in our homes and its direct impact on our health.
Michael works with over 100 doctors globally, to not only raise awareness, but also provide solutions to correctly identify and remove the pollutants causing this global health crisis. As president of All American Restoration, Michael specializes in working with people who are immunocompromised or have acute and sustained reactions to mold exposure and has helped heal over 1,000 families.
He is also a Council-Certified Mold Remediator by IICRC and ACAC and is a contributing member, sponsor and speaker for the Indoor Air Quality Association. Michael is the author of the book ''The Mold Medic'' and a contributor to ''MindBodyGreen.'' He has been featured on Gwyneth Paltrow’s The Goop Podcast and Goop's website, Brandy Glanville’s Unfiltered podcast, Luke Storey, Forbes USA Today, and Bloom TV; to name a few. He hosts the YouTube series Mold Talks where his guests include medical experts as well as mold recovery patients, including media icon Atoosa Rubenstein. And now, my interview with Michael Rubino.
I am super excited to have The Mold Medic Michael Rubino with us today to talk about all things mold. This is probably the most important topic to explore and those dealing with complex chronic health challenges, thanks so much for being here today, Michael.
[00:02:24.00] Michael R.: Thanks for having me, Scott. I’m excited to be here.
[00:02:26.18] Scott: Thank you. So how did you get into working with clients dealing with chronic complex health conditions, where mold is often a key component and maybe I should say where water damage building exposure is often a key component, it's not always just mold and we'll talk more about that? But what led you to doing the work that you do today?
[00:02:46.20] Michael R.: So my father is a restoration contractor since I’m five years old, so I am a second generation restoration contractor if you can believe it. I didn't always look at this as a health perspective though, what actually happened is after Hurricane Sandy in the northeast, I started noticing for the first-time people getting sick.
We were remediating homes that were supposedly already remediated. And so when I saw that pattern, that's what kind of made me dive into understanding what is it about remediation that doesn't work for some people, where it works for others? It kind of led me down this path where I’ve now just exclusively started helping people that are just dealing with chronic illness.
[00:03:26.04] Scott: Talk to us a bit about your analogy of a particle and an organism being like a seed and a plant. How does a mold spore or fungal fragment, and then mold mycotoxins, how do those fit into the conversation?
[00:03:39.21] Michael R.: Yes. So that's probably the unique part that I figured out pretty early on, which actually made the remediation process we were doing successful, was realizing that mold is two things really essentially. It's a living organism, and that's typically what we know it as. We know it as this black fungus growing on our walls, and it produces particles.
And that's what is measured when they do like an air test, capturing those spores that are created by those organisms. It's the way it reproduces. So I look at it as like a plant and its seed, as a pretty good analogy to try to understand that. So we have the living organisms that's producing these particles, but where it gets a little tricky is as you mentioned mycotoxins. Now certain species can produce mycotoxins, and it's like a self-defense mechanism for mold.
Typically, it's different species of molds competing for the same real estate, and they're producing toxins to kind of off one another so they can take over that real estate. So we're kind of the innocent bystander and all that, where we're now exposed to potential toxins in our environment when we have these water damage events, and of course there's ability to test for that, to identify if that is in fact a problem, because it doesn't happen in every single case.
[00:04:48.15] Scott: And then where does the fungal fragment fit into the conversation?
[00:04:52.17] Michael R.: Well, because mold is a living organism, as it does die and break down, it does break down into smaller fragments. Or if you're cleaning mold for example, but you don't get to the roots of it, you're going to break these parts, these organisms down into smaller particles or fragments that can then get into our environment. And we can test for those too. There's actually a category called hyphal fragments, and it tells you the quantification of that.
[00:05:17.05] Scott: And my understanding is that any of those the spore, the fragment, or the mycotoxin potentially have health related considerations.
[00:05:25.12] Michael R.: Totally. And of course, we're studying it actively, so there's its ongoing development in terms of what is making people have these symptoms or trigger these symptoms, but essentially, yes. I mean it's been led to believe currently that it's not just the spore we have to worry about, it's the toxin, it's the fragments.
There's always been this confusion as to if mold is dead or alive, and if it's dead, is it still as harmful? And the EPA came out recently saying that dead mold still can cause adverse health reactions in some, so it's something that you want to take into consideration when remediating a home. Because really the strategy to be effective at this is to remove these particles, not to try to kill them.
[00:06:09.00] Scott: In the biotoxin illness realm or CIRS or Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome, we don't hear a lot of attention given to the allergenic aspects of mold exposure, which is really different from the biotoxin or toxic effects of mold exposure. So in your experience, how important is considering the allergic response to water damaged buildings in terms of improving someone's overall health condition?
[00:06:35.14] Michael R.: Well, I think that's where we really actually need to pay more attention to, because obviously we're drawn to the word toxic. I think that a lot of confusion kind of develops around that. But the reality of it is you have allergenic species of mold, you have toxigenic species of mold, you have pathogenic species of mold, and that is its own little separate side of the fence of this.
But you also just have the inflammation that can result from an abundance of these particles entering the body. So you really have to look at both sides of the coin, and that's why I think there's probably a lot more research and study that's needed, to really understand, and it's going to be difficult. Because there's over a hundred thousand species of mold. There are obviously more mycotoxins than what we can test for or know of currently due to that.
So I think we have to kind of zoom out a bit, and that's where my focus is it's saying let's look at the data, let's figure out how to improve the environment utilizing that data. Because I think right now where we are, you can't really isolate things and know for sure that well, if I just remove this species, I’m going to improve my health.
[00:07:37.14] Scott: I want to talk a little bit about what you think sets the stage for environmental illness with exposure to water damage buildings, we know not everyone presents with a sirs-like condition. So in your book, you talk about dysbiosis, you talk about how various factors can set the stage for the potential development of health complications when exposed to a water damage building. I think a lot of people think that if you have certain genetic types or HLA-DR types, that that's the determining factor. But it sounds like there's other considerations as well.
[00:08:10.00] Michael R.: We're learning a lot over time. I mean, even from when I first wrote my book, there's new information that's come to light. You have the HLA-DR gene which everybody talked about, and how big of a role that plays into the fact. I think truthfully, we don't really know wholly how much. There's also the MTHFR gene that they're saying can play a role into this, certainly genetic predispositions are going to make you more sensitive to your environment.
But I think even all of that into consideration, we don't really know how long-term exposure impacts us. I think that's really the big alarming question, is someone who's otherwise healthy if you're in a moldy environment, and I should say really if you're in a water damaged environment that has mold and bacteria, what's that exposure like? I mean, we all have different immune systems, so this is such an individual thing which I think it makes it so much more complex to study.
But the reality of the situation is we have to kind of look at this from I think a wider angle than we have been, and just understanding how does this accumulation of particles that have the opportunity to enter our body impact us both short term and long term. Because I think we know a lot more about the people that are explaining that they're having symptoms when they're in these environments, but we don't know much about the people that aren't complaining. I have noticed and just working with people, even when the let's say husband seems to have been unaffected.
When they're in a healthier environment, they start to feel more invigorated, more energy, less tired. These are subtle changes but they are changes that they notice. So I think it really comes down to having the access to study more of this, and for right now, kind of what I’m doing and utilizing is just the tools of looking at the data and seeing how can we make improvements, and kind of really interviewing the customers after the fact, and trying to understand how that has impacted their life in a positive way.
[00:10:02.09] Scott: So besides the genetic piece, which I agree, there's a lot of question about whether or not that really is a significant or the significant consideration, are there some common threads that you've seen; other contributors to people's health, comorbid conditions, or other factors that you commonly see in those that express with an illness to water damage building exposure?
[00:10:23.28] Michael R.: I think it's just different levels of susceptibility to illness in general, right? So we all know like with COVID that came out, certain people were experiencing things far worse than others. It was very confusing as it still kind of is, as to who is likely to be more impacted by something like that. I think that all plays a part into this, and trying to understand this. There are going to be people that are going to be more susceptible to environmentally acquired illness than others. I think diet plays a big part in that, I think exercise regimens, just overall well-being routines, I think are going to make people's immune systems stronger. I think when you look at this from, and I’m not a doctor, so I’m just kind of going off of the data that I have and I’ve observed and the things that I’ve studied.
But what I tend to see in a pattern like fashion, is the fact that when people have an immune system that's elevated if you will, they're able to filter out these particles much faster than others. And I think if you're able to detox and remove these particles from your body in a faster fashion, you're less likely to feel symptomatic.
So like I said, there's a lot of study that's really needed around this, but one thing I know for sure is the reason why I’m so passionate about this is because there is something there. We may not know the total causation of it all, but we do know that when people are improving their environments, they're creating safer spaces and they're actually improving their health in one way or another.
[00:11:47.18] Scott: So let's talk then, you mentioned safer spaces, let's talk about some of the common issues that you see that lead to mold or lead to this toxic soup from water damage building exposure. What are some of the things that happen that lead to this problem?
[00:12:01.25] Michael R.: Well, it really starts with water. The introduction of water into the home is what kind of creates that opportunity for mold and bacteria to be present, grow and thrive. It creates these conditions where they can grow. So I think the first problem we have is water, and water comes in many shapes and forms.
Of course, it comes in the actual running of water such as a leak coming in from a window or a roof. But it is also moisture and humidity. So if you have a basement, you can have moisture intrusion, vapor diffusion that happens throughout the foundation that allows excess moisture to come in to the space, and as long as you have a relative humidity or 60% or greater, you have this potential where mold and bacteria can begin to thrive.
You also have different leaks from different systems such as a drain. Bacteria is present in our drains. And so, when we have leaks that happen in a drain, we're a lot more likely to have bacteria come into our space. The next problem is, we haven't really, society hasn't caught up with technology. So we have what's called MERV-16 technology now for HVAC systems, but HVAC companies are not pushing them for whatever reason. People aren't, it's not common knowledge for people. So what that happens we're not protecting our units, and when we do have these issues, they're able to a, get into the HVAC contaminating the coil, turning the coil into a source.
But also, they're recirculating these particles from one room to the next. So it's creating more opportunity for people to be impacted even when they're in the room next door. So I think just having that common knowledge of some of the technologies that have developed, installing dehumidifiers in subgrade climates or in humid climates is probably a good idea to control the ability for mold and bacteria to thrive. There are things we can do about it, it's just I feel like as a society, we're not as educated on those things.
[00:13:50.07] Scott: Thanks to Mike Schrantz, I just purchased a MERV-16 whole house filtration system. So I’m excited about that. That sounds like a good option. Let's talk a little bit about some of the testing considerations.
