Because of having several leaks in their home during recent years I was hired to do an inspection for potential moisture and mold issues. This happened to be done during a re-piping by a plumbing company which involved removing drywall from several ceilings and walls to accomplish the work. As a result this exposed wood members in the wall and ceilings with visible mold in many areas. Surface samples confirmed the presence of mold. Fortunately the family was staying elsewhere during this work.
The Basic Problem: How do you protect your family when work like this results in exposing the home to mold and thus the family? From a liability standpoint this is the responsibility of the contractor performing the work. However, most contractors doing this type of work rarely think about the work they do exposing a family to mold. And most people don't necessarily think much about it either. To a large extent this is realistically a scenario that has not been addressed in the general construction industry. Not to mention most contractors have no training to keep from exposing a family to mold in these situations.
The Solution: Because of contractors in general have no real knowledge of or training in protecting people from mold the home owner or tenant will have to bring the issue up prior to any work being done. It really should be done in the hiring or contract negotiation stage. It likely will involve having at least 2 contractors and one consultant (meaning someone who can write a protocol to follow to protect the family from mold exposure; this can be someone certified in Industrial Hygiene Management, an industrial hygienist or microbial consultant), one that does the work of re-piping (as the example in the opening paragraph shows) and one contractor has been trained or certified in following the protocol that will be written for that particular project.
An example of what a protocol may involve in this type of scenario could be:
1. Set up plastic containment for all work areas where the drywall will be opened so as to keep possible mold spores contained in that area.
2. Have an air scrubber (air filtration machine with a hepa filter) available to run when apparent mold is encountered to continually clean the air of mold spores.
3. When apparent mold is encountered the workers would then follow OSHA requirements of wearing PPE.
4. The persons living in the home may vacate while the work is being done.
The above is only outlining some possible protocol steps and is not to be taken as a standard procedure for all to follow.
Of course these additional steps will cost more to do and increase the overall project costs for a typical re-piping or other similar projects. This will also add to the time it takes to complete the project. If you are serious about protecting your family from mold exposure like the example above then it is important to talk with your contractor before hand to insist that appropriate precautions be taken.
My company, or myself, is available to write the needed protocol for you home or office project.
Many times when a person discovers a leak in their home and a plumber will come out and repair the problem. In the process a wall is often opened up to repair the leaky pipe. The owner may then ask the plumber, 'did you see any mold?' or 'should we do anything else?'. And many time the plumber may say 'I did not see any mold' or 'just let it dry for a couple of days and it will be fine' leaving the interior of the wall exposed. This situation is not a good one.
Let me explain. When a leak occurs by the time the owner notices the problem likely a significant amount of building materials have gotten wet such as drywall, wood sill plates, wood studs, baseboard and so on. However, this not always noticed by the naked eye and wetness or moisture will likely be present for days if not weeks and months to come and mold will start growing (within about a day or so) if the area is not dried quickly with the right equipment.
Keep this in mind; most plumbers as well as Handy Men (and just about all other tradesmen) have not been trained or certified in water mitigation (or water damage) and mold remediation (normally referred to as applied microbial remediation) which also includes category 3 water (that is water from a drain or 'toilet') also called 'black water'. As a result cannot properly advise you of what you should do. Some plumbers, though, have learned from water mitigation companies a thing or two and some even carry a moisture meter so they can at least advise the owner to take additional action. Many even refer a water mitigation company that they network with.
The point I am wanting to make is that you need a professional who has been trained to be able to assess the area in question after discovering a leak and can properly advise you. Of course, that is what I, or my company, does. You want someone who will put in writing what needs to be done, if anything, so you and your family are protected health wise and property wise.
When an event like water damage, fire damage or other type of insurance covered damage occurs who gets to do the repairs on your home? The reason this is brought up is simply that many are not really sure what to do when it happens. Many will simply follow what their insurance adjuster directs since they may have a network of companies they use to do needed repairs. While there is nothing wrong with this there are definite pros and cons of doing so.
But know that by state law the home owner has the right to choose who does work on their home. There may be some exceptions with HOA communities depending on the agreements you sign when purchasing a home or condo. An insurance company does not have the authority to direct who does work on your home or even to direct the work itself unless you allow them to do so. Some insurance companies or adjusters may be a little over zealous trying to save their company money and may want to tightly control everything which at times can be at odds with giving the home owner the proper service and repairs they deserve and need. Most adjusters have not been contractors although many companies are training their adjusters in the field of water mitigation and such so they are better equipped to deal with your claim.
