Do-It-Yourself Remediation

My feelings about do-it-yourself remediation:

  • Handy, energetic folk can do a good job (better than many remediators), if they are willing to educate themselves, get the equipment, and follow instructions. The job must be done meticulously.
  • The size of the job may determine who does it. Plenty of small jobs can be done by homeowners but some jobs call for professionals.
  • The amount and types of mold present should also enter into the decision. Mold might be all over a basement ceiling, but levels might be low. Rather than a remediator, a painter might be called to do the encapsulation. Furnish the painter with a P100 or N95 respirator and goggles, as needed.
  • For less-than-handy folk, mold remediation could be daunting…putting all the pieces together, tackling the hard work.
  • Yet, judging from my clients’ limited experience with remediators, there are way too many that you wouldn’t want in your home. Whatever decision you make, you should determine to be actively involved in the process and keep on tops of things. Passivity could mean that you get walked on.
  • Keep your conversations with remediators brief and to the point. Be businesslike, make lists, put things in writing, leave notes about what to do with this or that piece of furniture, about areas that need additional cleaning or touch-up with encapsulation. Don’t depend on the person you are talking with to pass the information down to the crew. Follow up yourself. Don’t assume anything.
  • Do family members have health issues? If so, I’d lean toward a professional remediation job as a precaution, assuming the job is large enough.
  • If needed financially, parts of the job could be done by the homeowner and parts by the remediator, or other party. For example, some clients used a basement demolition company to gut their basement and provided the workers with N95 respirators. Then the homeowners did their own clean-up and encapsulation. Post-remediation test results were fine. The Weatherman fogging protocol could be followed by the homeowner after the remediation crew leaves.

What does it take for an effective, do-it-yourself remediation job?

You need to first understand, to “get it,” that tiny, tiny mold particulates that you can’t see could be spread throughout your home very easily, perhaps to the detriment of the health of those living in the house.

These tiny particles could be spread in these ways:

  • through not sufficiently separating the work area from the clean areas (poor or missing containment)
  • from lack of negative pressure
  • from being tracked from place to place on your shoes or on your clothing
  • from falling off contaminated materials carried through the house to the exterior
  • from passing through an inferior vacuum cleaner filter
  • from being sucked out of the work area because of a bathroom or kitchen exhaust fan or the clothes dryer being used in another part of the house
  • from still being present when the containment is taken down, scattering tiny particulates throughout the house
  • from being sucked into the heating and air conditioning system through uncovered vents

What you need to know about “tiny particulates”:

  • Spores are the tiny reproductive bodies of mold. Spores settle down to horizontal surfaces in about 4-8 hours and can be HEPA-vacuumed and damp-dusted up from there. Repeated cleaning will continue to reduce levels of spores quite nicely.
  • There are an estimate 500 microparticles for every spore. These microparticles are so small that they remain suspended in the air after a typical remediation job. A half dozen types of these microparticles have been identified as inflammagens. That is, exposure to them can start an inflammatory cascade in the body of a sensitive individual. The only known way to remove microparticles from the air is through fogging at the end of the remediation job.

Fogging?

Fogging isn’t so hard, but it’s labor intensive. Homeowners can buy a fogger (of a specified size) for about $350. Then, they would need a least-toxic, glycerin-based fogging product to use for fogging the work area at the end of remediation. (Avoid conventional fogging products which may contain pesticides.) After fogging, wait a half hour and then fog with clear water. After that, wipe down all surfaces (floor, walls, ceiling, contents) with an alcohol-based product. This procedure would remove the troublesome microparticles.

Note: If you’d like an email copy of a 180-page literature review of research on health effects linked with microparticles, send an email to may at createyourhealthyhome.com.

The person who developed the fogging protocol and the products is Greg Weatherman. He can lead you through what needs to be done with instructions and product, as well as selling you a fogger at cost. (I have no financial interest in these products.) Greg can be reached at: 703-920-6653, Arlington, Virginia, gw@aerobiological.com. His websites are www.aerobiological.com and www.aerosolver.com.

First, decide if you will incorporate fogging at the end of your remediation project. Then you will know how to plan your work.

Should you do your own mold remediation?

