Asbestos: What To Know Before Remodeling Your Home

by Pauline Boenisch

Regardless of the year of your home, it’s important to know the risks of asbestos and asbestos exposure when planning to remodel. In Colorado, unless the building was built after October 12, 1988, AND the architect signs documentation showing no asbestos-containing materials (ACM) were used during building construction – an initial asbestos inspection report signed by a Certified Asbestos Building Inspector (CABI) is required before removing or demoing “suspect” building materials.

In most cases, asbestos-containing building materials (ACBMs) in good condition are not hazardous to human health. Asbestos exposure is only dangerous when building materials become rendered “friable” (in other words, “easily crumble”) through disturbance, damage, or dilapidation. Friable asbestos is dangerous becauseasbestos exposure occurs through respiration. Just remember, when you start knocking into walls, removing old HVAC or plumbing systems, or replacing certain types of flooring – you may be disturbing asbestos fibers which can contaminate the air you breathe.

When planning your home remodel, get an asbestos inspection before you demo.

Asbestos can be found in many different building materials that can still be purchased in the United States (US). Most people are not aware, but Asbestos use is not banned in the US. Although asbestos is no longer mined and manufactured in the US, companies can still legally import, use and sell both raw asbestos and asbestos-containing materials.

In the State of Colorado, asbestos testing is required prior to the removal of certain building materials, regardless of the age of the property. Common “suspect” locations and materials that may contain asbestos include:

  • Vinyl and linoleum tiles
  • Ceiling tiles
  • Adhesive or mastic glue
  • Textured ceilings (popcorn, etc.)
  • Textures for wall surfacing and mud joint compounds
  • Insulation around HVAC, pipes, and furnaces
  • Attic and wall insulation containing vermiculite
  • Window caulking and glazing
  • Flat roofing
  • Siding materials
  • Cementitious materials
  • Wallpaper

Whether you’re doing a small renovation or a full gut-to-stud remodel job in your home, see the below steps in order to ensure you are remodeling your home safely.

Step 1

Research State Laws. While the EPA and OSHA have asbestos-specific standards regarding asbestos, the federal government allows each State to craft its own asbestos regulations. Research your State’s laws before moving forward with Step 2. You should also look into the demolition permit requirements for your local city and county. If you live in the City and County of Denver, Colorado, you can learn more here about residential permitting requirements for remodeling projects.

If you have received a “work stop” notice in Colorado during your home remodeling project, then you know very well about the EPA’s State Health Department, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), and how seriously they enforce asbestos testing and abatement practices on renovation and demolition projects. Projects without proper permitting requirements can be fined up to $25,000/day if found negligent. That is a hefty fine simply to learn that all you needed was an initial asbestos inspection performed by a certified professional before beginning the demolition phase of your project. Only an EPA trained and certified Asbestos Building Inspector can perform asbestos inspections and classify a “suspect” building material as NOT asbestos-containing.

“Assumed” asbestos-containing floor tiles. Only a State-certified Asbestos Building Inspector can classify a “suspect” material as NOT containing asbestos.

Step 2

Assume Your Home Contains Asbestos. Even if you believe your home does not contain any of the “suspect” asbestos containing materials listed above, it is best to contact a Colorado-certified Asbestos Building Inspector for a free phone consultation. Whether it is your family’s health or worker protection that concerns you, it is better to proceed with the assumption that asbestos may be present in materials you plan to remove. The only way to be absolutely certain a material you will be potentially demolishing does not contain asbestos is to hire a CABI to test the materials and write a formal report along with the lab results.

If some of the materials to be removed have already been damaged or have become dilapidated, remember to keep access and activities to a minimum in those areas, especially for young children who are more vulnerable to the health impacts of asbestos or lead-based paint exposure. On that note, if your home was built prior to 1978 you may also need to test for lead-based paint. If your home has tested positive for asbestos or lead-based paint, move on to Step 3.

Step 3

Hire A Certified General Abatement Contractor (CGAC). If the building materials sampled come back as asbestos-containing or as “trace” (meaning 1% or less asbestos content), hiring a certified asbestos abatement company is the only way to ensure the asbestos is removed according to State and Federal regulations. In order to perform the removal, transport, and disposal of ACMs, a Certified General Abatement Contractor has a special business license and all Supervisors and Workers undergo extensive EPA-approved training and physical assessments. CGACs also have the proper equipment for containment setup, such as high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters which help prevent cross-contamination during the asbestos abatement process.

