Rorie McIntosh was concerned his house might be making him and his family
sick, Frank Haverkate arrived on the scene with two steel suitcases full
of high-tech equipment and his most valued tool of all: Quincy.
A two-year-old yellow lab, Quincy is the first and only mould detection
dog in Canada. Since September, she's been on the job for Haverkate and
Associates, a Toronto-area indoor environmental testing and consulting
company that specializes in mould growth in residential and commercial
Haverkate is the only microbial investigator in Canada, certified by
the American Indoor Air Quality Council, and one of four registered mould
remediators in Ontario.
Shortly before the September, 2002 closing of their new home in Whitby,
McIntosh and his wife Alison noticed most ceilings had pink streaks. He
was concerned it was mould and was worried about the health risks it posed
to his young daughter and then-pregnant wife.
McIntosh had his lawyer contact the builder and, by the time the family
took possession of their house, some, but not all, of the ceilings had
After they moved in, a worker was sent to spray the ceiling several
times with a solution which dripped, staining the family's clothing and
soaking carpets. The builder replaced the carpets months later at
McIntosh pressed the builder for almost a year about what the ceiling
problem was and how it was treated. He eventually received a letter from
the company that supplied the ceiling finishing materials.
The letter explained that a pink discolouration on textured sprayed
ceilings is "mildew" formation due to slow or poor drying
conditions. (Haverkate says mould is commonly referred to as mildew, but
mildew is actually a type of mould found only on plants.)
It recommended treating the problem with a solution of one part
chlorine bleach to five parts water, and the builder said it followed that
direction. But McIntosh says the worker did not wear protective wear or
ask the family to leave the home while the spraying was being done.
More than a year later, McIntosh was plagued by a lingering cough and
his infant son often suffered skin rashes, so he was worried that the
mould and its treatment had created air-quality problems.
He contacted The Star, which put him in touch with Haverkate.
"In this kind of scenario, we don't know what the problem is, so
we look at possible pollutants," says Haverkate. "Rorie was
coughing a lot and that could have been medical or environmental."
Haverkate says mould is a huge issue in houses about 20 years old,
since that's when houses were being built tighter but weren't properly
New houses can also have mould issues, because they are being built so
rapidly that materials such as wooden studs are not dried out properly.
Surprisingly, older houses may not have serious problems, since many of
the materials used to build them don't foster mould growth.
Haverkate ran a gamut of tests on the McIntosh house, including checks
of temperature and relative humidity and levels of sewer gases, carbon
monoxide, carbon dioxide, volatile organic compounds, mould and
radioactive building material.. Many of Haverkate's tools look like props
in sci-fi movies, like his laser particle scan, Geiger counter and a
thermal imaging camera that scans surfaces and displays temperature
changes (moist areas show up as dark blue or black).
But all the high-tech wizardry has nothing on Quincy. The dog was
trained in Florida at the same academy that trains arson, bomb and
drug-sniffing dogs. Haverkate had to take part in some intensive training
with Quincy before he was allowed to bring the former humane society ward
home. "The academy loves humane society dogs," says Haverkate.
"They like the dogs that are too hyper. These dogs need something to
Wearing her blue "Mould Detection K-9" coat, Quincy sprang
into action, sniffing along the perimeter of rooms as Haverkate urged her
to "seek." When she detects mould, she sits or lies down.
Haverkate rewards her with food. He says she can pinpoint the exact
location of mould growth inside a wall or floor, which is difficult, if
not impossible, with air testing alone. What she can't detect is how large
the mould growth is, so some sampling is usually required.
In the McIntosh home, Quincy found mould under the dishwasher and
fridge, in a few spots in the carpet and under some furniture pieces. None
of these posed any health risk.
But the basement yielded some mould "hot spots," based on
follow-up lab tests. The bleach-soaked carpet, which had been removed from
the main floor was stored there, and cardboard boxes were sitting on the
cold concrete floor.
Haverkate recommended that the old carpet be removed carefully after
sealing it in plastic to contain any mould spores. (Bleaching kills the
mould but the spores still pose a risk if inhaled.)
The cardboard boxes should be replaced by plastic bins. When all test
results were returned, Haverkate determined the ceiling spray did not
cause residual environmental issues. However, there are two problems with
the house's indoor air quality, which can be easily remedied.
The house had extremely low humidity readings. Haverkate says while
high humidity can cause mould growth, levels that are too low can cause a
variety of respiratory and sinus problems.
He advised McIntosh to use a temperature and relative humidity meter
frequently to monitor levels on each floor. In winter, the levels should
be 30 to 40 per cent and, in warmer months, 50 to 55 per cent.
McIntosh could increase the levels by using a humidifier, preferably a
The other problem is high dust levels, especially of microscopic
particles that can settle deep into the lungs.
Haverkate recommended the home's inexpensive furnace filter be replaced
with a 3M Filtrete pleated insert. And the old filter had not been
replaced since June, 2003 — filters should be changed every three
Haverkate also suggested McIntosh invest in a central HEPA filtration
system to filter out microscopic particles. He said most portable vacuum
cleaners, even those with HEPA filters, do not effectively remove dust
particles and can, in fact, pollute the air. A central vac is ideal, but a
less costly solution is Miele's portable HEPA vacuum (model 528S), which
does remove the particles, says Haverkate.
McIntosh was relieved to hear there are no big health risks in the
"I was a little surprised, but it was good news," he says.
"And we're already acting on Frank's recommendations. We've changed
the furnace filter, we're getting a new vacuum and we're going to get a
humidifier. Indoor air quality is not an issue that comes up much, even
though we spend so much time in our homes. This was a real
Haverkate's assessments start about $650 and can run up to $2,200,
depending on the amount of laboratory sampling required.
For information, call 905-882-2202 or click on http://www.moulddog.ca.
Haverkate will also be at the National Home Show April 9 to 18 at the
National Trade Centre, booth 2606.