So in those with chronic health challenges where the bar is really higher for testing, what are the common types of tests that you would do in a home? Can you kind of walk us through the testing options that you would consider as you evaluate a home from your lens?
[00:14:15.27] Michael R.: Yes. So probably the first thing that I would recommend doing, and this is for people who are like I don't know if I have an issue, maybe I do, I just want to know. I like doing kind of this combination of ERMI, Actinomycetes, endotoxins, and mycotoxins. It's a wide array. Is it absolutely necessary? You know there can be argument there.
But I think the reality of it is it gives you a broad scope of seeing what's in my environment. What's in your dust has the ability to get inside of your body, and I think that's so important. Because if we're only looking at the air, we're looking at the air in a snapshot in time. And obviously we're in a home for 90% of our time these days, especially with the pandemic and how that's changed the landscape for us. I think that what is in your dust eventually does circulate into the air, and eventually does get into our breathing zone, enter the body through inhalation and of course to our skin too.
So analyzing the dust gives you a good snapshot of what's in the environment. Now, of course there's limitations on that, essentially if you capture an area that you haven't cleaned in a long time, you're going to get more of a historical data, then you will kind of understanding if you just cleaned the home, and you tested the areas that have just been cleaned, it gives you more of a representation of what's being produced actively. But I think it's still a good snapshot of saying what am I possibly being exposed to. From there, it also can give you the consideration of maybe I need to figure out where these particles are coming from next, and that's when you would want to bring in an inspector who's really good and thorough at helping you identify where these sources are.
Because for what I’m seeing, most people have sources that they're unaware of, they're hidden sources. Maybe a window leaked, but it leaked behind the drywall and there's no visible signs of water damage on the front of the drywall, so you have no idea where it's coming from. And that's where you need to utilize different technologies such as a wall cavity sample, in certain areas where you suspect there could be water to validate if there is in fact an issue there.
So it's a combination of understanding what's in the environment, that has the opportunity to get inside of our bodies. And then where is what's in the environment coming from. So you want to do sourcing and the analysis of what's actually there.
[00:16:23.26] Scott: So for the testing of the ERMI, the Actinomycetes, and the endotoxins. Is that traditionally through EnviroBiomics if people are doing self-testing, and then the mycotoxin piece through RealTime Labs with an EMMA? Or what lapse do you prefer if people are starting to do some testing on their own before they bring in an IEP?
[00:16:43.22] Michael R.: I personally like EnviroBiomics, and I’m more biased in that fashion, just because I’ve seen the report so many times, I’m very comfortable with them. It gives me a better baseline, because I’ve utilized them so much in the past. Because obviously different labs are going to have different processes and techniques and display the data differently. And RealTime Labs is another one that I like a lot for mycotoxins specifically. I also really like EMSL, again, I just like the way they display their data. I think it's really easy and comprehensive.
You should choose whatever lab is a, easy for you to access, and b, where you feel that their reports are easy to read and understand, because I think that's really important. If you have data, and you don't know how to interpret it, it doesn't really leave you in the right place to take action.
[00:17:29.27] Scott: I want to dig more into ERMI, but before we jump there, I just want to hear your comments on air sampling as a method of testing compared to source sampling with an air sample. Where you know there's an issue, and you're close to that wall or whatever it is, and doing some air sampling.
But it seems like a lot of inspectors will just come out, do an air sample in the middle of the room and conclude that there's not a problem. So how valuable is an air sample, or how misleading might those results be?
[00:17:57.24] Michael R.: Well, this is an interesting question. I think air sampling technology is great when utilized correctly. I think the way in which it's been used in the past is a little more antiquated, and I think it misses the mark. You can have a hammer, but if you try to use a hammer as a wrench, it's not going to work out as well, right? So the tool itself is not the problem, I think it's the way in which people are utilizing that tool which is the problem.
There's a lot of people in this industry that I feel haven't really evolved or adapted to some of the newer technologies out there, that are at their disposal to help identify where some of the problems may be. I think doing an air test in the center of a room as an example isn't as valuable, because a, you're very unlikely to have a problem in the center of your room, it's likely to be on an exterior wall or an interior wall with plumbing where water can intrude.
And the further away from that wall that you test, the less likely you are to pick up. These spores don't emanate very far initially until they really settle and then traverse around through air pressurization, HVAC turning on and off, windows, doors opening closing etc. So when you know that fact, you have to really know how to utilize that tool, and I think it's become more of an art form, unfortunately.
[00:19:12.14] Scott: With the ERMI or what some term MSQPCR, what do you recommend for self-sampling? Do you like the vacuum canister? Do you like the cloth? How long should someone wait after they've done their normal house cleaning so that they're not getting a false negative?
Where would you suggest collecting, so that we're not getting too much historical, but getting a more current issue kind of perspective? And is sampling let's say on the top of a ceiling fan or a door jamb or someplace that's been rarely cleaned, maybe the top of a refrigerator. Is that a wise thing to do or is that not going to give us the right perspective?
[00:19:49.07] Michael R.: I personally think if you're sampling from an area that's less likely to be cleaned, you're much more likely to get historical data. A home can be built hundred years ago, there may have been situations where there was past leaks that were actually resolved correctly. And so getting historical data on there could make you think that there's a massive issue when there may not be, right. So I think there's something to be said there.
The best way to probably sample would be to clean the home, wait a couple of weeks, maybe three to four weeks until there's enough dust that settles. Sample that dust and analyze that in, because that dust is going to be more accurate to really what's being actively created in the environment, so when you get those types of red flags, you'll know that they're more likely pointing to active issues. Of course, there's limitations in this, but I think that's probably the more accurate way to get a good reading of what could be going on currently in your environment.
[00:20:42.12] Scott: So it sounds like you tend to use the Swiffer cloth method, rather than the vacuum canister method. Is that right?
[00:20:48.24] Michael R.: I tend to. I think if you're kind of following that instruction, I think it'll probably be the most effective. I mean, vacuums are going to be more helpful when you're dealing with carpeting. You're trying to analyze carpeting, but even then, I mean a carpet if it's 10 years old, it's likely to have a little more historical data. And as we know carpets can kind of be like sponges, our own little petri dishes.
[00:21:10.17] Scott: So ERMI is probably the most popular self-testing option, and yet the score itself is often not a good reflection of the health of a home or health of an environment. So can you give us some of your insights about how your brain interprets an ERMI, what are the allergenic, toxigenic, or pathogenic molds that you think of as being the most concerning? And is it true that on an ERMI, if you see any Stachy or Stachybotrys, that is a sign of a likely serious problem?
[00:21:40.06] Michael R.: Those are amazing questions. The score itself is always a big topic of contention, of course. I don't utilize a score at all, I don't think that it's a useful algorithm in its current state. I think there's a lot more work needed to make that useful. I don't have all the answers on how that would come about.
But the reality of it is I’m looking at the actual data, how much is present in each species. And what I’m looking for is it 10 times, 100 times, or 1000 times over the average, and that's kind of how I’m interpreting it. Because I want people to know that a net zero mold home is not going to happen, right. Mold's part of our ecosystem, we don't need to build bubbles around our houses to be safe, we just need to make sure that our environment is not conducive for mold to grow.
Remember, the problem is the abundance of particles, and how particles get abundant in our environment is either a, bad housekeeping, meaning we allow these particles to accumulate in our environment. We're not removing them by removing the dust, where in which these particles settle. And b, they're sources in the home creating an abundance of particles, that would otherwise normally not be in our environment.
So when we have to look at that, that's how we have to kind of interpret the data. So when I see something a thousand times over the average, I can clearly indicate that there's likely an active problem within that species, especially if the dust was collected properly. As far as Stachybotrys or Chaetomium, I would say when I see those present, even one spore, my inclination is to say let's try to find where that Stachybotrys or Chaetomium is hiding.
Of course, it could be settlement, it could be one spore that you brought in. But that's one of the things that I always typically recommend to take a little more seriously, because if there is an issue, typically, the Stachybotrys or Chaetomium as we've seen it in the past, they're very low counts.
But those very low counts end up opening up and finding a bigger issue somewhere. So I would say be vigilant and try to see if there's any possibility of a long-standing leak that could harbor Chaetomium or Stachybotrys, which are toxogenic molds and rule it out, right? And be safe rather than sorry.
[00:23:43.00] Scott: So when you say you look for ten times, a hundred times, a thousand times more than the average. Are you taking the average of the number of spores for each of the group one molds, and that's the average? Or are you using an average that's coming from lots of different home environments to compare that to?
[00:23:59.18] Michael R.: So, I think the average is based upon the EPA's analysis of a thousand homes, and that actually, each species when it's tenfold above the average, it'll have one asterisk next to it. If it's 100-fold over the average, it'll have two asterisks next to it, a thousand will have three. So that you're looking for asterisks.
Does tenfold always mean there's a problem? Not necessarily. I mean, like I said, it could be bad housekeeping, you could have hit a reservoir that had more species present than typical. So it doesn't always mean that there's necessarily a problem. But when you start seeing a hundred times, a thousand times, it's usually indicative of a problem. So I typically recommend if the numbers look pretty good, re-clean, re-test, see where things are.
And of course, typically I’m working with people that are coming to me and they're saying they're not feeling well, and so it really depends. if the family is feeling fine and they're just being vigilant about making sure their environments in good shape, and we see these things, I’ll probably recommend re-cleaning, re-testing.
Someone who's coming to me that's not doing well, they really suspect that there's mold. Maybe they've been in moldy environments before and they're having similar feelings, where they kind of are really thinking and pointing towards that, we may make recommendations to get an inspection thereafter and just rule anything out as a potential.
[00:25:19.20] Scott: Is that one, two, three asterisk notation that you mentioned, is that something that's on both Mycometrics and EnviroBiomics ERMI results?
[00:25:28.16] Michael R.: I am not sure off top my head if it's off Mycometrics, I know for a fact it is on EnviroBiomics.
[00:25:34.14] Scott: Okay. Now that's amazing, I mean as many people as I’ve talked to in this realm, that's a new insight that I didn't realize was there and available in terms of interpretation. Are there any of the group one molds that you might see, even if elevated, that you think yes, that's interesting but maybe not likely to contribute to someone having a complex chronic health challenge.