Pros: The insurance company vendor can get the job done and coordinate with the insurance company easier and will get paid directly by the insurance company possibly leaving fewer things for you to worry about. They also have met certain criteria to be one the approved vendor list to get your or the company's work. In some cases one company can handle both the water mitigation ( or dry out) and the repairs provided you ask them to do both. When a company is on a 'Preferred Vendor' list of an insurance company (depending on that insurance carrier) will initially send the 'Job' to perform the water mitigation or dry-out but are not allowed to offer to do repairs unless the owner asks them to do so. This can be easier on the home owner using just one company as a 'one stop shop'. The insurance company many times will have an approved vendor list for repairs and simply send one of them out to do your repairs which can still have a similar effect of the 'one stop shop'.
Cons: Using an insurance company's 'approved vendor' creates a conflict of interest for the company performing the work. This is so because in a sense that company (because of their 'vendor agreement with the insurance company) is to some degree working for the insurance company and at the same time working for you, the homeowner. What happens when there is a conflict between what should be done to repair damages a certain way and what the insurance company directs the approved vendor to do? Well, that is obvious, is it not? The insurance company wins out which is often times not told to the home owner and is communicated only between the approved vendor and the insurance company. Could that be referred to as a type of collusion? Hmm....
A case in point: I once went to estimate repairs where one company had performed the water mitigation but also provided an estimate for the repairs as well. There was some damage to the faux painting on one wall just above the baseboard which normally requires re-fauxing the entire wall and even room since it is not assumed the owner has that same paint and the painter can produce a matching look with the existing faux finish. The approved vendor was estimating only to 'touch up' the damage to the faux paint apparently to save the insurance company money. Having been a painting contractor for 13 years I knew this was not the proper way to address the paint damage. I then informed the owner of what should be done and put in the estimate to re-faux the whole room in that instance which the insurance company did accepted.
The use of a quality contractor not on the 'approved vendor' list has advantages and possibly more so than the approved vendor. When I have met with home owners (when I worked for other companies) I inform them that part of my job is to make sure repairs are done properly and therefore I put in the estimate what should be done to accomplish that. So I was not hindered by 'vendor program rules' which restricts what the approved vendors could do. Of course, it does not mean I have a blank check but have a lot more latitude to negotiate with the insurance company to get the needed funds do to the job right.
I feel the need to really emphasis certain safety precautions that everyone should be aware of but many, if not most people are not. I have come across recent situations whether it be property owners where part of the property is the HOA's jurisdiction, tenants where the landlord has total jurisdiction or even the regular homeowner where apparent moisture and mold is obvious but proper procedures were not followed by someone. When Established Industry Standards/Protocol are not followed then the health of the occupants is potentially put at risk.
Example: There is an obvious leak or water intrusion of some type getting a wall wet. It may not be noticed for several hours but usually several days if not longer. A plumber is called to fix the leak, assuming it is from the plumbing. You ask the plumber 'is there any mold?'. Because the plumber has no training in water damage or mold remediation he may say any number of things but may well not tell you the truth and certainly what you need to know. Some may grab some bleach to clean the area and call it a day. But that is not the end of it. You see, after 24 hours mold will start to grow once it has a water source. The plumber does not want any liability for opening up drywall that may well have visible mold on it but he/she does not see it until the wall is open. At that point the plumber (or whoever opens the wall) becomes liable for any mold exposure to the occupants so they naturally will not likely tell you this.
As long as wetness remains mold will continue to grow and cause you problems. If a company comes in to handle this situation You can insist they follow established water mitigation and mold remediation protocol. Part of what I mean is this; If a wall is obviously wet and has been that way for some days protocol dictates that containment be set up (that is a plastic barrier) to protect the health of the occupants while work is being done in that particular area. In principle tenants and owners (where HOA has the obligation to water mitigate and mold remediate) have the right to insist on this. You will have to observe to see if this is actually done before walls are opened all over the place where you are still occupying that space, meaning you are still operating in the space where the work of this type needs to be done. The idea is that you don't want to be needlessly exposed to potential mold when it can be prevented.
Many inexperienced property managers and owners have not been educated about these dangers and simply may not know about it. So as an occupant of a residence you need to do your part and be proactive to help prevent exposure to mold and even bacteria that can be growing as a result of water intrusion or leakage. If you see the workers or company are not following basic protocol you have the right to stop them before letting them go further n the work. Keep in mind that I am referring to walls that have been wet for some or several days or longer since mold has likely grown at that point.
Feel free to send in a question.
