When we last left off talking about mold, I shared my 25 proven methods for preventing toxic mold at home.
But what do you do if you’ve already lost the battle to mold – or at least suspect you have? How do you know for sure? In today’s article, I’m sharing my favorite ways to effectively (and inexpensively!) test your home for toxic mold growth.
If this is your first time at the Wholesome Houses blog, welcome. This is part 3 of a series, I’d highly recommend you start at the beginning of. Don’t worry, I’ll wait:
- Part 1: Everything You Need to Know about Mold & Human Health
- Part 2: Everything You Need to Know About Mold Avoidance & Prevention
- Part 3: You are Here >> Everything You Need to Know About Home Mold Testing
How Do I Know If I Have Mold In My House?
While it is possible to do some investigating, “home forensics,” and other testing, positively identifying toxic mold can be difficult for many reasons:
- High levels of toxic mold can be hidden from view and have little or no odor (think behind wood paneling or underneath linoleum in a bathroom)
- According to Dr. Ritchie Shoemaker, symptoms of mold toxicity are widely misdiagnosed as diseases such as “fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), multiple sclerosis (MS), depression, stress, allergies, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), somatization, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), attention deficit disorder (ADD),” among others
- In terms of symptomology, mold affects different people differently – this means that some people in same the home may seem completely unaffected, making accurate diagnosis even more difficult
How Do I Test My House For Mold?
Hate to say it, but the truth is, every house is different. If you see mold, there is no need to start with sniff testing, for instance. You obviously have a mold problem. But for most people, starting with a simple sniff test and visual inspection around the house is a great place to start. Please just use some common sense here. Mold can be extremely dangerous.
In this article, I’m going to offer my general recommendations, but please seek professional help if you are seriously concerned about mold or if your test has positively identified the presence of mold. Also, if you are uncomfortable conducting your own mold investigation, if you are unable to properly eliminate mold toxins, or if you or someone in your home has asthma or allergies, I highly recommend soliciting the services of a trained mold professional.
There are several home mold tests ranging from air and dust sampling to having occupants take an online vision test (I’m totally serious!), but not all of them are created equal. These are my favorite mold tests, in the order I generally recommend them:
- Sniff Testing
- Visual Inspection
- Moisture Testing
- Mold Sabbatical
- Visual Contrast Sensitivity Testing
- DIY Tape Sampling
- Blood Tests
- HERTSMI-2 Scoring System
- Environmental Relative Moldiness Index (ERMI)
- CAP DNA Test
- Air Sampling
When it comes to mold, the nose knows! So the big question is, what does mold smell like?
“Earthy” and musty odors are tell-tale signs that you have a mold problem. You may have smelled it in an unfinished basement, storage unit, or inside a washing machine.
Start by taking a few minutes to inspect your home with your eyes and nose. Start in the lowest level of your home, especially in basements and crawl spaces. Also check wet areas of the home, including kitchens, bathrooms, and laundry rooms. Be sure to smell furniture, water-based appliances, and rugs.
(Wholesome Tip: Suspect mold in your wall cavities? Sniff your dead electrical outlets. If one smells musty, remove the outlet plate and use a flashlight to look into wall cavity)
If you smell that familiar musty smell, you more than likely have mold present, so move ahead to one of the more advanced testing strategies (if you find the mold, may I suggest DIY Tape Testing?).
|Sniff Testing Pros||Sniff Testing Cons|
Because mold proliferation requires moisture, the next “mold test” that people should do in their homes is to perform routine visual inspections for mold, moisture, and water leaks. I recommend a thorough inspection twice per year, scanning your home for signs of water damage inside and outside of the home.
Where Do I Inspect for Mold?
- Start at the roof, visually inspecting for damaged shingles or flashing
- Look inside the attic for water spots on the ceiling or floor
- Look for water spots on ceilings in all rooms of the home
- Check sink pipes for damage and leaking
- Be sure to check the top 10 places toxic mold is hiding in your home
|Visual Inspection Pros||Visual Inspection Cons|
A lot of times people think that mold testing and moisture testing are synonymous, but they are not. In fact, when it comes to accuracy, cost, and usefulness, moisture testing trumps mold testing every time. Here’s the scoop…
Mold Testing Vs. Moisture Testing: What’s The Difference?
According to Reuben Saltzman, “Moisture testing is done on exterior walls to determine if there are moisture problems behind the siding. The vast majority of moisture problems in walls are the result of bulk water intrusion, which typically results from water getting into the wall sheathing around windows, or through improper flashing at other penetrations such as roof ends and deck ledgerboards. Water intrusion at exterior walls typically involves expensive repairs, with stucco, and stone veneer siding being the most expensive types, and the most notorious for leaks. These wall coverings are expensive to install, they’re difficult to take apart, and hold a lot of water… Vinyl siding is the easiest siding to repair; it comes off quite easily, the damage caused by water intrusion on vinyl siding takes a longer time to get really nasty because vinyl “breathes”, and the same pieces of matching vinyl siding can be put right back up on the wall after repairs have been completed.”