[00:25:55.00] Michael R.: Yes. I mean, I’m looking for and again it obviously depends on just the volume of particulate there. But I’m typically looking at Aspergillus, Penicillium, Chaetomium, and Stachybotrys as more of the prevalent molds that I see in people's homes, especially where people are complaining of symptoms. I know fusarium isn't on it, and mucor mycosis is something that's been a topic of discussion as of recently.
So hopefully, maybe in the future, we can kind of start looking at that as well. Wallemia obviously comes into play quite a bit, but these are things that I would consider a little bit more rare. Not that they don't occur, but you typically see Aspergillus, Penicillium, Stachybotrys, Chaetomium. and then if they're more allergenic symptoms and it's more of an allergy concern, we'll look at Cladosporium too. But I would say those are pretty much the main molds that we typically see in a home where there's issues.
[00:26:52.04] Scott: So we know the ERMI score is not ideal, sometimes a low score can be a problem, sometimes a high score can actually be reasonably good. Why is it that doing an ERMI post remediation is even more difficult to use that score as an indication of the success of the remediation, and is it post remediation best just to look at the group one score and not consider group two at all?
[00:27:17.08] Michael R.: Yes, it's a really great question. The reality of the situation is when you're doing remediation and if you're doing it right, you should be removing all of these particles. You can't really distinguish group one molds versus group two when you're cleaning a home.
So the way the score is just group one minus group two, right? So if you're removing both simultaneously, the score is not likely to improve after remediation, because it should be going down simultaneously together. It's not until the environment has more of a normal habitation where these outdoor molds do make their way in, homes are not hermetically sealed, it's going to happen.
And that's when you start to see less water damage molds, more outdoor molds, common molds and that's when you start to get that negative score that everybody desires. I think that because we have so much attention on the score, it creates this fear that there's still a problem in my home when there may not be. And that's why I shout from the rooftops, do not look at the score, it's confusing, it's likely to significantly impact your mental health, and not allow you to move on from it, and I think that's a really big problem that we have to face.
[00:28:25.12] Scott: One of the things about the ERMI that I do like, and while it's also probably not perfect, is at least from an ERMI you can calculate the HERTSMI-2, which statistically seems to provide probably more insight than the ERMI score itself. The EMMA on the other hand is interesting in that it looks at some molds, some mycotoxins.
Unfortunately, you can't calculate the HERTSMI-2 score from an EMMA, and so that's one of the potential downsides with that. But as you mentioned, can look at the mycotoxin piece, which is not something that we're looking at with an ERMI. So talk to us a little bit about the value in doing an EMMA, in addition to the ERMI.
[00:29:03.21] Michael R.: Yes. I mean, I think the EMMA, the value is there is you get a combination. You get some molds and then some mycotoxins, it would cost more to do an ERMI and a mycotoxin panel separately.
So it's more cost effective for sure. The only downside of course of going that route is you're going to have less visibility into the five mycotoxins we can test for. I’m pretty sure ERMI only does a few, and you're going to get less molds on the EMMA as well. But for those who are budget conscious looking at that snapshot, I think it's a great alternative, because let's face it, this thing does get costly.
[00:29:36.25] Scott: Let's talk about testing that you would suggest for places that people less commonly visit, don't have as much control over like maybe their church or their school. And then building on that, what about people that are looking for a new environment, they're going to multiple apartments, they're looking at homes, they're considering a lease or a purchase. How can we test these environments that we maybe don't have time to do a lot of collection and things of that nature? What are your thoughts on how to vet those types of environments?
[00:30:06.13] Michael R.: So with that being said, I think there are some packages that you can buy from labs that are a little more conclusive such as like ERMI with mycotoxins, together with one sample, that could be pretty helpful for that scenario, or you can do something like the EMMA. I know no matter what, it's a five-day turnaround, and in this market, it's challenging to get a place to hold on for five days, let alone sometimes even five minutes.
But I would say if you're really concerned about this or if you are someone who's hypersensitive and you really want to make sure that you have a healthy environment, it's something that you probably strongly want to consider, just to check out the environment. I think the dust test would make sense in this regard, because you're getting a snapshot of what's in the environment.
Hopefully, they've cleaned the place and removed some of the historical data, and you get a better accurate reflection. But that's the only real I think cost effective way to go about it, other than getting an inspector to come in and do all these types of tests. I think it's probably the most cost-effective way to get the best bang for your buck, and see if there's anything there that is a concern to you or your doctor etc.
[00:31:13.15] Scott: If someone knows that they have an issue, there may be this kind of desire to just jump past testing and jump into remediation. But why do you think it's important to do that proper testing before doing remediation?
[00:31:25.19] Michael R.: Yes. I think you're not worried about the things that you can see, you're worried about the things that you can't. And I think that's really the best way to kind of look at this process. So if you see that you have a mold problem in the corner of a room, by all means, remediate it, right? You can see it, you don't need to test for it unless you want to know the specific type and quantity and all that.
But when you're going through a remediation process, typically, you're trying to make sure that you have a cleaner environment, and you're looking at all the possible sources that can be in the home, you want to eradicate them all at once. Of course, with budget limitations too, I think testing is really helpful, because you're going to want to know and how to remove the area that's creating the most impact.
For example, you may have a bathroom, maybe there's some mold in the bathroom, but there's a lot of mold in the HVAC. And if you have a limited budget, you'd want to know and have that data to know how much impact you're going to make if you can only afford to do one or the other. So I think data is really important so you can look at things scientifically and say I know that I’m going to get the better bang for the buck if I focus on this area first. And I think that's where the true value comes in with testing.
[00:32:28.19] Scott: And it sounds like also that you want that initial baseline testing before remediation, so you can do some post-testing and compare to show that there actually was some improvement, right?
[00:32:37.29] Michael R.: Well, that's true too, yes. Baseline testing allows you to understand exactly where it started and where it finished. You want to make sure that the remediation was successful in eradicating it. And I’ve seen this time and time again where you removed two feet of a wall, and you should have gone four.
And it looked great, and only testing picked up the fact that you needed to go four feet, and so now you go four feet, right? So I think testing provides a lot of validity there too on the post inspection, otherwise, if you jump right into remediation, then do a post inspection, you don't know where things started, you don't really know how much improvement you got or how much improvement you may need thereafter.
[00:33:14.21] Scott: Historically, it seems like many inspectors focused on testing for mold, and even practitioners testing for mycotoxins, because we could that those really were kind of surrogate indicators for broader water damage building problems. I think it's fairly recent that IEPs are testing for Actinos and endotoxins.
So I’m wondering how important you think those are, what do you do differently if anything from a remediation perspective if there are bacteria like Actinos or endotoxins, and how often do you maybe find low mold issues that maybe previously we would have said well, this environment looks really good, so they've got low mold, low fungal spores, fragments all of that, but maybe have high Actinos and endotoxins?
[00:34:02.04] Michael R.: Yes, it's a great question. I think a lot of this stems from obviously water damage, right? So the things that we can control when it comes to bacteria is going to be where they're waterborne bacteria, meaning bacteria that thrives in this water damage environment. There are also bacteria that comes from the body, we excrete it.
And so, in terms of that, if you're not feeling well or you have an abundance of bacteria, dealing with some illness, you may produce a lot more bacteria than the average person which can be picked up on that actinomycetes test. When I’m looking at the whole picture, the nice thing about this, good remediation is going to look at the water damage, and they're going to remove mold and bacteria in the process, especially if you're using broad spectrum products.
So I think that there's not really necessarily something that needs to be done in addition to the normal remediation process, and I’ll kind of tie into where I think the remediation process needs to go in terms of standardization. But for when I’m looking at a home, the reason I’m testing for all these things is I just want to see what's there. My philosophy is if you have an abundance of bacteria, toxins, particles etc. It's a good idea to reduce them, you know, to more of a normal level.
When I’m looking at endotoxins for example, that's produced by bacteria as it dies off. So that's a good indicator that there may be past water damage that could have been corrected, and the bacteria could have died off as it was corrected, but it was never fully remediated properly. So there may be old water damage at that point that the clients tell me about, that maybe wasn't repaired properly that we may want to reopen up and just remediate and make sure that whatever was there as the source is now fully gone.
That kind of brings us back to that ideology of though even though it's dead, it can still potentially harm you. That's kind of how I utilize that, Actinomycetes, what I do differently for Actinomycetes which as has become more and more popular thank you to Dr. Ritchie Shoemaker. The interesting thing about Actinomycetes is a, it's beyond the ERMI of bacteria. They were looking at all these particles produced by bacteria.
And the reason I say it's beyond because there is so much there, and not all of Actinomycetes that people are able to identify are going to be produced by these water damage events. As I mentioned earlier, some come from the body, you have some come from the soil. So if you're a family that never takes your shoes off when you get inside your home, you could be tracking that stuff in. The good news is that the remedy is cleaning, removing these particles, just as like you would removing mold particles.
The bad news is and there's only really one bad news, is some of these can emanate from our drain lines. As a matter of fact, most of the studies around Actinomycetes were collected from the sludge in our drain lines. HVAC condensation pipes as an example, our PVC drain lines. A lot of our drain lines are made out of PVC these days, which are not antimicrobial like our copper pipes are. So it creates a little bit of a challenge where we're having to kind of guide people to cleaning out their drain lines using like enzymatic solutions, drain cleaners etc.
To kind of flush that stuff out. And then we're actually tape sealing all of the drain inserts or outlets if you will, to make sure that none of that is burping back, cleaning the home and then retesting and seeing what comes out of it. Actinomycetes again it's another thing where there's a score, there's dominance, there's prevalence. It's really difficult in its current state as a remediation person, to really guarantee which direction things are going to go and how the outcome is going to be.
But what we are noticing is in our typical cleaning process, again, looking at the data not the score we're seeing massive reductions in what fragments and particles are present. So it's a work in progress for sure. But I think the good news is that there's really, outside of cleaning drain lines, cleaning the home is really going to be one of the most successful actions at removing these toxins and particles.
[00:38:03.12] Scott: I have seen some people about testing for mold actually looked really good, they were not well, and their Actinos and endotoxins were quite high. And so wondering do you see that where there doesn't seem to be a mold issue, but there is this bacterial and bacterial toxin issue?
[00:38:21.04] Michael R.: Yes, we see it quite a bit, where on the surface the mold looks totally normal, doesn't really seem to be too much of an abundance of mold, but we are seeing these bacteria present. And a lot of that typically is from what I’ve seen in the field, is they had water damage, again, they repaired it, they didn't really remediate.
