ALL ABOUT ROOF CLEANING
by Dr. Victor H. Morgenroth
Dr. Morgenroth is a Keys Gate Florida resident who is a semi-retired, adjunct professor of neurology at UM. He was a principal administrator in the Environment Health and Safety Division of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) for 20 years; prior to that I was a Group Leader in the Toxicology Division at the Center for Food Safety and Nutrition in the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Previously, he was on the faculty of several medical schools in neurology, pharmacology and psychiatry.
Having your roof cleaned actually makes sense. I know most of us were slightly put out by receiving a roof cleaning notice from the Keys Gate Homeowners Association. Although it read a little like an ultimatum and you probably wondered who the inspector of your roof was and what their qualifications were, it turns out that roof cleaning in Florida is not a bad idea at all.
It isn’t just aesthetics. While people like to say that dirty roofs lower a property’s value and may make it hard to sell, the “dirt” on a roof actually shortens its life span and can even present a health hazard. Furthermore, the “dark stains” on a roof act as a sponge to absorb the sun’s heat, which causes a rise in the temperature inside a home or building, creating higher air conditioning bills. That’s why it’s important to get your roof clean or maybe even a roofing repair so you don’t have any of these issues in your home.
The dirt isn’t just dust – It’s alive. Some of the black or very dark roof stains are caused by a resilient type of algae, Gloeocapsa magma (a type of blue-green algae commonly found in climates like Tampa with warm, humid summers). The algae grow in standing water, as well as in our lakes and ponds. The algal spores are carried to our roofs from the water sources by the wind and birds, and then from roof to roof where it grows and feeds on the limestone filler in asphalt shingles and the real dirt on tile roofs maybe in some cases the tiles themselves. Worse still, as the algae grow, they retain water and foster the growth of other roof inhabitants.
The black stains are also very likely to harbor a number of molds or fungi. Unlike algae the fungi on our roofs lacks chlorophyll. They are unable to manufacture food from raw materials. So, it must get nutrition from some form of organic matter. To thrive, these heterotrophs, who used to be called saprophytes, also require a warm, humid environment, like we have here in Tampa Florida.
Fungi normally begin their life cycle as an airborne spore that settles on Florida roofs, especially the asphalt-shingle ones. The spores on the northern exposure of the roof stand a better chance of survival because that portion of the roof is the last part to dry after a rain or morning dew. This raises the humidity on the surface of the shingle, thus creating a perfect feeding and breeding ground.
The tar used in roofing is fossilized, dead organic matter — and an important food source for fungi. Asphalt, at the granule base, is normally consumed first. Once these granules dislodge, accelerated deterioration will occur. Ceramic granules represent the outer hard shell that protects against hail and other falling debris. Ceramic granules protect against damaging UV radiation and insulate the roof against extreme Tampa Florida area heat. So you can understand that their dislodgement by the growing fungal colonies can be detrimental to our roofs’ longevity. Surprisingly, the blue-green algae are also food for the fungi.
While not all mold (fungi) and algae pose a health danger, some are harmful, especially for us older folks, younger children and people who suffer from asthma, COPD, and other respiratory problems. Their spores, which are on your roof, can get inside your home because they end up on the driveway and walkways from rain, and are easily tracked inside. They can even be drawn into our air conditioning systems and eventually populate our ducts.
Different mold species can have varying health effects, but it is important to remember that any excessive mold growth needs to be taken care of, regardless of the species. Any excessive mold growth can lead to increased allergies, toxicity, and house/building structural problems.
For those interested, this box describes some of the most common fungi likely to be found on our roofs and their possible health effects. While “sick building syndrome” has been talked about frequently in the Tampa media, it isn’t always reported that this syndrome is often caused by faulty or leaking roof assemblies that result in fungal infestations. It isn’t, as reported, always due to chemicals in carpeting.
Most of us have immune systems that are fully capable of resisting the effects of fungi described below. As a result it would be highly unlikely for any of us to suffer any of the ill effects described. But if fungal colonies are allowed to persist and multiply then the high concentrations of the molds and their volatile organic chemical metabolites might be sufficient to increase the risks from our exposure to them.
Stachybotrys chartarum (atra) molds can thrive on water damaged, cellulose-rich material in buildings such as sheet rock, paper, ceiling tiles, insulation backing, wallpaper, etc. In the majority of cases where Stachybotrys is found indoors in Tampa, water damage has gone unnoticed or ignored since it requires extended periods of time with increased levels of moisture for growth to occur. Stachybotrys is usually black and slimy in appearance. Events of water intrusion that are not addressed quickly tends to support the growth of more xerophilic fungi such as Pencillium and Aspergillus.
