NTE Podcast: Hiring the Right IAQ Professional

You’re investigating noxious, unfamiliar odors in your home and need to hire someone. Where do you go? Who can you trust? All too often, we get suck in “analysis paralysis” and either get recommendations from too many people or we hire someone who claims they can find the problem, but is woefully ignorant of the best testing methods. Today, Jay and I discussing how to find the right IAQ professionals for troubleshooting your home, and I talk about some current projects that you can probably relate to.



Hiring the Right IAQ Professional


Andrew Pace: While Jay and I have our personal favorites when it comes to hiring indoor air quality professionals to sleuth out problems in the home, it’s obvious that there’s a large area in this country that aren’t really covered by these professionals. And so we get that call quite often from listeners who do I call to find out what’s going on in the house. So on today’s episode we’re going to talk about hiring the correct professional and sometimes hiring the correct professionals to sleuth out the problems in the home and get you moving in the right direction. Today, on Non Toxic Environments.

Hello everybody. Welcome back to Non Toxic Environments. Jay, we’ve got an interesting topic today. Well, they’re all interesting.

Jay Watts: I hope so. I hope our listeners are feeling that way. I mean, I’m always interested in what we’re talking about, but you know, I’ve kind of some skin in the game here as you do. So last week folks, we talked about adhesives that kind of, as we described, a sticky subject, sorry for the bad pun, but had to say it today. Today, I think we would like to talk about kind of a bar in the broader context of indoor air quality and most specifically, how do we go about ascertaining whether or not we need a professional to come in and help us do our indoor air quality testing? Or are we going to go out to the do it yourself world and find the little testers that we can use ourselves to bring in to figure out what we’re dealing with or their indoor air quality? So I know, Andy, this is a subject that’s right up your trail. Why don’t we just dive in and start talking about it?

Andy: Well, you know, it is, and, and you know, full disclosure, I’m a consultant for healthy homes and healthy home remodeling and sometimes just for a person to throw ideas off of and maybe act as a little bit of a counselor with some families. There are professionals across the country and all over the world that specialize in indoor air quality, but they come at it from different points of view. And I think that’s really the gist of what we wanted to discuss today because all too often someone would contact me, we’ll be involved in a consultation, we’ll find out that they’re dealing with a mold situation or something else even more dangerous. And it’ll come down to having to do some actual testing, you know, boots on the ground, getting into the guts of the home and finding out what’s actually happening on site. Not a lot that I can do here between a hundred to a thousand miles away. Although we have had many… several times now, successfully utilize the prism testing systems to give us an idea of where we’re at for VOCs, formaldehyde, even active mold in the house. But most often these situations require somebody to come out and actually visualize the space and test for specific contaminants. And this is a little bit more difficult and I would love to say today, all right, here are the three people you should call and here are their phone numbers and their websites and that’s it folks. We’re done for Non Toxic Environments today, but it’s just not that easy and it’s a subject that requires a lot of background investigation- obviously where you’re located, what is the job situation, what do you think at the outset, what are we looking for? Honestly in these situations, and I’m going to talk about a couple of specific projects that I’ve worked on.

Jay: That’s good. It’s always good to bring like a project at hand to kind of share it.

Andy: It is. And the reason why I’m going to bring these particular projects up is because of having to bring in multiple experts because one has a specialty in mold, the next one has a specialty in formaldehyde. The next one has a specialty in something completely exotic. And you’ll find that sometimes in order to get down to the root of the problem and actually fix it. It’s an all hands on deck situation.

Jay: So I hear this and I’m starting to see the cash register start to spit out a big number at the end of that… I guess you’ll get into that later when we talk about relative costs and pretty basic terms. I’m hearing the cash register starting to ring; i’m going to have a mold guy come out and then there’s going to be a guy coming out formaldehyde and someone coming out for this and that. And boy, I got a whole team of people in my house trying to figure out where it’s coming from and what it is. We’re going to discuss this, what do we do about it?