But most of the mold that was growing if it was growing at all would have been on the dry wall in the insulation that they did take out, so they did that step correctly, but they didn't abrasively remove any potential bacteria when they did that process and so they just built right back. And that's where we're kind of seeing that issue where there's toxins, there's bacteria particles, doesn't really seem to be much mold present. So you have to kind of look at both sides and make sure you're looking at the whole picture of what's going on in the environment.
[00:39:10.01] Scott: My recollection is that Dr. Shoemaker most recently has said that mold and mycotoxins maybe are about nine percent of the problem, that endotoxins are in the 30 plus percent and the Actinos in the 40 plus percent.
So that's kind of interesting, particularly thinking about the next question, which is, lots of people are interested in this idea of using mold dogs to come in and sniff out sources of contamination. Interesting now that maybe mold is not the primary issue that's making people sick, I think that still has to kind of be proven out more clinically. But what are your thoughts on using mold dogs as a way to identify the source of contamination, when it just can't be found otherwise.
[00:39:51.06] Michael R.: Yes. I mean, it's obviously an interesting conversation, because of the fact that on one hand we're concerned about dogs health, right? We're putting dogs in environments where we know that there is potential to not be a healthy environment in order to help us. So I think we don't know much about the long-term exposure to animals, so I think that puts the animals at risk there.
But look people in desperate times call for desperate measures, and I understand if there's a service that you're paying for, people will get it. I can tell you from firsthand experience I’ve seen some of these mold dog reports. On one hand, I’ve seen mold sniffing dogs pick up issues behind a shower that you would have never guessed. On the other hand, I’ve seen them point to something that didn't visibly see anything present.
So in my opinion, it's going to depend on the dog, the trainer, and the various variables there to understand how effective that will be. But I do have concerns especially considering we don't know, we still don't know enough about mold and bacteria, how will these water damage buildings impact us other than we know for sure that they do impact some. It's it still raises a lot of questions.
[00:41:04.04] Scott: Yes. And sadly, I mean people like you that understand this probably use much more protective tools to protect your own health. But my understanding is that IEPs or indoor environmental professionals and remediators commonly have significant health complications over time, and that their careers are often not very long, because they are constantly being exposed to these things. And so is that your observation as well? That people really, if they're not protecting themselves, that the work you're doing can potentially negatively impact your health obviously.
[00:41:36.15] Michael R.: Totally. I mean, I’ll tell you that even when I protect myself, I’m only 99% protected, and I think that's something to be said, that it's nothing we can do is ever 100%, right? There's always some risk. When you're looking at that, I mean I’ve had my own health complications over the years, I’ve been in many people's homes.
I had significant weight gain, I had some brain fog issues in the past and it was such a slow degradation. Like as we're talking over the span of ten years, that it wasn't until I went ahead and did this detox program actually this past January, where at the end of it, I couldn't even recognize myself. My energy was up, I was feeling great, I lost 30 pounds so far, I’m still going.
But there was significant blockage. And I’ll tell you one interesting point about this whole thing is what I noticed was when I was going in the sauna at the start of this whole detox thing, I really wasn't sweating. And about seven days thereafter, I was sweating like a faucet. And so it was really interesting to see how blocked up my body was, and how much better and cleaner things got and how I felt the difference.
So I would argue that even though I would consider myself otherwise healthy, I’ve never really grown up with any chronic issues or conditions other than having asthma as a child. I was definitely impacted over the years of just being exposed to not only mold and bacteria in people's homes, but to the various toxins in our world. And so I think it's smart to practice good hygiene, doing detox, eating clean, taking care of ourselves, and air quality has to be one of it.
[00:43:10.10] Scott: Let's jump now more into remediation. So what are the three main steps in a proper remediation?
[00:43:16.13] Michael R.: Well, the first step is containment and engineering controls, which you would think, it is a standard, right? It's in the IICRC S520 S500, we talk about it, everybody knows about it, but it doesn't ever really get executed properly in a lot of different cases. Why that is, I think there's a misunderstanding of pressurization. I’ve sat in these classes, and I have to take continuing education classes all the time. I carry seven different state licenses for mold remediation. And so I know that air pressurization is something that is glossed over, and I think that as a result, we have people that don't understand how to utilize engineering controls or set them up properly, which allows for this cross-contamination to happen.
And I’ll give you a great example that's top of mind. There's a project in Atlanta that I was called in after the remediation was done. This woman was hypersensitive, she called me and said these guys just left for the day, and I’m like having reactions upstairs and they're downstairs. And I wasn't having reactions all day, I’m very concerned. And I asked her to just kind of describe to me what was going on, how the property was set up.
And what she had described to me was that the air scrubber inside the containment was set lower than the air scrubber outside the containment. So what was happening was that the air scrubber outside the containment was pulling all the particles up through the ceiling rafters and into other rooms through interstitial cavities. So essentially, the containment was useless because they cross contaminated everything from inside that containment to outside the containment.
And when I was asked to talk to them about setting it up right, and how they had to clean the home thereafter, and all this stuff, they really didn't seem to have an understanding of pressurization and thought they had done everything correctly. So I think we have to dial in more into pressurization, and how important of a role that plays into things, so that people can understand. Because there's also situations where there's no window nearby, you can't put it under negative pressure.
So you have to positively pressurize the space outside of the containment, so that nothing can get in, get out of it. Just like if you open a door to a hotel, and the gust of wind is blowing out at you, that's because the building's positively pressurized. So understanding pressurization I think is really key part that's missing. The second thing of course is after the engineering controls are set up properly, there's demolition that happens. I think a lot where mistakes are made here too is not removing enough building materials.
On an exterior wall, but as an example, a lot of people do these flood cuts. But typically, exterior walls are insulated. And if the water travel down, that insulation is going to harbor moisture, likely contain the ability to grow mold thereafter, because it's going to stay wet far longer. And so we're missing the upper section of the wall that likely still has mold and bacteria.
So those are some of the things that another dangers that happen if you will in the remediation process, making sure you remove enough building material following the path of water and going a little bit further, because mold does have roots that grow into building materials that can spread further. And I’d say the last important piece is just knowing that once you've removed the source, right?
You could have the source still growing into some of the framing and building materials that are left behind, making sure you're abrasively removing that, utilizing the HEPA vacuums and wiping the area down. Because these fragments, these toxins, these particles, they're going to pass right through the HEPA filter, the HEPA filter only gets down to 3 microns.
So if mold is between 2 and 4 microns, we're missing some mold spores, and we're also missing any fragments and toxins that are going to be around that one micron level. So we have to really make sure we're wiping the space clean as well, and I think that's another thing that often gets missed typically in the remediation process. And then last but not least, once you've removed the source, you've tested it, you've verified it it's good to go, your mold and bacteria is going to flow throughout the home as long as it's there.
For many people, they're dealing with issues that have been there for a while. It's very typical that I go into somebody's house and we're looking at a window leak that happened three years ago, that they didn't really think anything of it at the time. And so for three years, we've had these particles enter our environment, circulate around our home. Some of them of course get removed in routine cleaning, but you're likely to build up an abundancy of these particles over time.
And so as they go room to room, in order to really make sure that we've done all we can do to remove the particles and get a better equilibrium, if you will, we want to clean our house and we want to try to remove dust reservoirs, especially the places we don't clean often like the top of ceiling fans, top of kitchen cabinets
So I think if we can, and I know this sounds like a lot, right? And there's an insurance industry that has to be taken into account too. But if we can kind of make this more of a normal thing, I think we're going to see a lot better success, and I think we're going to see a lot better health improvement as well.
[00:48:26.04] Scott: So essentially, engineering controls, removal and then cleaning, those are the kind of primary steps. How many sources or areas of contamination do you commonly find in a water damaged building? is it usually one place or are there ten places, like what do you normally see?
[00:48:42.08] Michael R.: Yes. Unfortunately, it's usually 10 to 15 different places, and obviously, it depends on the size of the home. The bigger the home, the more opportunity there is for there to be incidences. I look at this and there's just many different areas typically. We are really starting to now get it where we're paying attention more to water damage, we're being more proactive. I would say the awareness has definitely increased over the years.
But we still have many years of problems that likely haven't been cured properly, that we have to deal with. And it's really, what I’m noticing is it's the abundancy of these things. I rarely ever see one home has one source, and all of a sudden, they don't feel well. It's typically this happens, a couple years later this happens, a couple years later this happens and it's the abundancy of all of these things that start to create this environment where people start to notice a difference in their health.
So yes, it's typically many years which makes this complex to fix it, and I think that's why tying back to the data it's so important, because let's face it, who can afford to do 10 to 15 different construction products in their home at one shot, most people can't. So I think breaking it down as to which construction projects should be a priority for you to fix is really going to be key.
The reason I’m mentioning the word construction here is very simply this, it's not enough just to remove the mold, it's to make sure it doesn't come back. So there's likely whatever allow the opportunity for that water to get in is going to have to be re-engineered. You may need to replace the window; you may need to replace the roof as an example. So I just want to make sure people understand that there's a two-part process to that.
[00:50:20.06] Scott: What are the key elements of a remediation plan that someone should expect to receive in advance of getting into that process? And then who's authoring that remediation plan is it the IEP? Is it the remediator? I know in most states, there should be some separation, it shouldn't be the same person doing the testing that's recommending remediation. So how does that remediation plan unfold?
[00:50:41.28] Michael R.: Yes. I think this is going to vary state to state based upon state regulations. Like Texas is very different, has a very specific process for example. But typically, the IEP should be the one making the recommendations. They're doing the investigation, they're the first eyes on the ground.
They're finding all the issues, recommending sampling where these issues are, and they're obviously determining that those sampling methodologies to say how big of an issue this really is. But I will tell you this, just because of that fact of having 10 to 15 different issues, what I’ve noticed is no IEP really wants to take the liability of telling you what you should do and what you shouldn't do.
I think that's where things get really confusing and people are desperately looking for somebody to help them analyze it. What we typically do is say look, I cannot guarantee that if you only do this, this and this your health will change at all. But what I can tell you is scientifically; this looks like it's producing the most amount of particles versus this area.
So if budget's a concern, let's start here, right? If you feel better after that and don't need to do the other things, more power to you. I think this is health, right? Health is a journey. I don't care what you're dealing with, it's a journey. Even if you're losing weight, it doesn't happen overnight. You have to make serious steps and changes in your life. This is no different, you're going to be improving your home which is your nest over time, just like you would any other normal construction project. The caveat is this obviously has more health concerns.
