If you have concerns about black mold as a result of flooding or other water damage, there are some critical first steps you can take to mitigate the damages. Taking immediate action is crucial to minimizing the damage and the repair costs. If you’ve been the victim of flooding or some other type of natural disaster, you cannot wait for the insurance company to send an adjuster out to survey your damages before beginning the clean up. To the contrary, it is a condition of your homeowner’s policy that you take appropriate measures to protect your home against further damage. Take lots of pictures and get to work. This will not be an easy or pleasant job. But, in many cases, such as a catastrophe, waiting for a water restoration company may not be an option. In catastrophic conditions, basic services such as power, water, and phone service will be interrupted to some degree. In addition, with a large percentage of the population affected, there won’t be enough professionals to go around. Under these circumstances, the clean up and damage control will be up to you. The good news is, while it may not be fun, it is certainly doable. Below, I’ve outlined steps to begin the process of water damage clean up and removing and halting the growth of black mold.
- Find and Control The Source of Moisture – If you’ve had flooding, this is pretty simple. You’ll just have to wait for the water to recede. However, if the moisture is from another source, such as a broken pipe or a roof leak, you must locate and control the source before you begin the clean up. If you have broken or leaking pipes, find the main supply valve to the house and close it. If possible, turn it off at the meter. Many homes have shut off valves on an exterior wall of the house, but, these often become defective and will allow a small amount of water to continue seeping, which could lead to further damage. If you’ve got damage to your roof or exterior siding, you must get a temporary cover, such as a tarp or heavy plastic to stop the water penetration. If you’re forced to wait until bad weather passes to make a temporary repair, try to catch as much water as possible in pans, buckets, ice chests, or any other means you can think of to control the damage. It’s never a good idea to go out into the storm and attempt a repair job. Getting injured will only make a bad situation worse.
- Begin the Drying Process – This is the most important step in controlling water damage and halting the growth of mold. After you’ve eliminated the source of the water, you must immediately begin drying things out, even if it’s the middle of the night. Every minute, literally makes a difference in the amount of damage and subsequent repair costs. Begin by removing as much as possible from the wet surfaces. Furniture should be removed or placed on some sort of blocks. Wet carpet and padding will, most likely need to be removed. If only a small area of the carpet is affected, you may be able to extract most of the water with towels or a wet dry vacuum. But if you’ve had a large amount of water soak the carpet, you’ll have to remove the carpet and padding. The pad will almost always need to be replaced. But, if you can begin drying the carpet quickly, it may be salvageable. As I mentioned earlier, it’s important to take pictures of each step of the clean up and keep a written log of all of the work you do and any damaged items that are removed. This will be extremely useful when you begin the insurance claim process. If you have laminate of hardwood flooring that has gotten wet, there’s a good possibility it will have to be replaced. The wood may begin to swell and buckle. If this occurs, it will have to be removed. In the case of traditional ¾” plank flooring, I’ve seen the wood expand so much that it began to push walls out of place. While you may hate the thought of tearing out those beautiful wood floors, you can’t afford to risk possible structural damage. Many laminate and engineered floors have a foam or neoprene underlayment. It is crucial to get this out of there, as it will act like a sponge and hold the moisture, creating the perfect conditions for mold growth. Ceilings and walls are the next places to examine for water damage. Ceilings are easy because if they get water it will begin to drip. Keep in mind though, the place where the drip is, isn’t necessarily the only spot that’s wet. The water will travel until it finds a place to penetrate. You may have only one small drip, but have a much larger area of damage that won’t show up until the stain develops later. If you have access above the ceiling in an attic, it’s a good idea to take a flash light and visually inspect it to see how widespread the problem is. A large amount of water may accumulate in ceilings, while only creating a small drip. If you find this occurring, puncture some small relief holes to allow it to drain. Otherwise, when the drywall becomes soft and weakens, it may collapse, causing even further damage below. Moisture in walls can be tougher to detect, with stains not occurring until several days later. Just keep in mind, when water comes in contact with drywall at the bottom of the wall, it may be drawn up several inches above the water level in the same way a sponge would soak it up. Water may also become trapped between the baseboards and drywall creating a breading ground for mold and mildew. If you’ve had any level of standing water, I recommend removing the baseboards and opening some small holes near the floor to ventilate the wall cavity. Probably the most important aspect of the drying out process is removing wet insulation in walls and ceilings. Insulation will hold moisture for months. If it gets wet at all, you’ve got to get it out of there or you will almost certainly develop a mold problem. It may be possible to remove ceiling insulation from above, through the attic. To remove it from walls, you’ll have to cut and remove the drywall to a height where the moisture ends. It’s important that all of the wet drywall, carpet pad, insulation, and anything else that has been ruined by water be removed from the house. Just pile it up outside. This must be done to control odor and airborne mold and other bacteria which can be harmful to your health. When all of these wet materials have been removed, you should begin drying out the home by whatever means you have available. Use towels, wet vacs, or fans. If you are without power as a result of a disaster, open all of the windows and doors. This can get overwhelming at times, but doing as much as you can now, will pay off later. If you have access to dehumidifiers, this will help greatly. Position fans blowing out windows, pulling air from open windows on the opposite side of the home. Open interior doors to all rooms, including closets and turn on all of the ceiling fans. Ventilating the house as much as possible will eliminate further damage and reduce the chances of mold growth.