Andy: And that all comes down to you. You need to utilize the tools and services that are proper for the situation. I don’t like to have somebody who is a quasi-expert give $1,000 worth of reports only to find out that, well, that particular person really didn’t know exactly what to look for. Now we’re going to bring somebody else in.

Jay: Is there a university of this for IAQ experts? Is there someplace that these guys go to get certified or how’s that?

Andy: There are organizations in the Building Biology Institute for instance, they will certify, and it’s a hands on in the field, educational, and correspondence. They will certify Building Biologists, and a Building Biologist is going to be very well trained in how to use equipment to detect electromagnetic fields for instance, or to detect mold.

However, a building biologist is not an industrial hygienist. All right? And it’s not somebody who can now take slides and look at under the microscope and find out exactly what microbiome we’re dealing with. It’s always best to talk to somebody who has a broad base in all the different types of contaminants in the home. And then this is why I’m saying you really need to, in a lot of situations, bring in a second expert in. I’ve been involved in a couple where they’ve had three or four experts and you look at the cost of a home, you look at what it takes to remodel it, fix it up to how you like it. And then having to do that again because somebody missed something. So I’d rather just rather be safe than sorry, and let’s get it done right the first time.

Andy: So let me just bring out an example because I think it’ll help everyone understand where I’m coming from. Working on a project in New York over the last year, and this couple they expected their first child. Now they have a young child and they are remodeling this old historic home. It’s just a gorgeous house in a really interesting neighborhood. The story is great and it was an area that used to be used in old movie sets in New York. And so it’s considered a historic preservation area. Well they hired me as their Building Biologist and healthy home consultant and doing everything obviously remotely from Wisconsin. And we started digging into the guts of the home and they had a local fellow who was an indoor air quality specialist and also the contractor, the remediator.

And he and I would work very fairly closely on trying to seal up the crawl space, trying to take care of some mold issues in the house. And I was helping them with materials… and low and behold, a crawl space that has been covered up for decades got opened up because they wanted to make sure that there was no water to deal with. Opening up that crawl space opened up a literal can of worms. Everybody in the family, just instantly flu like symptoms. Dizziness, can’t be in the house, a whole host of symptoms. At that point she decided to hire another specialist, somebody who can actually do testing of dust and find out what’s going on. Come to find out that the home was treated for termites decades ago. Well, a termite treatment prior to 1988 was a chemical called chlordane.

Andy: Chlordane lasts in the soil, in your house for decades. And it’s extremely dangerous to the point where it’s actually been banned for use in this country since 1980.

Jay: They use a different chemical now in most of that work, don’t they?

Andy: They do, they do. But this particular one is notoriously bad. Yeah. Well, in order to pinpoint exactly what they are dealing with the chlordane, they ended up hiring another specialist. And this other specialist is somebody who worked particularly with chlordane and had certain test protocols. And so we’re finally getting down to the crux of this and knowing all the information we know now, she’s going back to the various experts that she’s hired to put together a list of things that need to be done in what order. And everybody’s having a say, not only in how it’s done, but the materials being used, the processes being used, the equipment being used.  So that all the way along the line there, nobody will be using anything that is going to circumvent what we’ve done already. And put us back into a situation where now we’re behind the eight ball again and we gotta take care of another issue. So this is working out well, for the fact that this will be dealt with and taken care of properly.

But is it expensive? Yeah, it’s very expensive and I make no bones about it. I know she has spent thousands of dollars on experts on testing and that doesn’t even count the remediation part and the remodeling.

Jay: But the thing to have the peace of mind of at least understanding it at a deeper level, it’s gotta be incredibly helpful. I just remembered the gas that replaces chlordane now they, well it’s popular, it’s got a trade name called Vikane. But the the chemicals is sulphural fluoride, okay. That’s what it is. So it’s, that’s what they use instead of chlordane now.

Andy: Well, and so hopefully we won’t find out 20 years from now, that’s just as bad. Like replacing BPA with BPB, when that BPB is just as bad or worse.