But I think one of the biggest successes that I’ve had as a remediator, is letting people know that doing what you can is the right thing to do. And if you can't afford to do everything, don't go into this shock like oh there's nothing I can do, I’m hopeless. You don't need to move out of your house and live in a tent, you just need to take some small steps towards that, and you will notice a difference because I’m telling you people are.
I think that's one of the biggest things about me, is I tell you when I first got in the industry, I had this misconception too of if you don't do everything, you may not feel better. But honestly, I’m seeing that that's not true, because we are, I would say 75 percent of the projects that I deal with, they're not doing everything that's recommended. They're taking bite-sized approach, they're doing what they can and they are seeing a difference. I think I want to champion that a bit because so many people feel overwhelmed by this process.
[00:53:10.19] Scott: So if I’m working with an IEP, they deliver a remediation plan. What should I be looking for in that plan to know that they really know what they're talking about?
[00:53:21.09] Michael R.: Yes, it's a great question. I think you want to ask them questions about why they're recommending what they're recommending based upon the results. Have them go over the results with you, and ask them why they came to that conclusion of why certain things need to be done. I think that's really helpful, because if you don't understand why someone came to a conclusion of why you should do something, then how do you know that you should do it?
I think that's really what it comes down to, because yes, you're going to have people in the space that just say well, there's mold there, so you need to take care of that. But the reality of it is you're going to have some mold in your home. And we're not trying to get to a mold free home, we're trying to get the mold under control. We're trying to make sure that we don't have a conducive environment for it to grow, and we're trying to reduce the amount of particles present in our environment. And that's really what the goal should be.
So have him explain it, because I’ve seen people say there's 200 spores of aspergillus in this wall, let's tear down the wall. Look, I’m happy to chase anything you want at the end of the day, but the reality of it is the 200,000 spores in the room next door is going to be much more advantageous to remove that. So I think it's just asking the right question of how people came to the conclusion, and that'll give you a good inclination if you agree or not.
[00:54:37.00] Scott: And I like the way you kind of in the book broke down the remediation plan, where you talk about what we talked about a minute ago, which is what are the engineering controls to prevent the cross-contamination while you're removing that source material. What is the method that's being used to remove the source of that exposure? What kinds of products are being used? What the guarantees and warranties are?
So really just making sure that the expectations are set, and there's a good understanding of what's kind of being done and planned before going into that process. Would you say that if the engineering controls are implemented appropriately, meaning negative pressure, positive pressure, air scrubbers all of those things. Do you find that most people can live in a home that's being remediated? Or is the recommendation that they should not be living there during the remediation process?
[00:55:24.25] Michael R.: Yes. I mean, I always tell people if you can get out of there, you should. Things are going to get kicked up and stirred around, and it's just better not to be exposed in that environment. I know many people have been exposed this entire time, and so they're under that premise of well, I don't want to spend extra money to get out. I would try to arrange to stay with friends and family. I think you're going to have a better outcome.
One of the things that I always worry about with remediation when people living in the home is they're living in the home, so they're going to be opening doors, maybe they get hot, they open a window or something like that and we may not see that from across the house and that could change the pressurization and make it difficult for the equipment that we set up to be set up properly.
So I always look at that as a little bit of a risk and a concern, but look, we have to work with people and what their limitations are. If they don't have anywhere to go, and they don't have any budget to stay at a hotel while the process is happening, because especially for us the process typically takes many weeks. I think that you got to do the best you can to work with people, and I think that's at the end of the day that's kind of what it is. But totally, if they can.
[00:56:34.01] Scott: You work with lots of people that are immunocompromised, maybe people that are ultra-sensitive, dealing with mast cell activation from that water damage building exposure. So how might a remediation be different when you're working with a highly sensitive client?
[00:56:48.11] Michael R.: Yes. I think that the difference is honestly is the stress of how important the cleaning aspect is. I think that's where a lot of people get hung up. Because especially with most remediation companies, they don't do fine particle cleaning, that's kind of a new idea. So if you're having a company come in and they're just doing source removal, that's great. Removing sources is a huge part of it.
But that's where you start to hear that people still don't feel better after remediation, they still feel like the mold is there, it's because it is. It's still in the dust, it's still in the environment and it's still opportunistically getting into the body, they're still exposed to it. So having that stress on cleaning, I think is really important because otherwise that's typically what you seem to get in the hypersensitive community.
[00:57:38.18] Scott: Let's talk a little bit about fogging. I think so many people seem to be excited about skipping the identification, skipping the remediation, skipping the removal of the source material, jumping right into these fogging solutions that seem to be presented as the entire solution to the problem.
When might fogging be appropriate, if ever, when is it inappropriate? And let's say someone lives in maybe an environment that they don't own, maybe an apartment where the landlord's not willing to do any significant remediation. Could fogging in some cases on a regular basis be a way to make the environment better, if not completely resolved?
[00:58:15.24] Michael R.: Well, I think to answer your second question first, I think that that's going to depend on somebody's sensitivity, and what they're fogging with. I think a big popular fog these days is like pure acetic acid for example. Again, it's going to break these down into smaller fragments. And for some who are really sensitive, those smaller fragments are going to be just as big of a problem, so I think it may not be a great solution there.
But of course, when you're looking at that, from a testing standpoint, if you were to test only for the spores after fogging, it's going to make it look like the place is perfect. So you're not identifying fragments really at that level. So I think you're going to miss the opportunity for someone who's sensitive that they may still complain and you might not be sure why. In terms of fogging overall, I mean, I think just based upon that premise that an it's not getting rid of the source, so whatever allowed the opportunity for mold or bacteria to be there in the first place is still going to happen.
So even if it's breaking down these particles on the surface and into fragments, you're not detecting that there's mold there. But guess what happens six months later? And it's even in the white papers and most of these fogging products, you see that new recovery curve. Where it's down, six months later they're testing it's back up oh and it's worse, right? So I think there's something to be said there if you're not as sensitive, I think fogging may work if you're doing it on a consistent basis, you're kind of trapped and you have no other option, it may be helpful. But as a long-term solution, it's definitely not.
I think the bigger problem with it is it's marketed as a long-term solution. They're going out there and they're saying don't worry about the mess, we can do it, it's demolition free, it's amazing and you feel like you're being sold a magic wand at that point. The reality of it is we have to look at scientifically how did it all start in the first place, and unless we handle that, you can fog away and you're never going to actually eradicate the problem.
[01:00:10.10] Scott: I know you've been quoted as saying that fogging is a sore in your side, and I would agree with everything you just said. I think it's not the place to jump to, that you have to identify the tumor essentially and extract that before you can really make that environment healthy. Let's talk a little about HVAC, the potential challenges they might create in a remediation project.
How often can they be clean, versus potentially needing to be entirely replaced? How can we minimize the potential for the HVAC system to be part of the problem that impacts the entire living space? And one of my thoughts was, is it the case that the HVAC system is essentially metastasizing the cancer, so to speak.
[01:00:55.08] Michael R.: Yes. So real quick if I may, just to comment on the thorn in my side on the fogging. The real reason that it upsets me so much is that people are spending hard-earned money on it, not understanding that it's not a long-term solution. And so now they have less money to spend on actually fixing the problem, and they had no idea wasn't going to fix it in the first place.
So I think that's where I get kind of so emotional about that, because it's tough, I mean, we all have limited resources to work with. The HVAC, the lungs of the home, right? So this is a very important conversation because the HVAC I think really accounts for a lot of issues with this. These particles come into our environment even we don't have a mold problem.
So you could have spores getting to the coil, if you don't have proper filtration, that can over time start to grow and colonize on that coil, really making the HVAC a source. So we have that problem, and I think that's why filtration is so important. The other issue is when we do have mold, obviously, now there's a lot more opportunity for that HVAC to get contaminated. Cleaning it is difficult, because if you've ever seen a coil, it's a million pieces of metal welded together.
It is very difficult to clean in between. I think to really clean it properly, you would almost need like a toothbrush to go in between and something even smaller than that, and really clean in between. What a lot of people do is they're using coil cleaning products that are designed kind of like almost like a Draino for your drains, they're trying to dissolve everything on the side and push everything through. I’ve seen coil cleaning be effective.
I think it's going to play a part into how old the HVAC system is essentially, because the more rust and stuff like that it's just going to make it harder to remove these particles. I think you want to weigh out the cost of cleaning versus replacement. In most cases, it's pretty close, and especially if you're not being upsold all the other components. If you're talking coil cleaning versus coil replacement, it may only cost 50% more to get a whole new coil. If the coil is a lot older, that's probably a better investment.
Now, of course, when you're looking at replacing the whole thing we're talking outside compressor, the blower, the whole nine, of course that increases the cost. But for me what I’m really seeing is the coil is really the problem and the most complex part of it. So if you are on a limited budget, definitely weigh those two things against each other.
The duct works another really entirely difficult thing to talk about because you have flexible duct which really can't be cleaned, even the friction that's created with the plastic against the air, if you've ever tried to clean one of those things, I personally have, you'll never get the dust fully out of it. The argument is well, if that's the case, how about mold? I think that it just happens over time, right? The friction and stuff like that happens over time, you're going to have these particles knocked loose and get into the environment.
So to me, flexible ducts should be replaced. Good thing is they're a lot cheaper to replace. When you do replace them, you typically see a large benefit versus the investment. Metal ducts can be cleaned, not one's lined with insulation. If they're lying with insulation, of course insulation being something that's porous, these particles get embedded into the fibers. Again, same thing, you'll want to remove that insulation lining which is not easy to do, definitely a chore.
But that's the best way to deal with that and then clean the metal components. And then at that point, you can re-insulate on the outside of the duct as opposed to the inside of the duct, so you have cleanable ducts. The act of cleaning ducts itself even when metal is a bit interesting too, because if you have a 50-foot run, how are you really cleaning a 50-foot run even with a camera and with kind of one of those brush attachment tools, you really are not going to be able to do it 100%.
If it's in an exposed space or you're okay with making some incisions in the drywall, if it's enclosed, you may want to consider making incisions into the duct work, and then of course, they all have to be sealed properly with mastic to make sure you're not getting additional duct leakage.
So it's very complex, and I hate it that it is so complex, because I know this is a really important piece of the puzzle. That's why it's so important to get proper info air filtration like you just did with your new Merv 16. So I think that's going to help alleviate a lot of these issues, by keeping these particles from getting into the unit in the first place.
