Testing A Moldy Building

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Photos of petri dishes with mold growing.

Where Do you Find Mold

Mold can be in your home, place of work or school. It can be in other buildings you frequent such as the homes of family or friends, the post office or your dentists etc. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has identified more than 25% of the United States buildings as being water-damaged. I personally think it is more than that.

Air Tests

These can be used but they are of limited value. They give you a picture of what is in the air only at that moment in time. You do not get the complete picture as they give no information as to what takes place in a room over time. It also gives you information from only a small amount of air. You can get an air sample test returned with negative results when an ERMI test shows severe contamination.

Spore Traps are often used to get samples of spores in the air. However, they will only identify particulates 3 microns or greater in size. They miss 99.8% of the particulates that are creating the innate immune inflammatory response of CIRS and making folks ill. The World Health Organization has said if spore traps are to be used they should be undertaken at multiple times of the day, as well as multiple days of the week, as well as multiple weeks of the month and multiple months of the year in the same room. This is just crazy and shows what you would have to do to get a good sampling is not feasible.

Another issue with spore sampling is that it will not identify species of molds which is necessary to know if they are a species that is dangerous.

Air cassette tests that are hooked up to a suction device that sucks air into the cassette are a step up from just sitting a cassete in the room.


Mold Plates

Taking swabs of mold in a damaged area will help you identify the mold you can actually see. However mold plates do not give you the complete picture and miss any areas that you do not swab due to a lack of noticing them. These petri dish plates are sometimes used to catch spores in the air, but this is not a good way to know what is in your home.


Mold Tape Lifts

This is the best way to test for identifying mold that is actively growing. It is quite easy to do. If you have active mold growing in your home or on your furniture or other personal items and want to identify it, you can get a "Mold Tape Lift Test Kit". I would suggest the company EMSL. They will charge you $7.95 for the kit. If you send it back to them it will be another $75. If you decide to purchase a kit in one of the hardware stores that sell kits, make sure you know the company does a good job and check to see if the kit has an expiration date on it.

Here is a video on how to perform a tape lift test.

The Gold Standard for Mold Testing In A Building

The gold standard for identifying mold in buildings is a quantitative polymerase chain reaction test called ERMI. ERMI stands for Environmental Relative Moldiness Index and is available from EnviroBiomicsMycometrics, or Forensic Analytical Labs. (Update Note: Forensic Analytical Labs was acquired by SGS Forensic Labs and they have changed their offerings. I have not used them since this change.) ERMI is an objective, standardized DNA-based method that will identify and quantify molds. It represents ongoing health risks for the occupants of the building. The ERMI test finds not just the mold spores, but fragments of them that are missed by other tests. This is important as the tiniest fragments will cause ill health in susceptible people. With the ERMI test you also know exactly what molds you are dealing with and the percentage of those molds that were found. Additionally, the known pathogenic molds are seperated out. The same company that provides the ERMI test also provides a tests called HERTSMI-2 This is a less extensive test but it can be helpful when you have remediated a damaged area and want to see if it is safe after remediation. It is not as extensive a test but it also costs less.

If you get a positive test, this identifies that you do have an issue and at this point you can get an inspector to identify where the source of past or present water intrusion is.


EMMA Test For Mycotoxins And Mold

If you want to test for mycotoxins and 10 of the most toxigenic molds  there is a test called EMMA that you can consider. This test finds the presence and determine the relative abundance.  EMMA  tests directly for 16 of the most poisonous mycotoxins using its patented mycotoxin detection test. This is an at home test using sensitive molecular detection technology. You buy a pre-paid kit that has directions with it. You collect dust and return the kit and results are returned in 10 business days. For more details go to Real Time Labs. You can use a different lab, this is simply a company I know and trust. The test is patented and any company using the test should be using it in the same manner.

Testing for Bacteria and Endotoxins In A Water-Damaged Building

I have only one lab I can suggest for this. That would be EnviroBiomics.

Enirobiomics lab can test for Actinomycetes which are associated with water-damage in buildings as well as endotoxins, which are found in the cell walls of gram-negative bacteria.  These toxins are found both in living and non-living bacteria material and both contribute to the endotoxin load in a water-damaged building.

Testing Available At This Lab

  • Actinomycetes
  • Endotoxins
  • ERMI
  • Combo of Actinomycetes, Endotoxin, ERMI
  • Combo of Actimomycetes, Endotoxin, HERTSMI-2

Other combinations are also available as well as some additional testing such as Streptomycetes, human Bacterioides, dust allergens, and other mold testing.


This is not a test for the building, but I list it here as it is a transciptomics test that is useful to complete if a person is exposed to a water damaged-building (WDB). The Actinomycetes have been shown to change genetic expression in people who develop CIRS from exposure to a WDB.  You might want to check this testing out also. You can learn more about tests that are used for humans rather than buildings here.

How the Occupant Collects A Sample

Dust is collected with a collection device on a vacuum cleaner or a special sanitary cloth. This is sent to a lab called Mycometrics where they use the PCR test to analyze the sample.

For details on the ERMI test, go to the company's website that performs the test.

Names of labs to consider:


Forensic Analytical Labs 

EMSL has a ERMI test, but they have sent me the link twice and it has not worked. For some reason I can't find data on their website as to how to order the test or what it costs, but I will list here their ERMI report sample  as they are well laid out and give links to additional useful data.

How to Find Mold

You think your building has a mold issue, but you don't see it. Perhaps you smell it or perhaps you are ill and suspect it is due to mycotoxins & other inflammagens.  it is necessary to find the damaged area so it can be remediated. You can hire someone to visually check your building and look for moisture with special tools. They should have tools such as moisture meters or infrared tools to be able to find moisture inside of wall cavities.  Sometimes it is hard for an inspector to find the water damaged area. If it is old and the building has dried, there can be offending mycotoxins but no moisture remaining in the wall, floor or ceiling. Finding stains is helpful but they are not always visible. This means you may have mold/bacteria/toxins/spores in the wall seeping out, but no way to know it is there unless there is some sign of past damage on the wall, the flooring, molding, ceiling etc.  The inspector must look under the house and in the attic. They must examine everywhere. If you think there is mold in a particular area, you can ask for a part of the building to be removed, such as a part of the wall, flooring or ceiling. The inspector may not be able to do this and you might have to get a contractor for this job. Sometimes peoples intuition has led them to the moldy area when an inspector can't find it. However, this can be a costly endevour.

History of water damage from current inhabitants or past inhabitants is helpful to pinpoint the location of the damage. Have you had any plumbing leaks or breaks in the kitchen or bathroom? Look under and around sinks and bathtubs. Getting a water damage history of the building ready for the mold inspector ahead of time is very helpful in pointing them in the right direction. If you run out of solutions, you can contact the individual who sold you the building and ask if they know of any water-damage or mold. If they signed paperwork stating there was none, they won't tell you usually. If they did not, they might. They will also be more likely to share this data with you if you create paperwork that says you will not sue them for having withheld or lied about mold. I know this probably rubs you the wrong way, but if you won't get the data from them otherwise, you might want to consider this. Talk to your attorney about it first as I am not an attorney.

For details on places that might be more likely to have water damage in your building, check out "Mold and Moisture Issues in the Home". You can also check out an article on "buying a mold free house" as it gives many specific tips on how to look for houses that are built in ways that are bound to end up being moldy. Knowing what these house traits are, will help you find issues with your house and either detect mold already there or prevent it in the future by fixing the issue.

This link will provide some various building inspectors and other services for finding mold. If you find a great mold inspector or mold remediation contractor in your area, please contact me with their name and website.

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