Jay: That can happen. So thousands of dollars down the pipe at at least, now we have some sense of a trajectory forward. We know what we need to do, or at least we have a good idea of where the problem is and how to treat it. And so of course there’s always opens up the discussion about more focused analysis. Right. But anyway, finish your story. I didn’t mean to interrupt the story. Go ahead. Not a problem.

Andy: So here’s that the second part of the story. We are in the process, right? And this is happening right now folks. We are in the process of going through the protocol to make sure that what will be done will not harm the occupants in any other way. We’re all taking turns on making sure that it’s going to be beneficial for the end project. Discussion has started, would it be better to button the house up, clean out what you can and put it up for sale? And I know this is not the happy ending that people are hoping for in a story like this, but it’s real. I believe that you need to go into these situations with more of that open mind. This is not the only project like this folks. I have probably a dozen projects in the last two years where our clients decided to at the very end, you know what, it’s time to cut bait and move on.

Andy: And that’s what they did because some situations are not going to be 100% fixed for you and your family. It might be fine for the next family. You provide full disclosure, this is what we did. Here are the test results. The test results are far below industry levels and well in the safe zone and so forth. However, as we all know, once you become sensitized to something, whether it’s a physical reaction or a mental reaction, it’s hard to get away from that. And if you’ve been dealing with this day in and day out for the last eight months and then you cannot get rid of the problem 100% and guarantee that, I don’t know if you’ll ever have peace of mind,

Jay: I would say no.

Andy: And I have found that as a consultant, it’s my duty to bring this to the client completely unbiased and say, I believe based upon what I hear, you’re never going to find closure here and I think you should just sell and move on. So we’ll see, decisions have not been made yet on this particular project.

Jay: It takes time. You have to sit down with your family and, and go over the information and look at the dollars and look at what to expect and then make the tough decision. So, what’s your other story that’s related?

Andy: A client I’m working with right now… they were in the process of designing a home and got all the way to the point of going out for bids. Project went out for bids and all the bids are coming back far higher than they had budgeted for. They realized that they probably put into the design a lot more than… it was all their wishes. They weren’t being frugal with how they put things on the blueprints.

Jay: Yeah. This is the dream house.

Andy: It’s the dream house, but once those start to come off, the numbers just weren’t coming down enough. And they’ve also started doing some additional investigation into the area where they’re building. They found that a farm about a half a mile away, which was an organic farm, recently switched over and got rid of their organic certifications. Unfortunately the farm is a little bit west of them. So the prevailing winds would bring all of that pesticide and other things into their yard. So they had to make the decision. First of all, are we going to build this house as is? How are we going to build in this area? And what they did was they sold the land and they bought an existing home. Now we’re in the process of doing remodeling project. These are the things that as a consultant I’ll help people with, but when it comes specifically to indoor air quality again, we’re talking about very specific things that we deal with, whether it’s chemical, mold, electromagnetic fields. It’s all about making sure that you bring in the right people based upon the situation.

Jay: Yeah. And so it kind of leads me to the next side of the equation here with this. And that is- there are a do it yourselfer kits, testers that you can bring into to try to help you analyze your hair. I know that we have the formaldehyde reduction or the Yanagasowa sensor for doing very specific formaldehyde analysis. So briefly, the idea of these units that are out in the market you could buy on Amazon. I think we both kind of agree you have to be ‘buyer beware’ with those. Right? Right.

Andy: Well that is a big thing right now. You and I Jay have a mutual client and the situation we’re running into is: a product was used in their home and it was an adhesive. Because of the past health issues, they own a couple of handheld VOC meters and formaldehyde meters.

Andy: According to what we were told, they applied some adhesive and their meters just spiked in formaldehyde, absolutely spiked. This is a dangerous situation, not only potentially because of health, but potentially because of inaccurate information getting broadcast out to the world. So I jumped into action right away and I brought out our FRAT system and I found a tube of that particular adhesive. I laid some down and did a FRAT test on it and it came out at zero.

