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By: Karin Beuerlein
To eliminate mold, seek a credentialed professional who understands the inspection, sampling, and clean-up process.
Professional mold elimination may take a few days and costs roughly $500 to $6,000, but can easily reach five figures if the problem is severe. If drywall, studs, or other building materials must be replaced after cleanup, you’ll need to hire a building contractor for that service as well.
“I had a case of roof damage where water infiltrated the kitchen, and mold damaged the kitchen, the foyer, the bedroom, and the family room,” says Jason Yost, owner of Solutions Indoor Environmental Consulting in Terre Haute, Ind.
“Because the home wasn’t maintained properly and was cluttered, the mold amplified quickly. The total bill came to $60,000 to remediate and reconstruct the house.”
Mold remediation isn’t necessarily covered by homeowners insurance, which typically pays only if the problem results from a sudden emergency already covered on your policy, such as a burst pipe. Insurance usually doesn’t pay if the problem results from deferred maintenance or floodwaters (unless you have flood insurance).
When mold is growing on household surfaces, both its spores (reproductive structures) and any toxins it produces can become airborne. This can aggravate asthma and allergies and sometimes contribute to more serious diseases, especially in children, the elderly, and those with weak immune systems. Mold also ruins porous materials such as drywall and carpeting and can damage woodwork, although serious damage to structural elements is rare.
Expect to find mold occasionally in wet areas such as kitchens and bathrooms. Confined to washable surfaces, it’s fine as long as you clean it promptly with soap and water. Disinfecting the area after cleaning with a 1:9 bleach-to-water solution can also help.
If you find small amounts of mold growing in places that shouldn’t be wet–such as floor grilles–address your moisture problem so it doesn’t return after you clean it up.
If you find mold growing on drywall, trim, or unfinished wood surfaces (studs, joists, subfloors), especially if the affected area exceeds 10 square feet, it’s time to seek a professional, scientific opinion. Your best bet is an independent consultant with credentials in mold investigation.
Less-than-ideal choices would be a home inspector, who likely doesn’t have mold training, or a mold remediation company, which can increase its profits by recommending cleanup procedures that aren’t necessary. On the flip side, you want someone who isn’t motivated to minimize costs to keep insurance companies happy.
The mold industry is largely unregulated, says licensed professional engineer and certified industrial hygienist Wane A. Baker of Michaels Engineering in La Crosse, Wis., because the word “mold” encompasses thousands of different types of fungi, whose health effects are highly individual and still under study. This lack of government oversight means almost anyone can hang out a shingle.
Reputable mold remediation companies will hire a third-party inspector to determine the scope of work and roll that into the project cost. Also consider hiring our own inspector to ensure you have an advocate in the cleanup process.
A good mold inspection professional:
Expect to spend $250 to $500 for a site visit from a qualified inspector that takes 20 minutes to two hours, depending on the scope of the problem, and a detailed report of findings and recommendations. Individual air samples, if necessary, may or may not be included in the price (ask your inspector ahead of the visit) and cost anywhere from $18 to $225 apiece, depending on the laboratory used to process results.
If mold growth is visible, air or surface sampling may not be necessary; it depends on the situation. It’s not important to identify the actual mold species unless there are specific legal or medical reasons to do so–say, if you have an allergy to a certain species. If mold growth is suspected but not visible–for example, if it’s concealed within walls–sampling may help confirm its presence.
Sampling is also typically used after the cleanup process to verify whether the job was successful. Ask inspectors why they’re performing any sampling that occurs on the initial visit; they should be able to articulate clearly whatever hypothesis they’re trying to confirm.
If the cleanup is simple enough to perform yourself, a mold inspector can advise you on procedures, protective equipment, and tools. The inspector should also be able to pinpoint the moisture issue that led to the mold problem so that you can correct it.
If a professional remediation is necessary, the inspector can recommend a company or you can choose one yourself. The cleanup process generally takes a few days, depending on the extent of mold growth, and may involve cleaning and disinfection, removal of drywall, professional cleaning of personal belongings, and HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filtration. The severity of the problem determines whether you’ll be able to remain in your home during the project.
“I’d like to stress that a mold remediation isn’t about kill, kill, kill,” Baker says. “Even dead mold can still be allergenic. Remediation is really about the physical removal of mold from water-damaged materials.” The remediation company should follow the work plan designed by your mold inspector, who will return for follow-up sampling to ensure the job was successful. Once the cleanup is approved, you can hire a building contractor to replace any drywall or other materials that were removed.
Don’t bother with hardware store petri-dish kits, which claim to help you identify whether you have mold in your indoor air. “These kits are completely ineffective,” Baker says. The kits might grow a bit of mold for you–because mold spores are always present in indoor air–but they can’t guarantee a statistically significant sample of air, confirm the presence of dead mold spores (which also cause health symptoms), or determine baseline levels of mold in your home in order to compare results.
The key to dealing with mold quickly and effectively is finding a qualified professional inspector whom you trust.