[01:05:20.09] Scott: How often would you say that basements or attics or crawl spaces are the primary sources of contamination? And what are some of the things we need to think about for each of those? In a more humid climate for example, should an attic be sealed tightly, should it be allowed to breathe? Let's talk about those a little.
[01:05:38.00] Michael R.: Yes. So basements, attics, crawl spaces are definitely a, some of the more extensive mold issues that I see, and of course, the most costly to fix properly. With basements and crawl spaces, I mean, typically they're engineered incorrectly. There's no waterproofing strategy. So you have water coming in, you have moisture coming in. You never go down there and check, there's hardly any air movement even if you do have vents.
No dehumidification systems down there, they're typically not well done. They're starting to get better done today. But in the past when we built these homes, mold wasn't top of mind. So I think that what we're doing with crawl spaces, and it depends on the climate and the code of course, but we're finding more success sealing them in, dehumidifying them, water blocking strategies, improving the drainage around the home so that we're keeping the water diverting away from the foundation of the home.
Those are really effective strategies at controlling the crawl space. Is it ever going to be perfect? No, but that's where the dehumidifier comes into play, controlling the moisture as it does diffuse into the environment. Attics are typically either poor ventilation, or if you're sealing in your attic, which you can, we could talk more about the pros and cons of that. But if you're going to seal in your attic, make sure you dehumidify, right? Because air is still going to rise, you're still going to have moisture in your air.
If it's all staggered, and it has nowhere to go, that moisture content can build up over time. So having a dehumidifier in your attic when you have a sealed attic, we're starting to see that a lot more in newer construction homes which is a good thing. Because about five, ten years ago when they started sealing these attics in, they were forgetting about that point.
You were starting to see mold all over the ductwork, all over the spray foam, so definitely heading in the right direction there. You can either ventilate or seal it. I think that the proper thing to do in either case is to really understand which route you're going to go, and making sure you're supporting it.
So with a lot of ventilated addicts, I think ventilated attics are great. But if you're blocking the ventilation or you don't have enough ventilation, they're not so great. So it's all again kind of coming with being thoughtful about it. I’ve seen a lot of soffit vents blocked with insulation when they build the home.
Or when those guys knock on your door and say hey, I’ll improve your energy by putting new insulation, and you say that sounds like a great idea, and they throw insulation over old insulation, again, blocking these soffit vents it's a recipe for disaster and I’ve seen that too many times as you could probably tell.
So I think it's being thoughtful about these things, and making sure if we're going the ventilation route, there's enough ventilation, the ventilation is working correctly. No ventilation route? Great, well, let's dehumidify then. So it's really just kind of looking at the options and making sure that no matter what climate you're in, you're picking the best solution depending on what variables you could be faced with.
[01:08:26.23] Scott: A common question that I get is if somebody has mold in their car, for example, is there anything that can be done to remediate or improve the car? Or is it better just to get rid of it? Any insights or thoughts you have on cars?
[01:08:40.07] Michael R.: If we're trying to go for perfection, right? The main concerns about cars you have the porous materials, where mold and bacteria can be harbored in. Obviously, it depends on the situation of how the mold got there in the first place. Like for instance, if the car had water damage or water came in, you're likely going to have to go that route, right? Whereas if you're dealing with more of a humidity issue, where you have mold growing more on the surface, you want to try do some deep cleaning strategies. Leather is going to be easier to clean than cloth as an example.
So if you have cloth seats, it's going to be more challenging. You also have the filter, a lot of people don't realize that they need to change their filter in their car, air cab and filter that can harbor mold over time. So I think all these things come into consideration. Hypersensitive individuals, it's like a 50-50 shot whether they can get it clean enough or whether they need to sell it.
So definitely something that is a problem. Hopefully, the car industry catches up to this, improves the filtration in the air cabin filter, has good ventilation that occurs and I think we'll start to see that in a better direction too.
[01:09:50.03] Scott: If someone needs to remediate on a budget, where might it be reasonable to reduce the cost reduce the focus? And what things would you say in this process really do need to remain?
[01:10:00.06] Michael R.: Let's say you told me you had five thousand dollars, and you needed to improve your environment. I would say you're not remediating a crawl space; you're not remediating an attic or a basement with that budget. But what you can do is you can improve your filtration and your HVAC, which will help at removing these particles.
It’s kind of is twofold, it stops the HVAC from getting contaminated, also acts as a giant air purifier by capturing these particles into the filter. So that is probably a really good strategy to keep things from continuously passing over. You'll want to deep clean the home, remove all these reservoirs. If there is a let's say humidity issue, you'll definitely want to employ some dehumidification strategies, keeping that moisture at bay.
And there's simple little things that you can do to kind of replace certain conditions in the environment like carpets as an example, switch to more of like non-porous items as much as much as you can and be more minimalistic at that point with a smaller budget. But I think if you do that, believe it or not, you will get pretty good improvement there.
[01:11:05.11] Scott: How common is it for insurance companies to pay for these remediation projects? And are there scenarios where insurance may or may not cover the event that led to the water damage in the first place?
[01:11:17.00] Michael R.: I know insurance companies pay for remediation projects all the time; I do know that. I have not seen much on my side of things, and I think that's because a lot of people have issues that are pre-existing, that happen a long time ago, that are not within the statute of limitations, so they don't have a covered claim.
And there's also issues like vapor diffusion that occurs in a basement as an example or seepage from a foundation, those aren't covered losses and those are some of the bigger issues with these larger projects that involve basements. Roof leaks that weren't covered by a specific storm, that aren't considered storm damage, that are just poor maintenance as they would call it would not be covered.
So in so many cases that I deal with, we're not seeing the coverage for people. I think it's because they're not aware enough of how to make sure that a, they are covered, have proper coverages especially for mold. And b, they have to know that when there's a leak that happens. Even if they think it dried and they think it's all good, they should initiate a claim, and at least make the insurance company aware of it whether they want to exercise that claim or not. It at least puts things on the record.
And of course, people don't realize you can have like an insurance adjuster on your own side, like a public adjuster that can really look at your policy and help you understand what coverages you have, what you don't have, and how to get whatever you're allowed to get for your policy when dealing with this. Finally, the biggest challenge with insurance companies is they're not up to speed on the technology. You try to talk to an insurance adjuster about an ERMI or a mycotoxin, it's 10 feet over their head. They're really only concerned with dealing with things cosmetically because they don't understand the science.
So when you're talking about cutting out a wall, they're like what do you need all that plastic and containment for? You know you got a box cutter, just use the box cutter, these are real life conversations that I’ve had with insurance adjusters. So I mean, there's so many different industries that kind of impact the situation that we're in as a society and insurance is unfortunately one of them. I think that we need some regulation state by state for that, and we need some great science to present to the insurance companies, and the legislators to have them come together and really modernize these insurance policies.
[01:13:40.09] Scott: Love to hear your thoughts on personal belongings such a common question what can you keep? What should you get rid of to optimize the remediation, but also your health? And are there things like clothing for example that can be salvaged, what are your thoughts?
[01:13:53.22] Michael R.: Yes. Contents is another fun topic to discuss, and I say that with facetiousness, because the reality of the situation is, it's so individual. I’ve had a woman who had a plastic spatula, and the spatula had a handle that inserted into the head of the spatula. So there was technically like one thirty second of a space in the spatula, and she reacted to it, to the point where she called me and said I’m reacting to the spatula, what should I do? I said well, throw it away.
So it's like no matter how much logic you put into this question, it's all out the window because everybody is going to have a different level of sensitivity. So there's almost no way to standardize it then. Because for one person who may need to throw out their fabric couch, another person may feel fine around it and not see the value in throwing out their couch.
So that's where things get really tricky. What I typically do is I advise look we have porosity, it's in the IIC S520, all the different classes of porosity between porous, non-porous, semi-porous. Non-porous 100% guarantee you can clean, because there's nothing growing into it. So you're talking about removing particles on the surface that's very easy to do. Semi-porous gets a little more challenging because you have the potential for there to be some pores for things to grow into, which may require some abrasive methodology to remove.
Things like unsealed wood would be a good example of that. When you're dealing with just particles, the question is do I need to sand this unsealed wood if I don't see mold growing into? Probably not. Because now we're just dealing with the removal of particles. But the question becomes will the rag frag when you wipe it, and make the microfiber ineffective at removing particles or will you be able to do it? So there's just so much gray area and so many variables there.
Then we talk about porous, right? And the real thing about porous is the cushions, the layers, right. Because if you look at a microscope, mold being 25 to 50 times smaller than what the eye can see, picture that with a microscope looking at a fabric couch, for example, those threads are going to become much larger openings when you're looking under a microscope at that level, meaning that these mold spores can pass through these threads into the layers of the cushion. What's the real danger there? In my opinion, I think what happens when people are reacting to these types of things as they sit down on their couch, there's compression, right? That happens, there's particles that now can potentially be released as you sit down under our breathings under the body.
So for someone who's really sensitive, if they're going to react around their couch, that's probably not something that they're going to want to do, they're going to want to take more of an extra step to taking those things out. Someone who's less sensitive may want to say, you know what, do the best you can to clean. Now, again kind of going back to philosophy here, if you're doing 99% of reduction everywhere else, is having a contaminated couch going to be what pushes you over the edge? I don't know that we know that answer.
But I think that if you're concerned about the overall cost of everything and you're just doing what you can, do what you can. And if that couch doesn't make you feel well over time, and you feel great everywhere else except when you're sitting on that couch, well then you know it's time to get rid of the couch. So it's got to be more of like an investigation process with contents.
In terms of your actual clothes, we have borax, people are having great success cleaning their clothes at borax. We have ec3 laundry added, people are having great success there. I’m sure more and more options will come out over time. The reality of it I think that we've come a long way. There are extreme cases of sensitivity where people are still noticing things when they're wearing certain pieces of clothes, and again, it's that simple. Throw those things away.
[01:17:46.22] Scott: So when you hear people talk about using things like bleach, for example. What do you think? And are there cases where smaller spot cleaning type things are appropriate, and are there tools that might be better than bleach for those types of situations?
[01:18:02.22] Michael R.: Absolutely. First off, bleach, it's registered as a pesticide. So there's really no reason to use bleach I think currently, especially if we're trying to reduce our overall footprint of toxins. Harsh chemicals and things like that, we don't need to use that anymore, there are alternative products out there. For example, hydrogen peroxide, also an oxidizer, so it will lighten your grout if you're using it for that purpose.