Should you need to perform asbestos abatement as part of your home renovation project, it is recommended to get at least 2-3 bids from different asbestos abatement contractors, Make time to research contractors in your area or call BuildSafe’s Team of Environmental Consultants for a list of tried-and-true asbestos abatement professionals. Not all CGACs are the same!
After the work is complete, a third-party State-certified Air Monitoring Specialist (AMS) may perform a Final Air Clearance to ensure there are no existing asbestos fibers in the contained work area. A Final Air Clearance ensures that the abatement contractor successfully performed the asbestos removal and clean-up, prior to taking down the containment or contained work area.

While remodeling a home can be exciting, it’s important to keep your family and workers safe. Stay vigilant and be aware of your State’s asbestos regulations and be sure to get an asbestos inspection BEFORE you demo old building materials. For asbestos testing or final air clearance services in Denver, Colorado, contact BuildSafe Environmental for pricing or to get an asbestos inspection scheduled right away. To learn more about asbestos in Colorado, check out the FAQ section of our website.

Through the Eyes of an Inspector: How Contractors can Successfully Pass Mold Clearances

By Tiffany Whited

By Tiffany Whited

Mold mitigation is a tricky business, and although mold is not a regulated hazardous material, the industry still practices having a trained mold inspector clear a containment of the mold affected area prior to re-occupancy (i.e., Post-Remediation Verification (PRV) testing or mold clearance). BuildSafe’s team of mold inspectors are hired on mold cleanup projects so that property owners working with mold mitigation contractors have a neutral party verifying the work of the contractor by “clearing the containment”.

BuildSafe offers two types of mold clearance services: 1) visual inspection only or 2) visual inspection with air quality sampling. BuildSafe does not recommend collecting air samples in unconditioned areas within a home (e.g., crawlspace or attic). However, it is up to the contractor to choose what type of mold clearance they would like BuildSafe to perform. A visual PRV may sometimes be the only option for a contractor; for example, if the affected area is small or if there are additional microbial issues outside of the contractor scope of work. Air sampling is always recommended if the occupants have a known respiratory sensitivity.

One of the toughest aspects of the job as a BuildSafe consultant occurs when walking onto a mold mitigation project, conducting a visual assessment, and having to tell the field techs that additional cleanup of the containment is needed before they can move forward. Our mold inspectors work hard to practice diplomacy in the field every day with clients, but upholding construction industry standards (IICRC S500 Water Damage Restoration / IICRC S520 Mold Remediation) means sometimes we have to be the bearer of bad news for our clients.

At BuildSafe, our goal is to keep our restoration client’s projects on track and save them as much money as possible. We understand that our restoration partners have a talented team of field techs with many years of industry experience; however, because mold is not regulated, contractors are left to interpret industry standards for mold cleanup to various degrees. To ensure that your mold mitigation projects pass a mold clearance on the first visit, BuildSafe’s consultants have put together a list of best practices for your success.

BuildSafe’s Visual Investigation

When our inspector first shows up onsite, he will look in and around the containment for any visible issues. During this visual investigation, the Inspector will be looking for the following signs that may lead to a containment failing air sampling:

  • Visual microbial or water staining inside the containment.
  • Spider webs, dust or debris inside containment (microbial spores stick to these organic materials, so this can impact your air quality results).
  • Poor ventilation or lack of clean make-up air in the contained work area.
  • Improper containment setup.
  • Additional materials left inside the containment that should have been removed (e.g., carpet tack strip, drywall, baseboards, insulation, etc.).
  • Conditions outside of containment that could potentially compromise air quality (e.g., compromised make up air).
All mitigated areas adequately encapsulated with antimicrobial agent.

All mitigated areas adequately encapsulated with antimicrobial agent.

