Mold Contamination

fandlilSeptember 29, 2008

We have just found out that the strange odor we have been smelling inside our house off and on for the past few weeks is probably due to mold that accumulated in the crawl space ceiling and ceiling insulation due to a plumbing leak that raised the moisture level.

We know that we have to have the contaminated areas treated by professionals who come with special uniforms and face masks to remove the bad insulation and cart it away in sealed bags, and then clean the surfaces that are affected.

But we believe we need to go a bit further to assure ourselves that we have eradicated the contamination to make sure that it hasn't spread. We are especially concerned that the contamination might have gotten into the HVAC system. That would mean that we need to have the ductwork cleaned.

We want first to hire an impartial inspection company that can do the necessary measurements and interpret the results for us, but we prefer to hire someone who does not actually do the decontamination work because of the conflict of interest.

Any guidance from someone who has been through this issue would be most appreciated.

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Call the companies in question and ask them if they also do decontamination work, until you come up with one who doesn't. But be careful, the reason they may not do it is because they may not be qualified, and that could extend to their inspection skills as well! Or else get 3 co's to give you an estimate on the work (both kinds) and just use the one that seems best.

    Bookmark   September 29, 2008 at 3:01PM
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Our family went through a very similar experience several years ago. We had a plumbing related flood upstairs that lead to mold growth inside our walls. And, as it turned out, out HVAC system had an unducted return air path that ran right through the area where the mold was growing.

We didn't realize that there was a problem until we started have started to have respiratory and other health issues.

In our case, our insurance company paid to have an industrial hygienist come out and test our home. He spent about half a day taking air and surface samples. He then sent these samples off to a lab for testing. About a week later our insurance agent called and told us that that the testing revealed very high mold spore levels throughout our home. It turns out that our central HVAC system was acting as an efficient mold spore distribution system.

Our agent suggested that we might want to move out of our house while everything was cleaned up. We moved out that day and spent about three months living in hotel. We also discarded pretty much anything in the house that could not be safely cleaned. This was all very expensive.

We returned after another set of tests revealed that everything was fine. But these test were extremely expensive. We didn't pay for the tests but I recall that they were something like $2,000 each.

I'm not sure how you might find an impartial inspection company.

But be very careful with the duct cleaning services. There are a lot of dishonest and incompetent outfits out there. We actually had our ducts cleaned and it was a big fiasco. We were actually worse off after the "cleaning".

Good luck with everything.

    Bookmark   November 26, 2008 at 4:40PM
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Bob's advise sounds very good. If you don't go through your insurance company, you might want to join Angie's list to find a reputable contractor. There is a membership fee, but when you consider how much you will be paying for the mold removal, etc. it would be worth it.

    Bookmark   November 27, 2008 at 6:55PM
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Wow, Bob! I want your insurance company! Who do you have that is so conscientious?

    Bookmark   November 28, 2008 at 5:07PM
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That was 21st Century Insurance and they were, for the most part, excellent. We did have one big issue with them but that's a story for another day.

We would still be with them but they stopped offering homeowner insurance policies in our state.

    Bookmark   November 29, 2008 at 12:23AM
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We were advised against going through the insurance company because that would label the house forever as having a mold problem. We we're paying (a lot!) for the remediation and hope that a complete eradication without a paper trail will enable us to get over this, so it doesn't haunt us later.

    Bookmark   November 30, 2008 at 3:39PM
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Wise decision, haus proud. And Bob, I'm sorry to hear that you were worse off after a professional duct cleaning. My husband actually does that for a living but always commercial, never residential. He does hospitals, government buildings and even laboratories and such. He was doing it long before the sick building syndrome was reported on. It is a very important thing to have done right.

Good luck, haus proud! You'll post once you're done, I hope?

    Bookmark   December 2, 2008 at 11:40AM
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In our case, the duct cleaning company, which was hired by our insurance company, basically cleaned ductwork that was not cleanable.

Our home used an old style of flexible fiberglass insulated ducts that were not lined with plastic on the inside. (Today, these ducts are lined with plastic on the inside.) As a result, the exposed fiberglass material inside the ducts was thoroughly permeated with dirt from years of use. The duct cleaning company used a spinning brush and vacuum system that was basically useless with the dirt that was embedded in the fiberglass insulation. But the brushes did manage to free much of the fiberglass fibers which we started to find throughout our home.

In the end, I replaced all of the ductwork myself and our insurance company, to their credit, reimbursed me for the materials.

I should be careful not to paint all of the duct cleaning companies out there with the same brush. I'm sure that there a many reputable outfits out there.

As you wrote, it's a very important thing to have done right.

