Black Mold Has Significant Negative Health Implications
While the term “toxic mold” isn’t exactly accurate, many molds, including so-called “black mold,” (Stachybotrys spp.) produce toxins that negatively impact human health.
According to the Centers for Disease Control:
In 2004 the Institute of Medicine (IOM) found there was sufficient evidence to link indoor exposure to mold with upper respiratory tract symptoms, cough, and wheeze in otherwise healthy people; with asthma symptoms in people with asthma; and with hypersensitivity pneumonitis in individuals susceptible to that immune-mediated condition. The IOM also found limited or suggestive evidence linking indoor mold exposure and respiratory illness in otherwise healthy children.
Molds grow from spores, which are ubiquitous in our indoor and outdoor environments and become active when conditions are right. Persistent moisture is the biggest factor that causes mold to grow and produce more spores and harmful toxins. Since the proliferation of Stachybotrys depends so strongly on moisture, the best place to begin is to figure out where excess moisture in our homes comes from and how we can mitigate its accumulation.
Where Does Problem Moisture Come From?
Any water-using appliance or fixture, especially ones using or producing hot water, are strong sources of indoor moisture.
- Showers (run the fan!)
- Washing machines
- Sinks and tubs
- Unvented combustion sources (gas stoves and space heaters, typically)
- Steam irons
Cooking, too, releases moisture into the air, as does human respiration (moisture is expelled from the lungs and through the skin). When you go outside on a cold day and “see your breath,” you are actually seeing the moisture you exhale every time your lungs fill and empty. If you and your whole family are snug in your warm house with the windows and doors shut all winter, you can see how that might become a problem!
The World Health Organization (WHO) identifies eleven common sources of moisture-related issues in buildings (see the entire list here on page 54). A complete discussion of them all is beyond the scope of this article, but we will touch on those related to heating and cooling and how they can be mitigated.
The following are excerpted from that list:
- Plumbing leaks and spills, perhaps resulting from improper design, installation,
operation or maintenance (e.g. failure to inspect and repair plumbing
- Infiltration of warm, moist outside air through cracks and holes in the enclosure
during warm, humid weather – which can cause condensation on materials
that are cooler, because they are part of the air-conditioning system – have
been cooled by air-conditioned indoor air or are in cool basements or crawl
- Exfiltration of warm, moist indoor air through cracks and holes in the enclosure
during cold weather, which can cause condensation in wall and ceiling
cavities and attic spaces
- Intentional or accidental vapor barriers in the wrong place, which can lead to
condensation in the building enclosure
- Unvented or poorly vented sources, such as swimming pools, spas, aquariums,
dishwashers, combustion devices, kitchens and baths, from which water
may condense in the building enclosure or, if indoor humidity levels are high
enough, on materials in the space itself (e.g. ceilings, walls, furniture, cold water
pipes or air-conditioning air supply diffusers)
- Insufficient dehumidification by HVAC systems,
which may result in levels of interior humidity that are high enough to
cause mould to grow on furniture, walls, ceilings or air-conditioning supply
- Poor condensate drainage due to heating, ventilation and air-conditioning
system deficiencies; condensation from cooling coils may overflow drain pans
or leak from condensate drain lines
Sources of Excess Moisture Vary by Season
In Skagit county, we have four wonderful seasons. Each is defined by a typical air humidity level and temperature range. Our climate determines how we condition our spaces for both our comfort and health in each season. The winter is typically cold and moist, with temperate summers that can vary from dry to humid depending on the prevailing weather pattern.
Many of the conditions experienced in Skagit county can quickly cause an excess of moisture and mold buildup in the home. Here are some tips to avoid mold buildup.
During (or before!) the heating season:
- Install double pane windows (at minimum) or shrink-wrap plastic indoor window covers
- Ensure sufficient indoor/outdoor (fresh) air changes – run fans, open a window or two, or install an ERV/HRV (energy/heat recovery ventilators)
- Maintain enough heat in the space (minimum temperature) to overcome the condensing effect of unabated drafts and cold air leaks
During the cooling season:
- Use a standalone dehumidifier when indoor humidity exceeds 50%
- Ensure careful insulation and encapsulation of cooling lines where they pass through building materials
- Properly installed and intact (functioning) vapor barrier
- Maintain the temperature in a small range rather than large warming and cooling cycles
- Keep condensate drains clear – make sure condensate goes to a sewer drain or outside and away from the building and foundation
- Use a toilet tank insulator kit or plumb warm water (with a mixing valve) to your toilet tank
- Avoid large swings in indoor temperature that alter the ability of indoor air to hold moisture
- Keep indoor humidity under 50% (use an indoor humidity meter (like this one, under $10) to monitor it
- Make sure that you home has good overall insulation
- Be sure you have a properly designed, installed, and intact vapor barrier
- Insulate all exposed or uninsulated cold water pipes – condensation or freeze (and subsequent leak) risk
I’m Feeling Overwhelmed! Help!
