Hurricanes, floods and extended disaster evacuations can result in extensive mold growth in many homes at the same time – creating a cleanup crisis. Everyone with a water-damaged home faces similar challenges, since mold must be remediated before repairs can begin. This process can be hazardous because of potential health effects of exposure to mold, bacteria, other contaminants and damaged structures. Although there is no such thing as “toxic mold,” some molds are toxigenic, that is, they can produce and contain toxins. People react differently to the presence of mold—some may have no adverse health reaction to airborne mold spores, while others may experience severe illness from low-level exposure.
Hiring a qualified contractor for mold remediation in homes typically is not required and generally is not covered by homeowners insurance, but this varies by state and insurer, so be sure to check your policy. In any case, hiring a well-trained, professional mold remediation contractor usually is safer and more effective than a do-it-yourself approach because of the use of specialized equipment and industry protocols.
When conducting cleanup, you should follow safety precautions carefully to reduce exposure to mold. These include the use of protective clothing, an appropriate respirator, eye protection and procedures that minimize the release and spread of mold spores.
Check with your state or local government’s contractor licensing, registration or certification agency to see if there are specific provisions for mold remediation contractors. In states that license mold remediation contractors, there typically are certain educational and insurance requirements that the contractor must meet. Where this is not the case, look for professional mold remediation professionals certified by organizations such as The Restoration Industry Association ( www.restorationindustry.org), the Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification (www.certifiedcleaners.org) or the American Council for Accredited Certification (www.acac.org).
A mold remediation professional should follow procedures of a
nationally recognized industry protocol and use specialized
equipment. “Recommended Steps for Mold Cleanup in Flooded
Homes” (next page) is included to provide you with an awareness of
basic recommended remediation steps and restoration suggestions
to help you achieve as safe and effective a remediation job as you
The following points should be included in a contract with a mold remediator:
Obtain at least three estimates before signing a contract. Ask for
proof of education or training sessions on mold remediation and
check with the education or training firms specified to determine
that the contractor has actually completed the program or
certification. Ask for references from clients for whom the
contractors have performed mold remediation work.
Remediation professionals remove mold using a variety of methods depending on the size and complexity of the contamination as well as the technology available to the contractor. A widely followed remediation protocol is the Environmental Protection Agency’s Mold Remediation in Schools and Commercial Buildings, available online at www.epa.gov/mold. The basic methods and principles are a good guide for professional remediation of any building, including homes, so it’s a good idea to review this document.
Another commonly relied-upon set of containment guidelines are
those developed by the New York City Department of Health.2
guidelines outline four levels of contamination based on the size of
the infected area and a fifth for contaminated HVAC systems.
The primary standard of care for the professional mold remediation industry is the Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification’s S520 Standard and Reference Guide for Professional Mold Remediation. It is a national consensus-based procedural standard and reference guide for the remediation of mold-damaged structures and contents. The standard is periodically revised and based upon remediation and restoration principles, academic research and practical experience with water damage restoration and mold remediation challenges.
Mold remediation specialists typically use containment barriers, air pressurization machines, high capacity dehumidifiers, commercial HEPA vacuums and air filters, strong disposal bags, cleaners, biocides (disinfectants), full personal protective equipment and other specialized materials.4 Safety precautions are essential in mold remediation to prevent exposure to and spread of hazards. All workers should wear fitted goggles, gloves, disposable protective clothing and a professionally fitted respirator.
Various techniques used by professionals to remediate mold include, but are not limited to, removal and disposal of moldy materials; cleaning restorable materials by damp wiping with a cleaning solution and HEPA vacuuming; cleaning with detergent and bleach solution; gamma ray irradiation; steam cleaning; blasting with sodium bicarbonate (baking soda); or tenting the building and filling with chlorine dioxide gas to kill mold without gutting or discarding materials. The mold remediation standard and guidelines cited above recommend moldy material removal and cleaning methods designed to contain and safely remove both live and dead mold, since exposure to dead mold fragments and spores can have the same health effects as live mold. It is not clear to what extent other methods remove the risks posed by the residue of dead mold, chemical reactions, long-term effects on building materials or increased release of spores into the air during treatment.
Increased consumer awareness of the hazards and difficulty of mold remediation and the new technological developments in the cleaning and restoration industry has led to an increasing number of companies in the field. The variety of choices can make it difficult for consumers to be confident the remediation firm they hire will be worth the investment. It is wise for consumers to review recognized guidelines, ask about the risks and limitations of new or alternative methods and determine specific indicators for effectiveness or “clearance.” Some remediation firms offer air sampling to compare indoor to outdoor spore counts before after the remediation to demonstrate effectiveness or “clearance.”
1. Wear protective gear.
2. Isolate work area and ventilate to outdoors.
3. Remove and dispose of moldy, porous materials in plastic bags if possible.
4. Clean and sanitize.
5. Use borate treatments.
6. Flush air.
7. Speed dry.
8. Be alert for mold.
9. Do not attempt restoration until all materials have dried completely.
10. Restore using flood-resistant materials.
Remember: Hire only Louisiana state licensed or registered contractors. Commercial projects over $50,000 and construction of new single family homes require a state license. Home improvement or remodeling over $1,500 requires state registration. Hazardous materials or mold remediation over $1.00 requires a state license. Always verify a contractor License or registration number by calling 1-800-256-1392 or visit www.lslbc.louisiana.gov for an online searchable listing by type of contractor and location.
It’s also wise to insist on a written contract but don’t sign anything until you understand all the terms of your contract. Pay no more than 10% up front, don’t let payments get ahead of work completed, and don’t make the final payment until you are satisfied with the job. Never pay cash! Keep a record of all payments and a job file of all papers relating to the project.