How Water Absorbs Into Different Building Materials

(and What It Means for Dealing with Water Damage)

Water Damage Los Angeles – 11/11/2019 As a homeowner, it’s important to understand some basics about the materials that make up your home, and how they react to environmental changes and hazards.  The way in which different building materials absorb water, and what that means for preventing and remediating water damage, is one of those areas that many people don’t think about – until they have a flood, broken pipe, or other water damage scenario.  Rather than wait until those extreme circumstances, a little advance knowledge can help you better choose building materials for your home construction or renovation, and to be better prepared and know what to do if you suffer water damage.

Of course, building and materials science is an entire field unto itself.  We’re not going to get too deep into the technical aspects of myriad calculations and coefficients involved in defining modern building materials.  Instead, we’ll keep things general and basic, so that everyone can have a better understanding of how water absorbs into different building materials.  We’ll talk about the basics of water damage, and how that intersects with the physical properties of the building materials that make up your home.  We’ll also offer advice on things you can do to make your home more water-resistant, and how to best recover from water damage. 

water damage from dishwasher

Material Characteristics

When discussing water and how it absorbs into different building materials, there are a number of material characteristics that can come into play.  Environmental factors also come into play, as material characteristics often are subject to change under different humidity, temperature, pressure, and related conditions.  On a basic level, some of the aspects of materials that determine how (and how much) water can absorb into building materials include:

  • Density of the material (how closely the molecules are spaced)
  • Porosity of the material (how many pores or holes are present in the material – think of a sponge compared to a solid block of plastic)
  • Permeability of the material (how easily water can enter or exit the material)
  • Whether or not capillary flow is possible, and to what extent within the material
  • External and internal pressures on the material, and how they interact with water droplets
  • Expansion, contraction, leaching, and other properties of the materials that dictate how they respond to absorbing or losing water
  • External coatings and treatments of materials, that help prevent water from entering (but can also make it harder for water to evaporate out and leave the material, meaning drying can become more difficult, too)
  • Various other properties including how rigid or flexible materials become when they absorb water, their propensity to deform or become brittle, lose structural or tensile strength, and so on.

It’s important to note that many of these properties are defined in laboratory tests, with a great deal more detail than presented here.  These certifications are then included with the specifications for various building materials before they go on the market.  For many products in the US, there are certain minimum specifications that need to be met in order to be sold as a certain grade or quality of building material product. 

Also worth noting is the fact that none of these basic material characteristics directly talk about the propensity for a material to grow mold, mildew, other fungi, bacteria, or any other harmful microorganisms due to water exposure or damage.  It is not difficult, however, to draw conclusions about how materials will perform based on these characteristics – obviously, materials that are highly permeable, porous, and absorb large amounts of water are more likely to cause problems in a water damage scenario than those that are largely impermeable, non-porous, and don’t absorb moisture. 

Scared yet? You should be. . .. . Poria is coming to get you!

poria in

This macro organism was seen growing under a home in the central area of Venice. Even though new construction on this home was recently completed, it seems that the soil, moisture, and wood have been feeding this funguy (fungi). It is possible that this organism could be poria incrassata. A specialized license is required to diagnose a wood destroying organism such as this. Even though the organism maybe feeding on the wood within your home it can also bring additional moisture into the home, create secondary mold growth problems, and cause underlying structural issues. Poria incrassata usually develop from a soil to wood contact below or even on the side of the your home.

In the photo above you can tell how the macro organism has begun to spread over the soil and extend itself as it apparently looks for other available food sources. The organism (possibly poria incrassata) would be feeding on the organic materials, such as carbon based items, dust, soil, or left over pieces of wood and construction debris. In this photo, you can tell that this fungi is slowly taking over the crawlspace, similar to the Blob (classic horror film of the 1950’s). If you ever noticed something similar to this or other mushrooms in your home, FunGuy Inspections recommends you call a professional right away.

Porter Ranch – Saddleridge fires

Fire, Ash, and Air Quality – A Timely Message from FunGuy Inspections

In the last week or so, California has experienced a significant wind event, coupled with low humidity and high temperatures – the perfect recipe for wildfires.  We’ve seen firsthand in the Los Angeles area how serious this threat can be, with approximately 6 wildfires that sprung up during the wind event, including the large Saddleridge fire in north LA, near Sylmar, Porter Ranch, and Granada Hills.  This fire claimed 2 lives, damaged or destroyed several dozen homes, has grown to more than 8,000 acres as of this writing, and is less than 50% contained.  