As you’ve probably all heard me talk about this in the past a number of times, I didn’t do it once, I did it twice, because I always want to make sure that the system is done properly. So two times- I know that I’ve got the correct result. You start to break apart all the parts of how this process happens. And I think Jay, you brought up a great point about this is that it’s quite possible that when this adhesive was put onto the surface that it actually caused flushing of formaldehyde coming from the plywood it was put on. And that makes absolutely perfect sense. Because when I do it here I’m doing it with a material that I know is formaldehyde free. It’s approved cardstock that when I put the material on no flushing occurs. The discussion became right away all right Andy, you got to fly out to California and do this test in our house. Unfortunately it’s just not possible nor is a practical. We did the testing, we actually videotaped the entire process to show here’s how it’s done. This is the product, these are the results… kind of case closed. And so that’s a situation where it would probably be a very, I would say a little too judicious…. not a judicious use of funds to bring in an expert from 4,000 miles away to conduct a 30 minute test.

Jay: Right, right. And I think you said something really important. We’ve stressed this before and that is when you’re trying to do an analysis of a specific product, you always want to make sure that you don’t create what Andy just described as a flushing effect.

Jay: So you want to use an inert surface. I use glass or I’ll even use tinfoil. Then I’ll put the product of choice on that surface. I’ll let it dry and cure and act like it will act when it’s done dried and cured. And then I do my analysis and to figure out is this a product I can be around? So I think that’s probably good. Words to the wise for all of these listening, if you’re getting ready to… if you’re in the discovery stage of your development and you’re looking at products, you want to make sure that only do you read as much as you can and get as much of that information as possible, but then you have to finalize all of that by getting samples of everything.

And I’m speaking specifically of coating type products and our adhesives and glues, that kind of thing, where you can actually take the material itself from whoever company you’re looking at and put those materials on your inert surface and then go through your whatever protocol. Some people have sensitivities and go to doctors and they have different modalities for understanding what the challenge is. Some people do muscle testing, most people just do a basic inhalation test. One of the things we do aside from the initial test is we also put the product testing sample in our bedroom. We actually sleep with right by our nightstand, which is right by our heads. So, if my wife and I wake up with any kind of symptom, then we can kind of decide maybe that’s not the product that we want to bring in.

So it’s very personal. You have to kind of figure out folks which modality you feel comfortable with, but in terms of doing your due diligence to make the right decisions, it’s a smart move to make.

Andy: It is. It is. And so, and on that note there are other, I think you had mentioned this, there are other kits that you can buy FRAT test is something that’s normally done in the house, right? We do have clients and a lot of listeners to the show actually have sent me samples of materials that they’re using in their home and they want me to give them a test result.

Jay: Oh, fantastic.

Andy: And it’s worked out great. So for awhile there I was just allowing people to send in samples. Now, unfortunately, because of the amount of it, I actually have to charge for it because it is expensive for me to do these tests.

Jay: Oh yeah. You opened up the door there and I think it’s wonderful that people want you to do that. Maybe you have to hire a little assistant to help you out with that.

Andy: Exactly. And so, the other types of tests that are available: there is a product called Prism test. They develop this test kit after hurricane Katrina to test… actually at the time RV’s that were loaded with formaldehyde. They needed a way to test multiple locations very fast with this equipment that was obviously really sensitive, but in a way that didn’t require their own IAQ professionals to be on site.

They developed this test kit and it’s pretty awesome. Folks buy the test that you want to do, whether it’s a VOC test, VOC and formaldehyde, VOC, formaldehyde and mold. They even have one for latent cigarette smoke. So if you move into an apartment and you know you smell something, but they say it’s a smoking free apartment, you can actually test it and it’ll give you the results of all the thousands of chemicals that are found in cigarette smoke. They send you the test kit. Essentially they have a couple different versions. One has a low vacuum pump. You put in the tubes and run for 20 minutes, put the tubes back in the box and it’s sent back via two day air. There’s another one that has actually a tape test for testing dust.

