You Have A Few Questions… Here Are The Most Frequent Answers!

We took the most frequently asked question and answers.  Hope this help you! If you don’t find the what you’re looking for, please contact us!

What Are Volitle Organic Compounds (VOCs)?

VOCs are invisible gases that are emitted from solids and liquids found in the home, such as building materials, cooking sources, gasoline and fuel, air fresheners, paints/varnishes, dry-cleaning, laser printers, carpeting, adhesives, cleaning solutions, and many other sources. VOCs can build up indoors, especially during the winter and summer months when homes are generally closed up. Repeated exposure to VOCs can cause blurred vision, headaches, nausea, dizziness, coughing, lethargy, burning eyes, respiratory irritation, skin rashes, reduced lung function, respiratory illness, concentration difficulties, depression, and, in extreme cases, loss of consciousness and suffocation. Higher exposure can lead to liver damage, kidney and central nervous system irregularities. Some VOCs can cause cancer.

What Are Mold Volitle Organic Compounds (MVOCs)?

MVOCs are gases (chemicals) produced by actively growing mold. Just as humans expel gases, so do molds. The levels of these chemicals can be measured to determine the level of actively growing mold in the house. A Home Air Check™ Professional air survey is an excellent way to determine the level of mold growing in a house — even behind walls. This is possible because MVOC chemicals move more freely through a house than mold spores (particulates) which can be trapped by walls and go undetected. When mold levels are elevated and there is chronic exposure in the home, some individuals can experience negative health effects, or worsening of existing illnesses, that could run the gamut from mild to serious. These health effects could include allergies, skin irritations, asthma, respiratory infection, and toxic poisoning. In addition, individuals with suppressed immune systems may be particularly vulnerable to illnesses caused by mold contamination.

Why should I measure for these chemicals in my home?

The United States Green Building Council (USGBC) and the European Union (EU) suggest that levels greater than 500 ng/L of VOCs may pose a health hazard in homes. High levels of VOCs can lead to respiratory irritation, mental confusion, headaches, lethargy, or worse, and can exacerbate existing medical conditions such as asthma. The levels of these compounds tend to be higher in homes built after 1970 because fresh air infiltration has been reduced to conserve heat with improved insulation, tighter door and window seals, and better construction technology in general. MVOCs detected above 30 ng/L indicate significant actively growing mold. Even this slightly elevated level could produce health concerns for some people.

Interestingly, over 80% of the homes that Prism has tested have VOC levels that far exceed the USGBC’s recommended level of 500 ng/L.

Do VOCs and MVOCs stay in my house?

Yes, especially in newer homes where insulation and energy efficient construction prevent the house from “breathing”.  Some materials can off-gas VOCs for months, even years.  The gases will continue to be found until the materials either fully off-gas or the materiasl are removed. Since MVOCs are generated by growing organisms, the concentration can increase if mold growth is expanding in the house. Both can lead to unsafe levels.

How do I reduce my home VOC and MVOC exposure?

The best way to maintain a low level, and thus, safe level of volatile chemicals in the house is to remove the sources of VOCs and MVOCs, assuming they can be identified. VOCs and MVOCs can be reduced, but not eliminated, by increasing fresh air ventilation, such as from open windows, doors, etc.

If a house is ventlated by opening windows, doors, etc, then VOC levels should be at their lowest level.  This assumes the area isn’t a heavy industrial area with chemical plants, fuel refining plants, etc. It is recommended that air quality be checked if you live in a heavily industrialized area since it could may be significantly above recommended standards.

The level of MVOCs will be the lowest in a dry home. If windows are open and the house becomes damp, then higher levels of microbial activity will be present and higher levels of MVOCs can be produced. In this case, turning on dehumidifiers and/or air conditioners and keeping the house closed will produce lower MVOCs.

How long does it take for VOCs and MVOCs to leave my house?

The length of time that it takes for VOCs or MVOCs to leave the home depends upon their source (see section on VOCs). Gasoline cans and kerosene lamps kept in an attached garage or in the home can generate significant VOCs, since they are generally stored in larger containers. VOCs from these sources can only be reduced by removing them from the home. If the VOC source can not be removed from the home, replacing the home air with fresh air on a regular basis will keep the VOCs at their lowest levels and will reduce your exposure.

If the VOCs are from furnishings like wood and plastic, they will be at their highest levels when they are new, but will continue to emit VOCs for many years. In addition, VOCs from water-based paints can be present for up to 18 months after application.

MVOCs will continue to be emitted from areas that have mold. The only way to remove this source is to have the existing mold removed and then prevent building materials like wood and drywall from getting wet, either from excessive humidity, leaky plumbing, or water intrusion from rain or ground water..

Why use Home Air Check™ Professional and not some other method?

With a single test, Home Air Check Professional will provide a comprehensive picture of chemical levels that the home occupants are breathing in the home. It also indicates a level of actively growing mold present in the home. Since these chemicals are tested simultaneously, the sophisticated analysis becomes less expensive. Also, the samples are collected without the use of toxic chemicals, so there are no health risks using Home Air Check. No other home air test can match the level of completeness, sophistication, prediction, and value of Home Air Check.

What if my home has elevated levels of VOCs or MVOCs?