But it's going to turn convert back into water when it's inert, so therefore it's going to be much less toxic than the bleach that you're using. Therefore, cleaning purposes, you have products like Benefact, these thymol-based products, lots of botanical detergent type products. Again, we're looking at removing. I think when bleach was highly popular, bleach was thought as this product that'll just kill anything. But now as we're learning that the objective shouldn't be to kill anything, it should be to remove it, we don't really need to use bleach anymore.
[01:18:59.11] Scott: What are the criteria that you look at to say that a remediation was successful?
[01:19:04.29] Michael R.: Well, I think the number one thing is the person feeling better, are they noticing a difference? I should say, right? Because feeling better can be very convoluted in and of itself, especially dealing with certain different complex chronic issues. But is the person noticing a difference? I think that's kind of step one.
And when they're not, and I have people that aren't sometimes, or like I’m still not doing well and we're sticking by them to understand what else it could be. Was it literally a client call I had yesterday that was like I’m still having certain symptoms, we're having them do a new round of ERMI to see what's in the environment. We feel that the testing company possibly could have missed something, because let's face it, we don't have x-ray vision.
So we're kind of looking at alternative options to help that person. But that's what this is, this is a science project, and we're trying to correlate the science project with their health, and try to understand what can we do to make a difference. So I think the reality of the situation is that you have to kind of identify how this is impacting the person for the better, and it should be for the better because you are scientifically removing these components from their home.
[01:20:15.22] Scott: So the person feeling better obviously is a good criteria. But, would you look back at some of the testing like the mycotoxin testing and Actinos and endos, like are there things from a data perspective that you look at to say okay, yes, we did the job that we were aiming to do?
[01:20:31.29] Michael R.: Yes. So from like a contractual point of view, I think this will help answer that question. There are specific things that we look for. A, we want to see that the air tests are much lower than outside. I say much lower because that's kind of my own standard, I know the standard is as long as it's lower, we're good. But we really try to go and be above and beyond to improve this space, beyond where it was brought to us from. I also want to see that swabbing the areas, we're tape lifting the areas, show very minimal amounts of fragments left over.
Because at the end of the day, our process is going in, we're vacuuming, we're doing wet wiping. We should be removing like almost virtually every particle present at that point. So we want to see significant reductions in that particle count from the swabs tape lifts. We also want to see when we're doing the cleaning process, and if we're not doing the cleaning, we're typically advising and the clients are doing it themselves.
We want to see the mycotoxin reduction to not present. If you're removing the sources of mold, in some cases if they can't remove every source that may not be possible, but they are seeing lower reductions, we're seeing lower counts.
Basically, we want to see the overall environment improving scientifically, we want to see less particles, less sources there and I think that's kind of how we measure it, and we do guarantee it on all those fronts especially with endotoxins, mycotoxins we spell it out. And I think remediators should. One of the pain points that I’ve seen in the remediation industry is like you're essentially when you sign that contract, you're paying for labor and materials and the outcome is the outcome.
I understand some people do business that way, because they just don't know what the costs are. But I think we have to do better to try to understand what the process is and what it takes to do that process, so we can be inclusive. So that people can feel good knowing that if they spend a certain value, they're going to get something out of it.
[01:22:26.28] Scott: So let's talk a little more about that type of guarantee. So if post-testing does not show the problem has been resolved or improved, what options should a guarantee from a remediator provide the consumer in terms of next steps?
[01:22:41.03] Michael R.: So let's say we're remediating a kitchen, and the scope of work says to remediate the kitchen by removing the cabinets, removing some of the flooring that was impacted and maybe the wall behind the cabinets, right? There was a sink leak as an example. If that test shows that there's still mold present, I believe that the company should go back at no additional charge and remove a little bit more wall, a little bit more floor, whatever was really necessary to capture that.
I think that if we have that sort of accountability, it kind of forces us and our employees to really do a better job on the forefront, making sure they removed enough material. By that way, it really helps the client too. Because once people are locked into a budget, and I know the construction industry, we've all been part of it.
A $25,000 remodel ended up costing 30, they opened up a wall is a problem. But I think with remediation, we got to do better to control the cost. I see so many people get their foot in the door with a bill, and then it's like well, if that doesn't pass, there's a change order. And then at that point, it's more advantageous as a remediator to rack up a higher bill if they do take out less material and fail intentionally.
So I think the reverse side, because we have so many different issues in this industry, it should really be this more thing of like look if I’m touching your kitchen, I will guarantee it, because I already know and suspect that I got to take out this much material and I’m going to add 20 more percent just as a buffer to make sure that we get it all.
[01:24:08.27] Scott: Why might someone feel worse after a successful remediation? Are there scenarios where improving the environment maybe then allows that person to start detoxifying better, maybe they feel worse for a period of time? Or is someone feeling worse after a remediation always a sign that the remediation failed?
[01:24:28.12] Michael R.: Yes, I don't think I could comfortably say it's always a sign of remediation failing. I think it's something to take into consideration, and just make sure. I hate the word fail, only because it makes people feel like someone didn't do a good job, and that's not always the case, right? Some people wholeheartedly care and they really do a good job. But we're dealing with microscopic particles that we can't see. And so the only way to validate if we did do a good job as you will is by understanding what the data is after the fact.
So if we can kind of take a step back from failing and just looking at it, maybe there's a little bit more work to do, and the data will tell us whether or not we're actually done, I think it'll take a lot of pressure off people to say oh, the project better pass on the first shot. Because odds are, it probably is going to take two tries or so. But it doesn't necessarily mean that the person's going to magically walk in and like a light switch, they're all of a sudden 100 percent better. It's a journey, improving your health.
What I would say is they should notice some improvements, if you start charting all the different areas of what symptoms you have, you should see some improvement, but you just shouldn't have this expectation that all of a sudden, you're going to be cured if you will. Like there's still that internal process of having to detoxify, and dealing with some of the issues that your body is dealing with, that may take some time.
[01:25:56.23] Scott: In your experience, can a home be remediated to the point that a person can recover in the same home that they became ill? How often do you find that moving might actually be a better option for someone, and that remediation maybe isn't going to be able to get that environment to the point that a person needs to improve their health?
[01:26:15.12] Michael R.: So a client once asked me, they had a swimming pool in their basement, like literally, a swimming pool. And what it would take to remediate properly, and I said filling in your basement with cement and probably bulldozing the house and starting over, right? Because there are certain situations where remediating the house would be so complex that it would cost more to remediate and reconstruct than it would just be to start over.
I have had those difficult conversations with people, and have honestly told them that fact. As far as can a remediation always work? I think to the extent that you're willing to go the distance, the answer is yes. If you're on a limited budget, the answer isn't always yes, and I think that's what it really comes down to. It's there's always limitations on anything. But scientifically, can you? Yes, sure. I mean, even if you have issues between Joyce and Rim Joyce, you could essentially rebuild some of those things, right? Is it cost effective? No.
So I think it always depends on the situation, the path of water travel and honestly, how much it's going to cost. But I would say for the most part, we've been blessed with having amazing clients that listen to all advice, all the way around, did everything they could and they were getting better, right? And they are telling everybody about it, and how successful it was. I think for remediation, we only hear about the horror stories.
We hardly ever hear about the success stories. Michael Schantz actually said that to me yesterday, and I totally agree. Because the reality of it is, people are taking action, people are getting better, they are creating healthier environments. Not only on the reactive side, but on the proactive side too. So I think it just takes thinking outside the box and really diving into the science of it.
[01:28:03.29] Scott: In my experience, once the limbic system has been triggered by mold exposure, for example, sometimes even the smallest exposures, post remediation that the limbic system can still respond as if the threatening tiger is present when it's really not. So I’m wondering if you've observed any value in limbic system retraining in clients once the core issue itself has been remediated.
[01:28:27.19] Michael R.: Yes, I mean I think people a lot of having a lot of success with limbic system re-training, brain re-training, and there's a big PTSD that happens here, and I think it's a very traumatic experience to go through to have to throw away belongings, to have to tear your home apart, in some cases to have to move from your home.
So when you're dealing with that, almost any little trigger that happens. I mean, you could have had too much sugar that day, you're going to attribute it to a mold exposure. I think that's a real problem that we have to face, is kind of like how do we wrap our heads around some of the mental health aspects of this, and be able to include that as part of the handling process, because people need support.
A lot of people they struggle with this because their whole time that they've not been feeling well. Their doctors are telling them they're fine, there's nothing wrong with them, it's all in their head. They're getting professionals to come in and do air tests in the center of the room and tell them there's nothing wrong with your home. And so they're kind of being spun around.
And then once they finally have that aha moment and they find it, and they figure it all out, and they realize that this could be something that has been suspending these symptoms, it's a light at the end of the tunnel. But there's a fear that comes associated with that light at the end of the tunnel. Is it enough? Did I do everything right? And will this ever come back? And that threat is real. So any trigger that could be even external to the mold factor, the bacterial factor, can trigger that where people think that they're dealing with mold.
So I love a lot of these new techniques people are coming up with, all these different doctors are coming up with new ways to look at this. There are some psychiatrists that are getting into the mix, some psychologists that are getting in the mix, or they're trying new techniques to essentially cope with a lot of those factors, that fight or flight thing that kicks on. So I’m excited to see kind of how that unfolds.
[01:30:25.16] Scott: In our last few minutes together, I want to talk about some of your recommendations for maybe some of that proactive piece that you just mentioned. So let's talk a little about dehumidifiers, are there certain brands that can be best? Can the dehumidifiers themselves potentially be a source of mold, if they're not maintained properly?
And then what about people that live in low humidity environments, for example, and they're potentially adding moisture intentionally into a home? What's the ideal humidity level that we can address some of the low humidity problems, but minimize that water or moisture issue potential?
[01:31:00.27] Michael R.: Yes. So as far as branded dehumidifiers, there's some great ones out there Santa Fe, AprilAire two that come to mind. I think you always want a company that's great customer service, things do you break, you need replacements, things like that. In terms of dehumidifiers and industrial strength ones, I would go with more of an industrial strength one and like a crawl space or a basement. As opposed to the $200 ones we get at Home Depot and whatnot.
Those are going to be self-draining, so you need some sort of a drainage system like a sump pump to collect the water pump it out. The ones that you get at Home Depot as an example, they're going to be ones that you typically have to empty out a bucket all the time. Or because they're not industrial, they're a little, I guess more fragile, I see them break and leak quite a bit. Can they grow mold? Absolutely.
