Today my guest is Will Spates, president of Indoor Environmental Technologies, Inc. (IET). We’ll be talking about common indoor air quality problems and how testing and inspections can help you identify and solve indoor air quality problems. Will has been involved in environmental inspections for over 30 years, which has well prepared him for the investigation of building-related moisture damage and environmental health issues. Since starting the business in 1992, Will has done over 7,000 inspections of commercial and residential buildings. Will has studied microbiology, environmental testing and building science in graduate level classes and courses in the US and Germany. From 2000 to 2004 he was an instructor teaching seminars for the Indoor Air Quality Association (IAQA) and the Institute for Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification (IICRC) on mold remediation. He has recently been teaching continuing education classes for the Contractor’s Institute related to building science, moisture, mold and indoor air quality, as well as specialty classes for other clients. He and his firm provide expert services related to new healthy construction, building investigations, legal and insurance support and construction defects related to moisture intrusion and mold growth. IET is also considered expert in Chinese drywall investigation, spray foam insulation and mitigation as well as laminate flooring formaldehyde emissions. www.IETBuildingHealth.com
TOXIC FREE TALK RADIO
How Indoor Air Quality Testing and Inspection Can Help You Create a Healthy Home
Host: Debra Lynn Dadd
Guest: Will Spates
Date of Broadcast: March 31, 2015
DEBRA: Hi! I am Debra Lynn Dadd and this is Toxic Free Talk Radio where we talk about how to thrive in a toxic world and live toxic free. It’s Tuesday, March 31st 2015. I’m here in Clearwater, Florida where we’re having a beautiful, beautiful sunny day. Today, we’re going to talk about indoor air quality and specifically, about testing the indoor air in your home. What you might find out from doing that, why you might want to do that, what are some common indoor air quality problems?
My guest today is Will Spates. He’s the president of Indoor Environmental Technologies. He’s right here in Clearwater, Florida. I’ve known him for a long time. He does such inspections. He’s going to tell us all about it. Hi, Will!
WILL SPATES: Hi! How are you doing, Debra?
DEBRA: Good. How are you?
WILL SPATES: I’m doing fine. Thank you.
DEBRA: Good. Isn’t it a beautiful day here?
WILL SPATES: Yes. It is. Most definitely
DEBRA: Lots of sunshine and lots of flowers. So, you’ve been doing indoor environmental inspections for more than 30 years. And at the time you started, that wasn’t a very well-known thing to do. How did you get interested in this subject?
WILL SPATES: I moved into a home that I purchased and I started having allergic symptoms at the time. I was a merchant marine and I was spending a lot of my time at sea and I ended up having to start taking allergy shots.
When I left on after my first trip moving into this home, within a week of being at sea, all of my symptoms went away. I came back about three months later, they returned. I looked at the house. Then I [inaudible 00:02:47] carpeting. I don’t like the gas furnace. It’s 30 years old. It needs to be changed out. I started making some changes in it. And then, I got tired of going to sea and I figured I was going to start a business creating healthy buildings.
DEBRA: That’s very good. Tell us something about the history of indoor air problems and air quality as a field. I remember when I first started writing my books, I’m looking at toxics, there wasn’t actually a field of indoor air quality. How did that come to happen?
WILL SPATES: The terms ‘Sick Building Syndrome and Building-related Illness started to enter into mainstream, I would say in late 80s, early 90s. We started building very energy efficient homes in the 70s after the first energy crash. We wanted to reduce our demands on fossil fuels and our energy cost.
My approach to this is build tight, ventilate right and use healthy materials. And what we had is we were building very tight, we weren’t ventilating at all and we were using a lot of manufactured materials that contains a lot of false organic compound; formaldehyde being one of the most common ones. That was what I was noticing. The articles that I was reading seem to indicate that we were lacking ventilation in residential homes and it’s required in commercial building.
So it’s basically using material that can impact our health and then not having a way of ventilating them at the time that we’re using them. So, it just seems to be an issue. We’re circulating air over and over again and that’s not a healthy situation.
