How to measure mold in a home after flooding

Hurricane Harvey and the residual floodwaters destroyed countless homes, businesses, and vehicles. The aftermath has left homeowners and business owners with a slew of questions, as well as feelings of frustration and overwhelmedness. Many property owners were left with damaged buildings, and no one needs to be alone in their rebuilding efforts. Getting the right help from professionals is a great way to quickly recover and get your life back to normal.

Water Damages

Water damages occur when your property sustains wind damage that allows water to infiltrate the interior of the structure, and the damage is much more severe if flooding appears. One inch of water can easily cause more than $10,000 in damages, and the deeper the water gets, the more effort goes into reducing the devastating effects. The biggest risk to water-damaged properties is the building’s structural integrity. Stagnant water can wreak havoc on drywall, carpets, and the substructure materials put in place to support the building. If water damage isn’t treated properly and promptly, important metal objects will rust, foundations can crack, and mold will quickly invade a home.

Mold and Mildew

The greatest risk to a building’s structural integrity is a fungal infestation. Mold and mildew are types of fungus that grow on surfaces within a home containing mostly cellulose. Drywalls, ceiling tiles, furniture, and carpets are only some of the potential places mold will hide. Areas under sinks and basements are especially susceptible to mold growth. Any surface affected by mold growth is being damaged or destroyed by the fungus, and it is important to act fast to prevent serious and irreparable damage to your home.

Fungal spores are commonly found outdoors and indoors. They travel through the air and can be brought inside by open doors, windows, clothing, and pets. Once the spores are inside, they patiently wait until conditions are right for optimal growth. Moisture, time, organic surfaces, and stagnant air create ideal living conditions for mold spores to take root and spread. The best way to protect your home from mold and mildew is to prevent moisture from building up, but in the event of a flood, this is not possible. Flooding requires serious attention from trained experts because moisture can reach places that are undetectable without proper training. Without addressing water damage in a timely manner, mold and mildew are sure to show up and could go unnoticed until it is too late.

Hiding below wallpaper, underneath carpet, and behind wall paneling, mold is one of the most challenging pests to isolate and exterminate. Toxic mold is known to produce mycotoxins, a type of chemical that is hazardous to human health. At a minimum, the presence of mold can cause skin and eye irritation, difficulties breathing, and allergic reactions. The long-term effects are not conducive to healthy individuals, and proper handling of the situation is paramount. Homes that have been affected by mold and mildew need professional help to assess the level of damage and adequately address a plan of action.

Assessing Levels of Contamination

Determining the gravity of the situation is important to concocting a plan of action that will actually work. Spore levels inside the home are a good reference as to what type of mold has infiltrated indoors and is also used to determine how much mold is inside the home. Taking air samples before and after a remediation project is indicative of how effective the treatment was at getting rid of the mold. High levels of a specific strain of mold usually means an incomplete removal. Sometimes incomplete work is the result of leaving mold-infected fiberglass insulation in a wall because it did not look contaminated. Remember, spores are microscopic and a simple vacuum sample of the fiberglass would be enough to determine if it should be removed as well.

The type of mold and the amount of mold in the air are both relevant factors when determining if your home is infested or not. Acceptable levels vary from one species to another, so it will take time to determine what threat, if any, is in air samples. Furthermore, interpreting the results of air quality tests requires caution because variations arise from several different sources. Was the A/C on when the air sample was taken? Were any windows open? Construction in the area? How long after the mold remediation did the investigator wait before taking the air sample? Explicit details are required to accurately assess mold levels in a home.

Mold spores are microscopic and will be present in your home no matter what you do. The goal of mold remediation is to bring these levels back to safe levels. To determine the level of threat to you and your home, you need to know the type of mold that is present, in addition to how much of the mold is in the air. Turning fans on will greatly increase the spore count in an air sample and is a good idea to accurately estimate what you are being exposed to inside your home. Also, taking samples in several different places is necessary to identify the location of the source mold.

Professional Response to Mold and Mildew

If you have discovered mold in your home, or suspect the presence of mold or mildew, it is critical to address the problem immediately. The following is a basic guide to help expedite mold removal and other mold problems:

  • Moisture – Wet environments are the largest contributing factor to mold growth and development. Often an invisible intruder, mold grows in areas where the least amount of light will reach, and requires detailed investigation to identify the source of the invasion. Learning about moisture and where it is coming from is valuable in the search for all the possible locations where mold might be hiding around your home.
  • Document the damage – Before you begin the process of removing and rebuilding, document all the damage you come across. Writing notes, taking photos, and making videos are all good ideas to document the extent of which mold has damaged your property. Armed with this information, you will be able to better determine the best course of action offered by your insurance provider and a water damage restoration expert. Often referred to as mold remediation, the goal is to bring the levels of mold and mildew back to normal levels. Any company offering to “completely remove” mold from your residence is not telling the truth because it is impossible to entirely eliminate mold spores from inside your home.
  • Determine the level of contamination – Mold sends spores through the air and can travel large distances to contaminate other areas of your home. The level of contamination will determine the best route to take to eradicate the invasive mold and prevent it from growing uncontrollably. There are no EPA or government quality standards in place to determine safe or reasonable levels of mold and mildew in a home or business. Mold can invade HVAC systems, and represents a greater threat than mold located under a sink in an isolated cabinet. Ask the technician assessing your property what remediation level they recommend.
  • Remediate mold contamination – Safety is always a priority when cleaning up mold colonies, and the proper safety equipment should be used. Mold usually grows in poorly ventilated areas, and mycotoxins could be concentrated in the air. Protective clothing, eyewear, gloves, and respirators are highly recommended when working with mold.
  • Determine success – Periodically return to the source of water and damp areas to check that the moisture has been successfully controlled. Just because mold is no longer visible, does not mean that there is no longer a potential for mold to contaminate the area. Homeowners should be able to occupy the house without suffering any physical symptoms of mold.

For areas of contamination within 30 square feet, use the following guidelines to remove the mold:

  •      Control the source of moisture
  •      Isolate the contaminated area
  •      Prevent dust from escaping and spreading spores
  •      Remove contaminated materials in plastic bags
  •      Clean the surface to sterilize the area and kill any microscopic fungal remains
  •      Visibly inspect the area for any other sources of contamination
  •      Dry the affected materials to completion
  •      Replace all the materials that were removed because of contamination

For contamination greater than 30 square feet, such as entire houses that were flooded, it is strongly advised to seek professional mold remediation firms to clean the area. The process would involve supervising a licensed contractor who has the experience necessary to properly remediate all possible mold sources. Even if no mold is visible yet, the prolonged exposure to high levels of dampness in your home has provided enough of a resource for mold to start growing. Hiring a water damage expert to treat your home immediately will save you from a bigger problem later.

When it comes to dealing with invasive mold in your home, the important thing is an effective strategy to manage moisture levels. Time is critical to exterminating mold, and doing it right the first time will greatly reduce any potential health risks. The longer you wait, the higher the chances of a mold infestation taking hold and ruining your home.

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