This can depend on several factors besides what the policy actually says such as:
1. By the adjuster assigned to your claim. Many times the interpretation of the circumstances of your water loss and water damage is determined by what the adjuster perceives or 'wants' to perceive. I have seen instances with the same company where one claim was covered (that I knew should not have been) and one that was not covered (that I knew should have been).
2. By what "You" say or volunteer to the adjuster: This is often very important and even critical when initially telling your insurance company what happened. Often the phrase 'a sudden release' of water or similar wording will normally get you covered assuming the investigation of the loss by the adjuster supports this to at least some degree or at least does not disprove it. The Plumber's report is a big factor when determining this.
3. When it comes to Mold: Some companies simply do not cover mold cleanup (or mold remediation). Most, however, do have at least some coverage for this. Although I have not worked or dealt with every insurance company State Farm has one of the better coverages which ranges up to $5000 on mold related cleanup which includes the Mold Clearance Inspection. This figure does not include repairs of the damage as that is set forth in your individual policy which should be up to the value of the property depending on what you have chosen.
Keep in mind that even if your current insurance company does not cover 'mold', so to speak, does not mean it does not cover the needed repairs. One case I dealt with some years ago involved Farmer's Insurance which did not cover any of the mold remediation and such. But they did cover all needed repairs from that damage. So it is important to understand what coverage you have and what you may need.
It is the Insurance Agent's responsibility to advise you on this and give you the appropriate options. If the agent fails to do this and you are 'under insured' the agent is liable for this which is one reason they are required to carry 'Errors and Omissions' insurance.
I was managing repairs for a property where the agent had volunteered to pay for these for the home owner apparently realizing that the he did not advise the owner on the appropriate coverage to purchase and therefore there was not sufficient coverage under the policy to do repairs. By doing this he kept his insurance license in good standing and avoided a potential lawsuit and hit to his E&O insurance. He was very 'proactive'.
In the last few weeks I have come across Mold Inspection Reports provided by clients that are less than clear about what has been found during the inspection in regards to moisture and what to do about it. For example one report said 'moisture was found' but no specifics on how much moisture was actually there. A good report will specify how much moisture was found such as 20%, 35%, 75% and so on. Normally a picture of the actual reading on the moisture meter should be in the report as support when such a claim is made.
This is important since how much moisture is found in building materials (such as drywall) determines what action, if any, needs to be taken. Example: Say 11% moisture is found in drywall below a window near the floor. This is considered to be well in the normal or acceptable range since it is well below the 18% threshold of what can be considered 'acceptable' depending on the material and location of the reading. But let's say 22% moisture was found in the same area. This would at least call for further investigation such as possibly removing some drywall in the affected area to inspect inside the wall along with trying to determine the source of the moisture.
The reason this is being mentioned is that there are some companies that are just trying to get some work and may make claims of moisture being present with no real supporting documentation. That is one reason why whatever company inspects should not be the one performing the work as it is viewed as a 'conflict of interest', although there is no law against doing this.
I was called in to inspect a property where 'claims of moisture' had been made and areas marked out as to where the moisture was allegedly supposed to be requiring a Mold Remediation. During the inspection I performed I found no moisture ( I mean no significant moisture above 15%) in most of the areas that were inspected by another company and no evidence of mold growth was found inside the suspect walls that would have been present had actual significant moisture been there to begin with. Sometimes it is pays to get a second 'opinion' or inspection in this case.
I did an inspection this week for a landlord for a tenant occupied property. The tenant had complained of mold being found. The inspection found surface mold on the walls inside a closet although no moisture was detected that contributed to this. The tenant found mold on some of the personal belongings in the closet.
Because of no moisture being detected it appears to have been accumulated ,humidity that caused the mold growth, especially in view of the rains for about the last 3 months and with no ventilation in the closet. This in itself is not unusual. What is unusual is the landlord putting the tenants up in another lodging until this matter can be taken care of.
It appears the tenants assumed it was automatically the landlord's obligation to take care of the surface mold in this situation.
Because of this particular inspection I feel it is prudent to advise property owners/managers and tenants alike what their responsibilities may be under current law. Because of not being a lawyer I am providing my understanding of what the law text says. It appears that tenants have the responsibility to maintain the property such as in this case from surface mold that apparently grew because of humidity and not a leak that came about that would have been out of the tenant's control and responsibility. This would seem to be reasonable and basic common sense.
Or in other words all of us (including tenants) who occupy a residence need to regularly clean and maintain our residence including surface mold that will grow in various places because of humidity and other causes that are not the landlord's responsibility. Both the landlord's and tenants need to understand each of their individual rights and responsibilities in this area.