If BuildSafe Inspectors visually notice something that could potentially fail the air quality sample analysis, they will ask the Project Manager whether or not to move forward with air sampling. This is the Project Manager’s (along with the field teams) opportunity to discuss further cleanup efforts with the Inspector. If cleanup efforts cannot take place while the Inspector is onsite, they can contact BuildSafe Scheduling for a follow-up appointment after the additional cleanup efforts are completed. To clear the site as quickly as possible, it is recommended that the Project Manager meets the Inspector onsite during the time of the clearance inspection.

Successfully Passing a Mold Clearance

We recommend that all restoration and mold mitigation contractors implement an internal pre-clearance checklist system with their field teams, so that mitigation protocol is completed successfully before calling BuildSafe for a PRV. The following list of recommendations will ensure your containment is ready for inspection:

  • Ensure that air exchanges have been ongoing during the mitigation process and that the negative air machine is large enough for the containment.
  • Add pre-filter(s) to additional make-up air ports.
  • Ensure all materials in containment are thoroughly and completely dried.
  • Sand or scrub all visual staining with sandpaper and/or a metal wire brush.
  • If carpet is to remain in containment, steam clean and/or HEPA vacuum the carpet thoroughly. The contractor can cover the carpet with plastic sheathing if carpet is not going to be treated or removed. Tack strips should also be inspected for microbial growth or discolorations and should be removed or chemically treated.
  • Disinfect all surfaces in containment with an anti-microbial solution.
  • Containment should be vacuumed with HEPA Vacuum and containment should be free of ALL dust and debris.
  • After HEPA Vacuuming, all cellulose building materials, exposed from flood cuts or building material removal, should be fully encapsulated with a pigmented sealant.
  • Have onsite Supervisor visually inspect the work area with a flashlight. Once the Supervisor feels the containment is ready for the clearance, contact BuildSafe to schedule an appointment. We specialize in Emergency Services so we can get out to your jobsite quickly!
  • Finally, after successfully passing the PRV, and before commencing the re-construction process, it is imperative to ensure that source of moisture has been properly identified and repaired. Nobody wants to have newly installed building materials to take on moisture again.
  • Note: Fogging a containment is arbitrary and up to the contractor. Our laboratory analysts believe that fogging reintroduces moisture into the area and should be avoided.
Containment in basement dining room. HEPA filter in place. NAM was not running at time of inspection.

Containment with HEPA filter in place. NAM not running at time of inspection.

With the Visual Investigation passed, our inspector will take air samples to the lab and you can expect results within about 6 hours from leaving the job site. We will contact your team with verbal results as soon as we hear back from the lab. Your team can then remove the containment and move forward with the project.

Here at BuildSafe we are confident that if you can follow this guide on your next mold mitigation projects, we can successfully clear your project on the first attempt. Our team of experts are always here to help you along the way, so please feel free to call us at any time with questions or concerns.

No dust or debris present in the contained work area.

No dust or debris present in the contained work area.

Colorado Living: Humidifiers for a Healthy Home

by Tiffany Whited

by Tiffany Whited

The Colorado lifestyle comes with so many advantages, but there is a common discomfort we all must deal with—Colorado’s dry climate! While some suffer with year round symptoms, once winter hits our skin itches, eyes bloodshot, and sinus cavities swell up. The drug stores provide temporary relief with lotions, eye drops, and nasal sprays galore, but the greatest mystery to solve is how to establish comfortable and safe humidity levels in our homes. One of the most common solutions is to setup humidifiers in rooms throughout your home, but have you ever considered that running your humidifier could have negative health implications?

According to the CPSC, bacteria and fungi often grow in the tanks of portable and whole-house console humidifiers, and these microbial growths can be released in the mist. Breathing dirty mist may cause lung problems ranging from flu-like symptoms to serious infections. The real question here is how can we understand how to properly use our humidifiers, so we can survive the long winter?

The first thing we must understand is why it is so important to maintain the proper humidity levels in your home. Darcy Logan, writer of DoItYourself.com states, low humidity or lack of moisture means the air in your house will be dry. Without proper moisture, you open yourself up to all the pains that come with dry air. Darcy suggests using a hygrometer to test the level of humidity in your home. But keep in mind that basements are generally going to have higher humidity levels, as are bathrooms, kitchens, and laundry rooms. Indoor humidity levels should be around 30 to 50 percent, with the perfect level touching around 45 percent. Once you establish your home’s relative humidity levels, you can then decide if you need to invest in a humidifier system and how you can properly maintain the humidifier for your home.