DEBRA: Yeah, I remember. At that time when energy efficiency changed everything and when I started writing, it was just about that time, they were talking about chemicals building up in newly energy efficient buildings and homes. It started to be called ’indoor air quality’. It started to be a field.
Whereas before, it wasn’t, because people lived in leaky houses where there was air exchange going on between the indoors and outdoors throughout those little cracks that got filled up, so that we could save on energy and then it became a toxic problem.
But I think that it was a blessing in disguise because other toxic chemicals were there before, but nobody was paying attention to them. And then the cracks got filled and people started seeing that they were building up and that we needed to do something about it.
Before we start talking about what you do exactly. Would you just give us a little overview of the problems that happen in indoor air for people that aren’t’ familiar with that?
WILL SPATES: Debra, I think I have sort of a bad disconnection. Could you repeat that question again, please?
DEBRA: Yeah. And you now what? During the break, we’ll reconnect in a few minutes. I will repeat the question because I’m getting a lot of static on my end. The question is, before we start talking about what you do, would you just give us an overview of what typical indoor air quality problems are?
WILL SPATES: If I understand it correctly, the air quality problems that we’re finding in homes are pretty much the result of just unconscious construction and bringing materials into our homes that aren’t healthy to begin with. The fiery curtains that they apply to pretty much every textile that comes into our home, the formaldehyde that they use as binders and building materials whether from medium density fiber boards to the rebound carpeting pad underneath your carpeting all contribute to this. We need to exercise a level of conscious construction and conscious decision making in what we bring into our homes.
DEBRA: What are some of the typical pollutants that you find like gasses and some particles and molds and things like that?
WILL SPATES: The testing, it depends on how technical you want the testing to be. Right now, we’re doing a lot of inspections on homes that have had spray foam insulation applied in order to make their homes more energy efficient and reduce their energy bills. Unfortunately, not all spray foams are created equal or applied with the same level of care that they should be, according to the manufacturer.
This has resulted in some very toxic homes that actually require healthy people to have to move out of them. I have an inspection tomorrow where this is a legal situation. We’re doing some very expensive testing using some of the best labs in the country and figuring out what’s going on in there and establishing a baseline. Then once we know what the baseline is, we know what the air exchange rates are in the home, we can figure that out by using a blower door test and checking the ductwork to make sure that that’s not leaking and drawing air in from the attic where they spray foam is located.
We come up with a mitigation strategy in order to bring this out back in the balance again. And after that simple method, we perform post remediation testing to see if the outside air that is coming in is diluting it enough so that it’s what we consider a ‘slight to no anomaly’ range according to building biology standards that I reference.
DEBRA: That sounds like that would be an unusual situation where somebody who would have that toxic insulation kind of problem. What are some of the things that people would find in a typical house?
WILL SPATES: Are you familiar with the lumber liquidators challenge going on out there right now?
DEBRA: Yes. Tell us more about that.
WILL SPATES: I did an inspection on that yesterday. The flooring was installed three years ago. It was a very tight home, but the family was also healthy oriented and they do open the windows as much as they can.
They do have two young children. I would say 80% of their home is covered in a brand of the lumber liquidator, St. James Laminant Flooring that has been implicated in this expose.
DEBRA: We need to go to break but we’ll hear more of this after the break. We’ll be back. You’re listening to Toxic Free Talk Radio. I’m Debra Lynn Dad and my guest today is Will Spates. He’s the president of Indoor Environmental Technologies here in Clearwater, Florida. His website is IETBuildingHealth.com. We’ll be right back.
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DEBRA: You’re listening today to Toxic Free Talk Radio. I’m Debra Lynn Dadd and my guest today is Will Spates, President of Indoor Environmental Technologies. His website is IETBuildingHealth.com. So Will, before the break you were telling us about an inspection that you did on a house that had lumber liquidators flooring in it. What did you find?
WILL SPATES: Where we were going with this was I did the inspection yesterday and they had it over most of their home. It’s a three-story townhome and the floor was installed about three years ago.