The title of the law in California is SB-655 which you can Google, Bing or Yahoo your way to find and read.
All of us in the area have experienced a lot of rain for over the last 2 months which the area desperately needs. As a matter of course the rain has helped to manifest problems with housing mostly because of the more than average amount of rainfall and at times the intensity of it during this period.
As a result many water damage restoration or water mitigation companies have received a fair amount of business for which they are grateful. Many times the insurance will pay for the resulting damages and sometimes not. In any case it is important for property owners, and even renters, to be diligent about maintaining their homes looking for any signs of potential moisture intrusion to the home.
If you even suspect there may be a leak of some sort (i.e. roof, plumbing, windows, etc.) then have at least that area or the entire home inspected for any potential problem. Sometimes the occupant can do a lot themselves in trying to ascertain if potential water intrusion or damage is in the works. However, it is good to get an experienced professional in the industry to check out your house just to make sure. Of course, that is the primary thing I do with my Company.
Yes, it may cost a dollar to do the inspection but it can potentially save you money in the short and even long term. To put it simply in one scenario: if you have a leaky window that you notice but don't address it right away then mold will start to grow within about 24 hours and the longer the area is wet the more mold will grow and the more money it will cost to fix the problem. Some of you may remember the commercial from years (I mean decades) ago about changing your car's oil regularly. It basically said 'you can pay me now or pay me later'. Either way we have to pay to maintain our vehicles to keep them from breaking down or more after they break down. It is very similar with our homes except there is a potential health risk with the growth of mold.
So please do your 'due diligence' and protect your home and families and have an inspection done for Potential Moisture and Mold Issues.
That is not the end of it: If any issues are found, such as 'wet' areas, these need to be addressed promptly by those trained to do it. Remember not just any contractor or handyman can do that because of not having specific water damage or mold remediation training. When you hire someone who has not been trained, or certified to do that type of work they realistically will create other problems and make the situation worse. Feel free to send me a question through the contact page or email email@example.com.
You may be aware in January of 2016 a new law went into effect regarding mold in property. The new law basically says that 'if mold is found in the property then it has to be addressed or fixed by persons having the proper credentials'. That is paraphrased from the actual text of the published law for California. For the sake of argument I will be just briefly discussing how this relates to rental properties.
According to California law mold being present in rental properties can make it substandard housing which requires the owners to fix the problem. This, however, does not relieve the tenants of their implied responsibility of performing regular cleaning maintenance of their home such as 'cleaning the bathroom every week' so mold does not start to grow on bathtubs and sinks.
I have received several calls this past year from renters concerned about mold in their home. I have inspected homes where the landlord wants 'to bury his or her head in the sand' and ignore the problem of apparent leaks or moisture intrusion thinking these will go away by themselves. Or after having a leak repaired fail to have the area dried properly believing that it will dry on its own in a few days. That does not happen like some property owners believe or property management companies believe, necessarily. The liability increases tremendously for landlords if they fail to do their 'due diligence' in this area.
The water damage industry (including mold remediation) has developed and established industry protocols to dry water damaged materials and remove mold over the last 30 plus years. When moisture intrusion occurs (whether from a plumbing leak or a leaky window, etc.) it does not necessarily dry out on its own until it has helped grow a fair bit of mold. By that time a larger problem has developed and can cost a lot more to fix along with potential liability for the owner and even affect occupant's health. This is one reason why it is necessary to dry the affected areas promptly so mold does not grow and moisture does not continue to damage property.
Not just any contractor can do this type of work. It needs to be someone trained specifically to do it per established industry guidelines. If a person has not been trained how to do it the problem will likely become worse and unnecessarily expose occupants to an unhealthy situation.
Mold testing or sampling can be done for one or more reasons. One reason can be to find out what your family is being exposed to inside your home which can be useful for those more affected by mold than others especially with health conditions that can be exacerbated by exposure to mold and mold spores such as a person having asthma.
This is done with a machine that pumps air through a 'cassette' which captures particles in the air like mold spores, pollen and rusts. These cassettes have a 'sticky' paper inside like fly paper where the particles get stuck and then is analyzed at a lab which identifies the various mold spore types and how many are present. When air sampling is done for a house or condo air samples are taken in one or more areas of the home and then at least one outside sample for comparison. The industry guidelines for an acceptable or normal inside air sample of mold spores is when the number and type of mold spores is similar in number and type to the outside sample.
This is exactly what it sounds like. One way to confirm if mold is present on a surface is by using what is called a 'tape lift' sample where special clear tape is used to pull particles off the selected surface and is analyzed at the lab identifying what types of mold are there.