Here are some instances where a homeowner would opt for professional mold remediation:
- There is the money for professional mold remediation.
- The homeowner lacks the time or ability to do the remediation himself.
- Someone in the family may be very mold sensitive or have asthma.
- The job is too big to be done by a homeowner.
Warning: There are a lot of professional mold remediation companies that cannot deliver what you expect them to deliver. You have to know what you want, interview carefully, and monitor the project afterwards — or you could end up spending a lot of money and still have mold.
An internet client in California decided that she would help her contractor get up to speed on mold remediation after she interviewed every remediator in her area and from beyond her area and wasn’t impressed with any of them. She told me that they all sounded like they didn’t care about details and health issues, that they wanted to get in, set up their containment and negative pressure, do their thing, get the rest of their money, and get on to the next job. I’ve been serving as her consultant, on an hourly phone rate. As things are developing, I’m not so sure she’s even going to need mold remediation, just a good cleaning in a house that has stood vacant for some years, but more testing is needed first, both tape-sampling in sink cabinets and other risk areas for mold and then post-cleaning testing. I’m suspicious that the mold found in dust was left-over from some work the previous owner did. If so, a couple of thorough cleanings, with specialized vacuuming, may accomplish what is needed.
Specialized vacuuming? Have the HEPA vacuum plugged in and ready to go at the front door. When entering the next morning (after mold particulates have had a chance to settle down), start vacuuming right from the front door. Vacuum slowly, sneaking up on mold particulates. Minimize air agitation which would stir up dust. You don’t want the mold particulates to be floating in the air while you are vacuuming on the floor.
What you need to know about post-remediation testing
In the next section below this, I am going to give you a list of pitfalls that my clients have run into when dealing with local mold remediation firms. You may find it hard to believe this list, because it’s so long. To better prepare you, let’s spend a minute on how things could get to this state. Here are some of my thoughts:
- Post-remediation testing is done either when the negative air machine is still running, just turned off, or the day after the machine is turned off. At all three of these times, the air typically is still clean of mold spores. But what if air testing was done, say, a month or two later? Would the air still be clean?
- I’m not recommending that the testing be done a month or two later. That wouldn’t be fair to the remediator, because a lot can happen in a month or two that he shouldn’t have to be responsible for.
- So, if it’s not good to test when the negative air machine is still making its influence felt and if it’s not practical to test a month or two later, what’s the solution?
There is no easy solution. Here’s how I handle post-remediation testing:
- I look for signs of meticulous cleaning and encapsulation.
- I use the microscope to double-check spaces that might have been overlooked.
- I do the air testing 24 hours after turning off the negative pressure, because you have to do air testing. Sometimes results show that more cleaning is needed.
- And that’s it. If the job presents itself as handled professionally and vulnerable surfaces are protected with encapsulant, you’re pretty much at home plate.
- But, doesn’t this sound like the type of post-remediation assessment that all mold inspectors would do? Here are some of the pitfalls:
- Many inspectors would not require encapsulation, therefore leaving vulnerable surfaces that once had mold growth unprotected. Too many depend on control of relative humidity to prevent mold growth.
- Dehumidifiers can fail or be inadequate.
- Water can seep up through foundation walls and foster mold growth on sill plates.
- Many inspectors would do a cursory look at cleanliness, but not be geared to “black glove standards,” where a black glove wiped across a surface comes away clean. Of course, it’s not realistic to expect that a black glove wiped across a basement sill plate is going to be clean even if the sill plate was adequately cleaned — but the black glove standard is something to aim for.
- (This section to be completed later today, 2/8/15)
- Many inspectors would not require encapsulation, therefore leaving vulnerable surfaces that once had mold growth unprotected. Too many depend on control of relative humidity to prevent mold growth.