And when it comes to mold testing, Mr. Saltzman says, “don’t bother.”
Mold Testing Vs. Moisture Testing: Which Is Better?
According to the guys over at Hayward Score, “If you want to test for something, test for what causes mold in the first place: moisture. Mold will not – cannot – grow unless there is sufficient moisture for a sufficient time. Mold spores only germinate in the damp spot, and only if it stays damp for anywhere from 2-3 days to as long 2 weeks for Stachybotrys, for example. Also, mold is not the only hazard that can come from dampness. Bacteria flourish in damp conditions. Insects and rodents are drawn to long-term dampness. Chemicals (VOCs) are released from damp or damaged materials. Mold tests cannot detect any of these other pollutants. Testing only for mold will give a false impression that the other risks don’t exist. Finding and eliminating all possible sources of ongoing moisture is your best solution for solving the problem.”
|Moisture Testing Pros||Moisture Testing Cons|
It is my understanding that the idea of the mold avoidance sabbatical was first described by Lisa Petrison, an author and blogger who teaches others how to heal from toxic mold exposure. The idea is simply to get away from your moldy environment and see what happens.
Of course, in practice it’s a little trickier. First, there are occasional risks of mold avoidance, including passing out, paralysis, inability to speak, seizures, and suicidal inclination upon re-exposure to mold. Second, it is also important that your sabbatical be at a location that is known to be mold-free. Exposure, even at small levels, can prevent this type of elimination-style testing from being accurate.
|Mold Avoidance Pros||Mold Avoidance Cons|
Visual Contrast Sensitivity Testing
The Visual Contrast Sensitivity (VCS) test is a free online vision test that you can take from your home. It’s a great place to start because, in addition to helping identify occupants who have been exposed to biotoxins such as mold, it is free and takes just 15 minutes!
The VCS Test works by measuring one of the neurologic functions of vision called contrast. Contrast sensitivity can be affected by exposure to biotoxins (such as mold and bacteria-produced toxins), nutritional deficiencies, VOCs, parasites, and bug and insect stings/bites.
|VCS Test Pros||VCS Test Cons|
DIY Tape Sampling
If you have visible mold in your home and you would like to know if it is dangerous or not, I typically suggest DIY tape sampling. With this testing procedure, you take tape samples of suspected mold, send them off for identification under a microscope, then receive a digital report of the types of mold present in your home.
This test provides peace of mind about whether the mold in your home is toxic or benign.
All in about 4 weeks and for around $50! If you are interested in doing your own tape mold sampling, I would like to invite you to check out my healthy home discount group, where you can get a FREE tape sampling kit with the purchase of 8 tape samples.
|Tape Sampling Pros||Tape Sampling Cons|
If you are being affected by biotoxins (the toxic by products of things like molds and bacteria), your blood may give the best clues about the extent of the damage. This is a great option, but may cost more than the previous suggested tests.
According to Dr. Ritchie Shoemaker, the following can be useful blood tests for diagnosing biotoxin illness:
- VIP – Vasoactive Intestinal Polypeptide (Normal Range: 23-63 pg/mL)
- MSH – Melanocyte Stimulating Hormone (Normal Range: 35-81 pg/mL)
- TGF Beta-1 – Transforming Growth Factor Beta-1 (Normal Range: <2380 pg/ml)
- C4a (Normal Range: 0-2830 ng/ml)
- AGA IgA/IgG (Normal Range: 0-19)
- ACTH/Cortisol (Normal Range: ACTH – 8-37 pg/mL; Cortisol – a.m. 4.3-22.4 / p.m. 3.1-16.7 ug/dL)
- VEGF (Normal Range: 31-86 pg/mL)
- ACLA IgA/IgG/IgM (Normal Range: IgA – 0-12; IgG 0-10; IgM 0-9)
- ADH/Osmolality (Normal Range: ADH – 1.0-13.3 pg/ml; Osmolality – 280-300 mosmol)
- MMP-9 (Normal Range: 85-332 ng/mL)
- Leptin (Normal Range: Male: 0.5-13.8 ng/mL; Female: 1.1-27.5 ng/mL)
|Blood Testing Pros||Blood Testing Cons|
HERTSMI-2 Scoring System
HERTSMI-2 is a scoring system developed by Dr. Ritchie Shoemaker which is applied to the DNA ERMI test results. According to Dr. Shoemaker, “This scoring system is application of the DNA testing shown on ERMI test results. The new roster is designed to help patients (previously sickened by water-damaged buildings) understand if a given building is safe for occupancy.”
