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How to choose a mold remediation contractor

How to choose a mold remediation contractor

It’s a scary prospect to think that mold in your “safe place”--your home–may be intruding and possibly causing illness in you or family members.  Whatever your training in other disciplines (even medical doctors), you can still be largely unprepared in knowing about mold and fungi and their effects on your home and body.  There are many “smart people” who get overwhelmed and discouraged when doctors or inspectors “miss” or mistake their symptoms.  How can you cut through to get real answers?

The assessment or consultation:

First of all, there are different opinions on who should inspect and test, and who should do the remediation work.  Often they are the same company, but the better inspectors have chosen to focus on inspection and testing, with recommended companies to do the remediation work.  It’s like a doctor who assesses and diagnoses a problem, but then refers you to a physical therapist or nutritionist for the corrective work.  For example, Brian Karr and his company We Inspect are highly recommended and fly all over the US doing inspections.  On his website, he states “We do not perform any remediation work ourselves because it’s a conflict of interest for the same company to handle both inspection and remediation.”  This is a unique position because many inspectors will also do remediation work, but it’s a very safe position to accept from the homeowner’s perspective. 

Tests are just one of the diagnostics that home inspectors use to confirm whether mold is a problem in your home. If a company wants to jump straight into air, dust, or body fluid testing (which can be a substantial revenue source for them) without some time to talk about the history of your home and your symptoms, then you may want to look elsewhere.  That’s like paying (and waiting, usually!) to see a doctor and getting to talk for less than 5 minutes before he ushers you out the door with orders for a test or a prescription. 

It’s best if you can do an in-person assessment where the consultant can come to your home, but unfortunately, many people live hours from qualified consultants so remote “visits” will be the case.  Prior to that visit, it’s always helpful to get your thoughts together and write down specific events and questions that led you to this point, such as:

  • If you are feeling ill, when did that start?

  • Have you noticed specific events that may have caused it, such as renovation work, damage by a severe weather event like flooding or roof damage, etc.?

  • Have you had other problems with the home?

  • What other life events are going on (job changes, pregnancies, new pets, etc.)

Other things to ask: 

  • Do you believe that mold can cause health issues and even cancer?  Amazingly, several reputable online sources deny that mold can cause cancer, including healthline.com, despite studies since the 1960s that have proven this link. This inspection and remediation company seemingly copied the Healthline article and adopted their stance.  Who wants to hire a skeptic of science?  

  • How do you test for mold, and do you test before and after remediation?  According to the late Dr. Jack Thrasher, a toxicology and mold pioneer, he  “always, always recommended multiple testing mechanisms for the same space. He liked dust sample testing from at least 4-5 places and ERMI (Environmental Relative Moldiness Index) testing to find out the species of mold present—he was BIG on knowing what you are dealing with, so that you could fight the battle properly. Dr. Thrasher was also a proponent of culturing surfaces, even hidden surfaces, like refrigerator coils for bacteria. For example, if everyone is getting sick in the kitchen, but the mold counts in the undisturbed air read ok, and there doesn’t seem to be moisture intrusion, start looking behind things. In this case, when he pulled out the refrigerator and tested the damp coils, he found rare and dangerous bacterial cultures. So, when the fridge was opened or closed or disturbed in anyway, a poof of bacteria and particulates was flying around, making folks sick. There’s your answer. Always dig deeper was his motto.” (moldfreeliving.com)  In addition, the mold testing facility needs to be an independent lab, so that testing can be performed properly and results are not skewed.  Having an inspection company who is independent of the mold remediation company perform the tests before, and after remediation but before reconstruction is the gold standard–because why rebuild if the mold is removed to a satisfactory level?  This second set of tests is called “clearance” testing, so that if successful, the remediators are cleared to rebuild.  This is the best way to check that the remediation was performed properly.   

  • What products do you use to “clean” mold?  Even if mold has not caused a reaction in your body, you don’t want to bring in chemicals that are unhealthy!  “ 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, it’s a sign that they don’t understand the health implications of these harsh chemicals and should be avoided. (moldfreeliving.com)

  • Do you have recommendations and resources to treat myself, my family and my pets as well as the home?  Because recovery from mold in your home is more than treating the building, most good mold remediation companies have recommendations on doctors who understand and can treat sicknesses caused by mold like CIRS (Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome) and Mast Cell Activation Syndrome (MCAS). 

  • How do you remove or inactivate any moldy materials?  You definitely want to know the company’s procedures for isolating and removing mold so it’s not spread throughout any areas of your home that have not been contaminated.

  • What are your certifications?  It’s important to check on local and national certifications, because it means that the company and employees have been trained in the best practices for their craft.  The National Association of Mold Professionals and Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification are two highly respected certification organizations.  

  • Are you insured?  If the company is not insured, it is best not to hire them, as improper remediation will cost even more than doing it the right way.(moldfreeliving.com)

  • How do you decide which materials may be cleaned, which materials need to be removed, and how far away from visible mold needs to be removed?  Mold grows “tentacles” called hyphae, but these hyphae can grow up to 6-12” outside a visibly moldy area.  Therefore according to previous industry standards (ANSI IICRC S520 Standard) materials should be removed 24” around a visibly moldy area.   For example, drywall that has been wet for more than 24 hours also needs to be removed, but structural members like studs and floor plates can be cleaned if they are not water- or insect-damaged.

  • What kind of containment equipment do you use?  In order to prevent the spread of mold beyond an area, negative air machines (NAM) with HEPA filters are often used so that air laden with mold spores does not contaminate other parts of the home.  At a minimum, barriers with 6mil plastic should be created between the area being cleaned and the rest of the home, including the area where workers are carrying out debris. 

  • Do you have any personal experiences with mold?  Sometimes the business owners with personal experiences on how devastating mold can be to their health, family and home are the best in understanding every step of the discovery, remediation, rebuilding and treatment process.  For an example of how a good, experienced air quality inspector conducts his interviews and assessments, check out this interview

Finally, many companies are good at selling and less good at performance.  I once hired a plumbing contractor who was a good salesman and smooth talker, but when it came down to performance, found out that he was improperly designing and installing drain piping runs.  I fired him and because I and another contractor called him out on the mistakes, he did not charge me for the work.  Even if he had, I would only be lacking money…Your health is more costly, so don’t be afraid to “go with your gut” and if necessary, terminate a mold contractor that is using sub-standard practices to protect you and even their own employees.  Don’t be afraid to ask questions and get second opinions, because you will not be able to “heal” from mold if your home stays infected with it!