A woman saw our blog on the internet and also an interview I was in related to the subject that is also on our blog. She gave us a call and she was very concerned. She has a two year old and a four year old. We went out there.
Fortunately, I was able to tell her that the levels for formaldehyde were in the slight to no anomaly range meaning that there really wasn’t any concern and they were doing the right thing by ventilating. She asked me, “What would have it been like when my children my born two or three years ago.” I said I really can’t speak to that. There are also other many forms of formaldehyde containing materials in a home.
But we do have the tools to make the invisible world more visible. We can sample for pretty much any type of analyte out there with what I’ve learned over the past 25 years. The technologies have improved dramatically where we can sample down to tens of a part per billion of VOCs for some compounds. It really is becoming a much more refined science. We can put names on things and make the invisible world visible to us and come up with strategies on how to minimize our exposure.
DEBRA: I like that the way you say ‘make the invisible world visible’. Now, I’m having trouble with my sound here. They just fixed it. I like the way you say ‘making the invisible world visible’ because all these pollutants, whether they are particles or gases, they are invisible. We can’t see them. So, it’s always good to be able to see, for you to be able to tell us what’s going on with it.
Why would somebody call you as an inspector? What would prompt them to do that?
WILL SPATES: They usually have a concern about their indoor environment whether it’s related to mold and moisture. We had a very damp last couple of years. We’ve had over 15 inches of rain since November in my house here in Clearwater. That’s unheard of. This is supposed to be our dry season.
It hasn’t been hot enough to cool. It hasn’t been cold enough to heat. So the air conditioning systems down warm long enough. The humidity builds up into the homes to the 60%-70% level. Homes become very clammy and they start supporting mold growth and this makes people sick. They call us and say “I don’t know what it is. This has never happened before, but I’ve got molds growing on my walls behind my sofa against the wall.”
I ask them if it’s an exterior wall. They say, “Yes.” I know exactly what’s going on and they need to go to home depot and pick up a supplemental humidifier and bring the humidity levels down. And then they need to clean their house very thoroughly. That’s one aspect.
Another aspect could be a remodeling. They just brought in a new cabinet, new flooring and carpeting. They move in and their eyes burn. This would be a chemical issue rather than moisture control issue.
So depending on the symptoms we come up with a proposal for investigation and based on the findings of the investigation, then we make our recommendations on how to improve the environment.
DEBRA: That’s very good. So, what are some of the different things that you look at when you go into a home?
WILL SPATES: So in Indoor Environmental Quality inspection, we measure total volatile organic compounds. We have equipment where we can measure this on site. We have real time measurement equipment that’s calibrated. We can measure down to parts per billion for total volatile organic compound. We can measure using another system called the Drager method over 300 specific analytes specifically. I use the Drager method for the formaldehyde testing within homes where we can measure down to 0.02 parts per million or 20 parts per billion which is pretty low.
Some of the particles, we use a laser particle counter to measure respirable dust 0.5 microns or larger. We’re worried about the smallest particles because they’re the ones that could penetrate deepest into our lungs.
We measure the supply air coming out of your air conditioning system and then measure the ambient. If the supply air isn’t reduced by 50%, we know their filtration isn’t working properly.
Then we measure room climate for temperature and humidity. We know what a healthy home room climate should be like and where 80% of the population feels it to be comfortable. We use those as our references.
We take air samples for mold and particulates. We analyze these in our in-house lab under a microscope. We can tell the particles, if there’s fiberglass being released from the air conditioning system. These are samples. When we’re looking at them under a microscope, we can actually see whether the house was close to the sea or not because of the salt crystals that are in the air from the sea spray. After looking at thousands of air samples, you get a feeling for what’s normal and what isn’t.
DEBRA: As you’re talking, I’m just getting this picture that there’s so much more in the air that any of us, except inspectors like you, ever even think about. Basically, we think maybe there’s some dust, maybe there’s some chemical gases, maybe there’s carbon dioxide from breathing out, is there enough oxygen? But I think that most people aren’t thinking about indoor quality on a daily basis at all.
