Ten Golden Rules Used to Lower the Cost of Mold Remediation2003 Reprint
The Alternative Technologies Newsletter is provided to help our visitors make informed decisions about the best resources for management of unsafe environmental conditions in their home, office and working environments. For additional resouces go to Approach, and search the links located under Partners & Affiliates.
This "Old House"2000 Reprint
Are environmental hazards in your home, office or place of work the cause of your ill health? A residential case study
As an environmental professional, I have been accused of being overly concerned about exposure of my family to hazardous materials. Guilty as charged. In 1993, we returned to the Pacific Northwest to a three story fixer that had creative additions installed by former owners, several times since 1927. As part of our planning, we had construction materials tested prior to renovation and found that our house contained an underground storage tank, asbestos, lead based paint, squirrels and probably the least desirable tenant, rats.
Having been, at that time, in the environmental business for over a decade, I was less concerned about the construction materials and more concerned about the rodents, fuzzy tailed or not. Over a six month period we systematically abated each item. First, the rats and squirrels had to go and we hired a local electrician who dabbled in the art of pest control on the side. He was quite effective and the rodents were gone within a week and we didnít ask any questions. We converted the oil heater to natural gas and back filled the underground storage tank. We had the accessible asbestos removed and encapsulated the lead paint on the exterior of our home. Fresh paint and new flooring went in every room. We switched to filtered drinking water and following construction we had our duct work vacuumed, then sealed to lock down particulates. The house was ready for occupancy.
Over a period of time we noticed that we began coughing during the rainy season. We did not consider this unusual since everyone was coughing more at this time of year. We have friends that lived in the area for decades and every year they exhibited coughs and flu-like symptoms that were often attributed to the wet weather. However, we eventually noticed that we were having trouble sleeping and other symptoms that one could associate with mold. Mold in homes is one of the indoor air contaminants that, although ubiquitous, is often overlooked unless there are visible signs of mold growth, complaints or symptoms reported by the occupants, moist carpeting and musty odors, unattended leaks, high humidity or lots of indoor plants. With all the press mold had been getting in the environmental industry we began to realize that wallboard and wood products, under the right conditions, could become mold food. The usual suspects were lined up and examined and the most likely candidate finally stepped forward when the flat portion of our roof began to leak. The evidence was in the ceiling and wall stains in the third floor bedroom hallway. In addition, there was a musty odor in the basement laundry room which was completely unrelated to the roof leak. We patched the roof and repaired and moved the laundry room. We thought that after painting and repairs, this was a done deal.
The fact was that the family began showing symptoms the following year when our annual winter coughs returned as the weather turned gray and wet. I dutifully got my flu shots and we just passed it off as part of our annual inoculations from the 2 year olds day care.
The next year, we noticed leaks again from the roof and this time it was from the chimney into the same third floor bedroom hallway. Paint was discolored and peeling from the interior walls. Suspect mold was observed under the paint chips and around the windows. We took several samples and sent them off to an environmental laboratory for analysis, which they reported contained mold. As part of our remediation efforts we again repaired the roof and chimney, peeled all the paint and HEPA vacuumed the damaged areas. All surfaces were cleaned and made part of our summer repainting project. We continued to do an annual cleaning of ductwork but have added mold reconnaissance to our periodic maintenance checklist. The one thing we added to our equipment list to improve indoor air quality in the interim was an ionizing air scrubber that ran 24 hours a day. It may have been psychologicial, but we all appeared to recover from our sniffles and coughs. My belief now is that our repairs, followed by annual environmental maintenance played a large part in helping us feel healthier. We later removed the air scrubber, and replaced some of the carpets with hard flooring. More frequent housekeeping for dust control and opening the windows and doors regularly for better ventilation and improved indoor air quality. Getting to know our house was a work in progress, and with each individual reacting differently to our indoor environment over the years, it turned out that the simplest solutions were the most practical and the most cost effective.
