Every week I receive countless emails from readers who are attempting to or who would like to attempt to remediate their own homes in order to avoid the cost of professional mold remediation. Sometimes, this is easily done with techniques and products I have featured on the blog. Most small, contained mold issues are pretty easy to successfully tackle with EC3 products, a “cold” fogger, proper protective gear, and a certified HEPA vacuum. As a matter of fact, there have been many situations in our current home when we have had a small leak or water intrusion incident and have addressed and remediated the issue ourselves lickety-split. Those situations are isolated events and leaks and/or water intrusion that is caught quickly and right when it occurs.
There are other indoor mold situations that are not so straightforward and contained. Thus, I feel it is my responsibility to address the fact that there are definitely times when hiring a professional mold remediation company is the best decision for you and your family. Even with the tools and knowledge I have now, there are some mold clean-up jobs that I would not touch or advise anyone to do themselves, because the risk is not worth the possible reward or savings. Most of the mold situations I am referring to fall into one or more of the following categories:
1) When water damage has gone undetected for an extended period of time, causing lots of visible or invisible “behind the walls” damage to a home. In these cases, the damage is often structural and extensive and needs to be fixed along with proper remediation. This is also the type of work that grows in scope as walls are opened up and the extent of the damage and mold growth is revealed.
2) When you or your family members are extremely sick and/or mold sensitive. Attempting to remediate your own home if you are ill or mold-sensitive can cause major health problems and expose you to mold at levels that can cause your already suffering body more harm. In my opinion, it is just not worth the risk.
3) When elevated levels of “toxic molds” have been identified inside your home. There are certain molds that produce mycotoxins which makes them more acutely dangerous to human health, even in small exposures. These molds are difficult to remediate as the mycotoxins linger and the mold can cause even more health problems when it is killed. Even the dead mold releases VOCs. A professionally trained remediator can clean structures and contents and knows best how to properly contain and handle this type of situation. Some mycotoxin-producing molds include Cladosporium, Penicillium, Fusarium, Aspergillus, and Stachybotrys.
4) When water damage or the presence of mold is widespread and is not in one contained area. Some examples I can think of would be in a case of a flooded home, standing water in a crawlspace or basement, major roof leaks, or slow pipe leaks behind walls that span multiple floors. The size of these problems makes containment and contaminated material removal a HUGE job. If this is not done correctly, the problem only grows and infiltrates the entire home.
5) When the mold issue is in your HVAC system. This was the case in our very toxic home. The mold issue is systemic at this point, because by nature, when mold has infiltrated your HVAC system, mold spores are being blown throughout your home and are on every surface in every conditioned room. The entire HVAC system, attic insulation, ductwork, and vents all need to be addressed and sometimes completely replaced. Then, all of the home’s surfaces and contents have to be properly cleaned and/or disposed of. This is not something you should tackle yourself.
6) When those living in a home have been diagnosed with mold illness, but the source of the mold is not known and/or there are no obvious leaks or water intrusion. These cases need professional advice, testing, inspection, and help. If you cannot find the source of the mold, you cannot get rid of it. Cleaning for mold yourself would just cause you to spin your wheels and continue to live in an environment that is making you sick. At the very least, in a situation like this, you need to call a professional indoor air quality, or environmental health inspector to find and diagnose the problem. Once the main mold source is located, you can then decide what to do about remediation. Too often people just try to start cleaning their entire homes for mold, thinking that this will lessen the damage to their health. I am here to tell you that even a small amount of mycotoxins in your indoor environment can make you VERY sick, and no matter how much you clean, you will not see an improvement in your health until you either get out of the home, or get ALL of the mold out of your home. This can only be done when you know what is causing the mold growth in the first place.
This list definitely does not cover everything but offers a glimpse into situations where it is best to have professionals on the scene. But, once the decision has been made to call in a professional remediator, how do you know who to call? How do you know if the company or person you are using is reputable, knows what they are doing, and knows how to properly handle the situation so that your home will be safe to inhabit again?
These are definitely difficult questions to answer, especially since remediation, even under the best circumstances and under the best professional care can fail. This is because, while there is a science to raising indoor air quality and to building biology, there still isn’t a true, established science to 100% successful mold remediation. In other words, sometimes mold remediation works when the water intrusion or moisture issue is stopped and the mold is eradicated, and sometimes it does not, when the apparent mold is cleaned, but the home continues to make people sick.
In my opinion, and it is based on conversations I had with the late Dr. Jack Thrasher (HERE is a link to my post on Dr. Thrasher and his work), remediating a home or building that is unhealthy because of water damage and mold has many more health issues than just the mold. A home or a building that is “sick” and that is making its occupants sick contains bacteria, fungi, their by-products, VOCs, and other microbes. It is a veritable petri dish of contaminants.