Stachybotrys is another fungi we see in Tampa that has the ability to produce mycotoxins, ones that are toxic and can be immunosuppressive. Exposure to these mycotoxins can result through inhalation, ingestion, and dermal exposure. Symptoms of exposure include dermatitis, cough, rhinitis, nose bleeds, cold and flu-like symptoms, headache, general malaise, and fever.
The Cladosporium genera of mold seen here in Tampa are pigmented dark green to black in the front, and black on the reverse with a velvety to powdery texture. One of the most commonly isolated from indoor and outdoor air, Cladosporium spp. are found on decaying plants, woody plants, food, straw, soil, paint, textiles, and the surface of fiberglass duct liner in the interior of supply ducts.
There are over 30 species in the Cladosporium genus. The most common are C. elatum, C. herbarum, C. sphaerospermum, and C. cladosporioides. These fungi are the causative agents of skin lesions, keratitis, nail fungus, sinusitis, asthma, and pulmonary infections. Acute symptoms of exposure to Cladosporium are edema and bronchiospasm, and chronic exposure may lead to pulmonary emphysema.
Aspergillus is the most common genus of fungi in our Tampa environment (it especially likes to grow on corn plants) with more than 160 different species of mold. Sixteen of these species have been documented as causing human disease. Aspergillosis is now the 2nd most common fungal infection requiring hospitalization in the United States.
Aspergillus fumigatus. The most encountered species causing infection. It is seen abundantly in decomposing organic material, such as self-heating compost piles, since it readily grows at temperatures up to 55 C. People who handle contaminated material often develop hypersensitivity to the spores of Aspergillus and may suffer severe allergic reactions upon exposure.
Aspergillus flavus. The 2nd most encountered fungi in cases of Aspergillus infection. It is also known to produce the mycotoxin aflatoxin, one of the most potent carcinogens known to man. In the 1960s, 100,000 turkey poults in Great Britain died from ingesting contaminated feed. Most countries have established levels for aflatoxin in food. However, the risks associated with airborne exposure are not adequately studied and no exposure standards exist.
Aspergillus niger. The 3rd most common Aspergillus fungi associated with disease and the most common of any Aspergillus species in nature due to its ability to grow on a wide variety of substrates. This species may cause a “fungal ball”, which is a condition where the fungus actively proliferates in the human lung, forming a ball. It does so without invading the lung tissue.
Fusarium spp.,common soil fungus and inhabitant on a wide array of plants, this fungi is often found in humidifiers and has been isolated from water-damaged carpets and a variety of other building materials. Human exposure may occur through ingestion of contaminated grains and possibly through the inhalation of spores. Fusarium spp. is frequently involved with eye, skin, and nail infections.
Several species can produce the trichothecene toxins which target the circulatory, alimentary, skin, and nervous systems. Vomitoxin is one such tricothecene mycotoxin that has been associated with outbreaks of acute gastrointestinal illness in humans. Zearalenone is another mycotoxin produced by Fusarium. It is similar in structure to the female sex hormone estrogen and targets the reproductive organs.
Penicillium fungi are commonly found in soil, food, cellulose, grains, paint, carpet, wallpaper, interior fiberglass duct insulation, and decaying vegetation. Penicillium may cause hypersensitivity pneumonitis, asthma, and allergic alveolitis in susceptible individuals.
The genus Penicillium has several species. The most common ones include Penicillium chrysogenum, Penicillium citrinum, Penicillium janthinellum, Penicillium marneffei, and Penicillium purpurogenum.
These fungi have been isolated from patients with keratitis, ear infections, pneumonia, endocarditis, peritonitis, and urinary tract infections. Penicillium infections are most commonly exhibited in immunosuppressed individuals.
In conclusion, during the digestion of substrates, fungi secrete enzymes into nutrients in order to break down complex compounds into simpler compounds that can be taken up by the roof fungi and used as nutrition. These digested nutrients produce secondary metabolic byproducts called mycotoxins that are released to give the fungi a competitive edge over other microorganisms and fungi. Unfortunately, mycotoxins found on roofs can also be toxic to humans causing a variety of responses including cold/flu-like symptoms, sore throats, headaches, nose bleeds, fatigue, diarrhea, dermatitis, and immune suppression. Some mycotoxins may also be carcinogenic and teratogenic. Roof Molds that have been known to potentially produce these toxins are Acremonium, Alternaria, Aspergillus, Chaetomium, Cladosporium, Fusarium, Penicillium, and Stachybotrys.