WILL SPATES: I would say we live in an enclosed environment. We spend 90% of our time in our cars or in our houses. Those special few that do get outside and exercise on a regular basis, more power to them. But the average is 90% of your time indoors.
We just want to make it as healthy as possible. We want to use conscious constructive techniques. We want to make wise choices on what we bring into our homes. We want to take the same level of responsibility for our homes as we do for maintaining our car. You change out your tires, you change the oil but people will completely ignore the air conditioning system, which is the lungs of their home.
DEBRA: I like that. I like that the air conditioning system is the lungs of our home. We need to go to break, but we’ll talk more about this when we come back. You’re listening to Toxic Free Talk Radio. I’m Debra Lynn Dadd. My guest today is Will Spates, President of Indoor Environment Technologies and his website is IETBuildinghealth.com. And we’ll be right back.
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DEBRA: You’re listening today to Toxic Free Talk Radio. I’m Debra Lynn Dadd and my guest today is Will Spates, President of Indoor Environmental Technologies and he’s at IETBuildingHealth.com. Will, there’s a whole field called Building Science. I’m sure that my listeners have no idea what that is. Can you explain that?
WILL SPATES: Sure. Thank you, Debra. Building science is a term that has been around for about 15, 20 years. It’s the conscious approach to creating an indoor environment that has not only the way a building works, but also the way that people react to the inside the building when they’re in these. It’s the interaction between the people and the buildings.
Building science has a lot to do with building pressures, ventilation rates, with air exchange. When you go into a hospital, they use different ventilation science techniques to isolate certain areas of the hospital from others through building pressures. In office environments, you’re required to bring in so much outsider per person.
There are standards for these. The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-conditioning Engineers create standards. These are not codes or requirements, but they are the best practices. In the course of building homes, building science has been left out, unfortunately. They apply very well to commercial buildings, but not so much to residential environments.
DEBRA: It should be. Building Science should be applied to homes as well. This is something that I am totally not trained at, but I’ve been doing home inspections myself. I don’t do anything like what you do. Will, I will just say the difference between what I do and what Will does is that I can go into or a home or an office or a workplace and I can identify toxic chemicals that may be in the products that are being used or in the building materials simply because I can recognize them and I know what toxic chemicals are. There’s no measuring involved.
There’s a term called “organoleptic sensing” which means that you can smell something and identify it or you can have a reaction it and identify it. where you‘re using the senses of your body to find out that something is there.
But what Will does is he has this very expensive sensitive instruments. He goes in and will give you measurements.
I remember, some ten years ago, you came to my house and you took a measurement with one of your instruments. I think it was VOCs. Do you remember? I’m trying to remember what it is.
WILL SPATES: You were doing some remodeling, I believe, at that time.
DEBRA: I think so, yeah. But I think, if I remember correctly, there wasn’t a problem in my house. There was nothing that I needed to fix.
WILL SPATES: If I recall correctly, it was a rather older home. Older homes used more basic materials. I have a home that was built in the 50s and it’s basically concrete block, plaster walls, and exterior stucco with a barrel tile roof and a vented attic. It’s very, very healthy.
DEBRA: I have a very healthy house, too. Mine was built in the 40s. Mine is just regular wood and construction. I lived in older homes for exactly this reason. I have hardwood floors. I’ve got plaster walls. There’s not a bit of particle board in this house. There are none of the new materials. I’m very happy here. When Will came in with his instruments, there wasn’t anything to measure. No formaldehyde. Nothing!
So it was a really interesting experience to have Will come because I can see that all the things, all the decisions that I have made about what I put in my house were all working, to have it be a clean house.
After I started out with just looking at materials and using my knowledge to be able to identify things that are toxic, then along came this thing called Building Science. I think that it’s a really interesting thing. I think people need to be trained in it, obviously. But for me it’s about the whole relationship between the air coming in and the air going out and how that affects what the indoor air quality is.
There’s a lot of science behind it. I think that all buildings should be built with science, that it should all be considered. Somebody like you could come in to a residential building and retrofit it. I don’t know if that’s a right word, but you could make those adjustments for good building science after the fact, yes?