His extensive toxicology work in the “sick building” field made Dr. Thrasher skeptical of remediation as a solution, especially when serious health issues existed and when a serious mold infestation was involved. As a matter of fact, when Dr. Thrasher was given a copy of our initial air quality and mold tests from our toxic home, he advocated for us fleeing the home. Here is a quote from Dr. Thrasher about remediation that explains his point of view:
“I have always been skeptical regarding the successful remediation of homes and buildings contaminated with fungi and bacteria from water intrusion. Buildings and homes are complicated structures. The spores of both bacteria and fungi, as well as their by-products (fine particles less than one micron to those equal or greater than the mold spores), are present in dust. The dust can be found in all nooks and crannies of a building, e.g. refrigerator insulation and coils, areas not normally dusted, even in carpeting that has been vacuumed, under carpeting, and in wall cavities. Finally, little attention is paid to the contaminants in buildings that result from Gram negative and positive bacteria.”
I’m definitely not sharing Dr. Thrasher’s thoughts to scare you out of remediation, I just want to always give you the facts from those who I consider the “best in the business,” when it comes to mold. But, if you have a scenario where professional remediation is a good option, you need to know how to find the right company or person to do the work.
Today I want to share with you some important questions that are helpful to ask the people you are interviewing to do the work. I think these questions will help you focus your search and weed through prospective candidates to find the ones that have the highest probability of doing the work correctly and successfully. Because, after all, being able to return to your home and your things and to not get sick is by far the best-case scenario and what everyone would like in the end. Right?
Questions to Ask a Remediation Professional or Company Prior to Hiring Them:
1) Do you consider mold a health hazard? This is #1 on my list, because it is the most important question that you should be asking anyone helping you with mold in your home. If the person or people that you are hiring to remediate your home do not consider mold a health hazard, then their concern for doing the job meticulously and correctly is automatically less than someone who understands the health threat that mold poses. Knowledge of what mold can do to human health should be a requirement for a professional remediator. This knowledge will also affect the care with which they contain, protect, and dispose of materials and your things during the remediation. Mold remediation is a serious and potentially dangerous endeavor. I try to think of mold like I would asbestos. Would you want someone removing asbestos from your home if they had no idea that they are handling a dangerous material? I wouldn’t. Mold, just like asbestos abetment must be done by a licensed and experienced professional and must follow very specific techniques to both remove, transfer, and dispose the hazardous materials. Otherwise, if not done correctly, the hazardous materials can be spread or distributed across the entire home increasing the danger and the expense.
2) What are your qualifications? I think it is important that whoever I hire has specific qualifications and certifications for this type of work. Of course, education doesn’t equal experience, but the effort to get certified in certain procedures and areas shows that they care about the work that they are doing and are not just a general contractor bidding out just another job. For me, those include certifications in areas such as indoor air quality, environmental science and/or building biology, microbial and mold remediation, water restoration, environmental inspections, and building inspections. They should also be a member of the Indoor Air Quality Association. Any person or company holding one or more of these certifications has taken a specific interest in indoor environments and building health. That is extremely important, because someone who has that interest will usually also understand to a greater degree than someone without those certifications what makes a home or building sick. They will be looking at your home and the issue through a home-health lens, which is what you ultimately want. I also think it is important that someone who works for them or with them is a licensed plumber, a licensed electrician, and a licensed HVAC contractor. One or more of these specialized technicians will probably be required at some point to assist in the job.
3) What is your “mold” experience? Whomever you decide to hire needs to have specific experience dealing with and remediating mold. They need to be able to offer you examples of specific jobs with before and after pictures and testing results. They also need to be able to give you professional references that you can contact. If they do not have references or examples of previous successful work, do not hire them.
4) Do you and your crew wear protective gear? This may seem like a no-brainer, but you would be surprised how many “water restoration” and “mold remediation” companies do not wear protective gear or require their workers to wear protective gear. An indoor mold infestation is not healthy for anyone, regardless of whether or not you are allergic to mold. Toxic molds make anyone sick, including pets. If a contractor you are considering does not consider mold something that they need to protect themselves or their crew from, you should not hire them.
5) What containment measures do you use? A professional remediator should be able to describe their containment “best practices” to you in detail. They should be able to tell you what types of sealing procedures they use to quarantine the moldy areas from the rest of the home. They should be able to tell you about what types of negative air flow, fans, HEPA filtration and HEPA vacuums they use. They should also cover and wipe these items clean from one job to another to prevent cross contamination. For any trained professional, this will be a straightforward and easy conversation. If it is not, do not use them.
6) What products do you use to “clean” for mold? None of the products used to clean up the mold should be dangerous to your health. You are trying to mitigate a toxic environment, not introduce more chemicals or toxicity into your home. If they use a product you have never heard of, ask for an ingredient list or reference info on it. Aim for botanically-based products, like the EC3 line of products that are proven to eliminate mold but cause no harm when inhaled or ingested. Hydrogen peroxide cleaners and Borax are also effective products that will not cause additional harm to your health. If the remediator uses things like bleach, you can always ask if they would use other products that you provide, but it is my experience that if someone uses bleach, they do not properly understand health and shouldn’t be used.
