Mold Testing Facts and Fallacies

Mold is not good.  It can cause substantial problems, both health and building related.  That said, let’s get to facts.

  1. There are over 100,000 mold types with probably another 100,000 that we haven’t identified yet.
  2. Mold is everywhere.  There are millions, or hundreds of millions of mold spores, on every surface on the face of the Earth.  There is no way to prevent mold from being present in your house.
  3. Mold is known to cause some health effects (often respiratory related), but it’s never been established which molds might cause any particular effect.
  4. The amount of mold necessary to cause health effects has never been established.  It is different for every individual.

What does this all mean?

  1. Means there’s more that we don’t know about mold than we know.
  2. Means, if you test for mold, you will find mold.
  3. Means identifying the type of mold is meaningless.
  4. Means we don’t have a dose/response ratio.  We have no idea what type of mold and in what amounts might cause someone harm.  It’s different for everyone based on their genetic predispositions toward any particular disease.

Because of these 4 simple facts, there are only a couple good reasons to for mold testing.  Those reasons are to determine where mold is growing or has grown.

Results tend to be educated guesses.

If one is suffering unfamiliar respiratory or health effects without any other apparent cause, or if you’re trying to determine if mold is growing in your house, testing can provide some insight.  But, since there are no medically standardized tests or means for interpreting those tests, results are, at best, educated guesses.

The general test that is offered as part of a home inspection is a rudimentary exercise developed to provide ancillary add on fees for the home inspection company.  The standards that are applied, if one could call them that, are promulgated by the testing agencies themselves or the labs performing the analysis; they are not based in recognized studies by the broader medical profession.

In other words, they make this stuff up.  The reports they provide are incomprehensible; information is correlated in ways not easily (or at all) interpretable.  The testing labs and report providers have created their own language and forms that are unintelligible to the larger medical and health care professions.  It’s a rabbit hole of misinformation, with little or nothing to guide one toward effective action.

So why has mold testing become something people imagine is necessary?

Because business entities (including home inspection professional societies starved for revenue) have found they can make a lot of money training people to be “certified mold inspectors”.  Individuals seeking the “next new thing” have found they can make money selling mold testing.  Public media such as our own Chicago Tribune ignore science in presenting sensationalist stories that sell copy (or internet subscriptions).  The public is being led to believe they should get their health advice from home inspectors and non-medical professionals by media outlets employing individuals without understanding or knowledge on the topic.  While some of these folks undoubtedly believe in their new mission in life, there’s nothing in the world of science and research that supports these new beliefs; it’s faith based science.  The CDC doesn’t even recommend testing; they indicate it doesn’t provide useful information….

The Illinois real estate industry has not helped either.  In their zeal to isolate themselves from liability, they hastily created a mold disclosure form that forces sellers to disclose if there are “toxic or harmful molds” in any house being sold.  Since there aren’t medically accepted established standards (remember, they’re making this stuff up)  or of individuals response to different types of mold (reread #3 above), they further misinform consumers and create substantial misunderstanding for the general public.

Anyone can get “certified” as a mold inspector by paying a small fee, sitting in a conference room out in Rosemont for a few hours watching a PowerPoint presentation, and receive a certificate proclaiming them a “Certified Mold Inspector”.  Several large national testing laboratories, quasi-educational institutions, and professional societies have found that mold certifications are great revenue producers.  The mold industrial complex has gotten so ridiculous, I receive several mailings every week trumpeting “Mold Is Gold; Increase Your Bottom Line With Mold Testing”.  If you are truly concerned with mold,  just “anyone” doing the testing isn’t going to cut it.

If you are experiencing curious health effects with no apparent cause, or are truly concerned about mold and want to understand your house intelligently, you want testing performed by licensed industrial hygienists working in conjunction with medical or health care professionals with substantial education and credentials in the area, so that at least that educated guess about what might be causing your problems…… is actually educated.

What really matters in mold.

For mold to grow, all 4 things are necessary.

  1. Mold spores.  Since they’re everywhere, we can’t beat the rap.  Mold spores are always present.
  2. Mold Food.  Nearly any organic substance will support mold growth.  Our houses are built mostly with organic substances.  Can’t beat that one either.
  3. Appropriate temperatures.  Temperatures from near freezing to too hot for humans to survive can support mold growth.  We’re not going to beat the temperature rap.
  4. Moisture.  More accurately, considerable amounts of moisture.  We understand moisture.  We can control it.

Stop worrying about mold, start worrying about water.

What you should be concerned with is water.  A competent home inspection should look at all areas of your house to determine if there are elevated moisture conditions, or if there are building science/construction details that might cause elevated moisture.  If your home inspector is pushing mold testing before thoroughly examining and analyzing your house for water in all it’s forms, they are misguiding you and selling you worthless information.

For a more in depth discussion and analysis of mold growth, go here and here.

For an insightful discussion of legislation related to mold clean up and disclosure, go here.  Most interesting in this article is the last sentence which says, “Despite more than 100 attempts at mold-related legislation at the state and federal levels, we still have no standards which govern the assessment, identification and remediation of mold. This leaves all those involved wondering if the monumental efforts by our legislatures will ever actually result in laws by which we must live.”

So, we have legislatures engaging in lengthy and expensive machinations to regulate or otherwise figure out what to do with mold at the Federal and State levels, with no apparent understanding about that which they are attempting to legislate.

Which tends to illustrate just how idiotic this whole issue has become.




I'm a home inspector and carpenter in Chicago and this site is built from things I’ve learned from 30 years inspecting houses in this town.

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