There are endless possibilities of pitfalls in working with remediators. Here are the ones that come to mind that my clients have experienced with less-than professional mold remediation:
- Expecting young guys who can’t keep their rooms clean to clean your house meticulously;
- Expecting guys who can’t keep their own rooms clean to supervise guys who can’t keep their own rooms clean;
- Lacking awareness of how tiny mold particulates can spread, i.e., tramping contaminated materials through living areas;
- Setting up inadequate containment;
- Not understanding how to set up negative pressure;
- Not protecting furniture from mold particulates;
- Using toxic chemicals;
- Charging huge fees for not much work;
- Lacking the required equipment;
- Using sub-standard equipment, such as flimsy plastic sheeting for containment and flimsy ducting for negative pressure;
- Not having a HEPA vacuum cleaner;
- Using “green” products that did not stand the test of time;
- Failing to leave vulnerable surfaces protected;
- Selling unnecessary services
- Untrained workers
- Poor supervision of workers
- Supervisors who lack training in meticulous work
- Inadequate cleaning
- Removing valuable contents without asking, claiming they were moldy
- Lack of protective gear for workers
- Low pay for workers, resulting in less-than-professional attitudes
- Failure to seal off air ducts and returns
- Offering procedures that were inadequate (fogging, spraying in wall cavities)
- Cleaning without knowing where the mold growth was
- Sub-standard equipment;
- Charming salesperson but workers were another story;
- Cleaning what can be seen but taking shortcuts with the rest;
- Agreeing to what the homeowner requested but failing to pass that information on to the workers, who proceeded with business as usual;
- Thinking that if they can’t see mold, it’s not there;
- Not even knowing their work is substandard because the post-remediation inspection is inadequate, and they always “pass.”
- Greedy, one of the “mold is gold” companies;
- Incurious about the health effects of mold and what vulnerable people struggle with.
- Lack of personal attention: get the check and off to the next job;
- Conflict of interest with the same company doing the inspection and the remediation.
- Dishonest – frightening homeowners with a misreading of the lab results
- Did a good job cleaning but was unaware of specialized fogging to remove microparticles, and the homeowner was still reactive after remediation. (I talk about this process at the Do-It-Yourself Remediation Tab.)
- Being willing but not able – just haven’t assembled the team that is needed
- Lacking proper equipment
- Your hiring a friend and having no recourse against him
- Trusting in a methodology that can’t deliver what the remediator thinks it can, such as fogging with hydrogen peroxide, fogging with water, blasting technologies with dry ice or other substances, etc.
- Your having to “train” the remediation workers by complaining about the way things are being done – problem is, the remediation workers probably won’t come up to your standards even after improvement is promised.
You get the picture. Mold clean-up must be done on the level of asbestos clean-up. If you don’t stay on top of what you want, you may end up with one or more of the sad scenarios listed above. There are VERY FEW companies doing adequate training of their workers and probably adequate reimbursement. It is not enough to take a 3-day course and be turned loose at people’s houses. Workers must go through an apprentice period with someone at the company who knows what he is doing, where they are closely supervised and where the standards of the company are clearly communicated.
One would hope that if the company expects professional work from their staff, that they would reimburse their staff accordingly. One of the best remediation teams I worked with was from a Virginia construction company made up of college graduates, who took to learning about mold and closely followed instructions. They did a fine job, and there were lots of laughs along the way. I vaguely recall them naming the different types of mold as Australian mammals… “Wombat in the attic!”
Question: Yikes!!! How can I be sure that I am hiring a good company for my professional mold remediation project?? Help!!
Response: I wish I could give you the key to guaranteeing success with a professional mold remediation company. I’ve been fooled, too, by companies I trusted and thought would do a good job. I’ll pass on to you such suggestions as come to my mind.
Interviewing for professional mold remediation:
- Go over the entire remediation procedure in your mind several times before you interview any company reps. Get to the point where you could do the remediation yourself mentally, to better your chances of knowing what to look for and be aware of. You want to be able to speak to the representative as an equal, someone who knows what he or she wants and is not to be bamboozled. If you are passive, you are a sitting duck for inferior work.
- Dwell on training. They hire someone new. What happens from that point? How is the new person trained? Is he sent out for the IICRC training classes? Does he get a certificate? What sort of follow-up training and supervision is done on his work? How, for example, would a supervisor check to see if the worker is cleaning surfaces that are not visible, such as the tops of cross-bar supports between ceiling joists? Is there a supervisor present at all times with the crew? Do you train and supervise to black glove standards? (A black glove brushed along a cleaned surface comes out without dust on it – not possible with all surfaces, of course, but you get the idea.)
Do you think that questions such as these are going to be welcomed? Be prepared for a cold reception by the companies that don’t have good answers. A professional mold remediation company should be able to answer these questions without any defensiveness. The rep should welcome you as a concerned and knowledgeable homeowner.