Andy: But the point is that these tests are under $300. You get amazing detail of what is in your air. And I use these very often. If I’m doing a FRAT test of somebody’s home, I’ll require them to do a Prism test first so I know what I’m working with. You know, if I walk into a home, it’s like walking into a home blindly. Whereas if I know that there’s an elevated formaldehyde and a certain level, I know what I’m looking for, so I’m not just throwing darts.

Jay: This is a show note.

Andy: Yup. It is. It is. And I’ll have links to these. I’ll have links to all of this in the notes. Anybody can go right on and in purchase their testing. Here’s a really, really great thing about the Prism test: I like using prism tests before and after projects. Buy a house, immediately do a test. Now you’ve got a baseline right now. Do all the repairs, renovations, improvements you want to do and hopefully you’re doing things healthfully. And if I’m involved, and we’re using Jay’s products and we’re making sure that the houses as toxin-free as possible, then do another test and compare the results. Because I’ve seen this side by side before and it’s truly amazing. Hmm. And so again, a for a few hundred bucks, it’s peace of mind.

Jay: No, absolutely. And that’s a big component here. Well, I think we’ve kind of done a nice job with that IAQ analysis. Why don’t we dip into our mailbag Andy and kind of round out the show with a few Q and A’s here?

Andy: Yeah, we’ve got time for a couple of questions.

Jay: Yeah, I think we do. I’ve got one right here in front of me. So this customer has a, and this is unique. You don’t see this a lot, so I like this one. They have natural Adobe floors. So they used a linseed oil on them and we could predict this: the floors turned dark and the color isn’t to our liking. Would it be possible to use a floor paint over the linseed oiled floor as long as it was primed first with some kind of a primer? Or is this, forget it, no go, thanks for your help.

Andy: That’s a good question. Because I can tell you in 30 years I’ve never gotten that question.

Jay: Adobe floors are not that most part. I mean, where do you find Adobe floors? In Arizona and New Mexico, right?

Andy: Parts of Colorado and so forth. I actually have a client here in Wisconsin and has done it for a couple of homes. So it looks beautiful. But obviously when you put linseed oil or in these case, boiled linseed oil on an Adobe floor, it’s essentially just a compact earth floor and it’s going to darken up because that’s what oils do. Here’s the situation. The problem we’re dealing with, even though it’s a compacted earthen floor, there’s still a, an element of flexibility to the linseed oil that’s on the surface. And the fear is that the current surface will be more flexible than whatever paint you put over it. As you walk in the floor and wear the floor down, you’ll actually be cracking the floor because those two surfaces don’t move at the same flexibility level. But on that note, it’s quite possible that through some adhesion tests, you may be able to get the AFM Transitional Primer… and I’m gonna say, and you may not like this recommendation Jay, because, well, it might not be what you might be thinking. I’d actually say the exterior satin paint for the fact that it exterior paint is more flexible. It’s not going to wear as well as your concrete floor paint. But it’s also not as hard and it gives you a little bit that flexibility. So sand, then Transitional Primer and then a couple coats of the Exterior Satin and it’s quite possible it could work, but you’d really have to test it.

Jay: Yeah. I think that’s kind of the common word folks when we’re talking about, doing these kinds of transition type jobs. It’s always really important that you do some small analysis, some testing to make sure that the concepts you’re hoping to apply going to be successful are going to be successful and the only way you can do that is by finding an inconspicuous area someplace to run some analysis.

Andy: Correct. Yeah.

Jay: Okay. Here’s another one. Our house contains large amounts of rough cut cedar wall paneling, about 400 square feet of it. It was our vacation home, but we have retired to live here full time within the last year. My wife seems to develop the severe reaction to something here. She is better when we can open up all the windows or when she’s outside. We’re suspecting the cedar. Are there any products that can be effective in sealing Cedar? This is from John in Missouri.

Andy: I was just going to ask where, where does John reside? So Missouri, we’re dealing with humidity, correct. We’re dealing with the fact that Cedar contains tannic acid. Tannic acid can be very problematic for some people. Problematic for anybody.

Jay: Pine and Cedar, they’re the big culprits out there in the wood world for people with different challenges.

