Mold Remediation: Basics, Process, and Possible Scams

A basement in the midst of construction

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Mold remediation helps homeowners and residents stay safe and healthy by identifying large-scale mold within the home and eradicating or encapsulating it. Mold remediation has also increasingly become a frequent component of selling and buying a house. Because of the critical nature of types of mold, some operators can take advantage of homeowners. Is mold remediation a genuine, worthwhile project or just a big scam?

The Basics of Mold Within the Home

Mold is a familiar condition in many homes. Wetter areas of the country have moldier homes, and even homes in dry areas have certain rooms and spaces that are more prone to developing mold.

Where there is moisture in a home, there is undoubtedly mold. The most familiar example of mold is the type that develops in the grout between ceramic tiles. A simple form of homeowner-driven mold remediation happens each time you spray that mold down with a bleach-based cleaner and wipe it off. More critical mold, either from a health or aesthetic standpoint, happens elsewhere.

Warning

Just crawl in the ceiling above your bathroom and you will likely find mold. Some mold, but not all, produces health-threatening mycotoxins. Not everyone is affected by mold. But people who are affected are often gravely affected. Aesthetically, mold is never a good thing. In visible areas, mold signifies neglect and decay. Functionally, mold can reduce the effectiveness of insulation.

Areas of the Home That Develop Mold

All places where water is found can develop mold. An excessive amount of humidity in a house can condense and cause mold. Ironically, newer homes can often experience more mold growth than older homes because they are more tightly insulated. Fiberglass insulation provides fertile ground for mold growth and makes it difficult to eradicate and remove.

  • Attics
  • Crawl spaces
  • Wall interiors
  • Basements
  • Around chimneys
  • Furnaces
  • Ducts
  • Kitchens
  • Under sinks
  • Near foundation air vents
  • Under window unit air conditioners

The Process of Mold Remediation

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) notes that any moldy areas less than 10 square feet (about 3 feet by 3 feet) can be remediated by the homeowner. Beyond that, you may want to talk to a mold remediation contractor. In most cases, it is better to have a mold remediation contractor do the work than a general contractor.

Even though chlorine bleach is often used to kill mold, bleach is not an EPA-approved biocide. For that, you will need to use a product such as Mold Stat. If a space 3-foot by 3-foot of mold growth is heavily concentrated or near the HVAC system, it should be contained to prevent dispersal.

Containment and Ventilation

The first step, and arguably the most important, is setting up containment and ventilation. The use of proper ventilation and air filtration devices (AFDs) such as air scrubbers is required to ensure that mold spores that are disturbed and become airborne are not spreading to an uninfected area.

Cleaning and Disinfection

Cleaning and disinfecting is the next step and this is the stage that includes the actual remediation and disposal of infected materials. After the cleaning and disinfecting, then the technicians apply biocide/fungicide/moldicide solutions.

Fix the Mold Source

The next step is where the technicians address any moisture or humidity concerns. For example, if a loose bathroom fan duct is running into an attic, the fan duct may be fixed. If the fix is easy, the mold remediation company may take on the repair by itself. For more involved repairs, the company may hire a sub-contractor or recommend one for the homeowner.

Encapsulate the Mold

Mold that has not been removed is encapsulated by paint or a similar material. Encapsulation is an approved method of dealing with mold in a home.

Not All Mold is Toxic Mold

According to the Centers for Disease Control: "While certain molds are toxigenic, meaning they can produce toxins (specifically mycotoxins), the molds themselves are not toxic, or poisonous." And while it is possible for toxigenic molds to produce rare health conditions such as pulmonary hemorrhage or memory loss, this only rarely happens.

This is not to say that mold cannot produce health issues. Indoor exposure can cause coughing and wheezing in healthy people and severe issues for people with asthma and upper respiratory tract problems.

People should be educated with a clear understanding but not made to cause panic or undue alarm. There are some very serious health issues associated with mold mycotoxins but most people will never have the need to be overly concerned with them.

Mold Remediation Scams and Scares

Mold remediation itself is not a scam. But within the mold remediation industry are scammers and those who try to create an air of panic around it.

The presence of mold is often used as a scare tactic and a bargaining chip on real estate property inspections. Mold remediation itself is a big, highly politicized industry. One leading mold remediation company, in trying to sell itself to potential franchisees, advertises mold remediation as the latest gold rush, the asbestos business of the 21st century. 

Mold remediation companies certainly do good work when the mold is widespread and is in a public institution or in commercial buildings. And while most mold is not toxic, some mold can be very hazardous to one's health. For this, you want a licensed, experienced professional dealing with the mold.

Too many so-called mold professionals try to use the scare tactics. Reputable mold remediation companies try hard not to but sometimes it's difficult to get accurate information dispensed to the public without causing concerns over health.

Many times the health issue is actually downplayed. If a person is not sensitive to or allergic to mold, they can become sensitive after repeated or prolonged exposure to mycotoxins.

Mold problems that we see today are problems that we unknowingly created ourselves and they are not problems we had only a few decades ago. Since the mid- to late-1970s, federal requirements have directed that homes become more energy efficient. The more energy efficient the home, the tighter that home is sealed and the less natural breathability the home has.

Companies then can easily address questions when people ask, "If mold can be dangerous to our health, how come it's only been a problem for the past couple of decades? Mold had been around forever so why is it only a problem now?" The answer is often that homes and requirements have changed; it's not always a matter of scams and scare tactics.

Warning

Although there has been credible research over the past couple of years linking some types of cancer, brain damage, early onset of dementia, Alzheimer's and other serious conditions besides asthma and breathing and respiratory issues, many mold remediation companies try not to focus on these concerns unless the individual is a resident who is at high risk for developing a problem due to exposure to mycotoxins.