- Do they ever fail the post-remediation test? Why? What happens then? The answer I’d want is yes, because it would show honesty, hopefully illustrate adequate post-remediation testing, and reveal the company’s policies regarding additional work. If the representative is reassuring that they never fail post-remediation testing, I’d ask if they always use the same inspector – and if the answer was yes, I’d figure that that inspector wasn’t doing his job adequately. To me, it’s the inspector’s job to find the hidden and invisible areas of mold growth that could be remaining after remediation.
- I don’t see the post-remediation inspection as antagonistic. Rather, the inspector and the remediator should be cooperating in a common goal: to deliver a good job to the customer. The inspector has things to contribute (hopefully working with a microscope to discover invisible or hidden mold) and the remediator has things to contribute from his experience.
- A well-known certifying body for remediators is the IICRC (Institute of Inspection Cleaning and Restoration Contractors) – but even with this certificate, workers need to be closely watched and trained to company standards back home. 3 or 4 days training are not enough.
- Here’s an example of a large, “together” company. The project manager told me that they send every one of their new hires for the IICRC training. Then, when the new hire returns, the project manager himself trains the individual and works with him until satisfied. Then, the project manager closely supervises the field work under the on-site manager until ready to release the worker to the care of the on-site manager. That’s the way it should be done. When I came for post-remediation testing at one job, this project manager guided me through the aspects of the project, pointing out how his crew had handled this and that. Did he make a good impression on the homeowner and on me? You bet. Is it common to find a company of this caliber? No way. The post-remediation test results were fine.
- A small company that I like working with is willing to travel, and the owner works along with the crew on almost every job. The owner had worked for a large remediation firm for 9 years previously, but their reimbursement rate for hard work wasn’t very good, and he took the risk of starting his own business. He’s learned the Weatherman protocol and specializes in homes of folk who are very sensitive to mold. If a remediator can do a good job for those folk, the remediator can do a good job for anyone. Sometimes it’s good for the customer to be a big fish in a little pond, rather than a little fish in a big pond.
- Industry training programs are not addressing the issue of microparticles!! If you want the specialized fogging done on your job, you have to educate yourself on the Weatherman protocol and then bring the remediator along. I would recommend this protocol, especially if there is someone with vulnerable health at your home. Then look for careful and flexible remediator, one who is interested and willing to learn this new procedure. It’s not hard to learn but also calls for meticulous cleaning.
- How much money will they expect up-front? I don’t know how to advise you about just stopping a sub-standard job…but be aware of that as one option. I have a few clients who probably wish they had done that once they were aware of short-comings. Get guidance from an attorney first.
- Make sure the remediation company is willing to use the products you want used and not the conventional products with pesticides (also known as biocides, fungicides, mildewcides). My recommendations for least-toxic products are as follows:
- Borax for cleaning;
- Caliwel for encapsulation;
- Concrobium Mold Stain Remover if mold stains need removing;
- Weatherman products for microparticle fogging and removal.
- For more information, please review the Remediation tab.
- Get a few estimates. They can vary all over the map. If you know the steps of the protocol, you can compare them with what the company will do for their money. Ask how they set their fee: flat rate or man-day rates? Give preference to the latter, because they more likely would be trying to set a rational rate for the amount of work to be done. It’s easier to hide and boost profits with a flat rate.
- I give my clients a written report, delineating the steps the company should follow – but sometimes I get the feeling that no one at the company ever read my report. The rep says yes, yes, yes to the client and files away my report. Then they go about business as usual. You not only have to be sure of communicating what you want, but you also need to be monitoring the work to make sure they are delivering what was agreed upon.
They may not want you in the area of containment during the day. So put your mask on and go in after they leave to see what’s going on. Take clear tape or a mirror with you, so you can test areas such as two of my telltale spots, on top of the cross-bars between ceiling joists and on the underside of basement steps. If workers aren’t cleaning these areas, they are not doing a meticulous job. If you don’t bring these areas to their attention, probably no one else will.
Story: This anecdote shows how inadequate the post-remediation testing experienced by this company must have been.