For those interested in assessing your home and work environments it helps to be married to an environmental consultant. For the rest, you can rent an environmental professional from Alternative Technologies. It costs about $400 for a home inspection and includes sampling and an interpretive report with recommendations based on the site inspection, analytical results, interviews and completed questionnaires. The cost for sample analysis is an additional expense which varies with turn around time and type of test. Laboratories charge more for a faster turn around time. Typically, an environmental professional can provide useful information and verbal recommendations on site and following the site visit provide detailed results including laboratory analysis as soon as the client requests the report or with standard turn around within one to two weeks. A final interpretive report not only will show you the location of the problems that exist but also provides recommendations for mitigation and cost estimates for repair upon request. For large projects a remediation protocol can be requested for distribution to contractors for bid purposes. Site specific mitigation strategies, certified clearance testing and the criteria for passing are defined in the mold remediation protocol. For more information on environmental surveys go to the Contacts For Services page on this website. For an excellent resource for molds, check out www.emlab.com .
Ten Golden Rules Used to Lower the Cost of Mold Remediation.
As an environmental consulting firm that advises clients regarding investments in real estate impacted by environmental contaminants, Alternative Technologies has tried to keep track of strategies used by property owners, industry professionals and insurance claims specialists that have been observed to be the most cost effective with regards to minimizing costs associated with mold remediation. Depending on where you are in your project, you can start at any point in the Ten Golden Rules and lower your costs for mold remediation. As we all know, the golden rule in business is, "the person who has the gold, rules". In this case the "gold" is knowledge, which is available to all of us if you will just take the time to go over the lessons learned by the many providers who have so generously reported their findings to the public.
1. Damage Assessments & Mitigation Strategies Should Be Immediate & Aggressive: If there is one action (or inaction) that drives the cost of remediation higher it is not responding fast enough. Whether the site is at the point where there is visible mold present or the site has had a recent incident where there is water intrusion. The damage assessment should be conducted immediately and the mitigation strategy aggressively implemented. Some authors suggest 24-48 hours. l recommend within the first 24 hours since there have been reports of visible mold developing on new wall board under the right conditions within 10 hours.
2. Determine What Work You Can Do Yourself, Safely. There are several things the property owner/property manager can do when mold or water intrusion is discovered. The first thing they can do is determine if it is safe to work in the impacted area. If it is a leak or flood damage, safely stop the leak or flooding and repair the source of moisture intrusion if the source is clean water. If the work is considered a small project you can follow the procedures in the article "Got Mold" http://www.doh.wa.gov/ehp/ts/IAQ/Got_Mold.html. If the source is dirty water, or you don't know if it is a small or large project, call a professional. As the insured, you should review your insurance policy and contact your agent as soon as possible for direction and to see if your loss is covered. Even if it is covered, and if it is a small project you may want to do it yourself and save your insurance for big-ticket items. For large projects, it is recommended that professionals investigate the site, write a remediation protocol and do the remediation.
3. The Minimum Recommended Mitigation Strategies For Large Projects. If any or all of your loss is covered you will want to work with your claims specialist to seek out any blocks to the process that would keep your initial response from being immediate and aggressive. This is the tricky part of lowering the cost of remediation. In some cases, doing a small job yourself may appear to save money over the short run, but inexperience can lead to contamination of the site with asbestos, mold or other contaminants and result in delays and increased costs whether done by the homeowner or the lowest priced professionals. The latter, in order to cover costs, may use staff that lack experience, the required training and the financial motivation to do a good job. In addition, the potential for litigation resulting from poor performance must be considered as it will only further increase delays as well as costs associated with litigation. Given the pitfalls of poorly designed and/or poorly executed projects, it is recommended that initial consideration be given to professional consultants for the initial assessment, design and clearance including recommendations of at least three contractors, appropriate to the scope of work, to provide bids. This would be the minimum requirement for water extraction and mold remediation for large projects. E-mailing protocols and bids will expedite scheduling, mitigation and the site restoration process.
4. Hire A Qualified Environmental Consultant. How can you tell if a consultant is qualified? The truth is, you can't. Several consultants have the latest mold certifications showing that at least one organization has provided them with some related training and a test prior to issuing a certificate. Given that the environment in which mold grows may contain other contaminants, the new inspector may not have the requisite experience. It can be a risky proposition at best to hire someone who has not been around long enough to learn for their own and others mistakes. Here are a couple of recomendations that may help. I would look for the environmental consultant that has related training and at least one year of experience in providing indoor air quality assessments, writing mold remediation protocols, providing project oversight and conducting clearance inspections for the preparation of a certified report that the work was done properly. If they don't have a business card or web site, requesting company information or a resume and list of references is a good place to start. The better environmental consultants have a background in construction, usually other certifications such as industrial hygienists and certified safety professionals or are currently certified asbestos building inspectors, management planners and project designers. I would hire an environmental consultant with the experience necessary to identify the health and safety issues pertinent to the scope of work identified for the subject site. Finally, I would do a gut check to find out if you are comfortable with the individual because the bottom line is, in spite of their experience and technical skills, can you work with them?