Andy: For sure. So generally I’ll tell people that it’s impossible to seal up natural aromas. The chemistry behind a natural aroma is truly magnificent. So magnificent that I have never found a synthetic or natural product out there that can totally seal it up. Yeah, there are some caveats here. I’ve had some luck and it doesn’t happen all the time folks. It’s, it seems to be very job specific because of how old the Cedar is. Or pine is another thing you mentioned. Cedar, the tannic acid and Cedar can leach out for months to years and now if we were dealing with an exterior deck or a fence, I’d actually tell them, let it weather for a full year and then put a sealer on there for color and waterproofing and so forth. Inside of the home because there is not a lot of weathering happening inside the home.

This doesn’t happen as fast, so you have to let the wood naturally dry out and that can take years. The older it is, the more likely that using either the AFM Acrylacq or pure shellac [will work]. And you know, you and I have talked about that before. Jay, you did a lot of experiments with pure shellac.

Jay: Yes.

Andy: And it’s very effective at sealing up wood odors.

Jay: Yes.

Andy: But not everyone can tolerate shellac even once it’s cured. So you would have to do shellac and then the Acrylacq over that.

Jay: Right. So that’s what I’ve suggested. That seems to work well. I haven’t experimented with that and with good success. Yeah.

Andy: So I think that answers the question. I think the other thing is, keep in mind that humidity tends to activate those aromas more. I know opening the windows feels like the right thing to do because you get ventilation, but an actuality, if you’re bringing in more humidity, it’s just going to prolong the problem.

Jay: So maybe dehumidification of some kind So you know where it looks like we’re kind of running a course on our time here. So why don’t we wrap it up for today and look forward to next week. So take us home Andy, take us home.

Andy: I hope that the discussion of IAQ professionals and hiring the right people is helpful. I purposely did not name names because there are so many individuals I’ve worked with across the country who are absolute experts in their field that I would be afraid that if I named six, I forgot the name of the seventh. And I don’t want to do that to any of my friends and colleagues across the country. They’re all good who’ve I’ve worked with. They all have their strong suits.

Matter of fact you can listen back on some of the podcasts that I’ve been on this past year and I’ve been interviewed by a couple of these indoor air quality experts on their shows. So I’m sure you’ll be able to find those in some of the previous show notes. But if you are interested in specific names and areas, please feel free to reach out. Andy@DegreeofGreen.com, you can go to our website and leave us a Speak Pipe. Then finally folks we have been getting a lot of feedback from customers that they are just avid listeners of the show. I had two listeners in the last week tell me that the entire family sits around the computer and listens to the show.

Jay: That’s great.

Andy: Matter of fact, one of them I did a consult with earlier this week and her two year old asked to go on the phone so he could hear my voice because he’s so excited about listening to the show folks. If you have a child like that, please make sure they get in touch with us. Cause Jay and I could use an apprentice.

Jay: But you know what that means, we’re going to have to work on some lullabies here.

Andy: Well, I’m sure many of our words can put children to sleep and adults too. So thanks for listening.

Jay: We hear you snoring folks.

Andy: Okay, that’s right. My point is that a lot of avid listeners, people love the show. What I’m encouraging you to do is go back to whichever device you listen to our show. Hopefully it’s something like iTunes and you can leave us a rating and a review because, you know, even just clicking that little five star button once, it takes two tenths of a second and it does a world of good for us because that helps others find the show as well. That’s my little ask.

Jay: I’m hoping everybody can help us out. I think folks that even look at it this way, there’s a big flagpole up there, the healthy home healthy building flagpole, and our little flag is starting to go up the flag pole, right? So the more you can give us some words to it, put some wind into that flag and get our little flag to start getting further, further up there. So people more people see it. Maybe the flag gets a little bigger and who knows it. Good things coming to that.

Andy: That’s fantastic. All right, folks, thanks again for listening. We’ll be back next week with a wonderful episode of Non Toxic Environments. Take care, everyone.

Jay: Bye. Bye.


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