When I tested the tops of cross-bars after remediation in an unfinished basement, the tops were full of dust and Aspergillus mold spores. How was the remediator going to clean the tops without spreading dust and spores into the newly cleaned basement? They would have to set up negative pressure again and re-clean at least the basement floor. The project manager later asked me, quite seriously, how I had figured out that the tops of the cross-bars had not been cleaned. I replied that I got on a ladder, touched clear tape to the tops, and could see the dust on the tape. Sometimes I use a mirror to check areas like this. I presume the project manager will be checking these areas in the future…but how many hundreds of jobs must this team already have done, leaving behind mold and dust on the tops of cross-bars!
- Put agreed upon changes in the contract, in writing. If you want least-toxic products used, put the names of the products in the contract. (When the workers arrive the first day, ask them what products they will be using, just to be sure they got the message. Ask them to show you every product that will be used during the remediation process.)
- Ask about the remediator’s insurance coverage. Some homeowners would ask to have a copy of their certificate. Ask about any warranties. Don’t bite for a warranty that sounds too good to be true – like they will guarantee no mold for 10 years or something like that. That’s not even reasonable, because a lot can happen in 10 years that’s not their fault. They could be out of business in 5 years. The main “guarantee” that I’d want is that they have done a good job cleaning and then protecting (encapsulating) vulnerable surfaces.
On-site monitoring of the professional mold remediation team
- A good project manager should be in touch with you on a daily basis, to let you know what they are doing and how things are going. If you don’t hear from him, call him. Often, the project manager will have photos to show you documenting progress.
- Again, don’t assume that what was agreed upon in your contract will make its way to the on-site workers. Query them about products and procedures.
- Check the containment. Temporary plastic walls should extend from ceiling to floor around the work area. Do those walls look sturdy? Some plastic is so flimsy that holes are easily made in it. Is the door into the containment area zippered? If not, does it appear to be capable of preventing the escape of spores?
- Some professional companies set up a small plastic room between the zippered door of the containment and the area outside the containment. This room is for changing out of their Tyvek suits, so they don’t transport mold particulates out of the work space into the clean area of the home. The workers would also either take booties off their shoes in this area, or there would be sticky mats so that mold particulates from the soles of their shoes adhere to the mats.
- Have vents in the work area been sealed off with plastic?
- Taking debris out of the work area should be handled by two workers, one inside the containment handing plastic bags of debris to a second worker outside the containment. In this way, the inside worker does not transport mold particulates on his suit to clean areas. The second worker can clean off the bags prior to moving them to a temporary storage area. The bags should be removed from the premises by the end of the work day.
- Check the negative pressure set up. The negative pressure machine typically would be in the area of containment, with a duct going to the exterior through a door or window. There should be cardboard securely fastened around the duct, to seal off air coming through from the outside. If the negative pressure machine is operating properly, the plastic walls of the containment should be sucked inward. (There has to be some make-up air in the containment, so the workers have enough oxygen, so some sort of balance has to be maintained.)
- Wear a P100 or N95 respirator and enter the containment area regularly to monitor what is going on. If cleaning looks haphazard, bring that to the supervisor’s attention. If the encapsulant isn’t covering all the surfaces, speak up. Look into nooks and crannies, especially areas that are not visible to a person casually looking around.
- Check the neatness of the work site at the end of the day. Was contaminated material bagged up and removed from the premises? Does the area look organized? Is the negative air machine running?
- Use clear tape to test surfaces that were supposed to be cleaned. Does the tape come away clear from the surface, or is there a lot of debris on the tape?
- If you wish, you can send me tape samples to examine under a microscope to confirm that mold is present or absent.
Now let’s hear some stories reflective of points made above.
Story: Talk about differences in estimates!
Water had leaked from above into my apartment clients’ small bathroom and adjacent small closet. I did the inspection, wrote up the guidelines for this small mold remediation job, and, upon request, gave the clients names of two remediators. Kirsten and Jamila solicited estimates from both companies. One estimate came in at $1500, and the other came in at $9000. Jamila called me for my opinion. I knew the work of both companies and was comfortable with the $1500 estimate. They went with the first company and were pleased with the service.
- Review the guidelines for mold remediation and know what you want before interviewing. Make your own estimate for about how long you think the various parts of the process would take. Assign an hourly amount. You might not be that close to the final number, but you should have a sense about the job being closer to $1500 or to $9000. Make your own judgment call about the reasonableness of the estimate.
