Inspection & Remediation
Tips to spotting a meth-contaminated home is an article I wrote for KSL.com, where I am a contributing editor.
Watch a video from KSL News featuring Garth Haslem telling how to spot a meth house.
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Watch a video of Garth Haslem training how to test for meth.
New to Meth Decontamination? We have answers
Most of our clients have very similar questions: my house has been found to be contaminated – what should I do? Should I have someone else test? What is the standard? How high is “high”? What can be cleaned up? Will I have to tear down the walls? The structure? Brick? And how long does it take?
Identifying Meth Contamination
While many certified decontamination specialists and a few home inspectors may know how to properly test a home, many don’t. Frankly, some who do are less than completely honest in their approach. We invite you to view our training video at www.crossroadsengineers.com/methtraining.htm after watching, you will likely be more knowledgeable than many home inspectors.
Cleaning up meth contaminated homes isn’t easy. Simply because a person has passed the state certification test doesn’t mean they know how to decontaminate – it means they know the state rules well enough to pass a test. Passing this test doesn’t prepare you for actually doing a decontamination project – that comes with experience, trial and error, some corporate spying and a good deal of research. In some cases, it also comes with damage to one’s eyes and/or lungs as you found out what not to do. There is a very significant difference between “cleaning” and “decontamination”. The certified decontamination specialist decontaminates. The home may not be dirt free, but it must be decontaminated – and there is a legal definition for what “decontaminated” means. It changes with each state, but we’ll discuss what “contaminated” means below.
Who can legally do the testing and decontamination
Any individual can test, regardless of their knowledge level. The state only recognizes tests done by certified meth decontamination contractors. As a homeowner, sometimes you are allowed to do the decontamination yourself – all by yourself. Be aware however that if you do what some suggest, the home won’t ever get decontaminated. On the other hand, if you use what works, and you’re not properly trained & equipped, the process can kill you. If you don’t want to take that risk, the state of Utah requires that you choose a certified meth decontamination specialist (CDS). Crossroads Engineering is listed as one of those approved contractors.
What is “Contaminated”?
In Utah, the legal definition for meth contamination is 1.0 ug/100 sq cm. This compares with the EPA recommended value of 1.5 ug/100 sq cm. A key issue to understanding meth contamination is the difference between meth labs, or “cooking meth”, vs. meth “use”, or smoking the substance. Because lab contamination levels are considerably higher than for use, EPA has recommended that labs be slated for cleanup, and that homes which have only seen “use” not be subject to remediation. The problem here is that one can rarely identify the difference after the fact- contaminated is contaminated. Utah’s approach has been to require that any home contaminated above 1.0 ug/l be professionally remediated.
Meth can be a very difficult material to clean up. It is found in highest concentrations at the most difficult locations, and the most commonly recommended materials for cleanup are often ineffective. While certain governmental entities recommend a detergent solution, it is our experience that these solutions predictably produce failing results, even after repeated treatments. If your home is contaminated, there are some basics that you must know. The first thing to know is that unless there has been heavy structural damage or fires, or other damage of that level, most homes can be successfully remediated.
What you can expect if your home is decontaminated
When a home is decontaminated, the goal is to prove through testing that every room in the home is below the threshold defined by the State of Utah (UAC R311-500) Department of Health, and by the local health department. Utah code currently requires that no single location have a test result higher than 1.0 microgram per 100 square centimeters (1.0 ug/ 100 sq cm). This is roughly a grain of salt spread over an area the size of the palm of your hand.
Can you “clean” all the meth?
Simply put, you can’t “clean” all the meth. It is impossible to prove that all meth has been removed. The lab can tell you if the property has been decontaminated to a level below their detection limit, but that’s as far as they can go. If the measured value is below 0.1 ug/100 sq cm, then they will report the result as ND, meaning not detected. This is not to be confused with achieving a zero contamination value. County health departments consider the home to be decontaminated if it falls below the state standard of 1.0 micrograms/100 sq cm.
What will remediation do to the house?
The remediation begins with removing all gross waste in the home, as required by the local health department. This includes all furniture, dishes, tables, clothes, blinds, drapes, carpet, pad and debris in the home. The home is typically stripped down to sheetrock and subfloor. The sheetrock is not removed, and the paint is not removed. Only fixed and hard surfaces will remain. This includes cabinets, linoleum, tile, hardwood, chandeliers, light fixtures and appliances. Fireplace masonry will also remain in the home. The process used by Crossroads Engineering has been developed from years of research, questioning the right people, as well as some trial and error. There is no single method required or recommended by any governmental agency – they just require results. Experience shows that getting results with the wrong materials and methods can be extremely difficult – sometimes itR#8217;s difficult even with the right materials – that’s why we bid jobs to completion. Our process has enabled us to arrive at a certain list of chemicals and methods that we don’t disclose to anyone. It is a given, however, that every square inch of every room and every appliance will be treated repeatedly with some very harsh chemicals. These chemicals can cause death to an unprepared and unprotected individual in the home at the time of treatment, but after a day, they decay to very benign products. For one example, one of the chemicals we may use decays to simple table salt after the chemical reactions are complete – you could put it on your eggs in the morning. While the after effects of the chemicals are benign, the effect they have on the house can be much more intense. For example, with chemical “C” all metal surfaces (sink faucets, chandeliers, stove parts) may be corroded. The corrosion generally looks bad, but usually can be wiped off bathroom fixtures with a sponge and water. The chemicals are also hard on the focus of the remediation: the heating system. There are parts within the furnace that don’t take well to being treated with harsh chemicals. In many cases, there will be damage to the furnace. It may be the electrical connections, the computer board, the sensors, etc. This type of repair should be expected by the client, especially if chemical set “c” is used. Damage to the furnace, appliances, counters, walls or other part of the home is not proof of neglect by the decontamination specialist – it’s proof that he did his job.
