Do You Need a Mold Inspection?
When I answer the phone and hear a person tell me “I need a mold inspection, what does it cost?” that is the beginning of what should be a conversation, not just an answer with an estimate. My usual response is “Why do you think you need a mold inspection?” There are a variety of standard answers. One is, “I am buying a home and want to make sure there is no mold there because I am sensitive to mold, have allergies and/or had a bad experience in the past with a moldy building”. In another case, a homeowner came back from a lengthy vacation to find water running out of the front door and there was mold already growing on the drywall. Sometimes people have already removed the moldy building materials and want a “post-mold remediation clearance test.” Costs have a range depending on what needs to be done.
If you come home and find there is a plumbing leak from a toilet, shower or water line to your wet bar, the first thing to do is Turn off the Water! Then start mopping up the water as quickly as possible. Carpeting must be dried within 24 to 48 hours to prevent mold growth. Baseboards may need to be removed to dry the walls. Get your plumber out immediately to find the leak and fix the plumbing lines. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has several documents on Flood Cleanup and Mold for homes, schools and commercial buildings.
Will insurance cover everything? Probably not, but everyone should have a circle of trusted advisors, including your insurance agent. You need a strong relationship with an agent or broker who is on your side when a claim gets filed. People who shop for low prices on line rarely obtain this crucial risk management component of owning a home. The insurance adjustor who gets sent to your house may want to limit the scope of your claim. Many policies also have a $5,000 mold limit on coverage. Talk to your agent now about your coverage and what would be covered or not should you have an incident. Also, be aware that when you file a claim, it will be disclosable when you sell your house. Real estate brokers will run a hazard report to see what kind of insurance claims are tied to the home. A post remediation mold inspection is highly recommended to document that the mold was removed.
So back to the question of “Do you need a mold inspector?” Let’s look at a few real life examples of different size and scope.
First, let’s look at a minor problem.
This is a wood stud above the ceiling with a fire sprinkler causing a small water drip and visible black mold. The leak was repaired quickly by the sprinkler maintenance company. However, when the maintenance engineer saw “black mold”, he became alarmed. The leak was above the bed of an older person and the maintenance engineer was neither a mold or water damage expert. I advised the Property Manager, who wisely held off calling a mold remediation company, to cover the hole with plastic until I could arrive to take a look at it. The wood stud was dry with no wood rot. The black surface mold was easily removed with a disinfectant Clorox® wipe. The amount of mold growth was about one square foot, which is well below the 10 square foot threshold set by the EPA for a “small” remediation project. I advised them to clean the stud with disinfectant and paint the wood with an anti-fungal paint such as Kilz®. Any handyman or in-house maintenance staff can address this issue with just a little bit of training and proper tools. I have trained many maintenance workers on the proper method to clean up minor mold occurrences.
There was no need in this case to call in a restoration company. It was not necessary to take any samples. Is it always necessary to know what type of mold it was? Not in this case. It was just necessary to get rid of the mold.
Vacant, unoccupied properties tend to decay rapidly when unattended. The mold on the left is on the back wall of kitchen cabinets in an otherwise lovely bank-owned country club home that was for sale. Unfortunately, during my inspection I found that every one of the dozen kitchen cabinets looked like this. The buyer wanted to document the mold growth, including airborne mold spore levels in order to get the bank to negotiate on the foreclosure price. Sometimes it is helpful to have an accredited laboratory produce a written report that defines the types and quantities of mold present. The potential buyer was then able to use the lab report which confirmed elevated levels of mold spores along with my Scope of Work for mold remediation to get three quotes on the restoration work and rebuilding costs. This greatly assisted the buyer in negotiating with the bank.
The mold on the right was also from a bank-owned abandoned home. I was able to document water damage and mold growth not only where it was readily visible but also in the attic space and inside the air-conditioning system. Bankers want to see paperwork. And the paperwork they see should be produced by accredited and certified professionals. Mold inspections, done correctly, can also help potential buyers decide when they should walk away from a purchase.
Landlord versus Tenant:
I frequently get calls from tenants who move into a property and after a few months, complain to the property owner or manager that they are sick. After a few visits to their doctor, they report that the doctor thinks it is their home that is making them sick. The doctor’s opinion is, “It must be mold and the tenant should be moved to a different apartment.” Well sometimes it is mold, but sometimes it is not.
In case A, a visit to the apartment of concern verified what the property manager suspected – that there was no “mold” issue. However, as an independent certified professional, my investigation and assessment was needed to satisfy the tenant. There were no plumbing leaks or roof leaks. Walls were dry. There were no historic brown water stains or mold like odor. I sat down with the tenant and asked if she would share her allergy testing results. The test report showed positive allergic reaction to dust mites and cat dander. While we spoke, a cat walked into the carpeted living room and made herself comfortable on the sofa.
The tenant also had many stuffed animals and dust collecting knickknacks. In fact, the cause of this tenant’s allergy problems was not the apartment, it was her pet and her belongings. I made some suggestions to her on keeping the cat out of the bedroom and making it a pet free zone, as well as other healthy home suggestions. If the property manager had simply moved the tenant, the real problem would not have been identified, and the true cause would have been moved with her.
In case B, a similar situation led to a totally different result. New tenants reported musty odors and itchy eyes in their apartment. Again, the Property Manager investigated, but found no water leaks. When I arrived to collect air samples and moisture measurements, the occupants were present and pointed out areas they were concerned about. There was brand new carpet, but tack strips in one area were completely rotted out, indicating previous water damage. The tenants believed that there was mold in their air conditioner and duct work.
They also reported that the upstairs apartment previously had a leaking AC unit directly above them and thought that the leak may have caused water damage and mold growth in their apartment. I collected several air samples in four rooms with no air-conditioning running, then turned it on and took a sample at one of the air supply registers. Although there was no current moisture or visible mold growth beyond the tack strips, the air sampling results came back elevated, indicating that there was indeed hidden mold growth. The Property Manager moved the tenants and remediated the apartment.
This case is an example of why collecting air samples may be beneficial. Mold spores are everywhere, both indoors and outdoors. They are microscopic, so the laboratory looks at the samples under a microscope to count and identify the various mold spores present in the environment. My standard procedure is to collect a minimum of 4 air samples per project: two outdoor samples and two indoor samples. Outdoor mold levels vary from hour to hour depending on the weather conditions and outdoor activities such as lawn mowing and garbage collection. Total mold spore levels can also vary from room to room and depend on whether the air conditioning is running or not. Doors and windows must be closed prior to and during indoor air sampling. Each inspection is unique with different questions that need to be answered, so a high level of expertise is required to get to the real answer. The interpretation of the lab results is also an art and a science that is best left to experienced, certified professionals. If you think you need a mold inspection, give us a call.
Our next blog will discuss what you should know and expect during a large scale mold remediation project.
Written by Susan Browne Rosenberg, CIH, CHMM, Certified Indoor Environmental Consultant
760-902-2545 or firstname.lastname@example.org