Is Mold Testing Really Necessary?
In most cases, if visible mold is present, paying hundreds of dollars for mold testing is a completely unnecessary expense. A visual inspection and a little common sense will typically serve as the best indicator of a mold problem because most people know what mold looks and smells like.  The best way to determine if a problem exists is for the landlord, property manager, or maintenance person to physically inspect the residence before calling in a professional.  It is a good idea to take digital photos of any suspected mold that is encountered during the self-inspection for future reference. 
Only in specific instances, such as cases where litigation is involved, a complaint has been made by an occupant but there are no visible signs of mold contamination, or health concerns are a problem, should mold testing be considered.   Testing may also be considered after mold has been cleaned up to verify the process was successful. But even in these cases, it may be more prudent to trust your eyes, nose and common sense. Keep in mind that mold testing can become very expensive. If it is not absolutely necessary, time and money would be better spent trying to alleviate the problem by simply getting an estimate for repairs instead of paying hundreds of dollars to find out what you already know.

Conflict of Interest – Tester or Remediator?
There is a common misconception in the industry that it is a conflict of interest for a company to perform multiple services such as testing and removal.    There are companies that offer testing only, while others provide remediation (removal) services.   Typically, the larger, full service companies will offer a wide variety of services.  This is true not only in the mold industry, but in many other industries such as plumbing, electrical, automotive, just to name a few.
As an example, if you had or suspected a plumbing problem, you would contact a plumber to evaluate the issue and more than likely pay a fee or get a free estimate for that service and for his professional evaluation.   You would also expect some sort of bid or estimate for repairs.  If you agreed with the contractor’s assessment and price to repair, you would hire them; but only after you have performed your due diligence by getting the customary two or three bids, second opinions and checked references of the contractors you are considering hiring.  The question of a conflict of interest will ultimately be decided by the customer. If they have done their homework, checked licensure, etc., conflict of interest should not be a concern.  It comes down to whether you trust your service provider. Ultimately, you have to go with your gut instinct.

Costs
The unpredictable nature of mold removal lies mainly in the fact that a lot of mold contamination is actually hidden behind walls, floors, ceilings, etc. and is unseen by the human eye. Costs of corrective actions will of course vary from job to job, but even the smallest remediation project will not usually be less than $1,000 – because there are basic procedures, set-up and mobilization that have to take place with every project. Then there are standard overhead cost factors to keep in mind, such as contractor liability and Workers’ Comp insurance.  The EPA’s website offers instruction on do-it-yourself mold removal projects that affect less than 10 square feet and should only be done if the homeowner is comfortable with the process and adheres to the recommendations.

Mold Removal Techniques
The ultimate objective of mold removal is to physically remove the contamination, not to simply “treat” it. There is a common misconception that certain chemicals (i.e. bleach) will “kill” mold and solve the problem.  The reality is that even “dead” mold spores can be allergenic if left on a surface. It is not recommended to use bleach or harsh chemicals as they tend to create an even more toxic environment than already exists. Therefore, mold abatement efforts should focus on safely removing building materials that harbor mold, and when physical removal is not possible or feasible, treating the surfaces in such a way that little or no spores are left behind, such as encapsulation (sealing) the area. Companies should use only EPA-approved green anti-microbial products that are effective in aiding the remediation process and follow the guidelines set forth in the EPA’s Mold Removal for Schools and Commercial Buildings, as well as our current industry standard known as The IICRC S520 Guideline for Professional Mold Remediation.

Biggest Causes of Mold
Besides excessive moisture being the obvious culprit and usual suspect, deferred property maintenance is the leading cause of mold and water damage.  It is very common to see buildings and homes that are fifty, sixty and seventy years plus with the same plumbing systems in place as when the structure was built! We see roofing and window systems in complete disrepair and sprinkler systems that water the building more than the landscape.
The list goes on and on but the result is the same: expensive repairs. We advise homeowners and landlords to inspect their properties a few times a year for defects and issues that can become major problems down the road.  Often these small inspections cost very little and can save thousands. When it comes to mold, an ounce of prevention is truly worth a pound of cure.

Weather Related Mold Issues
Since we live in a very dry climate, mold problems as a result of weather related issues are the exception rather than the rule.  Again, the problem usually stems back to poor or deferred maintenance, even when bad weather is involved. As an example, a poorly maintained roof or incorrectly installed window is more likely to leak under the stress of a severe storm. Prevention is the key.

Insurance Coverage
Insurance and covered losses vary widely. Some insurers have limited coverage for mold damage, and yet others have no coverage for mold at all.  However, all insurers provide some sort or coverage for water damage or even mold if it is the result of a sudden, unexpected event such as a broken pipe or flooding that requires emergency service clean up.  Since all policies are different, it is best that the owner check with their insurer and review their policy before a loss occurs.

Red Flags; Buyer Beware!
Unfortunately, every industry has a certain amount of unscrupulous individuals and dubious operators, with the mold abatement business being no exception. The customer should be aware of red flags such as “test only” companies that offer expensive inspections and unnecessary sampling (testing) to inflate the cost of an inspection, as well as mold abatement companies that are not licensed, bonded or insured.
The diligent homeowner should make sure that the service provider performing services has verifiable references and some type of industry certification such as from The Clean Trust (formally known as the IICRC) or others.  Most importantly, service providers must possess and show proof of liability and Workers’ Compensation insurance.  That way if a service provider is injured at your property, or causes extensive damage to your property, you will not bear the financial burden of paying for the ensuing medical bills or damage done to your property.
Lastly, homeowners should know that in California the law says that anyone who performs services valued in excess of $500 MUST possess a valid California State Contractors License. Checking a license is easy and can be done online in only a few minutes at the Contractors State License board website at www.cslb.ca.gov.

Prevention Tips
Owners and occupants should work together to identify, prevent and repair moisture intrusion problem(s) as soon as possible. Both parties are ultimately responsible for working together to keep moisture out of living spaces that could lead to mold growth once it has been removed, as well as promptly repairing any defects that led to the original mold problem.   Always dry or remove wet or flooded building materials within 24-48 hours to prevent the spread of mold growth; therefore, it is a must that tenants notify owners of potential problems immediately!
Remember, the keys to mold prevention and expensive repairs are moisture control and preventative maintenance. Always perform yearly property inspections on roofing, plumbing systems, exterior drainage, and interior ventilation to name a few.  Every six months take a quick look under sinks in kitchens and baths for leaks; always call a professional if you’re not sure of what to look for. Be sure to get multiple opinions, and in the end, go with your instinct and hire the one you trust.

Austin Reid is Senior Project Manager for Mold Masters, Inc. and may be reached at (323) 999-2599.

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