Q: "It seems like every time I come home from work, my nose gets stuffy and the kids always seem to be getting sick and their colds seem to last longer. Could this be caused by mold?"

A: All molds are allergens and can cause allergic reactions or cold or flu-like symptoms. Some molds can suppress the body's natural immune system making you more susceptible to disease or even making existing health problems such as allergies or asthma worse. Other molds are known to emit toxins or may be infectious. You should find out if you think you may have unusually high levels of mold in your home.

Q: Will mold hurt me?

A: If you are healthy, it is unlikely that small amounts of mold will do much more than make you sneeze. However, those with weakened or compromised immune systems, the very young or the elderly should certainly be concerned.

Q: Do I have to actually see mold to have mold in my building?

A: No. In fact, mold spores are very small and cannot be seen without a microscope. When we actually see mold, we are seeing billions of spores and hyphael networks clustered in colonies similar to large cities seen from an airplane. You can't see individual people, but you can sure see the sum of their presence. Mold spores are so small that they can actually stay afloat in the air for hours or days.

Q: Does it make any difference that this has happened before?

A: It sure does! If an "old" flood was improperly restored, there could be pockets of dormant mold under the carpets or inside the walls. The new flood will activate this mold and new growth could begin in as little as a few hours.

Q: Should I talk to an expert?

A: Of course you should. Just be sure the "expert" really is one. Ask for credentials and try to determine the extent of their experience in indoor air quality issues. If you are unsure about the advice you get, try to get a second opinion...even if it's over the telephone. You should also talk to your doctor if you have any health concerns.

Q: How much does an inspection cost?

A: Finding out if you have a mold problem generally requires an inspection visit. The Assessor will conduct a thorough visual inspection of the area of concern and will test for excessive moisture in the structural materials. A conclusion will be drawn and recommendations made regarding sampling or the need for remediation. This professional service is provided for a minimum service call fee.

Q: Will my property insurance cover this?

A: Not likely. Very few insurers will pay for sampling and while there are some policies that will pay up to $5,000 or $10,000 to remediate mold caused by a covered loss (a leaking water pipe), most people are no longer insured for mold damage. Before you contact your insurance company, read the exclusions in your policy. "Pollution" exclusions are common. And remember, ANY mold or flood loss reported to an insurance company...regardless of whether there is coverage...will share the information about your loss on a national data base of insurers (CLUE). This "flag" stays on the property regardless of who owns it and it could make it more difficult or expensive to renew the policy.


Call your agent if you feel you have coverage and don't forget to consider your deductible. Smaller losses may not even exceed the amount you would have to pay anyway.

Q: OK, so I know I have some mold. What are my options?

A: Your best bet is to find out how bad it is. A little surface mold, say, a few square inches behind a bed against a cold exterior wall may simply be wiped off with detergent and hot water. Keep the bed away from the wall a little to allow air circulation or it will grow back. On the other hand, if there are any health concerns at all, or if there seems to be quite a bit of contamination or it keeps coming back; you should have the work done professionally. Where cost is the primary factor, consider having work done to a "make safe" condition where you can handle doing (or coordinating) the build-back yourself.

Q: "What should I watch for when choosing a contractor?"

A: That's a very important question! Careful selection of any contractor can be one of your best investments. Dealing with mold or hazardous materials requires specialized insurance, training, equipment and experience. Here are some things to look for in a good contractor:

  • Qualifications. Does the contractor have training and certifications in this specialty?
  • Experience. How long have they been providing this type of work?
  • Are they local? Are they licensed and a registered contractor in the state?
  • Insurance. Companies providing mold remediation services do not have coverage for such work unless they have qualified for and have purchased an expensive environmental pollution policy similar to asbestos insurance coverage. Make sure they have this special insurance!
  • Size. It's difficult for the "two men in a truck" company to maintain the necessary requirements to stay in business. Look for stability.
  • Reputation. Check references, ask those whom you trust for their opinion.
  • Do they comply with NIOSH, OSHA and the EPA's safety regulations?
  • Do they participate in the restoration industry and belong to associations?

Q: Should I leave the property or move?

A: Unless there are serious health concerns, moving is rarely necessary. In most cases, the problem can be taken care of with little inconvenience to the residents.

Q: I've been told most of my personal belongings (books, furniture, clothing) should be thrown away. Is this really true?

A: Technically, yes if mold is actually growing on it. Moldy items that are porous, such as paper, rags, wallboard, rotten wood, carpeting, drapes, leather and upholstered furniture are usually difficult to properly and completely clean. And some items just aren't worth restoring such as an old couch or unimportant papers having visible mold growth on them. On the other hand, an antique couch or an old portrait of great-grandpa may be worth the extra effort. Clothing and bedding often can be salvaged by double-washing in hot water. Solid materials, such as some toys, glass, plastic, finished wood and metal can generally be kept after being thoroughly cleaned and decontaminated.