Just like any other appliance that you're dealing with water, where I see it happen the most is typically in that hose that it drains out of. So even in the industrial dehumidifiers, part of your annual service you want to change all the filters, clean up the unit, disinfect it and then probably change out the hose just to keep that clean, because you're going to have bacteria grow there too. So it's not a very expensive thing to do, and it's a good maintenance tip.
For people with humidifiers, I think the sweet spot really is between 40 and 50% humidity. Any lower you can cause structural damage to your wood, it dries everything out, can cause some discomfort. So I think you don't really want it too low, I mean I’ve had people are like it's 10%, I’m like that's far too low. You also don't want it too high, where mold can start to grow at 60% or higher relative humidity. So I think that 40 to 50 percent seems to be the sweet spot, 50 percent kind of being on the higher end. I think you can probably adjust it from season to season.
So during higher humidity months put it a little lower, lower humidity months you can set a little higher and be okay. So I think that's probably a better way to deal with the fluctuations. With humidity humidifiers, vaporizers all these new technologies that are coming out to kind of deal with that dry climate, you don't want to put so much humidity into the room that you see water droplets on the walls, and I’ve seen people do that and not realize that they're going a little overboard.
Get something with the humidistat, where you can set it and forget it. You also want to clean those, just like you would clean your dehumidifier, you want to clean humidifier. These are things that again, they harbor water, create an environment where mold and bacteria can begin to form, so you want to make sure you're cleaning them. How often to clean them, I would say maybe one to two weeks is fine. I don't think you'll have much of an issue there.
[01:33:41.23] Scott: Let's talk about the vacuum cleaner. So best vacuum cleaners for minimizing some of those water damaged building, organisms and particles and things of that nature and not stirring things up. I know some vacuum cleaners aren't sealed properly, and if you could really see what's coming out of them as you're using them, I think it potentially is making the problem worse. So what are your favorite tools in that realm?
[01:34:02.19] Michael R.: Believe it or not, a well-sealed and well-installed in-house vacuum cleaner is probably the best, because there's no recirculation that happens, it goes into that canister. So a lot of these particles are going to get trapped instead of recirculating your environment. I think that's the one claim the fame that they have. In terms of traditional vacuums, a true HEPA or a true ULPA as they now have would probably be the best option.
And the true meaning that it's not just the filter that's HEPA-rated or operated, it's the entire vacuum canister itself. And that why that's so important is because that's where leakage comes into play. If our vacuums not sealed well and it's not properly aerated, and we know for a fact that there is some leakage, it's going to continuously recirculate and create more opportunity for it to do just to come right back into our environment, which is kind of counterproductive to vacuuming. I think technology, filtration technology is improved, and I hope to see new vacuum cleaners coming out that can do much better than we currently do.
[01:35:06.08] Scott: Any current favorites?
[01:35:07.26] Michael R.: Probably my favorite just because it's on Amazon, it's actually the one that we use in people's homes is the Nilfisk Euroclean, it's a very great well sealed vacuum and it comes with vacuum bags which is another great thing to have. Vacuum bags because then you don't have to worry about the risk of contamination and opening it up, changing the bag and disposing of the contents of the vacuum.
[01:35:34.07] Scott: Let's talk a little bit about air filters. And so I think it's the same potential challenge with like some of the fogging concepts, where people just want to jump there and avoid the problem. Same thing with air filters, I think if you have a hole in the bottom of the boat, you need to fix the hole in the bottom of the boat, rather than baling off the water with paper towels. At the same time, I think air filtration can be fantastic. So are there any favorite air filtration systems that you like?
[01:35:59.29] Michael R.: Yes, you make a great point. We filter our water, filtering our air is probably a good thing. The company that I typically work with is a company called Intellipure, I've actually worked with them before, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting them and learning about their company and what they're all about and I think that's important to me, is really getting to know somebody and what they're trying to accomplish.
Intellipure for those that don't know helped open the Chicago schools and New York city schools during the pandemic, by upgrading their filtration in all the schools, so that was a really exciting thing to see. I think when it comes down to it, the reason I like products or products like theirs, is they focus on removing as small of a particle they possibly can, at the highest efficiency that they possibly can. Knowing that our microorganisms produce very tiny particles that typically pass through a lot of these filters, we see a lot of air purifiers that are more marketing and less actual effectiveness.
I don't want to name any names in a negative way, but there's been tons of that, where you actually look at their effectiveness and yes, it may be getting a smaller particle, but only 75 percent of the time. So the other 25% of the time they're passing right through, so there's a lot to be said about that.
I think if I don't care who you choose, there's a lot of great companies out there, just make sure you're looking at how small the particle am I getting out? How high of an efficiency? And the other things you may want to consider, either staying away from if you have certain sensitivities. Ozone, potentially ionization as well, I’ve had some people with sensitivities to those things. So you want to check those specs.
[01:37:35.17] Scott: I didn't know you like Intellipure, I’m glad you do. Mine is about six feet away from me sitting here in my room. So any thoughts on, we did talk a little about whole house filtration relative to Merv 16. Any thoughts on ultraviolet or HRVs or ERVs to improve indoor air quality?
[01:37:55.00] Michael R.: Yes. So ultraviolet, I mean I love the idea, right? We know that ultraviolet kills things, prevents them from growing as an example. I believe the science on it is it takes at least 10 seconds. So from the air perspective, it's not too helpful because the air passes through too fast, but if it's situated on the coil, I think it's a good deterrent.
But really, I mean the best of turn is just stopping the particles from getting to the coil in the first place through that Merv 16 filtration. So I would say if I’m picking anything and I only got a limited budget to pick, that's the bell and whistle I’m going for. In terms of HRV, ERV they all have their place. I think that they just like anything else, some have great filters, some don't.
Each manufacturer is going to have its own limitations. I see a lot of HRV and ERV systems installed in Florida into the ductwork, and my real concern there is introducing all that humidity so close to the coil can really create an interesting situation, where the ducks are sweating on the inside of them. And that's where I’ve seen some interesting mold issues.
So I think you know some of that's got to be a little more thoughtfully fleshed out, but the ideology behind bringing fresh air in is great. I think a lot of the issues we have in our homes is a lack of ventilation. So improving ventilation is always a good idea.
[01:39:19.28] Scott: What are the best resources for people to find both qualified IEPs and qualified remediators that understand working with people that are chronically ill? And I know you have some great resources on your website, but how can people access these resources?
[01:39:33.13] Michael R.: Yes, I know. I mean, I do have great resources on AllAmericanRestoration.com and TheMoldMedic.com in terms of some interview questions you may want to ask. But I think from the standpoint of the, what's the high-level thing you want to ask an IEP is great question is how long do you expect this to take, right?
Because if they're going to be in and out in 15 minutes 20 minutes, I don't think they're going to be able to go through an entire house and look at every nook and cranny and see what potential problems you may want to investigate. If we've ever gotten a home inspection when you bought a home, it took forever, right? It was many hours, and that's how thorough of an inspection you want to have, otherwise, you're likely to get someone to just do some air samples in the center of your home.
The other thing for remediators is once you have that data from the IEP, you'll be able to build out an action plan, and you'll have this action plan of which areas are the worst, where do I start? And then you want to bring it to a remediator and you want to say okay, here's what we found, here's the action plan, a, do you agree? Because you'll have people that'll say I don't agree with this, I’m going to do my own thing, and that may be a cause of concern.
The other thing you may want to consider is do you guarantee that you can handle these issues if I give you the job, because if you're just going to charge me for labor and materials and this can be an ongoing thing, and truthfully, you may never be able to fully solve this, that would be another cause of concern.
So I think high level those are probably the things to really zoom in on and just try to identify, do I have someone that really understands how to help me another question? Maybe asking what's your level of comfort ability with someone who's hypersensitive. Because I think once you start mentioning hypersensitivity for folks who really don't have good experience with that, it may ward them off. Which is a good thing unless they're willing to really roll up their sleeves and figure it out.
[01:41:24.13] Scott: And my understanding is that through your company, that you have people that essentially can help people with remediation in all states in the country. Is that right?
[01:41:33.24] Michael R.: That is correct.
[01:41:35.04] Scott: Okay, beautiful. That's a fantastic resource. So tell us a little bit about your book, The Mold Medic, how people can find it. I personally found it really helpful, so I want to make sure people know about that.
[01:41:44.28] Michael R.: Yes, thank you. It's available online pretty much anywhere Amazon, Target, Walmart you name it, Barnes and Noble. It is available in both pdf form for an eBook, and it is also available in a soft cover copy. So if you like to read the old-fashioned way like me with that book in your lap, you can do that.
And if you prefer to read it on an iPad or something similar, you can do that as well. I wrote the book kind of through this 10-year journey that I’ve been on and put out everything that I’ve learned up until about June 2020 is when I finished it, edit it and put it out for sale as of December. So there's definitely some great stuff in there, I think it's a great starting point.
And there's a lot more that we've learned over the past couple of years that I continuously put out on social media, blog posts on the websites that I mentioned earlier. So it's a wealth of information as a starting point, and we continue to expand on it. So I think it's a great resource for you to check out, and then it'll lead you to some of our other platforms of free information.
[01:42:46.20] Scott: My last question is the same for every guest, and that is what are some of the key things that you do on a daily basis in support of your own health?
[01:42:53.11] Michael R.: Every morning, my goal is to take a walk. I live in Florida, where being outside all the time is a luxury that I have. So first thing I try to do every morning, and I say try, because let's face it things come up and put us out of balance of what our goals usually are. But I try to take a walk, go get a coffee down at the store not too far, take a nice walk back. It's about a half hour to get the body moving.
I also have this this device behind me, so it's one of those at-home workout machines or in front of me I should say sorry, that I use in my spare time to keep my body in motion. Eating clean is really important to me, luckily, my wife is equally as important to her.
So that's very helpful considering when you're on the same page and you're eating the same type of diet, it's super helpful. I’m very mindful of my water intake, and of course, I pay attention to air quality, which I think is a very important piece of the puzzle.
[01:43:52.01] Scott: This was such a great conversation. I appreciate the passion that you have for doing this work, the quality that you really bring to your work knowing that this is a very complex arena. People definitely struggle a lot with mold and water damage building related issues.
And so it's really great that we have you as a resource, and I just want to thank you so much for sharing generously of your knowledge and information with us today. So thank you so much, Michael.
[01:44:16.04] Scott: Thanks, Scott. I really appreciate you creating this platform for me to do something like that. So, thank you.
[01:44:21.20] To learn more about today's guest, visit TheMoldMedic.com.
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