WILL SPATES: We do this all the time, Debra. We go in and we make recommendations. One of our recommendations is they introduce outside air filter and dehumidify it and tie it in the supply of their air conditioning system. It’s a free standing system. It can maintain 50% humidity and bring in a 150 CFM of outside air, one hour of every four hours. That’s six hours of fresh hour coming into your home every day. It’s filtered and it’s conditioned. So, it’s not the humidity and the heat that we have from outside. It’s great!
And I want to get back to your level of inspection before we go on. You do a wonderful job of dealing with people and their perceptions. My instruments are never going to be as sensitive as some of my most sensitive clients. I might not be able to detect anything and yet it’s still an issue for them. They’ll say, “It’s coming right out of these cabinets.” We’ll send a piece of a cabinet shelf off to a chamber, off to a lab to have chamber analysis done to see what the emissions are similar to what the lumber liquidators are supposed to do with their flooring to see what the emissions are coming off of that, what VOCs these are coming off. They come back normal yet the people are still having a reaction.
The best recommendation we can make is to introduce outside air and through dilution we reduce the concentrations.
DEBRA: Yes. I think that’s something that people don’t know that they can do. I know that I can open the window. I just had a situation at my house where somebody came in (who fully knew that they shouldn’t) and just accidentally wash their clothes in a detergent.
We need to take a break. I’ll tell my story when we come back. You’re listening to Toxic Free Talk Radio. I’m Debra Lynn Dadd. My guest today is Will Spates, President of Indoor Environment Technologies and his website is IETBuildinghealth.com. And we’ll be right back.
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DEBRA: You’re listening today to Toxic Free Talk Radio. I’m Debra Lynn Dadd. My guest today is Will Spates, President Indoor Environmental Technologies at IETBuildingHealth.com.
So, what we were talking before the break was ventilation and the importance of remembering that we can always use ventilation. I had a friend come in who was wearing clothes that somebody else had washed – I’m going to say this brand name because this fragrance is horrible, Tide HE, specifically for HE. It has extra Downy fabric softener added to it. I don’t usually mention brand names like that, but I am having a very difficult time removing this from his clothing. Ten minutes in the house and everything smelled like this detergent.
I just went around opening all the windows and gave him something else to wear and started to process of decontaminating his clothes. We forget that we can open the window. We forget that there are very many technical things that you can advise us as well on what we can do to bring more ventilation to our homes while still retaining the heating cooling. There’s so much new technology about this now than there was 30 years ago. I think that most people just aren’t even aware it’s there for their benefit.
WILL SPATES: We have a lot of information on our website and our blog as far as reference to the Ashrae 60 2.2 standards for ventilation rates for residential homes. It’s been out there since 2003 and yet it’s not implemented. People just don’t want to spend the extra $1500 to create a properly functioning air conditioning system. But if you have a commercial building, you have to bring in outside air. It’s required by law.
DEBRA: Yeah. It’s so interesting how regulations of various types are inconsistent across the boards. This isn’t the only one. Anyway, this is one.
I want to make sure that we talk about new construction because people can hire you before they even build so that you can implement these building science things in their new construction. You can also go and inspect homes before people buy them. So, tell us more about those.
WILL SPATES: I’ve had some wonderful clients over the years and have been using the building biology precepts to work as an organization in the construction of their homes and they wanted the healthiest home possible.
We had the first healthy home ever published and documented in the state of Florida back in 1999 up in the Jacksonville Pontevedra beach area. It’s a beautiful home right on the Atlantic Ocean. It was a wonderful experience for me. I had the chance to work with the architect, the builder and the home owner. All four of us came together and worked as a team and created a masterpiece.
And then about five years ago, I did another home down Sarasota. It was the first lead platinum residential home, National Home Builders Association Emerald Award, it had more credentials than anything you could imagine. It was another great project working with a wonderful team of people. The whole lead certification process is a whole other depth. It is just very stringent and requires air quality standards, building material standards, using local materials, recycling your yard waste into your landscaping and all of these types of things for the various awards that we got.