5. Hire A Qualified Remediation Contractor. Once again, this can be tricky. How do you know if the contractor will meet your experience and work practice expectations? In my experience, I have had the best luck with Asbestos Contractors with experience with mold remediation and wet extraction techniques. However, due to the workload of good contractors, you may not get the best project manager or site superintendnet because they are spread to thin. Your consultant can usually provide at least three contractors up to the task of the job at hand. I would ask the environmental consultant for the names of preferred project managers and superintendents if available. When screening the contractors, request the following: How long before you can start work? How long will it take you to do the work? Will the requested project manager and site superintendent be with the remediation project until completion? Meet the people responsible for the work at the site walk and do a gut check. Trust your initial impressions. Regarding bid submittals, you should request unit pricing (man day rates and any additional expences that could be expected) for any additional work discovered during remediation beyond the identified scope. In this way you can better control costs associated with unknowns. Mold remediation projects have a tendency to grow.
6. Evaluate The Need For Project Oversight. Project oversight by an environmental consultant can be full time, part time or not at all depending on site conditions, concerns of the owners, perceived risk and financial resources available. A good mold remediation protocol leads to a good work plan developed by the contractor and if the contractor has the experience and executes work practices as identified in the owner approved work plan, project oversight is usually not needed until the clearance inspection. With no protocol, taking the low bid, or doing the work by yourself, you increase your risk and may increase the costs for site restoration. At no time should the consultant work for the contractor. The consultant should always be working on behalf of the owner to minimize costs associated with mold remediation and with an eye on maintaining a safe and healthy work place.
7. Evaluate The Need For A Clearance Inspection & Sampling. Environmental consultants can write protocols so that the owner can monitor the work practices and conduct the final visual inspection. Clearance sampling is usually not required if the work area passes visual inspection and no moisture and odors are observed or reported. The use of white encapsulants, with mildewcides, facilitate the inspection process as it can be seen that the remaining materials were painted. Punch list items in addition to cleaning and treatment of suspect visible mold growth, would include unpainted areas and any areas that were not dried prior to put back. Regarding spore trap sampling, elevated spore counts in the test area greater that 3 times background may indicated mold growth or the lack of engineering controls used by the contractor during remediation so that residual spores were still in the work space. If there are health reasons or if a certification that the work was done according to the protocol and contractor approved work plan, the clearance inspection and air sampling by an environmental consultant is recommended.
8. Correct Building Construction Flaws During Put Back. After remediation there is an opportunity to see if the material put back can be done with like kind materials and installation methods, or if the original was installed improperly, bringing it up to code. If the building materials were improperly installed, for example crawlspace insulation facing pointing toward the ground rather than up against the heated floor surface, it can be installed correctly. By installing it the with the facing down you would create the same builidng system defect that caused mold to grow on the subfloor and joists. This is a case where like kind put back would be inappropriate and would result in additional costs to do the mold remediation again.
9. Develop A Mold Management Program. Whether you are a homeowner or property manager, developing a mold management program can save you money. It can be as simple as following the instructions in the article "Got Mold", or as involved as those prepared by environmental consultants for businesses. For the homeowner it is about maintaining a healthy living space. For the property manager it may be about retaining tenants and maintaining the value and health of the work environment. Each can benefit from a Mold Management Program as a mechanism to minimize community outrage associated with the perception that the water damage and the mold remediation project is mismanaged. Concern for individual health and safety alone, is enough to fuel the fire.
10. The Use Of Standards & Guidelines For Quality Assurance: Craftsman-like work practices and best available technologies are buzz words for doing a good job. The IICRC Standards for Water Extraction and Mold Remediation, www.iicrc.com, and the ASTM standards for Moisture Intrusion surveys, www.astm.org, are just a couple of the many resources professionals use to provide quality assurance that the best available technologies are used for mold assessments and mold remediation projects. The expectation of the owner should be that, at a minimum, industry standards are used for all consultant and contractor work practices used in a water extraction and mold remediation project.