  • Review the description of work below. Would that fit with your plans? with your free time? with your energies? with your strength? with your health issues?
  • Mold clean-up is professionally done on the level of asbestos clean-up. Are you up for that commitment?
  • Is there a mold-sensitive person at your home? Would you be taking a chance of exposing them to mold particulates with do-it-yourself remediation?
  • Be committed to a careful, deliberate manner, not dashing about like a bull in a china shop. I had clients where the husband didn’t take proper precautions with remediation, ended up spreading mold particulates throughout the house, making the wife so ill that they ended up having to discard all their furniture and sell the house.
  • What is reasonable in terms of your finances?
  • Review the section at my main website, www.createyourhealthyhome.com, on how to remediate mold.

Preparing for an effective mold remediation job:

  • Spend time reading instructions and make a decision about fogging before you begin.
  • Gather equipment, including possibly ordering a dumpster.
  • Decide how you will set up good, sturdy, and effective containment. You might work with plastic sheathing from a home supply store or purchase containment framing materials from a industrial or remediation supply company. The room may also be the area of containment, closed off by the door.
  • Decide how to keep mold particulates from spreading beyond the containment, perhaps through rental of a negative air machine or through an exhaust fan in a window within the area of containment (as long as the exhaust fan doesn’t discharge mold particulates into a child’s play area or the neighbor’s yard). The amount of mold that you are dealing with could also be a determining factor: exhaust fan for a little mold but not for a lot of mold.
    If a neighbor’s house is close to yours, do not vent with an exhaust fan. People have gotten sick from their neighbors’ mold. 
  • Procure your personal protection equipment (P100 or N95 respirator, goggles, etc.)
  • Assemble the products you will be using, such as Borax, Caliwel or whitewash (made of water and lime for cement), sponges, trash bags (for disposal of moldy materials), buckets, etc.
    • Borax is available in the laundry aisle of a supermarket.
    • Caliwel can be ordered from the manufacturer (www.alistagen.com), 212-317-0100, or from Home Depot on-line. Industrial Caliwel has more active ingredient (lime) and is opaque. Architectural Caliwel has less lime and covers more like paint. If Caliwel is applied too thick, double the amount.
  • Procure a quality HEPA vacuum cleaner if you don’t already have one.

What to expect with basic remediation steps:

More details can be found at my main website, www.createyourhealthyhome.com, under the Mold Remediation tab.

  • Set up containment and negative pressure.
  • Remove contaminated materials.
  • HEPA-vacuum.
  • Damp-wipe off visible mold with Borax sprinkled on a clean sponge. Use a firm hand but you don’t have to scrub.
  • When dry, apply 2 coats of Caliwel or whitewash.
  • Turn off the negative air machine but leave up the containment.
  • Fog with the glycerin-based product, Aerosolver.
  • 1/2 hour later, fog with plain water.
  • Wipe every square inch of surface in the containment area down, including the containment plastic, using an alcohol-based product specified by the Weatherman protocol.
  • Arrange for post-remediation testing (if planning that).
  • After successful post-testing results, carefully take down the containment plastic, folding it back on itself, and place it in a plastic bag for disposal.

Story: Antoinette and George knew that their basement needed to be gutted.

…but they weren’t going to pay what the professional remediators were asking. Mold remediation is (or should be) done on the same level as asbestos remediation and can be pricey.

George sealed off the basement from upstairs and turned off the air conditioning unit. He bought respirators, goggles, and Tyvek suits, plus plenty of strong lawn bags. He had a dumpster delivered. Then he hired two workers and outfitted them. Between the three of them, they gutted the basement over one weekend. Paneling was placed in plastic bags before being put in the dumpster. Workers came and went through the exterior Bilco door.

George opted not to do the fogging, figuring that he would air out the basement later and hoping that would be sufficient for this space that would remain unfinished.

During the week, George, wearing his respirator, HEPA-vacuumed a few times after letting the dust settle. He knew to “sneak up on the mold spores,” as a colleague puts it. He vacuumed on sill plates and lower studs, as well as wiping the tops of horizontal surfaces (hot water heater, heating unit, oil tank). He vacuumed spider webs off the ceiling joists and subflooring and, with an attachment, vacuumed the tops of crossbar supports between ceiling joists.