That again, Debra, gets back to conscious construction. How can we make our yard our home have the lightest impact in the world that we live in? We want it to be healthy. We want it to support the wild life and contribute to the wellbeing of this planet.
DEBRA: Yes. I think all of our actions should be in support of the well-being of life, whether it’s our own bodies or the environment supports our bodies or our communities or our families. It should all be life supportive. You’re certainly doing that with your work.
Obviously, somebody in Clearwater, Florida or the surrounding area could hire you. If somebody was looking for somebody like you in their local area, what would they look for? How would they find someone?
WILL SPATES: Just Google building biology. It’s based on the German discipline Bau Biologie. It started in Germany in the 60s. Our mutual friend who has since passed away, [inaudible 00:44:41], was my mentor and a very dear friend. Some of the best friends that I have today, I’ve met through this organization. They’re colleagues of mine now. We’re all over the country, all over the world.
So Bau Biology is a great resource. Another great resource is the Indoor Quality Association, IAQA. And you’re looking for the designation of somebody with a certified indoor environmental consultant designation. That means that they’ve passed the stringent proctored test, maintaining continuing education credits (because the industry is constantly changing) and is maintaining adequate insurance to be able to demonstrate due diligence in their work. You can’t take a three day course and call yourself an expert. This is a lifestyle and a career commitment and it needs to have more regulation.
DEBRA: Well, certainly, I know you’ve been doing this more than 30 years. I know from my own experience that the longer that I do something, you just learning things from experience than somebody who doesn’t have the experience. They can’t possibly know because it’s not something that comes from textbooks. It comes from being out there in the field, seeing what’s going on, being able to sense thing and putting two and two together and all those kinds of things.
I really appreciate your experience. I think that that’s something that people need to look for as somebody who is well trained and also well experienced because you’re going to pick up things that people who aren’t experienced won’t even know about.
WILL SPATES: Yeah, I agree. We’ve done over 7000 inspections since 1992 when I opened my doors to do this type of work. We have large commercial clients that use us to maintain their campuses all over the Southeast, US and the Caribbean. Financial institutions, we work with a lot of realtors. We do a lot of pre-purchase real estate inspection so that people aren’t buying into an environmental nightmare that is going to have a negative impact on their health.
It’s a right action process. I really love what we’re doing. I feel that we are helping people. We’re helping them make informed decisions. We’re giving them the information they need to know whether the home or the building that they’re looking at, what it’s going to take to make it healthy. They can make a decision whether it’s worth it or not as far as their investment goes.
It’s not just your normal home inspection where, “Does the washer or dryer work or does the air-conditioning blow cold.” This is moisture mapping. This is air sampling. This is getting under the crawl space if it has one and trying to figure out how healthy can this building be. Is it going to be worth our while to make the investment?
DEBRA: Do you have information on your website, educational material that people should go look at?
WILL SPATES: Our website has a lot of information, but we don’t offer any classes or anything like that. I would highly recommend the Building Biology Association. They have seminars all the time. They teach people to be environmental consultants and that’s my first certification back in 1993, becoming a BBEC. I was in the board of directors for years and an instructor for them for years. But I’ve stepped back and I’m slowing down a little bit. I have a real good crew here working with me that go out and do most of the jobs. I try to sit back and relax a little bit more.
DEBRA: I totally understand. I do want to mention that I’m looking at his website right now and there’s a very good page here about common indoor air pollution pollutants. This is a really good summary. I think if you just go to his site and look around, you’ll get some ideas for different things.
Well, we’ve come to the end of our time. Thank you so much, Will.
WILL SPATES: You’re very welcome.
DEBRA: I learned a lot. It’s great that there’s a whole field out there of what you’re doing, you and others that can be reducing toxic exposure in people’s homes by testing and then having a solution for them. Again, Will is at IETBuildingHealth.com. I’m Debra Lynn Dad. This is Toxic Free Talk Radio. You can go to ToxicFreeTalkRadio.com to find out about the show and listen to other guests. Be well!