7) Do you test before and after remediation? The answer to this should always be YES. How in the world do you know if you have had any success, if it is not measured? This piece is an important one, because you have to have testing to show where you are beginning and what you are dealing with, and then where you are when the remediation is complete. In my opinion, it is equally important that testing is done by an outside party or contractor. The person or company testing the remediation’s success should NOT be the person or company doing the work. In other words, the tester should not have a stake in the results. That way, everything they find will be a real measure of how healthy the home is. I also find that Indoor Air Quality Professionals and Building Biologists are the best ones to do this work, as they look at the home environment as a whole and not just the isolated mold. These professionals are also good resources for remediator recommendations. Most have worked with all kinds of companies and people in this line of work. They can often tell you the good, bad and ugly about companies in your area. You could also opt to do the testing yourself. If you decide to do this, I would use the diagnostic testing kits from Immunolytics. You will get lab results and analysis with the diagnostic kits that you do not get with just plate testing or dust collection testing.
8) How do you dispose of contaminated materials? A professional should have methods and practices in place to safely remove and dispose of all moldy and contaminated building materials. This includes HVAC systems, ductwork, and insulation that is contaminated. Doing this improperly or dragging these materials through the rest of your home will cause additional air quality issues and additional contamination.
9) Do you protect your equipment? I covered this a little in the containment section, but this is extremely important. If they are not protecting their equipment, they are bringing in all the things that their equipment has been exposed to during previous jobs into your home. Equipment should be properly wrapped and contained from one job to another.
10) How do you remove, store, and clean contents? They should have a method for removing, storing, and cleaning the contents of your home that have been affected by the mold. They should employ things like a laundry method of cleaning for clothes, storage units for safe keeping, plastic bins to contain things, staging areas to clean furnishings before putting them back into your home, etc. They should also be able to tell you about the methods and products they use to clean these things. If they do not consider furnishings and contents as part of the remediation job, whether you intend to do it, or intend to have them do it, that is a problem. Once the environment is clean, everything that was in it has to also be cleaned before it can be safe.
11) Are you insured? If they are not insured, you should not work with them. They may be less expensive, but they are not a company operating with aboveboard business practices. This can come back to haunt you in the end.
12) Do you and how do you document your work? Contractors should document all work with digital photos. They should document all building materials that have to be removed as well. The customer should have access to all of these photos during and after the remediation is complete.
13) How are client questions directed and addressed during remediation? You need to feel like you have access to them at all times, even if you do not have immediate access to your home and things for a period of time. You also need to feel that you can put on protective gear and inspect their work, if needed. If your questions cannot be answered or are dismissed, it might be wise to look elsewhere. No one knows your home, your things, or your health like you do. Although this work is not glamourous, like building a custom home, it is equally as important that you have a say and can make decisions that are best for you and your family. Don’t be afraid to reach out whenever you need to, to ask hard questions, and to question whomever you decide to hire often, if and when concerns arise.
14) How do you decide whether to dry, clean or remove building materials? Drywall absorbs moisture and stores it. Toxic molds seem to like gypsum dry wall. Thus, if any porous building materials have been saturated or wet for longer than 24 hours, it is my opinion that they need to be removed. It is more effective to remove the mold and building materials where the mold is growing than it is to attempt to dry it and/or clean it. Also, if the materials are not 100% dry, there is risk of future mold growth. Let’s also remember than where there is mold, there are also other contaminants. You want to hire someone who understands this and operates attempting to make the remediation as successful as possible. That does not include leaving wet or water-damaged building materials inside your home.
Other questions to consider: How do you determine if mold is inside a wall? They should understand air quality testing and using a moisture meter to find and determine where the problem is coming from and how extensive it is. Do you paint over moldy areas or use encapsulation techniques? This should be a no. You do not want ANY mold left inside your home. Do you use an outside cleaning crew to clean the interior and contents once the mold removal is complete? If this answer is a YES, make sure that the crew is properly trained to clean mold and is using products that you approve of.
More important than any question on this list is your ultimate trust in your own instincts. Trust them. Because a mold infestation in your home is a serious situation, it is okay to consider all of your options before making a decision. In the end, you are going to make the decision that is the best for the health and well-being of yourself and your family. When you keep your focus on the future and your health and longevity, the best choice will be clear. Also, don’t be afraid to ask your doctor or naturopath for remediator referrals. Physicians and health professionals experienced with mold illness tend to rely on contractors who understand the physical and medical impact of the mold being removed. They can be a great resource and obviously want the best for your health too.
Are there any questions I haven’t included that you think are important to ask? Have you had a successful remediation experience? A nightmare experience? I would love to hear from you either way. We can educate each other.