    Bookmark   December 2, 2008 at 2:17PM
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Interim progress report: We cleaned out the garage and crawl space of all the essentially worthless things we stored there that we could not bring ourselves to part with. (Wife got upset with me for giving away a precious teapot and a few other things -- I confess I did blunder a bit in the rush to clear out the place.) The remediation consisted of a thorough cleaning of all horizontal surfaces in the garage and the interior living space. And, in the crawl space, removal of visible mold in the area under the kitchen affected by the slow plumbing leak, and unclogging of the vent under the kitchen (to improve air flow) and replacing heavy plastic vapor barrier and replacing under the floor insulation in that area. In the living space, 2 big airscrubbers were run continuously for 3 days and nights, pumping air through a HEPA filter out a window and through a plastic tube about 15 feet long into the open air a good distance from the house. The car that we store in the garage, also affected by the mold, was treated for a few hours with a machine that generates ozone, probably at toxic levels (!!), but I drove it with the windows open to dissipate the smell. We also had the HVAC system cleaned out and sanitized.

The post remediation testing in the garage and in the kitchen came out clean. But the one in the master bedroom showed a 50% reduction in mold spores, but the level was still unacceptably high. The mold inspector recommended that we get rid of the carpeting in the bedroom. but when I told him that it was practically new, less than a year old, he changed his mind and said it was probably not the carpet.

We went ahead and had the airscrubber in again for another 3 days and nights, and had the HVAC registers in the bedroom and masterbath revacuumed and treated again with sanitizer. And we'll have the mold inspector back next week to retest the bedroom. I'm hoping that the test result will come out clean.

At this point we are down about $3K for this thing. To say nothing about the worry and discomfort of living with the noisy airscrubbers. Not nice.

    Bookmark   December 12, 2008 at 9:39PM
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What an ordeal! I hope this will end your problems. If the next test results show lingering mold in the bedroom, you might ask about having the carpet steam cleaned. The 3K you've spent is a lot of money but it sounds like it could have been much worse. Good luck!

    Bookmark   December 13, 2008 at 11:53AM
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Hi -

You are getting away cheaply. It cost me over $30,000 for professional mold remediation.....had wooden partitions in the basement when we moved here and did not know the basement flooded when it rained hard. Previous owner cleverly took out the sump pump before selling the house. Everything was painted and looked wonderful and when water came in and we got a sump pump we were ignorant to the fact wood gets moldy and it took a few years to realize what was going on down there. As a result the spores migrated upstairs probably from me going up and down doing laundry and the cats littler boxes were down there (in a dry spot).

They used the negative air machine in the basement only and remediated it and then cleaned and fogged the living room and dinette area and HEPA vac'd and fogged the one bedroom that had high counts. They also did the attic. In my opinion I would get rid of the carpet and after the remediation is completed purchase a fogging machine and periodically fog any suspect room with Concrobium which is non toxic but kills and encapsulates any mold spores as it dries. Once you do this there should be no further problems unless the humidity in the house gets high or there is a water problem. Then it should be fogged again for good measure. The product is so safe you can walk around the room with the fogger but wear a mask so you don't get it in your lungs -- not because it is toxic but you wouldn't want to get water mist in your lungs either ....same senario.

Now we no longer have wood partiitions in the basement and if water comes in when it dries up hubby fogs down there just to be on the safe side, unless it is the middle of winter and too cold to clean out the fogger outside. Then I just mist the area that got wet and when the sump pump pit dries out hubby sprays the Concrobium in the pit.

Hope this helps and saves you money in the future.

    Bookmark   December 14, 2008 at 1:01AM
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Next chapter in the saga: We had the airscrubber running continuously for 3 days and nights in our bedroom, and we had the ducts in the bedroom and adjacent bathroom cleaned and "sanitized." These actions are repeats of what we had done the first time. Then we called in the mold inspector to re-test the air in the bedroom. The mold count that was previous high and was the reason for the additional remediation was now low. BUT there was a significant elevation in the count of a different mold, one that had not previously been high.

This is obviously a puzzlement. We had been having several days of rainy, damp weather when the retesting was done. So that might have been the cause. It is also quite possible that the airscrubber had picked up mold from a previous job and had not been properly wiped down before being brought to our house. We could speculate about the reason from now to doomsday. What we can say is that we do not have any uncomfortable smell, our house is spotlessly clean, the slow concealed plumbing leak that was the cause of our troubles in the first place has been corrected, and there is not apparent visible mold anywhere, and we have no damp condition that could have been the cause of this sudden rise in a NEW mold count.

Testing for mold costs $200 per test. If it were cheap, I would have the whole place tested. The mold assessor says in his report that the new mold might spread to the rest of the house. Sure! I asked him how often results come out like ours on retesting. He said most people don't do retesting. Smart!

At this point, we are going to take a "pause" in our mold remediation efforts. We believe and hope that our house is cured. But cure in this case is hard to determine. It's maybe like getting cured of a cancer -- you're never really cured permanently -- you're just cured until it comes back.

    Bookmark   December 19, 2008 at 9:53PM
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