How Is Mold Graded?

Mold spores are everywhere. You can’t get away from them; and when they take hold and begin to grow, they can pollute the air and cause issues for both people and pets. In addition to the damage, mold can do to your body, mold can also damage your home, gradually wearing away at the home’s structural integrity, and attacking walls, floors, or ceilings. 

If you see mold it is important to act quickly, but not knowing how bad a situation is can make it difficult to do so. Knowing the mold levels in your home helps bring clarity to the situation and lets you know how best to tackle it. 

Most industry experts divide the different stages of mold growth or damage into five distinct levels. Level one is the lowest degree of contamination, and four is the highest. The fifth level refers to a specific location for mold growth that can be especially complicated. Branch Services wants to share with you the standards for mold levels in the house.

Level 1:

This level is reserved for mold growth that has been contained to 10 square feet or less. Typically it can be found on ceiling tiles or wall panels that are exposed to high humidity or fluctuations in temperature. Fortunately, if caught quickly, the mold can be removed with relative ease. This is the type of mold you may find on bathroom tiles or walls. 

Level 2:

Contaminated areas of 10–30 square feet. If the mold has spread to cover a space over 10 square feet, it may hint at a more significant issue with plumbing or air conditioning systems—but not always. Typically there will be a source for all the moisture that may be difficult to find.

Level 3:

Covering a space between 30 to 100 square feet, the 3rd level is the stage where you should start to worry. With such a large portion of the building being covered in mold, the house would now need to be tested. Contacting a professional cleaning service (like us here at Branch Services) should be your first step.

Level 4:

Any contamination that extends to over 100 square feet will require professional remediation. Also, at this level, any person with repository issues would need to evacuate, so cleaning professionals can get to work using materials to remove the excessive contamination.

Level 5:

Level 5 is specifically for HVAC systems. All remediation procedures for air conditioning units and HVAC systems also require a professional cleaning service. As a result of the level of contamination, the entire system will necessitate a shutdown as the professionals clean the area thoroughly.

Regardless of the level, if your home has issues with mold you should contact a professional cleaning service as soon as possible. Branch Services is here 24/7 at 1.631.467.6600. You can also email us at

Space Heater Safety Tips

We’ve had good luck with temperatures in the late fall, but now that winter is officially here temperatures are plummeting. That, combined with the cost of home heating fuel, means more people will be trying to save money by using space heaters. While this can work to save money, space heaters can still pose a threat of fire.

Here are some safety tips to ensure the safety of your family and pets during the colder weather and help to prevent a space heater fire. 

Safety Certification: When purchasing a space heater, look for a safety certification from a well-known source, such as Underwriters Laboratories (UL).

Make Sure It Has Auto Shut Off: Auto shut-off features are beneficial to prevent overheating and hazards if the space heater tips over. Many fires occur when a space heater is knocked over.

Make Room: Make sure there is at least 3 feet of space around the space heater and anything that could set fire. Take care to remove flammable materials such as curtains, bedding, and clothing. Aside from cooking fires, space heater fires that start because they are placed too close to a combustible surface are the second most common type of house fire.

Keep Them Out of the Bathroom and Kitchen: Space heaters do not typically come with GFCI plugs. To prevent electrocution keep the heating unit away from water. Bathrooms and kitchens are a bad idea for electric space heaters.

No Extension Cords: Plug only the space heater into the wall outlet so as not to overload the circuit. Never use an extension cord with space heaters because the amount of power drawn from these units is too much for a low-amp extension cord to handle. It can cause the cord to overheat and spark a fire.

Keep It on the Floor: Keep the space heater on the floor, preferably wood or tile. Low-pile carpet is acceptable but stay away from high-pile and shag carpeting because it can easily catch fire. Heaters kept on shelves or tables can knock over and spark a fire.

Keep Away From Children and Pets: Kids and pets can be burned, electrocuted, or can start a fire by knocking it over or putting things like blankets and toys too close to the heater.

Turn Them off When Not in the Room: Make sure to turn off the heating unit when leaving the room or going to bed.

Check the Wires: Check for worn or frayed wires before using the space heater. Don’t use it if wires are worn or broken.

Even when we take precautions, accidents can happen. If you experience a fire in your home you can always rely on Branch Services to be there to clean it up.