Indoor humidity levels should be around 30 to 50 percent, with the perfect level touching around 45 percent.

Indoor humidity levels should be around 30 to 50 percent

Next you need to figure out what type of humidifier to invest in. Most homeowners opt for the single room humidifier system. There are four important factors to consider:

  1. The type of mist – cool mist, warm mist or warm steam
  2. The size of the room (square footage)
  3. The features the humidifier offers
  4. The brands that matter!

According to Consumerreports.org, you want to get the balance right when considering these factors. Warm mist humidifiers heat water to a boil, then emit the resulting steam. Some warm mist humidifiers include mineral filters that trap water deposits. Cool mist humidifiers are a little more complex because there are three kinds of cool mist humidifiers: Evaporative, Ultrasonic, and Impeller. Evaporative models use a fan to blow air over a wet wick. Ultrasonic humidifiers use a vibrating nebulizer to emit water. Impeller models produce mist using a rotating disk.

One of the most important things about humidifiers is knowing how to properly maintain and clean the machine. The Mayo Clinic warns that if you neglect your humidifier, dirty filters and reservoirs can quickly breed mold and bacteria. The writers of LumaComfort.com suggest, the following steps for proper care of your humidifier:

  • Use distilled water or demineralization cartridges or filters if recommended.
  • Properly clean after each use, the inside of a humidifier should be wiped down in order to prevent the accumulation of minerals and bacteria.
  • Replace filters as directed by the manufacturer or at least every season; filters will begin to discolor whenever they collect debris from the atmosphere, so if you notice your filter losing its white color, it’s time to change!
  • Never leave standing water in the humidifier for multiple days, organisms like mold, bacteria, mildew, and fungi can start growing.
  • To clean the base of your humidifier, pour white vinegar into the base and allow to sit for 30 minutes; then rinse and wipe the humidifier many times to remove all vinegar.
  • You may also want to disinfect the outside of the humidifier by wiping with bleach. After properly cleaning your humidifier, allow to sit and completely dry.

As a Colorado local, I also suffer from dry climate symptoms, so I decided to do a comparison between a very well-known brands, Vicks®. According to Airbetter.org, Vicks® humidifiers have been voted as top performing and are relatively inexpensive. The top rated was the “Vicks® Warm Mist Humidifier with Auto Shut-off”. The V745A is especially beneficial for people who suffer cold, flu, or seasonal allergies by producing an instant warm mist. The second runner up was the “Vicks® Cool Mist Germ Free V3900”. The cool mist kills up to 99.9% of germs, bacteria, and mold in the water prior to producing a cool mist. In addition you can add in the menthol-scented pads, which are great for babies with runny noses. With so many products on the market, it can be challenging to decide which humidifier works best for your lifestyle and home. So before you run to your local store, do some research online before purchasing.

After you purchase your humidifier, you will want to identify the best location to setup the machine. You do not want to place the humidifier on the floor, especially right on top of carpet — this could cause a nasty mold discoloration. According to Livestrong.com, an appropriate location is a flat, level, and firm surface at least five inches away from walls or any heat sources. In addition, be certain not to place objects close to or on top of the humidifier as this could block air openings. Check the area around the humidifier regularly to make sure absorbent materials such as carpeting, curtains, or tablecloths do not become wet as these are food sources for mold growth – just add water!

Check the area around the humidifier to make sure absorbent materials - carpeting, curtains, or tablecloths - do not become wet as these are food sources for mold growth

Improper placement of humidifier next to absorbent materials that can cause mold growth

Better health and comfort is why we love our humidifiers! If you do see mold discoloration or experience musty odors, contact one of our trained Air Quality Specialists to perform a mold inspection in your home. We can also perform measurements and moisture meter readings to help you determine the best size and locations for your humidifiers. By learning how to properly select and maintain your humidifier, you too can thrive during the long, dry Colorado Winters.

