|Teach Yourself Environmental Home Inspecting
Did you know that there is a lot you can learn about the invisible world at your home on your own, sometimes with the purchase of a modest piece of equipment, sometimes with a modest fee for mold testing?
Years ago, I was contacted by a woman who said: "I don’t know if there is anything wrong with my house, but I have four children, and I just want to make sure all is well." Common sense!! At least it is if you are concerned about health, and you wouldn’t have landed here if you weren’t. How do you heal if your body is in an environmental battleground at home?
So! Are you ready to begin? Well, then, let’s get started! I will be your guide, and hopefully this website will be your mentor, as we explore the invisible environmental world at your home that could be impacting on your health and the health of your family.
Since most calls relate to mold, we’ll start there and then move on to other areas of concern that could be just as important, or more important, than mold at your home.
-- A woman called with the complaint that she couldn’t work in her basement office because she was being bothered by the mold smell. On-site, it soon became clear that it wasn’t mold she smelled but a significant gas leak.
-- A man called to report that he had had mold remediation done at his townhouse and, while some symptoms were better, he still had the most severe of the symptoms: brain fog, inability to concentrate, headache, and sleep issues. I checked the townhouse for mold, gas leaks, and formaldehyde/VOCs, but everything was fine. "Turn off your modem," I suggested. He turned off the nearby modem, and right away, the tightness in his brain let up. A week later he called to say that there were no more headaches or cognitive issues and that his sleep was much improved.
Let’s get acquainted!
My name is May Dooley, and I have been inspecting residences for 25 years, with some thousands under my belt. Most of my work comes through doctor referrals, Internet chat rooms, and word-of-mouth. As a former 8th grade science teacher, my inspections have typically been run similar to science classrooms, with students as participants. We ask questions and then use my equipment to look for answers.
What makes this website different?
This website tells you about tools to work with to get your own answers. No products are sold here, but sources are noted. There is no charge for this information.
How did this website evolve?
Perhaps some of you will "feel the call" and go on to learn and be local resources for others in need. This business has been recognized as "a ministry" by several of my clients … and indeed, I believe they are correct. I am humbled to be able to help, and I honor the many unsung heroes whom I have met at the homes it has been my privilege to inspect.
Now, since we will be starting with the subject of mold, here’s a brief history of my evolution on mold inspecting.
Early on, some years before the mold industry began (around 2000), I was already inspecting. It seemed obvious that if I were to look for something that was often invisible, I had better use the best tool for whatever the issue might be. For mold, the best tool would be the microscope.
On my first inspection, I took tape samples to bring back to my office to look at under the microscope. I did that for the second inspection as well. But with those tapes, I said to myself, "If I were at the house, I would take a few more samples here or there." So from my third inspection on, I started bringing a microscope to homes.
There isn’t always time for using the microscope at an inspection, but clients are shown how to take tape samples so they can forward additional tape samples if needed.
Alas, what seemed obvious to me, i.e., bringing a microscope, is not obvious to the mold industry, which marches to a different drummer and consequently, can miss a lot of invisible mold. The mold industry is bound by submitting everything to a lab; consequently, the number of samples they take is limited.
Though I, too, submit air and surface samples to a microbiology laboratory for a paper trail as needed, my orientation is more towards health. The information I provide comes from samples studied in-house, with the in-house data presented for client information only. At an average house, we sample every room to look for patterns of dissemination and on surfaces to look for sources of mold growth. Between air and surface samples, we take 40-60 samples, compared to the 5-6 common with conventional inspections.
The mold industry is of course concerned about health, but equally important, it is concerned about delivering a report that would hold up in court. As one presenter at an indoor air quality conference noted, “The mold inspection business is built on lawsuits.”
I can understand an industry-trained inspector saying to himself, “I’m not a microbiologist. I’m not a certified laboratory. I don’t want the responsibility for in-house microscope analyses.”
If the inspection had a legal component, I would feel that way, too – though I would still be supplementing testing with in-house samples. Such inspections may be needed for pre-purchase information, for post-remediation testing, and for reports that will be used with insurance companies, for potential lawsuits, or other legal matters.
The trouble is, if all samples that should be taken were submitted for laboratory analysis, the lab fees would drive the cost of the inspection beyond the reach of many potential clients.
The answer to this dilemma is that taking samples is not a black-and-white matter. Pertinent samples could be sent for lab analysis, for the legal documentation; these would be supplemented by additional samples studied with an in-house microscope.
I happen to have training in microscope use from taking several microbiology courses during my college and graduate education, but even if I didn’t, it’s not rocket science to identify the most common types of mold in a house. It’s easy to show clients what the different molds look like under a microscope and then to show them that the mold found in their house looks very similar to X, Y, or Z.
Clients know that a sample could be sent to a lab to confirm our findings, but the findings are so self-evident that I have yet to have a client say, “Let’s also send that to a lab.”
This website will assume that most of the readers are not going to buy a microscope and will instead address how far you can get with common sense and with affordable tape identification. If you are having a conventional mold inspection done, you could supplement that with additional tape samples.
For readers who are interested in buying their own microscope, information is provided on that, too.
As stated above, it’s not all about mold. Other environmental factors potentially may be influencing your health. Maybe you will find something in or around your home that is even more significant than mold. So in addition to mold, we will address other indoor quality and water quality concerns, and will finish up with how to measure and reduce exposure to electromagnetic fields.
Years ago, I attended a mold conference in upstate New York. After one presentation, an attendee from Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation and I got into conversation. I shared how a dozen EMF (electromagnetic field) studies showed that exposure to various types of EMFs increased the permeability of the blood-brain-barrier, potentially, for instance, allowing mold gases more easier access to the brain (spoken by a home inspector, not a physician).
Her response was, “You won’t hear that at this conference. In America, inspectors measure. In Canada, we help people.”
Please be advised that the goal of this website is to be user-friendly for homeowners, not to train you in a new career. I had started out thinking of two audiences for the website: both for the homeowner and for someone who thought they might want to become a professional inspector.
I wrote and wrote and wrote, page after page, until I was getting too deeply into the weeds and knew that you didn’t need all those details and that I would lose you. So I put that unfinished writing aside, and started over with just the basics for homeowners and renters.
If you are thinking in terms of a career, or even a part-time job doing environmental inspections, check out the Career page.
If you are in a legal situation, such as needing documentation for real estate or insurance purposes, hire a professional mold inspector. If you are potentially going to initiate a lawsuit, turn to an inspector with experience as an expert witness. If you cannot find such an individual in your area, you might consider working with Joe Spurgeon, PhD, who would coach a local inspector and oversee the project (www.expertonmold.com).
I refer folks out who are thinking about a lawsuit, although sometimes I am asked to do the preliminary mold inspection and confirm where invisible mold is before the clients move on to the expert witness inspector.
Lastly, I cannot be responsible for significant issues that may be missed at your home, either because this website did not address or properly emphasize the issue, the instructions were not clear enough for you to properly understand, or you did not adequately follow the instructions. We do our best – you and I – but if there is something important that you are concerned about and to which you didn’t get an adequate answer, pursue the issue on the local level.
So, I’m glad you’re along for the journey!
Now come with me as we drive up to your home and see what we can learn outside before we proceed inside.