- You might also sense that a company underbids for all the things you want done. The lowest bid may not be the wisest choice. In this case above, I knew the company making the lower bid and knew they could deliver a good job. Regarding the higher number, I shook my head and wondered what on earth they could do in the ceiling of a tiny bathroom and an adjacent little closet that could run to $9000.
- Expect to pay more for mold remediation than you would to have a contractor do the job. Mold remediation is done on the level of asbestos remediation. Insurance is pricey. Costs for training, buying and maintaining equipment, changing filters, buying encapsulant and other supplies all get factored in.
Story: Be careful about conventional mold products. Walter and Beatrice had to have their house knocked down after mold remediation.
Walter knew that he was sensitive to chemicals, so before remediation he carefully queried the remediator about the products being used. The remediator assured him that only benign products would be used. Further, the remediator assured him that no demolition was needed and that merely by spraying these products down into wall cavities from access holes, mold would be killed. Bolstered by that reassurance, Walter and Beatrice signed the contract.
Unfortunately, as it turned out, Walter reacted badly when in the house. His reactions were so severe that he had to wear a respirator and Tyvek suit even to enter the house. Somehow Walter and Beatrice found their way to me. At that point, he didn’t know what he was reacting to, i.e., whether there was still mold or it was the chemicals in the products.
I was able to confirm that the spray job was inadequate for eliminating the mold in wall cavities. I also let Walter know that other individuals had complained of reactions to one or more of the products that had been used. These products, incidentally, are used every day in the mold remediation industry. They are mainstream.
Walter brought small samples of the products to his physician, possibly an allergist. However, his reported symptoms were so severe that the physician did not want to have him repeat an exposure, not even for testing purposes and not even in the doctor’s office.
After they discovered that these products contained chemical pesticides, Walter and his wife sued the remediators. I do not know the outcome of the lawsuit, but I do know that they ended up having their house knocked down and carted away. They rebuilt at the same site.
- Lesson: Avoid products with pesticides, which are also called “biocides,” “mildewcides” and “fungicides.” Know what products you want used before you interview remediators. Years ago, I took a mold remediation course to learn what the remediators were being taught. At the end of the course, the instructor told us how he had gotten sick from the products his own company used on-site. He said that he seldom went to one of his own work sites any longer (since they were still using the same products at people’s homes). He advised the class to have their customers sign a waiver, that if the customers experienced adverse health effects from exposure to the products, the remediator could not be held responsible.
Story: Even good products can be harmful when used improperly, i.e., not according to approved use.
Sharlot’s remediator wiped down her basement ceiling joists and subflooring with a biocide, and then fogged the basement with Benefect. Benefect is a good, EPA-registered cleaning product with thyme, not only useful in sanitizing but also in everyday cleaning. However, the label does not allow for the product to be used in fogging. Inhalation from fogging is not advised, because of potential damage to lung tissue. I left a message for the remediator and told him this. There was no return phone call.
- Lessons: Don’t be misled by remediators who speak in terms of “green” products. Benefect is a good product, but not for fogging.
- Other green products used in cleaning are not encapsulants. That is, they are more of a temporary approach, rather than a longer-term solution. I like the green product, Borax, because the abrasive action is helpful for removing debris from the surface.
- Unless a product is an encapsulant, it may not stand the test of time. That is, mold may re-grow on cleaned surfaces after a while.
What makes a good mold remediation project?
I had made a recommendation of several companies to one client for basement remediation. She chose one, they did the job, and then I was called back for post-remediation testing. As mentioned above, this project manager met me at the house, and walked me through the steps of their remediation. He told me how each of their workers had completed three-day training classes, and that also he individually trained each new worker.
His good work and the carefulness of his workers were reflected in the attention to detail that I saw in the basement. There were no areas of wood that lacked encapsulation. Flat surfaces, such as the top of the hot water heater, had been wiped clean of dust. The tops of the crossbar supports between ceiling joists had been cleaned and encapsulated, whereas I often find them as dirty as they were before remediation.
The project manager required meticulous work, and he trained his crew individually toward that end. I found no areas that required re-doing. Air sample results turned out fine.
When I took the remediation course, the instructor spoke of “black glove” standards. That is, the post-remediation inspector should be able to put on a black glove and run it over surfaces, picking up no dust. In a basement, we understand that the most careful cleaning would still result in dust on the black glove. However, the black glove notion provides an understanding of how careful the cleaning process should be.