Lead Abatement

Lead has proven to be a dangerous substance and as such, it is vital, particularly during renovations, that it be removed carefully and completely. 

Lead abatement is the process of removing or reducing the level of lead in a home or business. When lead abatement is done in a home, the process is designed to permanently eliminate lead paint-based hazards. These work practices are important to prevent children and adults alike from developing lead poisoning. Even pets may be in danger from the presence of lead. The only way to prevent lead poisoning is to remove lead from the environment. Once the lead is abated, the lead risk is gone and a home can be considered “lead safe”.

Renovation and Lead

In houses built prior to 1978, lead abatement activities are very important when any kind of renovation is taking place. Paint chips or even the lead dust from sanding lead paint can create an extreme hazard leading to elevated blood lead levels. During the renovation, repair, and painting of these homes, it is important to have a lead abatement contractor work on the job. An experienced lead risk assessor should be present to determine if lead paint stabilization, paint abatement, or a full lead abatement project needs to occur. 

Lead is not only dangerous when swallowed. It is also dangerous when it is inhaled. That means that even if the paint is not peeling it can be a problem. Lead paint is very dangerous when it is being stripped or sanded and lead particles fill the air.

The work performed during lead paint removal can be extremely dangerous and difficult. The EPA requires individuals and firms who perform abatement projects in pre-1978 target housing and child-occupied facilities to be certified and follow specific work practices.

If you decide to attempt to tackle this dangerous project on your own you can look to our previous blog posts for tips on the best way to contain and remove lead-based paint. However, it is highly recommended that you consider hiring a Certified RRP (Renovation, Repair, and Painting), Contractor. Remember, ANY dust leftover from your renovation can be a risk to your family and pets, so take this risk seriously and give us a call if you have questions about your work or need lead abatement completed on your property. 

Musty Smells in Your Vents?

You may have noticed that over time, musty smells may begin coming from your vents and filling your home. This can be a sign of mildew and mold in the system. Read on for tips on how to get that musty smell out of your house, for good!

Allergies, sinus infections, asthma, and other respiratory problems may be caused by dirt, debris, or mold spores caught in your ductwork, so it’s important to keep up with regular system maintenance. 

Replace Your Air Filter

When your air filter gets clogged, it can cause smells to back up into your home. Remember, your filter is there to trap mold, dust, and allergens, so when it’s completely clogged they have nowhere to go but back into your house. If you have a smart thermostat, it may remind you when to change your air filter. If not, it is recommended to change them every 30 to 90 days. If you smoke or have more than one pet, you may need to change it every 30 to 60 days instead. 

The MERV rating on your filters will show how effective your filter is at trapping debris, mold spores, and bacteria in the air. The higher the MERV rating, the smaller the particles it can capture. 

If after changing out your air filter you still have musty smells, you may need a professional to intervene.

Check for Infestation

It’s sometimes hard to tell if there are animals in your ductwork without cameras, but use the senses you have at your disposal and they’ll give you a good hint. If you have unusual smells or hear something in your ducts, those are good clues. If you are unsure if you have an infestation, we recommend you call us immediately. 

Visible Mold

The most obvious sign of mold growth in your home is a black growth near the vents. While you are most likely unable to check out the entirety of your system, if there is mold at the vents, it’s blowing all throughout your home. If you see mold such as this, call us immediately. The CDC reports that recent studies suggest a potential link between early mold exposure and asthma in children, so for the health and safety of your family check all of your vents at least twice a year. 

If you haven’t had your ducts or HVAC system checked in over a year, or if you believe your home may be contaminated, call Branch Services at 631.467.6600. We are open 24 hours a day and will do our best to resolve your HVAC issue before the really cold weather gets here!

National Fire Prevention Month

October is National Fire Prevention Month, (and the week of October 9–15 is National Fire Prevention week) in memory of the Great Chicago Fire which broke out on Oct. 8, 1871. In 1925, United States President Calvin Coolidge proclaimed fire prevention week a national observance. The first National Fire Prevention Week to occur was from October 4th through October 10th, 1925. 

Some Facts You Should Know!

3 of every 5 home fire deaths resulted from fires with no working smoke alarms.

