By Tracey March
Discovering mold in your rental property requires immediate action. Mold signals the presence of either a past or current water problem (for example: flooding, leaking, high humidity) and it can cause health problems for your tenants. Depending on the size of the mold-affected area and the amount of time and enthusiasm you have for DIY work, you can choose to hire a professional mold remediation company or you can remove and remediate it yourself. You should also check with your insurance company to see if mold removal is covered in your owner’s policy.
To Test or Not to Test…
The first thing to consider is whether or not you should send a mold sample out for testing. Because the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) advices that all mold, no matter what kind, be removed, most experts suggest that you skip testing on the front end to save money. Testing should generally be done after remediation to make sure that mold has been successfully removed. Do consider sending a sample out for testing if you’re considering doing the remediation yourself and you suspect the mold could be toxic. If it is toxic, you should hire professionals to do the remediation.
Mold Removal: When and How Can You Do-It-Yourself?
If the area of the mold is less than ten square feet, and you’re sure it’s not toxic, many experts say you can remove the mold yourself. Here’s how:
1. Fix plumbing leaks. Before you remove the mold, repair any leaks and resolve other water issues that caused the mold problem; let the area dry completely.
2. Wear protective gear. Although you will be taking precautions, some mold spores will become airborne because you will be disturbing their environment. At a minimum you should have:
- Dust mask or respirator
- Protective clothing to cover your whole body (that can be cleaned or easily thrown away)
3. Contain the area. Use plastic sheets, secured with duct tape, to seal doors, vents, and any other openings. This prevents the spores, which will become airborne, from contaminating the rest of the house or apartment. Also, remember to turn off any air conditioning or heating system.
4. Dust the area. Because mold spores are often found in dust, make sure that you try to remove as much as possible after you contain the area.
5. Consider using negative pressure. If you position an exhaust fan to blow air out of an open window (or partially opened door to the outside) most mold spores that do become airborne during the process will end up outdoors.
6. Remove the mold and disinfect the area using a bleach solution. Dampen dry patches of mold with a spray bottle to reduce the number of airborne spores. Next, clean the area with a sponge, using a solution of 1 gallon warm water and 1 cup detergent. Let the surface air dry. Next clean the area using a bleach solution of 1 gallon warm water and 1/4 cup of bleach. Wait 20 minutes; and repeat the bleach cleaning 2 more times. NOTE: Although bleach is often used to remove mold, it is not an EPA-approved “biocide.” If you prefer to use an approved product, consider using a product such as Mold Stat (and follow the product directions).
7. Prevent mold from returning by using a borate-based solution. Finally, wash the mold area and any adjacent surfaces (where spores might be hiding) using a borate-based solution of 1 cup detergent to 1 gallon of water, letting the area air dry.
8. Clean the area with a HEPA vacuum. After the area has been disinfected and air dried, vacuum to remove left over spores and mold.
9. Clean movable items. Materials that are not porous can be used again after removing any mold. Porous items (such as carpets, wood, and fabric) don’t clean as well because mold can get under the surface. Make decisions on whether to clean and disinfect these items, or throw them away, on a case-by-case basis.
10. Dispose of the mold and mold-contaminated items. Place any items contaminated by mold in the cleaning process (such as throw-away coveralls), and the HEPA vacuum bag, in a sealed plastic bag.
Mold Removal: When and How Should You Bring in the Big Guns?
Larger areas contaminated with mold should be decontaminated by professional mold-removal businesses, also known as mold removal and remediation specialists. Consider these factors when you are choosing which mold-removal company to hire:
1. Experience is important. Whoever you hire should have experience removing mold. Check references, and ask if the contractor follows recommendations set forth by either the EPA (Mold Remediation in Schools and Commercial Buildings) or other governmental or professional groups.
2. Check credentials. Request insurance information, sometimes referred to as a “Certificate of Insurance.” Also, ask if the remediator has any relevant certifications from reputable organizations.
3. Mold samples should be taken and tested by a third party after remediation. Make sure that the company testing the mold is not the same company that does or did the remediation—there is an obvious conflict of interest. Before remediation, the removal company benefits if mold is found; after remediation, the removal company benefits if mold levels are considered acceptable.
4. Don’t make a pressured decision. Some contractors will try to scare you into having an expensive remediation by exaggerating the dangers of toxic mold; don’t let unscrupulous businesses pressure you into making a fear-based decision.
5. Get a written estimate, including details about the work to be done. Certain steps, such as containment and using negative pressure, should be undertaken to remove mold effectively and safely. You should be aware of the possible inconveniences and the expense before the work starts.
6. The work should be warrantied. Most companies offer a warranty; make sure you know how long you’re covered, and if you have to do anything to maintain the warranty.
Obviously if you find mold in your rental property, you’re not going to be happy. Despite the unwelcome news, you need to address the problem directly and immediately to prevent it from becoming an even bigger problem.
Have you had any experiences with mold remediation?