This (partial) list of ways that moisture can build up and contribute to harmful black mold growth can be a bit daunting. Sometimes, I feel the same way when I’m struggling with my computer and it just won’t do what I need it to do! I have found the solution, and I think it will help you, too: call a professional.
Alpine Heating and Cooling is not a mold remediation business, but we can come out and take a look at your heating and air conditioning equipment, which is a common source of moisture problems. We’ll make sure it’s properly installed, functioning at top efficiency, and that drains are clear, and lines are insulated. You’ll be ready for whatever mother nature throws at us here in Skagit county.
Give us call or send us an email – we’d love to hear from you.
For even more reading, check out this fantastic publication from the University of Wisconsin Cooperative Extension called, “Winter Home Moisture Problems.”
Sedro Woolley Furnace Replacement.
Here we are again, decision time for another one of our customers.… do we put money into our older gas furnace or replace it. I try to be as honest as I can with people when making this decision. I look at age of the furnace versus the cost of the repairs and then the cost of the future repairs based on my experience. And in this case it was time for this Sedro Woolley furnace replacement.
Where did the quality go
I certainly see a lot of the York Diamond 80% in Skagit County, in fact I use to be a York dealer back when this furnace was actually installed. At that time York made a very good furnace. I personally have sold, serviced and installed 100’s of them, but today, based on actual field experience and experience with many other different brands I would say York and or Coleman all made by Johnson Controls have taken a big hit in the quality of their product.
The American Standard 80%
The new American Standard 80% gas furnace did require a little bit of modifications to the return ducting, as well as eliminating the angled base-can that the customer kept stubbing their toes on. We also added a Custom 4″ filter bank to the system, we just had to make a custom door for access because of the venting. Overall this Sedro Woolley Furnace Replacement project went fairly smooth.
Like I have stated on many occasions in Alpines blog before, American Standard is my choice of equipment to install, this is based on the fact I have sold, serviced and installed many other brands. I only like to install equipment that gives me the least call backs … American Standard is that equipment.
Anacortes Boiler Replacement, Iron Fireman To Navien
This Anacortes Boiler Replacement project involved this monster of a boiler, this boiler was burning massive amounts of fuel oil to keep my customers home heated, costing them dearly. They felt it was time for a change to something way more efficient and reliable.
A Test Of Time
When ever I remove a old unit like this I try to imagine what the installers where like, where they young or old? And or perhaps how much effort went into installing such a beast back then. At that time this was cutting edge equipment and they where probably extremely proud of the installation.
The Navien Combi/tankless Unit
As you can see the new Navien CH-240 Combi/tankless unit takes up very little room compared to the older monster of a boiler ... and not only does it heat the home, it heats the hot water as well. I have installed a few of these now with very little issues. They work exactly how they are advertised. The only draw back with this Anacortes Boiler Replacement is that it takes a little longer to get hot water compared to the standard Navien NR-210a tankless.
This Anacortes Boiler Replacement turned out great for our customer, the Navien heats both the home and the hot water(endless) and is super efficient. This is one of my favorite installations and I highly recommend doing this for anyone in the same situation.
Mount Vernon WA Church Furnace
There are certain types of heating and cooling projects that really appeal to me, these projects generally have the biggest impact or affect for the customer and are usually the most challenging. This Mount Vernon WA Church Furnace project was for the Church Of Christ in Mount Vernon, their oil furnace was from 1951 and it was a monster. Time for a upgrade!
The Monster In The Room
The furnace was located in the church basement in a room about 9′ by 9′ and it consumed most of that room. I had to stand back out of the room just to take a good picture. One of the biggest challenges with small community Church’s is the furnace sizing. A lot of small Church’s only get occupied say 1 to 2 times per week and the rest of the time the furnace generally stays off. So you have to consider raising the temperature say from 50 degrees to 70 degrees just for a few hours, and within a short period of time. And of coarse keeping the noise level down. Perfect for the American Standard 95% 2 Stage Variable.
American Standard, To The Rescue.
One of the complaints from the church was the down stairs always seemed cold, and even though they had damper controls to help with this issue it never seemed to work correctly, therefore they abandoned that part of the system and went to space heaters. The American Standard 95% Variable 2 Stage furnace with a Honeywell 4″ pleated filter system (above) was installed to deal with just the down stairs, fortunately the existing duct work was zoned to do just that. As you can see the foot print is much smaller than the oil furnace.