Because Home Air Check Professional uses state-of-the-art technology, an entire chemical fingerprint of the home is produced which allows us to predict the primary and secondary sources of air contamination. Along with the analysis reports, we provide a Contamination Index™ Report that lists these potential contamination sources, along with recommendations on how to remove or reduce them. If, however, the VOC or MVOC levels exceed acceptable standards, Prism can assist with the necessary next steps to improve the home’s air quality with a consultation, further testing, or referral to a knowledgeable industrial hygienist or other professional specializing in indoor air quality issues.

What about mold behind walls due to water leaks from plumbing or construction?

One of the main benefits of Home Air Check™ Professional is that it can still see chemicals being emitted from growing mold even if the mold is behind a wall. Most mold tests require the mold to be almost obvious before they are able to detect it. Home Air Check Professional can detect mold even when it is not visible.

When I receive my report will other information or support be provided?

In addition to the analysis report describing the levels of VOCs and actively growing mold in the home, you will receive a Contamination Index™ Report that lists the predicted sources of air contaminants and suggestions for removal from the home. If extremely high levels of air contaminants are found, Prism will offer assistance, if necessary, in locating an Industrial Hygiene Professional that can address your concerns and help you determine the next steps in improving your indoor air quality.

What about Formaldehyde?

Formaldehyde is listed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as a Hazardous Air Pollutant (HAP) and is a suspected carcinogen (cancer-causing agent). Since formaldehyde is frequently found in homes and the Occupational Safety Permissible Exposure Limit of 8 hours is below 10 parts per billion in the air, a special test is done for this chemical at an additional cost. A second sample tube is used and collected in a similar fashion to the first air sample. When this tube is returned it is analyzed specifically for formaldehyde. Ask your local Home Air Check Professional network member for pricing for the Formaldehyde test.

Home Air Check™ can actually test for about 50 HAPs on the EPA’s comprehensive list of 188 identified toxic pollutants. However, because of the exposure limit on formaldehyde specifically, a separate test needs to be conducted for this HAP.

What are mold spores?

Basically, they are tiny seeds, microscopic and invisible to the naked eye, that are spawned from molds and float through outdoor and indoor air. When they land in an appropriate environment, they will grow into new mold.

Can I have mold spores in my home and not have any mold growth?

Yes, mold spores travel through the air and by foot traffic and can make it into the home via the outdoor air and grounds. Although these spores are in the home and can end up on many surfaces, they do not grow and damage surfaces unless they have nutrients and a moisture source.

Are there natural sources of mold spores in my home?

Almost certainly, Yes. The outside air carries them indooors.  People expell them.  Potted plants have mold spores and active mold growth in the soil. Potting soils generally have plenty of nutrients and water that can produce mold growth which in turn can produce mold spores. Mold spores are also produced by some food products such as blue cheese.

Why are mold spore tests done both indoors and outdoors?

Mold spores are everywhere outdoors and are being swept by winds into locations where there may not be any mold growth. These spores can be brought into the home through the air and by foot traffic. If an outdoor test is not performed, the home may be incorrectly assessed as having a mold problem.

Why does Home Air Check Professional only measure indoor air?

Home Air Check Professional is only measuring for the chemicals generated by active mold growth and not for mold spores. Therefore, the presence of mold spores does not influence the ability of Home Air Check Professional to accurately identify active mold growth inside the home. The only instance where an outdoor Home Air Check sample is recommended is when the home is located in a forested area or other area where substantial, active mold growth outdoors, close to the home is expected.

Can mold growth be measured in a crawl space with Home Air Check?

Prism normally does not suggest monitoring for mold growth in properly ventilated crawl spaces. This is because the chemicals (mold VOCs) emitted by any mold growth are swept quickly out of the vents. In these cases, a visual inspection of the underside of the house is a preferred method for determining any mold growth. Where the crawl space is not vented nor has minimal venting, Home Air Check Professional can be an effective tool for finding active mold growth.

Would mold growth in a crawl space be observed by a Home Air Check Professional test performed inside the home?

If the crawl space is properly ventilated, the chemicals generated by the mold growth would be quickly swept out through the vents before they could get into the home and be detected using Home Air Check Professional. Also, if a sealed plastic membrane has been installed between where the mold growth is and the interior of the home, the mold would not be detected. However, if the crawl space is not vented nor has minimal venting, and there is no sealed, plastic membrane, the mold VOCs can often be detected inside the home.

I thought radon wasn’t a problem in California.  Why test?

Conventional wisdom has always maintained that radon gas is a mid-west/east coast problem.  This was based on maps generated decades ago.  It turns out that those maps were VERY inaccurate.

Over the past ten years, California has begun the process of doing more  in depth testing.  What we are finding is that there are areas that have radon in levels that pose a health concern.

Almost all properties will test with some level of radon gas.  Testing is the only way to know if your property has a level of radon that is a concern.  There is no safe level of radon.

Being in a “red” zone on the new maps does not necessarily mean you have a problem.  Neither does being in a zone with lower numbers.  The maps only show the probability of radon – not the amount.  Homes next door to each other can test with completely different results.

The good news is that if you property tests high, it is a relatively easy and inexpensive fix.