  • Make sure your home has a working smoke alarm on every floor and in every bedroom and that the smoke alarm sound is loud enough to wake everyone in your home. 

Less than 50% of homeowners have an escape plan*

  • Having a fire escape plan is important. Your family members should know at least two routes of escape and you should have a meeting place outside that is a good distance away from the home. Fire drills are a good way to practice fire safety as well, especially when you have small children in the house. 

Carbon monoxide (CO) is the #1 cause of accidental poisoning in the US

  • Working CO2 detectors save lives. Make sure you have them installed on every floor and in every bedroom. 
  • Only 47% of people report having CO alarms in their homes.
  • CO2 detectors aren’t optional! Every home should have them. Many fire departments offer how-to fire safety classes this month and some even give away CO2 detectors. 

Unattended cooking is the #1 cause of home fires

  • Don’t let family meals become the cause of fire deaths. Keep fire extinguishers in an easily accessible place and learn how to use them. Prevent fires whenever possible by practicing common sense while cooking. Never leave a hot stove unattended.

In the home, the causes of fire include fireplaces, space heaters, your kitchen, candles, smoking, and more. Be vigilant, be smart, and keep your family safe. 

Lightning Safety

Each year in the United States, about 20 people are killed by being struck by lightning. There are about 25 million lightning strikes each year in the United States, hitting about 3,000 people. Lightning victims who survive can experience chronic pain, neurological disabilities, and depression because lightning damages the body’s central nervous system. 

Recently outside of the U.S. Capitol, three people were killed after being struck by lightning. While no one can see the future, it’s possible that a few precautionary measures could have prevented this tragedy. Read on to see how you can reduce your risk when outdoors. 

Before any outing, be sure to check the weather forecast. If there are thunderstorms predicted, you may be in danger, so avoid visiting elevated areas, and avoid open fields. 

The National Weather Service likes to use the phrase “when thunder roars, go indoors” as a way to remind people to take shelter from the potential danger of lightning deaths. 

When retreating indoors, be sure it is a fully enclosed area, open structures, such as a porch aren’t enough. You want to be inside a building or hard-top vehicles. 

In the DC tragedy, the victims huddled under a tree which led to them being struck. During storms, lighting tends to strike the tallest object around, so trees, and utility poles, etc. should be avoided at all costs as they will draw in lighting. If you should find yourself in a field and lightning is around, lie flat. Lying flat on the ground will offer you some protection, however, the best practice is if you hear thunder, seek shelter and avoid elevated areas when storms are in the forecast. 

Remember, lighting can travel, so even if you are indoors, don’t use corded phones as lightning can travel through the lines in your home. 

Following these tips will help to protect you from lighting strikes and keep you safe, however, to keep your home safe, you’ll want a lighting rod. Properly installed, lightning rods intercept strikes, providing a safe path for lightning current into the ground. They do not decrease the likelihood your home may be struck, but provide a direct path to the ground, preventing damage to your home from fire, explosion, and electrical surges that can result from lightning strikes.

Avoiding Mulch Fires

One of the most satisfying parts of landscaping can be putting down a new layer of mulch each season. It’s an instant facelift to gardens and beds and it also helps to prevent weeds and allows plants to retain moisture for longer during the hot summer days. However, something that not everyone knows about mulch is that mulch can spontaneously combust, causing fires that can quickly damage your home. 

Mulch is a combustible material, it can catch fire easily, particularly in hot, dry weather. Shredded wood or wood chips, which are most commonly used for landscape mulch beds are not only easily ignited, but piles of mulch can also auto-ignite, due to the heat that builds up inside them. This can create smoldering tunnels that when they reach the surface, can burst into flame. This is most likely to happen when mulch is more than a few inches deep, so before you put down new mulch, it is best to remove the mulch leftover from last year. 

Keeping mulch damp can help to reduce the risk of fire. When you water your plants, water your mulch as well! 

Preventing mulch fires is not difficult, but it is important as flammable mulch materials can quickly spread fire to surrounding areas. To prevent this, some municipalities require a crushed rock barrier of 18 inches between organic mulch material and residences. This way, if the mulch catches fire, it has less opportunity to spread to the home. 