Churches have a very unique situation when it comes to heating and cooling demands. In this Mount Vernon WA Church Furnace project an American Standard 95% gas furnace worked out perfectly.
New Bow Wa Heat Pump.
One of my favorite places in Skagit County is the Bow area. Most of the homes are scattered out and seem to have a fair amount of land. The town of Edison is close by and the Padilla Bay Shore Trail is a great place to take your dog for a walk. This is the area for our Bow Wa Heat Pump project.
Heat Pump VS Lp
Currently propane fuel(LP) is like the most expensive way to heat your home or business, out side of the fact that its a nice hot heat I can not think of any reason why you would choose a propane(LP) furnace over a heat pump. My customer in this case wasn't really thinking about a heat pump, but after educating him a little on the benefits and him doing his own due diligence.... he was sold.
American Standard, The Perfect System?!
I know I know ... I brag a lot about American Standard equipment, there are very good reasons why. Besides of all the countless pieces of equipment that we have installed that have had very little to no issues, American Standard has been listed either #1 or #2 for many years in Consumer Reports, competing only with Trane, and for your information American Standard makes Trane. So if you're not going to take my word for it, look it up in Consumer Reports.
American Standard is in my opinion the best piece of residential equipment on the market today. Matching up a LP furnace and a good efficient Heat Pump will save you tons of money and give you years of great service.
The Flash Boiler
The idea behind this Munchkin Boiler is to flash heat the water, by doing so you have a very small compact unit. BUT in my opinion its this compact design that can led to serious issues, like clogging of the burn chamber and or the heat exchanger itself. This type of clogging can lead to serious costly failures.
Munchkin To Burnham
The new Burnham ECS boiler is a cast iron boiler with an optional outdoor reset, perfect for this application. The Burnham boiler efficiency is a little less than the Munchkin Boiler but I feel it is a more reliable, and will last a lot longer with fewer repair bills.
Flash boilers have very small ports on both the inside and the outside of the exchanger, without proper maintenance they will clog and cause costly repairs.
Bow Wa Boiler Replacement.
When it comes to boilers we really don't have a favorite brand or model, we actually look at the situation and then pick a boiler that will actually work the best. That being said, we do have a list of favorite boilers we like to use. In this Bow Wa Boiler replacement the Burnham ESC boiler fit the bill.
Maintenance was the key
Our customer actually had a fairly new high efficient boiler already installed, the problem was it kept breaking down. So much so that he decided to have it replaced with a much simpler boiler. As it turned out we had found that the top of the heat ex-changer was almost totally plugged and the gas pressure going into the boiler was not properly set. All of this was overlooked for years by the company doing his maintenance, and that company was the original installation company.
The Burnham ESC
In this situation we had picked the Burnahm ESC boiler, reason being they are very basic, durable, easy to install and you can add modules to them. The boiler is great in low temperature applications, like for in-floor systems or it can easily handle high heat base boards applications as well.
Make sure when your having maintenance done on your boiler system (especially high efficient systems) that its done properly. A good installation company is not always a good service company.
New Clear lake Heat Pump.
I live in Sedro Woolley and of coarse I get to travel all over Skagit County, Clear Lake seems like the secret cut off road from Sedro Woolley to Mount Vernon for local travelers. Honestly I wouldn't mind living in Clear Lake because its like the center of everything. And so is this Clear Lake Heat Pump project.
Heat Pump VS Lp
Currently propane (LP) is like the most expensive way to heat your home, out side of the fact that its a nice hot heat I cant think of any reason why you would choose a LP furnace over a heat pump. In this case my customer is already educated on Heat Pumps, its just a matter of what system he wanted and how much he wanted to spend on his Clear Lake Heat Pump project.
Sometimes It Boils Down To Experience
I can not even begin to tell you how many projects I have been awarded because of experience, and I don't mean because of me bragging to the customer on how many projects we have done. But because I can see things others can not because of my vast field experience. Most sales people in this industry are sales people that where hired away from other industries, with very little HVAC training.
Rheem Combined With American Standard
In this case my customer has a high efficient 90% Rheem furnace. Most companies would want to pull the furnace and sell matching brands. Or at the very least pull the Rheem and install a cased coil under it. But what I see is a fairly new furnace with just enough space to slide in a uncased coil into the existing base can under it. In fact we had 1/2" to spare when we where all said and done.
When you start getting salespeople coming out to give you bids, ask there background, ask how many decades they have installing these types of equipment. You might be surprised to find out that their last sale was a used Ford pickup.