Even though these roof molds may potentially produce mycotoxins, they will not do so unless specific environmental conditions exist. Currently, it is unknown exactly what conditions promote the growth of mycotoxin production and more scientific research needs to be conducted on this topic for it to be fully understood.
Reviewing some approaches to roof cleaning: the good, bad and really bad.
From here on I’ll use mold to describe the lively residents of our roofs. Most of us have had some experience with cleaning (removing) mold (mildew from some where in or on our houses. Often we just use chlorine or oxygen-based bleach products and they work. But out of doors and with the resistance of the mold infestations, bleach alone might not be sufficient. Mixtures of bleach and trisodium phosphate (a product used in many detergent mixtures in the past) are sometimes recommended. However,
Bleach mixtures can injure sensitive plants. Because it is difficult to totally protect them from the mix, spray them down with clean water before applying the mix and immediately after, whether you cover them or not!
Though power washing was recommended for years, the roof cleaning industry has moved towards very low-pressure cleaning because high-pressure power washing causes permanent damage to asphalt shingles and even tiles in certain circumstances.
High-pressure washing is also not recommended for those of us with tile roofs. The high-pressure can aerosolize mold spores and just like the wind and birds it can carry the spores to our neighbor clean roofs and re-infect them. [We should also suggest to Homeowners Associations that they send out their roof cleaning notices in a more systematic manner to limit re-infestation from molds mobilized during cleaning from one roof to another. It is unfortunate that their “inspectors were not sufficiently knowledgeable about what they were inspecting to have not recognized this in the beginning.]
Roof Algae happen to be phosphate-loving and will flourish if not completely killed by the bleach.
Long term exposure to bleach can damage most any surface, and your roof is no exception.
There are some other concerns regarding the use of chlorine-based products on asphalt roofs. Household bleach can damage asphalt due to its high sodium content. Apparently, the sodium causes an electrochemical reaction that reduces the elasticity of the asphalt leading to stiffness, brittleness and curling of the shingles.
Some alternatives to bleach such as lye are not recommended for roof cleaning either. A chemical alternative to bleach uses the antifungal agent sodium hydroxide… also known as lye. Lye-based products appeared on the market a few years ago, but turned out to be even more dangerous to use than bleach! Even at low concentrations, permanent damage can be done to the roofing, possibly even dissolving the roofing nails! Fortunately, most lye-based products have been removed from the market.
Spray and Forget is a new product that offers a long-term solution to mold problems . It is sprayed on and allowed to dry without rinsing. Though it is slow-acting when compared to bleach solutions, it can prevent mildew growth for years! The makers suggest that if you want to see quick results, you can do a one-shot bleach cleaning, but for me patience is better, I don’t like the use of bleach for the reasons mentioned above and its possible effect on plants. Even covering them and rinses afterwards don’t always help. Rinse thoroughly, allow to dry and then apply Spray and Forget according to the instructions.
Moss Out! comes in a number of formulations, one specifically for roofs and others designed to remove and/or inhibit moss and fungus growth on siding, masonry surfaces and even lawns. That’s why we prefer to get residential siding installed right so they are much easier to clean.
If you wish to prevent reinfestation of the roof mold, there are a few options. Zinc strips have been used for many years as an algae preventative. Zinc strips can be attached near the peak of the roof so that when it rains, a slight amount of zinc dissolves from the strips and coats the roof, inhibiting algae and fungus growth.
Other companies offer long-term protection against the return of mildew once the cleaning is done . Unlike the other products mentioned on this page, Anti-Growth can even be used for interior applications.
The residential roofing contractor has even developed an additive for asphalt roofing services shingles using copper granules. This unique advance in shingle technology gives long-term fungus protection for the entire roof. They call it the Algae Block system. You can find more information on these special roofing shingles at HUhttp://solutions.3m.com/wps/portal/3M/en_US/IMPD/Roofing-Solutions/?WT.mc_id=www.3m.com/algaeblockUH .
In closing, you can buy roof cleaning products and “do it yourself” or you can hire a roofing contractor to do it for you. But I hope this review can help provide you with some information that will be of use to you in your efforts to get a clean roof report with damaging not only the things you are trying to get clean, but also help protect your health and the home you live in..