“I’ve got to get out of here!” exclaimed my client as soon as we entered the vacant house we were scheduled to see. “What?” I asked. “There’s something in the air here that my allergies can’t deal with. I’m out of here.” It might have been her perfect home, but she couldn’t bear to give it the benefit of the doubt because she could not tolerate something that was in the air.
I never thought much about mold or indoor air quality until my grown daughter visited my home recently and asked if we could sit someplace other than the living room. She was aware of something that my wife and I had not detected, but she felt that her allergies were acting up in that particular room. After she left, I scoured the room, looking for any signs of mold and, sure enough, in a 19th century book cabinet, I found some antique books that somehow had developed surface mold. Knowing less about mold than I should, I got this sinking feeling in my stomach. What to do?
Every once in a while on my real estate voicemail, I hear a panicked agent asking if any of us knows a good mold remediation service. I’ve seen real estate transactions fall apart when buyers were scared off by an engineering report indicating the presence of mold. Because of my limited knowledge about it, I decided to ask a professional.
I looked in the yellow pages and found a service called SERVPRO that deals with mold, as well as fire and water damage. With several independently owned franchises in our region, I called the one closest to me in Ossining and talked with Denise Comilloni, the owner. Immediately I knew I was talking to a highly-skilled expert who could help me.
“Yes, we can come in to remediate mold, but know that, while some problems can be addressed by us, others that are causing physical problems should be tested by a hygienist,” she said. “Remember, a mold problem is more difficult to deal with than, let’s say, an aspestos problem, because mold is a living organism. There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to mold,” she continued. “For instance, airborne mold spores require different remediation than a surface mold issue, which is more easily removed. But, even if we remove surface mold, it can come back unless the source of the problem can be identified and corrected. Also, mold may be further obscured if it is lodged in ductwork.”
Denise told me that there are no state laws concerning mold remediation, but there are accepted industry guidelines. A hygienist tests for mold, but doesn’t do the clean-up. The two functions must remain separate and distinct to keep the process pure from unscrupulous practice.
Mold is a living fungus that thrives in dark and damp conditions, regardless of how warm or cold the temperature. Most household molds are made of microscopic yeasts and mold spores that cause health problems, particularly respiratory problems, by releasing microscopic spores in the air. These airborne spores stay alive by consuming nutrients from organic materials such as wood, paper (my books!) dust, and food.
No one did more to make the public aware of the dangers of mold than the talk show celebrity Ed McMahon. Before any of us heard that he might lose his multi-million dollar home in L.A. to foreclosure, that same home made headlines for a massive mold problem. In 2002, he sued his insurance company for $20 million claiming that it had botched a simple repair on a broken pipe and, as a result, allowed a toxic mold to spread throughout his house, making his family sick and killing his dog. Indeed this particular mold, called stachybotrus chartarum, is toxic, and the family dog died as a result of a mold-induced infection. The lawsuit charged that contractors painted over visible mold and failed to provide subsequent environmental reports that the problem had been satisfactorily addressed.
Even Erin Brockovich, made famous by her eponymous movie and no one to be trifled with, also fought against insurers for the mold contamination in her house.
In our own homes, signs of the potential for a mold problem can be chronic leaks or wet areas, a mildew smell, physical respiratory problems that can’t otherwise be explained and, of course, visible signs of mold.
There are some ways to help guard against mold in your own home: fix all sources of leaks; install air conditioning which dries the air out, making it more difficult for mold to survive; check household plant soil, making sure that it is not always very damp; keep firewood outside; keep the shower floor clean; clean the bottom of the refrigerator and underneath it; and, most importantly, pay special attention to the basement, which is the area of your home most likely to be a problem. To keep it as dry as possible, you may want to keep a dehumidifier there.
If there is a significant amount of mold already existing in your home, it is difficult to remove the airborne mold spores with the methods listed above. Airborne mold spores can continue to reproduce and multiply unless you have an air purifier capable of neutralizing and removing mold spores from the air by emitting negative ions and ozone.
But the best course of action, even if mold is just suspected, is to call a professional service, such as SERVPRO. I was impressed by the fact that Denise Camilloni told me she won’t accept final payment for a remediation job until an independent hygienist comes in and guarantees that the job was done right.
It can be a dark, dank and yucky business, but once identified, mold remediation is important to your health, and certainly to the sale of your home.
Bill Primavea is a Realtor for residential and commercial sales affiliated with Coldwell Banker, as well as a marketer and journalist who writes regularly as The Home Guru. For questions about home maintenance or for anyone who wants to buy or sell a home, he can be emailed at Bill@PrimaveraRealEstate.com or called directly at 914-522-2076.