Project ‘TIGHTY WHITIES’ comes to Crossroads Center of Denver

Denver, CO. Thursday, June 4, 2015 – When you’re operating on survival mode, life’s basic needs become secondary. To Denver’s ever-growing homeless population, a simple thing like owning a pair of clean new underwear is luxury, seldom enjoyed.

Driving around the Front Range, Jim Durgee, owner of Colorado Asbestos Inspections noticed this need and began handing out socks. He approached his partners at BuildSafe Environmental, Marty and Natalie Libansky, with the idea of collecting briefs and crew-shirts. Everyone was 100% on board and Project ‘Tighty Whities’ came to life.

Staff at Salvation Army’s, Crossroads Homeless Center were ecstatic to hear about this neat idea. According to Carlton Jackson, Assistant Director of Crossroads, clean undergarments are always in demand. It’s something he gets asked for a few times every night. Unfortunately, there’s not much to pass around as this is one of the least donated items. Marty Libansky, owner of BuildSafe said that he hopes, “a fresh pair of underwear will allow our brothers to feel a sense of confidence–a fresh start to a new day.”

Jim and Nadia prep sets of briefs and crew shirts for our Brothers at the Shelter!

Jim and Nadia prep sets of briefs and crew shirts for our Brothers at the Shelter!

WHAT? The ‘Tidy Whities Campaign’. Distribution of over 500 sets of undergarments. Each “set” includes 2 briefs and 1 undershirt and will be distributed by staff from both companies. The project was primarily funded and supported by BuildSafe Environment & CO Asbestos Inspection with some private donations.

WHERE? Crossroads Homeless Center
1901 29th Street, Denver, CO 80216 (Off of Brighton Boulevard)
Distribution will begin at 7:30 pm on Thursday, June 4, 2015
Representatives from all organizations will be on-hand to speak to the media

Contact: Natalie Libansky, Owner, 303-522-4315, natalie@buildsafeenviro.com

The Nature of Mold: From a Mold Inspector’s Viewpoint

Mold Basics

Nature has supplied Earth with thousands of types of fungi in order to break down (or decompose) organic material to its basic carbon form. This contributes to the carbon cycle and since carbon is a main component of biological compounds, mold activity is essential to Earth’s ability to sustain life. Mold does its job well, but unfortunately it continues to work even when we don’t want it too. This can mean big and expensive problems when it affects our homes and our health.

Here’s how mold works: ambient microbes called spores float around in the air until they make contact with a wet surface which they then attach too. Then, the spores begin releasing enzymes which decompose the material. All the while, they are bulking up their decomposing power by reproducing new spores. This process is known as colonization and looks like a fuzzy fibrous growth when it becomes large enough.

But the conditions have to be right in order for mold to grow and it can grow almost anywhere! Mold thrives in dark, warm, and wet places and like all living things, needs food to survive. Our homes are the perfect breeding grounds for mold: the area behind walls, under carpet, in attics, and in crawl spaces provide the perfect dark and warm conditions. Materials such as wood, padding under carpet, and paper backing on drywall are abundant sources of food. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that, “…many fungi grow readily on any surface that becomes wet or moistened.” In fact, WHO also reports that dust and other microscopic components in water alone, provide enough nutrients for mold to grow. In other words, ANYTHING that is wet could potentially grow mold.

Mold growing on personal items

Mold growing on personal items

How Mold Affects Our Homes & Health

Mold and Our Homes

Mold has one main purpose—to decompose. This alone is the basis for the negative effects it has on our homes. Once colonization begins, mold can literally eat away at our homes and weaken or even destroy its structural integrity if left untreated for a prolonged amount of time.

When decomposition occurs on our property, the damage can be expensive and sometimes permanent. It is estimated that mold damage repairs cost homeowners over $1 billion annually which has prompted the spike in pre-purchase home inspections—and rightly so. Hidden building components like wooden studs, the backs of walls, and other structural members can usually be repaired, but the further the extent of the mold damage – the more expensive it is. If you are purchasing a home or new property, a low-cost mold inspection by an experienced mold inspector is worth taking the time to do. If a mold problem is identified, then you can avoid assuming the cost and liability of remediation. On the other hand, if no mold is found then the property gets a clean bill-of-health and you get the peace of mind that your new home and your health won’t be compromised by mold. As the saying goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

Mold growing inside wall cavity

Mold growing inside wall cavity

Mold and Our Health

Mold is everywhere and affects everybody differently. Many people will not experience any health issues when exposed to mold, even at high levels; on the other hand, some experience severe health issues with low levels of mold exposure. Children and the elderly are the most susceptible, accounting for the majority of health related issues. What’s more, people with impaired respiratory or immune health are more vulnerable. Common symptoms related to mold are: inflammations, nasal and sinus congestion, dry cough, wheezing, sore throat, shortness of breath, burning eyes, skin irritation, central nervous system problems, and other respiratory problems.