At one apartment, the mold remediation team was so careless during demolition that the homeowner complained to the project manager. She told him, “I hope they do a better job cleaning than they did during demolition.” His response? “Don’t worry, we have a team of cleaning women coming in to do the cleaning.” I guess he had given up on shaping up his demolition crew. Did those women really go to mold remediation class?
Again, I have often thought that many remediation companies hire young men who can’t keep their own rooms clean, pay them as little as they can, provide little or no training, work them as hard as they can, and expect satisfactory results. The sales reps can be charming and promise the moon, but who will be on-site workers be? What training do they receive?
Often post-remediation air sample results will be satisfactory, even after such slipshod jobs, either because the negative air machine (or air scrubber) is still running or has recently been turned off. The air testing may be more a sign of the efficiency of the negative air machine than a statement on the quality of the mold removal. If tested two weeks later, results may not be quite so good.
You might ask the question, “So why not test two weeks later, or two months later, rather than right after the job?” From the remediator’s perspective, he wants the testing done at the end of remediation, because he doesn’t know what the homeowner might do in the interim to affect the readings, and then he would be blamed. For example, the homeowner might open doors and windows, allowing spores to blow in, or the homeowner might not run a dehumidifier, and maybe mold would start to grow.
Still, testing right after the job almost invariably is biased, because the negative air machine has either been just turned off the day before or may be still running. It is a waste of money to do post-testing with the negative air machine on. Of course the space will pass the test, but what does that mean? Not much.
Story: How post-remediation testing was used to try to sell a more extensive remediation job.
At Leonard and Nora’s house, a small remediation job was needed in a corner of the finished basement. As they interviewed mold remediation companies, they were impressed with one representative who said that if post-remediation levels were satisfactory, a five-year warranty would be offered. That sounded good to the homeowners, and they proceeded with the small job.
At the follow-up testing – by the same company – samples were taken in the rest of the basement and upstairs. (Did you notice that? There’s a conflict of interest there.) The same company did both the testing and the remediation. In addition, the same company got to define what “satisfactory” meant. They didn’t define “satisfactory” initially. They defined it during the final testing.
First, I need to explain something about spore trap lab results. On-site, a relatively small amount of air – say, 1/13th of the volume of a cubic meter – is drawn in by pump onto a Petri dish. Let’s say that later, three colonies of mold grow on the Petri dish. If three colonies of mold grow in 1/13 the volume of a cubic meter, how many colonies would you estimate that there would be in a full cubic meter of air? That’s right, you would multiply the 3 x 13 and get the figure of 39. 39 is an estimated number.
Here’s the trick the remediator used to try to sell more services than the homeowners needed. The remediator looked at the “39” and told the homeowners that that was too high, that the rest of the basement and the living areas of the house were contaminated with Penicillium mold. He painted a mental picture of 39 mold spores in every cubic meter of air throughout the basement and living areas. The homeowners were upset after listening to him.
Somehow they found my website on the Internet and gave a call. I asked them to email a copy of the lab report, which they did, and then I explained it to them. The actual number of Aspergillus/Penicillium-like spores that were counted was 3. There’s no mold inspector that I know of that would consider “3” too high. 3 is actually a low number, well within the definition of “satisfactory.” 39 spores per cubic meter would also be considered a low number, well within the levels considered satisfactory. Some companies consider anything over 1000 spores per cubic meter as needing remediation, though I think that number is way too high. This remediator was trying to twist the interpretation of the lab report to sell services which were not needed.
I pointed out to the homeowners that the remediation contract did not define what “satisfactory” lab results would be. When I write up guidelines for mold remediation, at the bottom I typically indicate, “Spore trap lab results for Aspergillus/Penicillium are anticipated to be in the single digits for the raw count.” “3” would be fine in my book. I should note that there are no federal or state standards for acceptable levels. It is left up to the individual inspector to determine their own comfort level here, i.e., the individual inspector is left out on his or her own limb.
- Lesson: The more you know about the remediation process and how to understand lab results, the better armed you will be against unscrupulous remediators. Avoid conflicts of interest in having the same company do both the inspection and the remediation.
Story: The remediator told me: “We never fail a post-remediation test.”
The owner of a small franchise remediation service was trying to sell me on the quality of the work of his company, in hopes that I would start referring business to them. As part of his presentation, he told me that an industrial hygienist did their post-remediation testing, and that they had never failed a post-remediation test. I just smiled, but what I was thinking was, “That inspector doesn’t know where to look.”
