Homeowners who see furry black spots on walls or around windows —the signs of mold—often rush to contact a remediation company. But beware—many of these companies are unscrupulous. Here’s how to avoid being scammed…
Assess the problem. Yes, exposure to mold spores can affect your health, especially if you have a mold allergy. But spotting mold doesn’t necessarily call for panic. Among the thousands of species of mold, the most common ones indoors that can cause health symptoms are Aspergillus, Penicillium and Cladosporium. The dreaded “toxic black mold,” Stachybotrys, isn’t nearly as prevalent. Just because a mold looks black does not mean that you’re dealing with Stachybotrys.
You can sometimes remove mold yourself—provided that the affected drywall area is small and not under a leak or close to the floor (where mold may be growing on the back of the drywall). To do it safely: Spray the moldy area with a water/detergent solution—one tablespoon of detergent in one cup of water. Then wipe the mold away. Wear disposable plastic gloves and an N95 half-face, disposable respirator. When you do need a mold-containment professional: For bigger jobs, especially when mold is inside walls, ceilings or insulation. Typically, mold remediators recommend a post-remediation verification (PRV) test conducted by an independent investigator to confirm that the mold is gone or reduced to a safe level.
Skip the urine test. After seeing mold in their homes, many people get urine-tested for mycotoxins and, when the results come back positive, hire a remediation company to decontaminate the home. But the mycotoxins detected in urine are almost exclusively from eating everyday foods and not from inhalation. If you think you’re mold-sensitive: Have your home tested, not your urine.
Separate testing and remediation. Make it clear up front that the company doing the testing will not be remediating. An unscrupulous remediator will always find a problem to fix…for a big price tag.
Make sure the testing is legit. Mold “testing” is sometimes done by looking at suspect walls or ceilings with an infrared camera. But: Infrared detects only temperature differences such as in a wall or ceiling lacking insulation or caused by water evaporating from a surface. If an inspector uses only infrared, he/she should check the colder areas with a moisture meter to confirm dampness.
Hire a qualified remediator—one that follows proper guidelines, including the S520 Standard, which ensures mold is removed safely. You can contact the Better Business Bureau, research online reviews and check for a remediator’s certifications or licenses. Membership in a professional organization such as the Indoor Air Quality Association is a plus.
Prevent it in the first place. Mold can occur due to leaking pipes or high humidity, or it can be found in dirty air-conditioning units. Repair leaks immediately, dehumidify your basement, and buy A/C filters rated MERV 8 (or MERV 11 if you have allergies). Have the system serviced annually, and ask the A/C technician to check for heavy dust in the ducts and on the coil, which may require professional cleaning.