Under Us, Around Us, In Us

I know nothing about mold other then the fact that it appears on bread. I’ve worked out this little personal equation that the purity of the bread is proportional to the speed with which it becomes covered in mold: the sooner, the better as it indicates few preservatives. But when it comes to mold in the house, I’m lost.

We have mold in the crawl space. A slow leak that went completely undiscovered for several weeks is all it took to create a wonderful little breeding ground for the stuff. Specifically, we have, according the the report we received, Cladasporium and “Pen./Asp”, which a quick search reveals as “Aspergillus and Penicillium.” A little more research was clearly in order.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, “common indoor molds” are

  • Cladosporium
  • Penicillium
  • Alternaria
  • Aspergillus

In other words, our three molds represent 75% of the most common molds. So it’s nothing rare, and it’s really not even anything that’s not already naturally present in the air to some degree or other.

The CDC further explains,

Generally, it is not necessary to identify the species of mold growing in a residence, and CDC does not recommend routine sampling for molds. Current evidence indicates that allergies are the type of diseases most often associated with molds. Since the susceptibility of individuals can vary greatly either because of the amount or type of mold, sampling and culturing are not reliable in determining your health risk. If you are susceptible to mold and mold is seen or smelled, there is a potential health risk; therefore, no matter what type of mold is present, you should arrange for its removal. Furthermore, reliable sampling for mold can be expensive, and standards for judging what is and what is not an acceptable or tolerable quantity of mold have not been established.

Of course, regardless of the mold type, the amount seems to be just as important if not more than the type. All the sites I used in the research spoke of mold counts, some of them absolute (“spores per cubic meter”) and some of them relative (“10 times the outside count”). Our report indicated “very low” levels of Cladosporium and “low” levels of Aspergillus and Penicillium. This seems even more useless than “x times the outside count,” which itself seems fairly useless. Worse still, the CDC states that “[s]tandards for judging what is an acceptable, tolerable, or normal quantity of mold have not been established.” In addition, the WHO suggests that the best way to test for mold is with a culture test, and our test is labeled “Direct Microscopic Examination Report,” which indicates someone put the stuff on a slide and looked at it under a microscope, which would mean the concentration was determined by counting or even estimating.

The first mold remediation company came out and tested our crawl space and gave us a quote for taking care of the problem: $2200. This included “basement encapsulation,” which promised to prevent the problem from happening again. The insulation, he assured us, wouldn’t need to be changed. After all, it’s glass. All told, two days’ work.

The second company came out and basically said the problem was even worse than the first company said. The whole kitchen floor and subfloor needs to be replaced, they explained. The insulation in the entire crawl space would need replacing, as would the heavy plastic vapor barrier.  The gentleman looked at our mold report from the other contractor and felt it inadequate. It would be better to use their testing services, for a mere $500, to get a true picture of the problem. All told, eight days’ work, he said. The quote: $12,000. As with the $20,000 replacement window quote, I would have found it hard to keep a straight face were it not for the fact that the gentleman delivered the quote by phone to K about half an hour after he left.

And so where do we stand? A crawl space with some amount of mold that according to “experts” hovers gently between dangerous and deadly (judging from the quotes) filled with insulation that may or may not need to be replaced, and a vapor barrier that needs to be replaced to varying degrees.

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