I have never seen my role as antagonistic to the mold remediator. I’m not there to find where they have fallen short and to call them out on it. Rather, we are both there in service of the homeowner. Our job together is to make sure that all mold growth is gone and that cleanup has been satisfactory. Our job together is to deliver a healthy area to the homeowner.
The remediation team has its strengths, in that they know more about construction and cleaning than I do, and I have my strengths, in that I can give them feedback from the microscope on what they might not have suspected visually. Most mold growth is invisible, so I can help them with knowing what more demolition may be needed, and I can help the project manager with fine tuning the training of particular crew members. If, for example, the top of the oil tank and hot water heater have not been cleaned, the project manager can make the corrections with his crew and spot-check in the future to make sure that these areas are being addressed. This cooperative approach is a win-win for all parties concerned, and especially for the homeowners.
I cringe to think of how many homeowners are paying top dollar for what they think is a satisfactory mold remediation job, and are still left with mold after the remediation has been paid for. That’s what comes of no one using an on-site microscope. The mold industry is forfeiting the best tool that they have available to them.
- Lesson: In real life, the best team is comprised of an independent inspector providing valuable feedback to the remediation team in order to deliver the best possible job to the homeowner.
- I like what the sales rep of one company said to me, “When I visit a house, I listen. I want to hear what the homeowner expects of us, and then I stay in touch with the project manager to make sure that those expectations are being fulfilled. I am the liaison for the homeowner with the project manager.” Kudos to that sales rep! Too bad his team didn’t match his fine words.
Story: “Do they need to throw out their new flat-panel TV?”
Here’s something else to be aware of. One of my home inspection clients called me on behalf of her son and his wife. They live in a New York City apartment that had a recent plumbing leak. The leak was quickly found and fixed, and the wall was opened up, probably before mold had a chance to grow. Still, the son and his wife were nervous and called in a remediation company. The sales rep said, “We can guarantee good results, but everything in this apartment is contaminated and needs to be discarded.” The son and his wife believed the sales rep and agreed to the job, but they hesitated on throwing out their new large flat panel TV…. whereupon his mother called for my advice.
My response was immediate, “Of course the TV has to go. Call me and I’ll come pick it up.” She got the gist of my irony, though whether the TV stayed or went, I never heard back. My thoughts went to what one remediation worker told me, “We’ve all furnished our homes with things that we’ve taken out of the places we’ve worked.”
Sometimes, of course, furniture cannot be salvaged, depending on the situation. But in the apartment above, from what the mother described to me, the likelihood from cross-contamination of mold particulates from the quickly discovered leak was minimal. No wonder the remediator could so easily promise good results: there was nothing left that might have mold particulates on it. Mold particulates probably weren’t there to begin with.
At another home, the remediator discarded various items of furniture that he deemed contaminated, even though I had previously taped tested these items and not found any mold. He had a copy of my report. One of the pieces of furniture that was discarded was an antique Chinese table. The homeowner was beyond angry and did not believe that the table made its way to a dump. The remediator took the position that he saw mold on the table and had no idea of its value. I was in the middle, because I had recommended the remediator. As far as I knew, the remediator was honest, but I also took seriously the opinion of the homeowner. Lacking a crystal ball, and having no power to retrieve the table, I forfeited my fee as a courtesy, since I had recommended the remediator. Doing this helped the situation.
- Lesson: Tell the remediation team that you do not want anything thrown out unless you give your permission first. Or, you could mark each item that it would be okay to throw out. You could also wipe down and move out of the area anything of value, or inventory what is in the area (assuming that it is safe for you to go into the area) and have the remediation company representative sign off on the inventory. Clients have had valuable rugs disappear in the remediation company’s warehouse.
Another remediation firm discarded a “moldy” set of weights. Those weights could have been easily cleaned off. You know they never made it to the dump.
Now, for those readers who are handy, who are on a tight budget, or who just want to learn the steps of remediation, check out the tab on do-it-yourself mold remediation if you haven’t already done so. As one client to me, “I have the $7000 they want to remediate my unfinished basement, but I’m sure enough not going to spend $7000 on my basement. Please tell my neighbor/handyman how to do the cleanup.”