- Cleaning and Removal of Mold – Much has been made in recent years of mold remediation and removal. Having this done by professionals can cause thousands of dollars and most insurance companies have now excluded this coverage from homeowner’s policies. The process is not as complicated as some would have you believe. The first thing you need to understand is; all homes have some degree of mold. It is a product of nature. This is especially true in coastal regions with higher levels of humidity. So if you had your home tested for mold there is better than average chance it will be found. These common levels of mold are not believed to pose serious threats to the average person’s health. Black mold, however, has the potential to cause or worsen health problems for some people, especially those with existing allergy or respiratory conditions. The degree of danger is debatable, depending on which doctor or scientist you believe, but it’s advisable to avoid exposure nonetheless. Black or “toxic” mold, as it’s often referred to, usually forms in areas that are prone to high levels of moisture for prolonged times, such as basements or crawl spaces. It can also occur as a result of water damage that’s not quickly controlled or repaired. If materials such as carpet padding, insulation, or drywall remain damp for extended periods of time, black mold can begin to grow. In areas with higher humidity levels (above 55%), the process can be significantly faster. What you have to understand about mold is; it’s a living organism and like all living things, it can be killed. All you need to know is how, and with what, to kill it. Applying a solution of bleach and water (1 part bleach to 10 parts water) will kill most surface black mold. This is best applied by using a spray bottle, allowing the solution to sit for 5-10 minutes, the scrubbing with a rag, brush or a sponge. When using chemicals for cleaning you should always follow the manufacturers instructions for wearing the proper protective equipment such as, rubber gloves, safety glasses or goggles, and respirators. You may want to repeat the process insure that all growth has been eliminated. I would advise cleaning the area surrounding the visible growth by 2-3 feet to kill spores that may not yet be visible. In some porous materials, such as drywall or plywood, the infestation may have penetrated beyond the surface making it difficult to kill all of the mold. In this case, it will be necessary to cut out and remove the affected area. It is imperative that you keep the affected areas dry and well ventilated before, during, and after the cleaning and treating. Allowing the area to become damp or humid again may cause new growth. Immediately bag, seal, and remove all infected materials and cleaning tools, such as rags, sponges, brushes, or gloves from the home. It will be necessary to keep the home ventilated and free of humidity to remove higher than normal amounts of mold from the air and eliminate the musky odor that accompanies mold. It may be possible to rent a negative air machine, which is a powerful exhaust fan that pulls mold spores from the air and catches them in a filter that can then be disposed of. I would recommend buying or renting a dehumidifier that is strong enough for the effected area and having it run during the entire process and for a few days after. Just remember to empty the drain pan often. When the process has been completed, change all of the filters in your air conditioning system to remove mold spores that may have become trapped.
- Preventing a Return – Once you have killed and removed the spores, it’s important to take the proper measures to prevent a return. The best way to insure this is to keep all areas of your home free of excess moisture and humidity. Have your HVAC system checked by a professional to make sure it is operating properly and removing humidity. Check weather-stripping and caulking around doors and windows to prevent outside moisture from entering the home. Make sure that areas that tend to be damp, such as basements and cellars, remain well ventilated. You may want to consider buying a moisture meter, to check for warning signs on a regular basis. Once you have been through this process, you want to be sure you don’t repeat it later.