Mold in Storage Areas

There’s many places in a home we use for storing items, and sometimes when those items aren’t regularly used, they’re forgotten about completely.  It’s always good to remember that the perimeter walls in any portion of your home should be visible to some extent so potential problems can be visible prior to them becoming major ones, like this small storage space.  It was used to pack away stored items which are rarely used, if ever.  Upon looking for something the owner opened the door and noticed a very strong smell before pulling out one of the boxes and seeing the growth.  She admitted to never going into that closet for many years but did remember a leak that wet the drywall some time ago.  Now almost all of us have sections of our home that are rarely used, but remember, every room needs to occasional check once in a while.  This closet had to be completely demoed, as did some surrounding walls and then rebuilt because the initial water loss wasn’t properly taken care of and the boxes which were crammed in didn’t make it possible to see any underlying issues.  When you make a checklist for spring and winter, be sure to add storage closets to your items.

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Water Backup Prevention

Water backup occurs when the water around the foundation of your home exceeds the capacity of removal systems to drain it. It can occur from surface water seeping into foundation walls or sewer systems overflowing up through drains in the basement.

Prevention Steps

  • Maintain gutters and downspouts, keeping them free of debris and leaves and repairing them if they are sagging
  • Inspect your gutters’ capacity – after fifteen minutes of heavy rain, if water overflows the gutters, install additional downspouts
  • Extend downspouts at least ten feet away from the house
  • Adjust landscaping and irrigation so that water flows away from the foundation
  • Drain subsurface groundwater and storm water with a sump pump system that has battery backup and replacement warnings
  • Run your sump pump every few months and clean it annually before the rainy season
  • Prevent backflow of sanitary sewer water by installing backflow valves and standpipes at all basement drain locations, including sinks and toilets
  • Prepare your basement “just in case” by raising your washer, dryer, water heater, oil tank, furnace, all electrical wiring and personal items above typical water backup levels

Recovering From A Backup

  • Remove standing water to prevent structural damage
  • Dry all wet carpets, rugs and personal belongings to prevent mold growth
  • Sanitize all areas and materials in contact with sewer water
  • Consult with a licensed building professional who can determine the extent of repairs if necessary

Hiring a general contractor or the wrong type of remediation contractor can lead to even more damage and the possibility of mold. Always insist on a certified water restoration contractor and remember, you can hire any contractor of your choosing if you file a claim with your insurance.

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Mold Insurance

On many occasions, I field calls from customers who have mold growth in their home and are under the impression that their issue is covered under their insurance policy.  In certain instances this is true, but in most instances it isn’t.  Most policies have any where from Five to Ten Thousand Dollars worth of coverage, but not for mold as a stand alone issue.  The way it works is this:  If you have a water loss which is covered under your policy, like a hot water tank break, pipe burst or a roof leak, then if that initial issue causes mold, it is covered under that Rider.  So, if your hot water tank breaks and floods your basement which results in growth on the walls, then your policy will cover the water damage and separately cover any growth found, up to the limits set on your policy.  But if you have mold growth due to humidity issues or poor ventilation, it will not be covered, nor would any content damage.

It is very important to understand what your policy covers and it’s limitations.  Most people just sign papers laid out in front of the them and do not understand their policies until they have an issue.  And although most claims don’t overuse the Five Thousand Dollar Mold coverage that they have, the additional fees to have Ten Thousand Dollars worth of total Mold/Biological Coverage is minimum compared to the potential out of pocket cost when a major loss occurs.  If anything can be taken from this blog, it is to know your policy coverages, understand your limitations, check to see if you have content coverage which is very important and check your Mold Removal/Mold Remediation Rider.

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When the Power Goes Out

With powerful thunderstorms becoming more frequent, here’s a list of things to do when the power goes out

  • UNLESS there is an emergency, do not call 9-1-1. That number should ONLY be used if there is an emergency, or if someone is injured or in danger.
  • If there are downed power lines in your neighborhood, do not go near them. Call 9-1-1 first to report the emergency. Then call your electricity company. Check to make sure that no children or animals go near the wires – they could still be electrictrified and are lethal.
  • A rolling blackout during warm weather will most likely occur during the evening peak hours of 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Because it may be dark in rooms with no lights, keep flashlights handy. To avoid a power surge when the electricity returns, turn off computers, TVs, stereos and other unnecessary electronic equipment at the power strip.
  • Drink plenty of water. You will perspire and lose water, so stay hydrated.
  • Dress to stay cool – wear layers that can be removed if you get hot.
  • Avoid opening your refrigerator and freezer as much as possible. Food inside should stay cold for hours if the door is left closed.
  • If you’re hot, take a cool shower to reduce your body temperature.If you have a pool or a neighbor with a pool, it’s s good time to take a dip. The cooler water will bring your body temperature down and help you to stay cool.
  • Check on your elderly neighbors or those who may have medical conditions or use medical machinery that operates on electricity. Make sure they are dressed appropriately and are staying cool.
  • Drive carefully. Remember that traffic signals may be out in a rolling blackout. Consider each intersection to be a four-way stop and drive defensively.