HERTSMI-2 essentially alerts occupants to the presence of 5 particularly dangerous mold species: Aspergillus penicilloides, Aspergillus versicolor, Chaetomium globosum, Stachybotrys chartarum, and Wallemia sebi.
|HERTSMI-2 Scoring Pros||HERTSMI-2 Scoring Cons|
Environmental Relative Moldiness Index (ERMI) Test
Environmental Relative Moldiness Index (ERMI) testing has long been touted as the gold standard among mold professionals, but certainly has
its limitations. In fact, the creators of the ERMI test, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), says the ERMI test is a “research tool” which should not be used for home mold testing. Did you catch that?
The ERMI test uses a small vacuum to take carpet dust samples. Samples are then sent to a microbial laboratory (EnviroBiomics and Mycometrics are two of the most recommended) where proteins in the dust are tested for the genetic presence of 36 mold species.
I’m not say that ERMI testing has no value, just providing a balanced look at the limitations of this highly-lauded mold test.
|ERMI Pros||ERMI Cons|
I think the best place to start with mold laboratory testing is with the CAP DNA test, created by Dr. Joe Spurgeon, which tests for three dominant fungi species (Cladosporium, Aureobasidium, and Penicillium). Compared to ERMI, CAP testing is less expensive and more useful in determining human health implications because it is based on fungal concentrations (mold levels).
|CAP DNA Testing Pros||CAP DNA Testing Cons|
According to Dr. Ritchie Shoemaker, “A common concern for those who are trying to understand cognitive problems in moldy patients is to answer how is it that inflammation in the body is inflammation in the brain. The blood brain barrier, as it is called, results from additional “tight junction features” between cells that line blood vessels. These tight junctions are loosened by particular inflammatory processes including TGF beta-1 and IL-1B. These two compounds are well shown to be significantly elevated in patients with systemic inflammatory response syndromes acquired following exposure to the interior environment of water-damaged buildings.
The computer program called NeuroQuant has been used in the traumatic brain injury field for some years. This unique and sophisticated program can take a properly run MRI of the brain and assess volumes of 15 different brain areas. To my knowledge, no one had used NQ to assess brain injury in patients with mold illness before.”
|NeuroQuant Pros||NeuroQuant Cons|
According to the website, Paradigm Change, “The main problem with air testing is that since it is looking only for whole spores that are floating in the air rather than at genetic material, it tends to miss certain species of mold.
For instance, perhaps the most problematic species of mold, Stachybotrys, is released from colonies into the air in waves. Stachy also makes a heavy, sticky spore that falls rapidly to the floor and then usually breaks up into spore fragments, which are at least as toxic and dangerous as the whole spores.
These spore fragments mix with the other dust in the environment and get blown or carried all around the building. As a result, Stachybotrys almost never shows up on air tests even when it is a major problem. Certain other molds may not come up either.”
|Air Sampling Pros||Air Sampling Cons|
8 Healthy Home Tests
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What About Mold Remediation?
How to Prevent Mold at Home
Once you have a professional remediation (or if you were lucky enough to find no signs of mold) – you want to keep your home mold-free. So how do you do it? I created a free printable mold avoidance checklist (perfect for a healthy home binder!) which walks you through the easy ways to prevent mold growth in your house.
Subscribe to my newsletter and get instant access to my checklist,
25 Ways to Protect Your Home From Toxic Mold
- Top 10 Places Toxic Mold is Hiding in Your Home
- Environmental Mold Testing
- A Beginner’s Guide to Mold Avoidance: Techniques Used by Hundreds of Chronic Multisystem Illness Sufferers to Improve Their Health
- Back from the Edge: How One Man’s Discovery Brought Him From Desperately Sick with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome To the Top of Mt. Whitney in Six Months
- Test for Moisture, Not Mold!
- Mold Testing vs. Moisture Testing
- FREE Tape Mold Test Kit ($25 value) with Purchase of 8 Tape Samples
- EnviroHealth Consulting Mold Microscopy: Instructions for Tape Testing for Mold
- Lab Tests for Mold Illness
- Surviving Mold: Life in the Era of Dangerous Buildings
- HERTSMI-2 Scorecard
- The Environmental Relative Moldiness Index: A Research Tool – EPA.gov
- NeuroQuant and Mold Patients
- MRI brain volume analysis using NeuroQuant® software
- Find a NeuroQuant Center
- A Brief Guide to Mold, Moisture, and Your Home
Have you ever run any of these tests? I’d love to hear about your experience with mold testing!