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Housing Trends

December 2018

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How to Eliminate Mold from Your Home

Since the mold industry is largely unregulated, use this guide to ensure you find a credentialed professional and understand the inspection, sampling, and clean-up process.

A mold remediation will typically take a few days, depending on how extensive the mold growth is.

If you’ve found mold growing in your home, what you should do next depends on where you find it and how much there is. But deal with it promptly, because delay can mean an expensive repair that may not be covered by your homeowners insurance.

A typical mold remediation takes a few days and costs roughly $500 to $6,000, but can easily reach five figures if the problem is severe. If drywall, studs, or other building materials must be replaced after cleanup, you’ll need to hire a building contractor for that service as well.

“I had a case of roof damage where water infiltrated the kitchen, and mold damaged the kitchen, the foyer, the bedroom, and the family room,” says Jason Yost, owner of Solutions Indoor Environmental Consulting in Terre Haute, Ind. “Because the home wasn’t maintained properly and was cluttered, the mold amplified quickly. The total bill came to $60,000 to remediate and reconstruct the house.”

Mold and insurance
Mold remediation isn’t necessarily covered by homeowners insurance, which typically pays only if the problem results from a sudden emergency already covered on your policy, such as a burst pipe. Insurance usually doesn’t pay if the problem results from deferred maintenance or floodwaters (unless you have flood insurance).

Everyday mold growth
When mold is growing on household surfaces, both its spores (reproductive structures) and any toxins it produces can become airborne. This can aggravate asthma and allergies and sometimes contribute to more serious diseases, especially in children, the elderly, and those with weak immune systems. Mold also ruins porous materials such as drywall and carpeting and can damage woodwork, although serious damage to structural elements is rare.

Expect to find mold occasionally in wet areas such as kitchens and bathrooms. Confined to washable surfaces, it’s fine as long as you clean it promptly with soap and water. Disinfecting the area after cleaning with a 1:9 bleach-to-water solution can also help.

If you find small amounts of mold growing in places that shouldn’t be wet—such as floor grilles—address your moisture problem so it doesn’t return after you clean it up.

Calling for help
If you find mold growing on drywall, trim, or unfinished wood surfaces (studs, joists, subfloors), especially if the affected area exceeds 10 square feet, it’s time to seek a professional, scientific opinion. Your best bet is an independent consultant with credentials in mold investigation.

Less-than-ideal choices would be a home inspector, who likely doesn’t have mold training, or a mold remediation company, which can increase its profits by recommending cleanup procedures that aren’t necessary. On the flip side, you want someone who isn’t motivated to minimize costs to keep insurance companies happy.

The mold industry is largely unregulated, says licensed professional engineer and certified industrial hygienist Wane A. Baker of Michaels Engineering in La Crosse, Wis., because the word “mold” encompasses thousands of different types of fungi, whose health effects are highly individual and still under study. This lack of government oversight means almost anyone can hang out a shingle.

Look for the right credentials
Reputable mold remediation companies will hire a third-party inspector to determine the scope of work and roll that into the project cost. Also consider hiring our own inspector to ensure you have an advocate in the cleanup process.

A good mold inspection professional:

•Has at least an undergraduate degree in a science or engineering field
•Will provide a customized written report as part of his fee that includes the lab results of any air or surface samples taken
•Doesn’t hype one species of mold as being significantly more dangerous than another
•Doesn’t sell mold-related products
•Has completed industry-approved coursework in mold investigation, preferably from the American Board of Industrial Hygiene or the American Council for Accredited Certification (formerly the American Indoor Air Quality Council). He or she should also bear respected industry credentials, such as PE, CIH, CIEC, and CMRS.
What to expect from inspection and cleanup
Expect to spend $250 to $500 for a site visit from a qualified inspector that takes 20 minutes to two hours, depending on the scope of the problem, and a detailed report of findings and recommendations. Individual air samples, if necessary, may or may not be included in the price (ask your inspector ahead of the visit) and cost anywhere from $18 to $225 apiece, depending on the laboratory used to process results.

If mold growth is visible, air or surface sampling may not be necessary; it depends on the situation. It’s not important to identify the actual mold species unless there are specific legal or medical reasons to do so—say, if you have an allergy to a certain species. If mold growth is suspected but not visible—for example, if it’s concealed within walls—sampling may help confirm its presence.

Sampling is also typically used after the cleanup process to verify whether the job was successful. Ask inspectors why they’re performing any sampling that occurs on the initial visit; they should be able to articulate clearly whatever hypothesis they’re trying to confirm.

If the cleanup is simple enough to perform yourself, a mold inspector can advise you on procedures, protective equipment, and tools. The inspector should also be able to pinpoint the moisture issue that led to the mold problem so that you can correct it.

If you need a remediation pro
If a professional remediation is necessary, the inspector can recommend a company or you can choose one yourself. The cleanup process generally takes a few days, depending on the extent of mold growth, and may involve cleaning and disinfection, removal of drywall, professional cleaning of personal belongings, and HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filtration. The severity of the problem determines whether you’ll be able to remain in your home during the project.

“I’d like to stress that a mold remediation isn’t about kill, kill, kill,” Baker says. “Even dead mold can still be allergenic. Remediation is really about the physical removal of mold from water-damaged materials.” The remediation company should follow the work plan designed by your mold inspector, who will return for follow-up sampling to ensure the job was successful. Once the cleanup is approved, you can hire a building contractor to replace any drywall or other materials that were removed.

Home testing kits
Don’t bother with hardware store petri-dish kits, which claim to help you identify whether you have mold in your indoor air. “These kits are completely ineffective,” Baker says. The kits might grow a bit of mold for you—because mold spores are always present in indoor air—but they can’t guarantee a statistically significant sample of air, confirm the presence of dead mold spores (which also cause health symptoms), or determine baseline levels of mold in your home in order to compare results.

The key to dealing with mold quickly and effectively is finding a qualified professional inspector whom you trust.

Karin Beuerlein has covered home improvement and green living topics extensively for HGTV.com, FineLiving.com, and FrontDoor.com. In more than a decade of freelancing, she’s also written for dozens of national and regional publications, including Better Homes & Gardens and the Chicago Tribune. She and her husband started married life by remodeling the house they were living in. They still have both the marriage and the house, no small feat.

Source: National Association of REALTORS®