If you are experiencing any adverse health effects related to the time spent in your home, contact your local mold inspector to assess the property.

Ditch the DIY & Hire a Pro!

To ensure water damaged areas are thoroughly dried and you are in compliance with your home insurance policy, avoid doing it yourself and call a professional!

As an unregulated hazardous material, many Do-It-Yourselfers choose to save money and take on the task of mold mitigation without the help of professionals. In my experience, these DIYers, oftentimes landlords looking to cut corners, tend to overlook an important piece of the mitigation protocol and within a matter of months, guess whose back?! A formal mold inspection with report comes at a very minimal fee, takes less than an hour to conduct, and provides site-specific and industry-driven protocol to remediate the mold problem for good—that value cannot be captured in an at-home mold self-test kit.

Even if you are a DIYer, there are still ways to make sure the problem is gone for good. To ensure mold remediation is completed successfully, have a Post-Remediation Verification (PRV) done before tearing down your contained work area. This PRV protocol is a post mold mitigation clearance inspection and testing service that provides visual and analytical verification that the mold has been removed from all affected areas. In addition, a PRV uses moisture identifying equipment and samples analyzed by an accredited laboratory to assess the air quality and ensure the area is safe for re-occupancy and ready to be rebuilt. Upon the successful completion of remediation, a formal PRV report is given to the client which substantiates its completion and provides the property with a clean bill-of-health.

Swift Action is the Key!

The rate at which mold colonizes varies based on conditions and spore type. Basically, the larger and wetter the affected area is, the bigger the problems will be. The Environmental Protection Agency recommends you, “Act quickly since mold damages what it grows on, and the longer it grows, the more damage it can cause.” They also recommend drying water-damaged areas within 24-48 hours to prevent mold growth—sooner if it is category 3, bacteria-containing sewage water. Promptly addressing water losses could also ensure you are in compliance with your insurance policy. Most policies will cover water damage, but mold remediation could end up being an out-of-pocket expense. To put it plainly, water damaged areas should be dried quickly and thoroughly.

If you are unsure of what to do when you have a water loss in your home, contact a restoration professional in your area. If there is no noticeable water damage on your property, but you are experiencing adverse health effects or smell musty odors, contact a mold inspector. Our team at BuildSafe can provide you with a low-cost, visual mold evaluation and advise you of the best steps to take to ensure your home and health is protected. As an independent third-party consultant, we can also refer a reputable, professional mold mitigation or restoration contractor in your area. A great first step to take is just making the phone call. So don’t wait – phone consultation is free!

Atypical Sources of Moisture to be Aware of:

  • Bathroom humidity from shower—Bathroom fans should be ran while the shower is on to evacuate moisture out of the house. NOTE: Be sure fan is evacuating moisture out of the house and not into unconditioned spaces like the attic or behind walls.
  • Exterior perimeter above sill plate—Water will often infiltrate the horizontal seam where the concrete foundation meets the rest of house if the ground level sits near or above it.
  • Window wells—If water gets trapped in them, it can seep through the seams where the window meets the foundation. Water should be diverted away from window wells, or, the window wells should provide adequate drainage.
  • Condensation—Moisture will accumulate on surfaces that are cold. For example, a poorly insulated door or wall will become cold in the winter and the humidity in a warm home will build up on its surface.

Sources:

Cleaning up After a Flood: Addressing Mold Problems. Environmental Protection Agency, PDF file. <http://www.epa.gov/katrina/outreach/mold.pdf>.

Dampness and Mould: WHO Guidlines for Indoor Air Quality. Germany: Druckpartner Moser, PDF file.

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