The next weekend, George and his 2 weekend workers applied 2 coats of Caliwel encapsulant to all wood surfaces (ceiling joists, crossbar supports, subflooring, wood backing of electric box, wood work bench, steps). Over the next week, he vacuumed several more times. He could have applied a concrete water retardant product to foundation walls but he opted not to for the time being.

After this project was finished, he called to say that the whole thing had cost him $1,500. I replied, “Congratulations! You just saved yourself $15,000.” “No way!” he replied, happy.

George didn’t call me back to re-test, I guess because he had peace of mind that a good job had been done. If someone at his house had fragile health, that would have been more reason to add in the fogging step with Greg Weatherman’s protocol and to do post-remediation testing.

Can upholstered furniture and mattresses be salvaged during remediation?

If mold particulates settled on upholstered furniture, and an individual sat on the furniture, air would be forced out of the upholstery. Then, when the person got up, the cushion would expand, with air coming back in. If mold particulates are in the air, then the mold particulates could be drawn into the cushion. The next time someone sat on the cushion, instead of just air rushing out, a cloud of particulates would rush out. This is why upholstered furniture might not be able to be cleaned, but should be either discarded or reupholstered. You would not have this issue with leather furniture.

Note: If mold was hidden in a wall cavity, there would be no way for the particulates to get into upholstered furniture, so that furniture should be ok – as long as it doesn’t get contaminated during remediation.

Mattresses can be tricky. If they were exposed to air, mold particulates might have infiltrated them, too. But if they were covered up by bedding almost all the time, they may have been sufficiently protected. More conservative physicians may recommend replacement of mattresses anyway. Go to the tab, Topics A to Z for information on purchasing a new bed at my main website, www.createyourhealthyhome.com.

Basement:

Tape-testing had been done at two areas of the basement ceiling joists/subflooring. One area was discolored, and the other, representative of the rest of the basement ceiling, was not. The microscope revealed that the discoloration was mold, but that there was not much mold in a spot-check of the rest of the ceiling joists/subflooring. This made life easier. Two questions I ask myself when doing a mold inspection are, “Where is mold?” and “Where isn’t mold?” The grammar is incorrect, but the questions are rather meant to be catchy. It’s helpful to know what surfaces are free of invisible mold, so you know you don’t have to clean them.

The homeowners were to HEPA vacuum the area of discoloration (which was under the first floor bathroom shower leak) and wipe it off with Borax powder sprinkled on a damp sponge. When dry, two coats of whitewash would be painted on the entire basement ceiling, including ceiling joists and subflooring. Whitewash has lime as a base, and lime kills mold. Whitewash is the old-fashioned way of treating basement ceilings and is still used around the world today against mold and insects. Lime used for cement is recommended, not gardening lime.

Although the price is right for mixing up whitewash, it doesn’t last that long. In the Middle East, they whitewash every spring. When calcium hydroxide is in the presence of oxygen, it changes to calcium carbonate, which is not as mold resistant. Whitewash in a paint base (Caliwel – www.alistagen.com) lasts longer.

Post-remediation testing:

If you are in my area, give a call for some air sampling and microscope work to gauge the success of your do-it-yourself projects and make recommendations if any additional work is needed. Further, at the same time, I could check levels of electromagnetic fields and make recommendations. Checking the body voltage at the bed is particularly important, because elevated levels of voltage can be disturbing to sleep. Where voltage has been reduced and bodies grounded at night, many clients have reported improved sleep, lessening of fatigue, a five-year-old child who stopped bed-wetting, cessation of thrashing about in bed at night, reduction of arthritis and arthritic pain, etc.

If you are not in my area, you could call a local inspector for spore-trap testing to confirm that at least a lot of spores aren’t floating around. There are also ways to test for suspended microparticles. Please email me if you would like the procedures – may at createyourhealthyhome.com.

Conclusion

So, you see that mold remediation isn’t rocket science. The main difference between a homeowner’s job and a remediator’s job is that the remediator has the negative air machine and should be experienced in setting up containment and carrying out remediation projects.  That said, it can be hard to find a competent remediator who will do what you want. Check out the tab on Professional Remediation.