What to expect after it’s done
Depending on the chemical set used by the specialist, you can expect a home that smells moderately of chemicals. There may be a film on the walls, floors, and ceilings. There may be a film on stoves and counter tops. Corrosion may be evident at all metal surfaces and in the furnace. Your carpet and pad will be gone, as will the drapes, blinds, etc. Replacement of these items is not a part of the decontamination project. Depending on the chemical set used, your paint or counter surfaces may bubble. Depending on the materials used, the presence of meth behind a coat of paint and the type & age of the paint, the bubbling may vary anywhere from light to exceptionally heavy. Please refer to the chemical chart located at the end of this page. If there is a chemical set you prefer, please let us know. Otherwise, we will go with what experience has taught us to be most effective and least costly for you.
What you pay for and when you pay
We generally ask you to write only one check. We ask for that check after all services have been completed and after we can successfully show through testing that the home has been decontaminated to state and county standards (
Providing a guarantee for meth contaminated homes can be tricky. Difficulties include the fact that different areas will have different contamination values. For example, one part of a floor may be contaminated at 0.2, while six inches away it may be contaminated at 1.2. According to the state, the first area when sampled would indicate all things are acceptable. The second sample would indicate otherwise. Further complicating the issue is home security. For example, if a home were used as a drug use hangout, it is possible that users may return to the home and use again after the home is decontaminated. This is of course out of the control of the meth decontamination specialist, and it is not reasonable that he be held liable for the repeated use. If the home is not secure, or if perhaps the users may have had key or window access to the home, there can be no reasonable guarantee that the home will stay decontaminated. These two conditions being what they are, we consider Crossroads Engineering to represent the best of customer service. Simply put, we want to be responsible if we missed something – we believe that showing responsibility is good for business. That being the case, our guarantee is this:
We consider the project to be completed when a final sampling of the rooms in the home prove that we have succeeded. Upon successful completion of the remediation, the client may choose to have a third party perform a separate set of tests on the property. This must be done within seven days of the final report, and must be done by someone who knows what they are doing. This means that it must be done by someone who is certified by the state as a meth decontamination specialist. If their results come back with any room showing high (beyond 1.0 ug/100 sq cm), then we will return to the home and remediate the property again until success is demonstrated through testing. The home must have been secure between the time of the final report and the third party testing. If a third party is called, we must be notified in advance so we can verify the tester’s methods and credentials.
It could be worse
Having a home turn up meth positive will never be a positive experience. That being so, there are many homeowner scenarios that could be worse. Structural issues can be much more expensive. Mold problems can also be more of a hit to your wallet. Sometimes, even re-roofing a home can be more expensive than a meth remediation. It’s never fun, but it doesn’t have to ruin your life – it’s just a check you have to write. Most of our bids fall within the range of $3500 to $4500, depending on location, size, contamination value and extent of debris in the home to be removed. It’s not fun at all, but you’ll get through this – we’ll help you. More information in The Household Hazards Handbook, available at the top of this page
Chemical selection chart
Ratings indicate severity (1-low, 10-high)
Chemical Name / Characteristics
|Heavily corrosive (10=highly corrosive)||10||2||2||2|
|Leaves a salty film (10=heavy salt film)||10||1||1||1|
|Leaves a heavy and noticeable smell (10=heavy smell)||10||5||1||5|
|Effectiveness (10=highly effective)||8||5||8||4|
|Leaves soapy streaks on walls and dirt pocks on ceilings(10=many streaks and pocks)||3||9||3||3|
|Causes the paint to bubble (10=many bubbles)
(depending on contamination level)
|Leaves varnished surfaces sticky and in poor condition (10=highly sticky and damaged)||1||1||1||10|
|Considered to be environmentally friendly (10=very friendly)||1||5||9||5|
|May cause hardwood floors to warp (10=heavy warping)||4||4||4||4|
|Recommended / preferred by Crossroads Engineering (10=strongly recommended )||4||6||9||2|
If, after reviewing this chart you have strong feelings about using one sort of chemical type, please notify us.
Failing that we will use the product that we believe best meets the needs of the property.