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Using Ozone for Remediation

I know this is an ongoing question, and there are remediators who are recommending ozone for cleanup. However, although ozone can damage some fungi, there is not a single study in the peer-reviewed literature that documents sufficient deactivation of fungi to be useful in remediation efforts. Most of the studies of ozone are found in the food industry. Ozone is effective in slowing the growth of fungi on fruits and vegetables. However, under these circumstances, slowing growth for even a few days is considered significant. Delays in spore production as long as 5 days have been reported. While significant in the life of a vegetable, this delay is useless for a residence.

It is true that very high levels of ozone over several hours will significantly lower the concentrations of culturable fungi on hard surfaces. At these concentrations, however, the ozone will damage building contents. Also, ozone disappears rapidly from the air. It attaches onto surfaces, including valuable ones that could be damaged. Data from studies that assess fungi on materials in houses have not been impressive. Fifty percent reductions have been achieved, and considered significant. However, reducing fungal concentrations on a surface from 50,000 to 20,000, although it may be statistically significant, is not important in a remediation sense. Also reported is the fact that fungi are more readily damaged by ozone on smooth, hard surfaces than on porous surfaces.

Unfortunately, fungal growth is most likely on porous materials (such as wallboard) from which it is difficult to remove, while a simple wipe with a damp cloth will remove fungi from smooth surfaces. Remember also that dead fungi may cause as many problems as living ones. It is far more effective to not worry about whether or not the fungi are alive, but instead concentrate on fixing the water/humidity problem and removing materials with fungal growth.

Overall, then, given the potential dangers of ozone damaging building contents and the possibility of negative health effects both for remediators and for occupants, I would not recommend it’s use. In fact, given the negative literature, I would suggest that the use of ozone is contraindicated in mold remediation situations.

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Surface Sampling Overview

There are other simple sampling methods that may be used to supplement volumetric air sampling. Surface samples are taken by tape lift imprint, by swabbing the suspect surface with a culturette swab, or by submitting a bulk sample of the suspect surface. We typically recommend that a direct microscopic examination be performed on surface samples. While culturing a surface sample may help resolve a specific identification problem, used alone such a culture may result in an inaccurate characterization of the surface sampled. A direct microscopic examination of a surface shows exactly what is there, without being affected by an organism’s ability to compete and grow on sampling media.

The primary purpose of a direct microscopic examination of a surface is to determine whether or not mold is growing on the surface sampled, and if so, what kinds of molds are present. Secondarily, most surfaces collect a mix of spores which are normally present in the environment. At times it is possible to note a skewing of the normal distribution of spore types, and also to note “marker” genera which may indicate indoor mold growth.

In addition, when mold growth is present indoors, many more spores of a particular type will be found trapped on surfaces. These spores may be in forms which indicate recent spore release (close proximity), such as spores in chains or clumps. Marker genera are those spore types which are present normally in very small numbers, but which multiply indoors when conditions are favorable for growth. These would include cellulose digestors such asChaetomium, Stachybotrys, and Torula. While a single Stachybotrys spore is occasionally seen as part of the normal outdoor flora, finding 5 or 6 of these spores on a single scotch tape slide of a duct surface is an indicator that Stachybotrys may be growing indoors.

Pros

A direct microscopic examination of a surface shows exactly what is there, without any skewing by laboratory procedures. Surface sampling is inexpensive and (for a direct examination) may be analyzed immediately. Surface sampling may also reveal indoor reservoirs of spores which have not yet become airborne.

Cons

The presence of biological materials on a particular surface is not a direct indication of what may be in the air. Health problems related to indoor microbial growth are generally caused by the inhalation of substantial numbers of airborne spores, sometimes over a substantial period of time (exceptions being, for example, situations involving small children or immuno-compromised individuals).

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