The number one cause of mulch fires is improperly discarded smoking materials. Disposing of smoking materials in a proper receptacle is vital to keeping embers from forming in your mulch. Just one dropped cigarette can get a fire started, and if there are high winds present, you can have a serious problem on your hands. So make sure that all cigarettes, ash, etc. are placed in a fire-proof container. Improperly disposing of these materials is just asking for trouble. 

Finally, maintain proper clearance for electrical devices, such as timers and decorative lights, by following the manufacturer’s instructions. Always check for fraying of wires as well to prevent sparks in your mulch. 

By following these tips you can keep your yard, and your home, safe from mulch fires. 

Leaky Hose Danger

Summer is here and for one reason or another, your hose is likely on just about every day. Unfortunately, it is the nature of hoses to leak and while you may be tempted to ignore small hose leaks, these small leaks can cause big problems down the line. 

In addition to inflating your water bill and lowering your water pressure, all of the excess water from your house, leaky hose spigot, or connection can pool around your foundation. This not only can cause water seepage into a basement but even structural damage.

If you have a leaky hose it is important to replace it as soon as possible. If the leak is coming from the hose bibb, the first thing you should do is check the washer. There is usually a rubber washer inside your hose bibb and most of the time that’s where the problems are. If that doesn’t work you’ll have to shut off the water supply to the bibb to replace it. 

Wasted water is hard on the environment and your wallet, so taking care of these leaks while they’re small is your best bet. 

Remember, small leaks aren’t just an issue in the summer months. In freezing temperatures small leaks can cause dangerous, icy conditions that expand cracks in your foundation and even lead to pipes bursting. So don’t ignore that hose leak! Take care of it now before it drains your wallet later.

Summer Fire Warnings

As we head into summer it’s important to be aware of fire warnings that the National Weather Service may post. In New York, fire season runs from March 16th through May 14th. However, there are days all the way through until winter, when weather conditions can create a dangerous situation that can threaten not only woodland but also your home.

When most people hear “forest fire,” they think of the west, where fires are extremely common; however, Long Island also has a lot of wild areas that can, and have, fallen victim to wildfires. In August 1995 the area burned by the Sunrise fire covered 4,500 acres of pine barrens and required fire departments from 10 states to put out. 

Dry conditions combined with high temperatures and wind are considered fire weather and may call for a red flag warning. A red flag warning is a weather forecast issued by the National Weather Service to indicate that conditions are ideal for wildfires. This puts the forest service on alert and should be a warning not to use fire pits or other open burn sites. 

When the fire danger is high, be careful using your barbecue or any other outdoor fire source as small sparks can create large fires that quickly get out of control. Be sure you take precautions such as making sure the area is clear of brush and other flammable items before lighting your grill to ensure the safety of your family and home. 

When Do You Need a New Roof?

When was the last time you checked on your roof? How long has it been since you had a new roof installed? Is it time for a new one? 

How long your roof will last varies based on roofing materials used, location, and exposure to the elements. A roof that never sees snow or ice may last a lot longer than one that does. 

Your roof is your home’s first line of defense against the elements and as such it undergoes a lot of wear and tear. Rain, storms, snow, and hail damage can lead to roof damage and a leaky roof; but just because you have a roof leak doesn’t mean you need an entirely new roofing system. On the other hand, letting a repair go because “it’s just a little leak” can cause extensive damage and lead to a replacement that could have been avoided.

Generally speaking, a properly installed asphalt shingle roof should last at least 25 years, depending on the style of roofing shingles that have been used. A metal roof will last between 40 and 70 years before you need a roof replacement, but you should still regularly check for signs of damage that can shorten the life of any roof.

Take a good look at your roof. Each layer of shingles should lie flat against the roof. If they’re not, you could have a problem. Additionally, sagging, moss or cracked flashing can also be signs of potential issues. While cracked, damaged, or buckled shingles can cause a leaky roof, how do you know if you need a repair or a replacement? 

Roofing contractors are your best bet to determine which you will need, however, don’t just go with a local “roofing guy”. You want to use licensed and insured roofing companies with a good track record so that you don’t end up getting a new roof installed when a repair would have worked just fine. Sometimes all it takes is a coat of roofing cement to repair the flashing or loose shingles, but a licensed roofer is the best person to make that determination.