Despite a large amount of press attention surrounding pre-emptive public safety blackouts throughout the state, meant to help reduce wildfire risk, as well as the coverage of the fires themselves, too often there isn’t much talk about the related hazards presented during and after wildfires.  One of the biggest hazards, which can impact people miles and miles from the actual fire location, is the ash and other particulate matter that gets thrown up into the air for days or weeks.  This reduces air quality outdoors, as well as indoors, and can have serious health consequences for a large portion of the public.  

So, in light of those facts, we thought it would be a good time to discuss fire, ash, and air quality.  We’ll provide information on how fires reduce air quality, including indoor air quality, why that’s a problem, and offer advice on the steps you can take if you live in an area affected by smoke, ash, and particulates from a fire, to help maintain good indoor air quality.  Finally, we’ll highlight the services offered by FunGuy Inspections, which can help you to be better prepared for these kinds of fire impacts.

Fire Byproducts: Ash, Smoke, and Other Particulate Matter

It kind of goes without saying that the process of fire burning any kind of material gives off byproducts – heat, light, and smoke, to be specific.  Smoke is a complex mixture of combustion products, depending on the materials being consumed.  Usually, it contains a large amount of water vapor and other various gases, as well as particulate matter – the remnants of things being burned.  When this particulate matter is large and visible to the naked eye, it’s called ash.  But there’s also a lot of matter that isn’t visible to the naked eye that also gets suspended in the smoke, and travels with the winds and air flows.  

Whether it’s macroscopic ash or microscopic particulate matter, it can be made up of countless compounds and substances.  Everything the fire consumes is released, including both organic and inorganic compounds.  Carbon makes up a good portion of the ash, but all of the different substances present in trees, brush, grass, and all manmade materials consumed by the fire are either thrown into the air, or their combustion products are thrown into the air.  Either way, there’s a ton of particles of all sizes getting put into the air, and traveling downwind – often for tens or even hundreds of miles.  This can go on for days or weeks, as long as the fire burns and smolders.  

Why Smoke and Particles Lower Air Quality

Naturally, adding lots of different-sized particles of solid materials (as well as some volatile gases and even radioactive elements) into the air reduces air quality.  Normal air is made up of mostly nitrogen and oxygen, with various other trace gases, and this is what our bodies have evolved to breathe.  While we have some natural filters for macro-sized particulate matter (nasal hair, for instance), most of what gets put into the air by a fire remains suspended as you breathe in.  This ultimately deposits and traps those particles on your mucus membranes in your nose, mouth, throat, and in your lungs.  

Air Quality and Health

Your body doesn’t like particulate matter being put into your lungs and respiratory system, to say the least.  Even if the particles are relatively harmless elements themselves, and not radioactive, irritants, volatiles, or similar, they still don’t belong in your respiratory system.  Just as smoking causes lung and breathing problems, particulate matter in the air can cause several health reactions, mostly related to breathing and mucous membrane health/irritation.  These include:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Coughing, choking, and gagging
  • Runny or itchy nose
  • Dry, itchy, irritated, and/or watery eyes
  • Headaches
  • Sinus irritation
  • Fatigue

These health problems tend to be more severe in people who already have existing respiratory problems, are immune compromised, children, and the elderly.  In most people, symptoms tend to go away after the irritants are removed (once the air quality improves), though prolonged exposure can cause lasting damage.  Likewise, incidents of allergies, asthma, and similar symptoms triggered by fire-related air quality problems may develop into more serious, even life-threatening conditions on an acute time scale, such as respiratory failure, requiring emergency medical treatment.  

Advice for the Best Indoor Air Quality

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to maintain decent indoor air quality during and after a wildfire, and mitigate some of the problems and issues that poor air quality from a fire can cause.  These include:

  • Mind public air quality alerts, and stay indoors as much as possible during wildfire events.
  • Don’t open windows.  Instead, run your air conditioner.  If possible and the setting is available on your unit, use a re-circulate mode rather than fresh air intake mode.
  • Ensure you have functional air filters in your home heating and cooling system.  Likewise, be sure they are cleaned and/or replaced (depending on your system type) regularly.
  • Consider investing in high-quality HEPA filters.  Higher HEPA ratings filter out finer and finer particles in the air, including a lot of the materials the result from a fire.
  • Simple paper face masks are not terribly effective at helping with air quality issues (though can help with the smoke smell).  If you’re looking for added protection and considering a mask, look for one with a rating of N95 or higher.  For most people, however, these extreme measures are not necessary unless you must be out in the smoke for prolonged periods of time (such as first responders, who are usually provided these kinds of equipment in order to do their job).
  • When smoke isn’t an issue, do an inspection of the exterior of your home (or have an expert like FunGuy Inspections help), and identify and fix any holes, gaps, or other areas that can allow unfiltered outside air into your home.
  • Consider inspecting and replacing weather stripping, insulation, and seals around doors, windows, and vents.
  • Don’t burn incense, candles, or other items to try to “block out the smell” from the smoke, as this just puts more particulate matter into the air.  If you must, dab a little perfume or cologne, or a pleasant oil like lavender extract, onto one of those paper face masks.  This will last for hours, provide a better smell, and won’t contribute to poor air quality.  

Services from FunGuy Inspections

For several of our tips above, it might be helpful to have an inspection or consultation with FunGuy Inspections, rather than trying to do things yourself.  You don’t want to accidentally plug up important vent pipes or other openings in your home exterior, for example.  Often, you may not know where the trouble spots are that allow outside air into your home, or know whether your HVAC unit has a HEPA filter (and how effective it is).  You may be concerned about everyday indoor air quality, and how to maintain it during a wildfire or other air quality event.  

FunGuy Inspections can provide inspections, testing, and actionable advice to help you with this goal.  Using advanced equipment, and drawing on our experience and expertise, we can help you in your efforts to maintain good indoor air quality, and breathe a little bit easier.  To schedule a consultation or find out more about what we can do for you, visit our website at www.funguyinspections.com.

The Role of Mold Inspections in Producing Quality Marijuana

Commercial cannabis growing is a booming industry here in California, but it’s also a fairly new one.  In addition to the legal maze that companies must navigate in order to legally grow and sell marijuana in the state, there are more basic considerations that are often overlooked.  Like any plant or agriculture growing operation, the optimal product results from care, planning, and monitoring of the crop.  Many new and established companies alike who are growing marijuana have found the environmental aspects of managing a grow house to be quite challenging.

Recently, FunGuy Inspections was called upon to conduct an environmental inspection and assessment for a commercial marijuana grow house in the area.  The company was struggling with some potential mold and mildew growth on some of their plants.  This can be a serious concern, as, left unchecked, this kind of contamination can ruin an entire crop, and dramatically impact a company’s bottom line.

mold in marijuana

In this guide, we’ll provide some background on marijuana growing in California, and talk a little about the typical growing process and conditions inside a commercial grow house.  We’ll highlight some of the problems that can develop in grow houses, particularly with mold and mildew growth on the plants.  After detailing what can happen when these problems are left uncontrolled, we’ll highlight some advice on how to control the grow house environment, and prevent unwanted mold and mildew from developing in the first place.  Finally, we’ll highlight the kind of inspection services that are available from FunGuy Inspections in the greater Los Angeles area, and what we can do to help your commercial marijuana growing business.  With regular inspections, we can help to keep your crop healthy and allow your business to succeed. 

Background on Marijuana in California

The Golden State has a long history with marijuana.  Attempts to legalize marijuana go all the way back to the 70s and the hippie generation.  While they weren’t entirely successful at the time, they established the groundwork for future campaigns and more open-minded attitudes toward marijuana.  After repeated attempts, both by prevailing on legislators and through ballot initiatives, marijuana was approved for medical purposes in 1996, well ahead of most of the rest of the nation.  This led to an increase in the legal growing industry within the state, though it was still extremely regulated.

Over the next two decades, marijuana growing would become more and more lucrative, both legally and illegally.  By 2010, most estimates show nearly 80% of the marijuana consumed in the US came from California, much of it from northern California.  Continued efforts to decriminalize marijuana, reduce the sentence for possession, and eventually legalize marijuana were numerous in the 2000s and 2010s.  Several ballot measures were put forth, but often came up just short of legalization.  Finally, in 2016, voters approved Proposition 64, the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, 57%-43%, effectively legalizing possession, personal growing, and commercial growing for sale within the state.  This came with some restrictions, of course, and there are still regulatory requirements that commercial businesses that grow and sell cannabis must meet.  However, it is safe to say that the market grew significantly in the last 3 years as a result of Prop 64, especially in southern California.

It’s worth noting that marijuana is still illegal under federal statute, but no significant prosecution or enforcement actions have been undertaken within the state since the passage of Prop 64.  It also cannot be exported or sold outside the state, as it remains a federally-controlled Schedule I drug. 

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