Q: Where can I find more information on mold and proper remediation methods?

A: There are several resources. The most widely accepted is the ANSI S520 Standard for Professional Mold Remediation.

Q: I've heard that putting bleach on mold will kill it. Should I do this?

A: NO! Although there are several seemingly credible sources that are still telling people to use bleach, it is likely the worst thing you can use. Here's why. Bleach (Sodium Hypochlorite) is 99% water. When you put it on, the chlorine gas flashes off in seconds and leaves behind plenty of moisture to feed the now-colorless mold. Bleach is also caustic and dangerous to use. If you really want to kill mold, try a common disinfectant such as Lysol® and wipe it on with a little detergent and hot water. But...you really shouldn't worry about killing it. Mold spores are everywhere and under the same conditions, it will return to grow again. Your best bet is to remove the visible mold, remove the moisture source and it will be gone and stay gone!

Q: My basement smells musty to me and when I go down there I often get a headache. My husband says he can't smell anything and feels fine. Why can't he smell it?

A: Most of us remember grandma's root cellar and the earthy odor that was always present. While it is likely she did have a little mold down there, this musty or wet earth smell is very similar to metabolites off-gassing from active mold growth. Your living spaces should never smell musty. If they do, you likely have a problem.


Your second question points to a very common problem. He doesn't smell it is possibly because his sense of smell is not as acute as yours. The reason he doesn't feel ill is he's probably not in the house as much as you are and has less exposure to whatever it is that's giving you a headache.


Fully 25% of all people just can't physically deal with mold.

Q: My boss thinks I'm a chronic complainer because I keep telling him that the longer I am at work, the worse I feel. When I go away for the weekend, I feel fine. What's going on?

A: This is the ideal scenario pointing to a problem with the air quality in your workplace.

Q: When I was growing up, nothing seemed to bother me. Now that I am older, I can't stand the smell of heavy perfume and I've noticed my tongue gets numb when I'm around strong chemical odors. My friends don't notice anything. Is it just me, or am I going crazy?

A: You have likely been (or are being) exposed to airborne contaminants that are triggering an allergic response. Everyone has different levels of resistance thus explaining your increased sensitivity compared to your friends. A heavy exposure to chemicals, for example, can manifest itself months or years later through seemingly unrelated symptoms. Long-term, low doses can also have the same effect. Eventually, your body says, "That's enough!" and begins to reject and react to anything that smells.

Q: I'm a business owner and one of my office workers is complaining that the office is "stuffy" all the time. I think she's just a trouble-maker because she has some of her co-workers riled up about it. Is there really something wrong, or should I just fire her?

A: Firing her is a sure way to get into a personal injury lawsuit, or at least, a wrongful termination case. There could very well be something wrong the air in the office. Perhaps it's simply not enough ventilation, or a co-worker's new perfume...easy fixes. But it could also be poisonous fumes and gasses or hidden mold contamination. I would have a professional assess it and find out what it is. If it does turn out to be a real problem resulting in litigation, at least you have taken appropriate action and may be able to avoid paying triple-damages on a negligence charge on top of the personal injury.

Q: You say, "You can't see what can hurt you." What do you mean by that?

A: The air certainly looks clean and is normally completely transparent. But did you know that it's normal for indoor environments to contain up to 30,000 particles in each cubic foot of air? And that's the big stuff over 1 micron in size! These particles consist of dead skin cells, dust, lint, mold spores and fragments, pet dander, bacteria, viruses, insect parts and feces...the list goes on and you are breathing it all of the time.

Q: So what can I do to protect myself from all this crap in the air?

A: Increase the amount of fresh air ventilation (dilution), HEPA filtered room air purifiers and vacuum cleaners, upgrade your furnace filters to a pleated model.

References:

  • ANSI/IICRC S520 Professional Mold Remediation Standard - August, 2008 - 2nd Edition. iicrc.org
  • ASCR/RIA, International Guidelines for Fungal Remediation - 2002. www.restorationindustry.org
  • New York City Department of Health & Mental Hygiene, Bureau of Environmental & Occupational Disease, Epidemiology Guidelines on Assessment & Remediation of Fungi in Indoor Environments 2008. http://www.nyc.gov/html/
  • ACGIH Publication, Bio-aerosols in the Indoor Environment - 1999
  • Texas Department of Health's website (includes mold prevention tips)
  • US EPA & OSHA current recommendations
  • For more information about specific mold and fungus species, please refer to Aerotechlabs.com or Doctorfungus.org.