BASEMENT FLOODS: Primary Damage and Secondary Mold Growth

Flooding of basement, whether the water travels through foundation walls, is caused by a broken pipe, or backs up from a drain, requires immediate action to prevent exposure hazards from mold, bacteria, chemicals, pesticides, and other contaminants. Just as families should prepare and rehearse plans for addressing fires, pre-emergency preparedness is essential to safeguarding health and property values after flood events.
Flood Preparedness
I. Identify the source of water. This is important for several reasons:
• The severity and types of contaminants in flood situations are defined by the origin of the water. For example, if the flood water has fecal material, toilet paper, etc. that are indicative of a sewage back-up, the water has the potential to cause significant harm to exposed individuals. In addition to mold, bacteria, toxins, and human pathogens, sewage water can be contaminated with viruses, chemicals, and pesticides.
• The origin of the water can define whether or not insurance coverage is available. Many homeowner insurance policies include riders for sump pump failures and drain back-ups. Homeowners should be aware that the coverage is not always mentioned by the agent. The cost is typically less than $100 per year, but most consumers don’t know that it is not included in the general policy. Additionally, most insurance policies do not cover damages associated with ground water intrusion that enters through foundation walls or basement windows.
• The origin of the water could determine if liability is to a municipality for negligence, such as insufficient maintenance of storm drains or pumping stations, can be demonstrated.
• The origin of the water can assist in developing an appropriate remediation scope. If flooding is from ground water or sewage, high velocity fans should not be utilized for drying until decontamination is completed. The fans can blow contaminants from affected to non-affected areas. If the water originates from a clean water source, such as broken supply line for a washing machine, high velocity air movers and dehumidifiers should be employed as soon as possible. If surfaces are dried within 24 – 48 hours, mold will not likely grow.
II. When to call your insurance company
In most cases, the insurance company should be called sooner than later. Delaying notification could cause denial of claims or delays in appropriate structural drying, which could promote mold growth that might not be covered by an insurance policy.
Homeowners should know in advance what types of water losses are covered by their insurance carrier. Knowing what the deductible and other out of pocket expenses are for a claim , as well as understanding whether additional riders are needed for mold, drain back-ups, and sump pump failures, is imperative to making wise financial and risk assessment decisions. Also, knowledge of what is and is not covered will assist in decision making regarding whether making a claim is advisable, as making claims that are not covered might compromise the insurability of a home or could cause rate increases.
III. When to call in professionals
The answer to this question depends on the origin and severity of water damage, as well as the type of building materials that are affected by water. If sewage, ground water, or storm water affects large or inaccessible areas, gets into a furnace, reaches depths that require wading through raw sewage – call a professional.
If storm, sewage, or ground water does not recede within a few hours – call a professional.
If porous cellulose building materials such as drywall, plywood, insulation, and carpeting is affected – call in a professional. Scrutinize contractors in advance and call immediately.
Since insurance companies usually require that homeowners take action to mitigate losses, having on hand the phone numbers of pre-vetted restoration contractors can save time and money. After major storms, contractors get booked up quickly. If possible, do not rely on your insurance company to pick the contractor. Choose your own independent third party that has a good reputation and appropriate certifications in water damage restoration. Information on certification can be accessed at IICRC.org.
IV. Quick responses
If water recedes to the extent that electrical and biological hazards are not imminent, healthy homeowners can don protective clothing and take action to protect their belongings and the indoor environment. With appropriate precautions, drains should be verified to be open, pumps should be used to remove standing water, and dehumidifies are to be put into operation. Removal of non-restorable contents reduces indoor contamination and minimizes secondary damage from high relative humidity.
Items to be discarded include affected papers, cardboard, books, stuffed animals, stuffed furniture and other non-restorable items immediately. Disposal should be documented with photos and lists, or items should be placed in receptacles until they are documented.
Wet carpeting should be removed as soon as possible. All wet items should be bagged or wrapped in heavy gauge polyethylene. Transport items only after they are bagged or wrapped. If possible, discard through a basement window or door to minimize cross-contamination to living spaces. Be mindful that contaminants are present, and healthy individuals with no history of breathing disorders are the only candidates for self-remediation. Protective water resistant overalls, gloves, rubber boots, and P100 respirators should be worn.
V. Habitability
If occupants experience adverse health symptoms such as headaches, itchy eyes, sore throats, congestion, gastrointestinal disorders, dizziness, or other flu-like symptoms, the home should not be occupied until decontamination is complete and verified by an independent third party consultant. Infants, elderly people, diabetics, people on immune-suppressive drugs, respiratory illnesses, or heart conditions should be removed from the home until decontamination is complete and verified. A physician should be contacted if symptoms develop after exposure.
VI. Independent third party consultant
If a homeowner suspects litigation, confrontation with the insurance company, or serious health issues, it is strongly advised that an independent third party mold and water damage consultant be hired to assess damages and develop an appropriate remediation scope. It is a good idea to have names and numbers of vetted consultants available in advance.

HOW TO IDENTIFY HIDDEN MOLD, CHEMICALS, AND OTHER IAQ PROBLEMS BEFORE RENTING

Buying or renting an apartment, office or condominium in a multistory building presents challenges beyond the structural and indoor air quality issues that are anticipated when purchasing a single family dwelling. Most prospective home buyers understand the importance of hiring an independent third party home inspector before the purchase of a house. If a buyer has previously experienced illnesses associated with mold, bacteria, and other contaminants in water damaged buildings (WBD’s), a mold assessment is often requested in addition to the home inspection and seller’s disclosure statement. Although the same types of due diligence can be requested for multi-story apartments and condominiums, numerous complexities associated with these multi-family dwellings diminish the likelihood of gathering accurate information.

Identifying issues that could negatively impact indoor air quality can be especially troublesome in rental properties due to policies, practices, and procedures that hinder accountability. Some of these inherent issues include frequent tenant turnover, less stringent disclosure requirements, tenant abuse, poor maintenance, low quality building materials, property management by outside contractors, bylaws of home owners associations, and delayed or unreported damages. Thoroughness and persistence are required prior to signing a rental agreement. Potential health hazards include mold, pesticides, animal and pest allergens, lead, and asbestos, as well as volatile organic compounds from paint cleaning products, carpeting, and building materials.

How to Spot Telltale Signs of Concealed Damage

1. Specific Unit Inspection: Many rental properties can be removed from a list of potentials during an initial walkthrough. Of course this requires that a prospective renter see the actual that he/she would rent. Many property owners have “models” that can be initially viewed, but available rentals cannot be inspected until current tenants move and repairs are completed. A lease should not be signed until the renter (and his/her inspector if desired) approves the unit to be occupied.
2. Uneven Paint: Cracks in drywall seams, different shades of paint, blistered paint, or bumpy textures, especially in the lower corners of

Cracked paint in upper corner of exterior wall signifies water damage and hidden mold

exterior walls, under upper unit bathrooms and kitchens, at the lower corners of windows, and along the lower walls outside of bathtubs and showers, should raise red flags about insufficient water damage repairs, with the likelihood of underlying mold and bacteria contamination.
3. Under Sinks and Vanities: Water stains, visible mold growth, delaminated bases in cabinets, drip stains on walls, and musty type odors are indicative of historical water damage, with the possibility of hidden damage to the flooring below the cabinets, as well as in the wall cavity behind the cabinets. New cabinet bases under sinks can also signify that the base was severely damaged and the floor might remain damaged.
4. Peeling or Uneven Paint in Ceilings above Kitchens or Bathrooms: Uneven paint might represent repair from a toilet overflow or leak, pipe break, insufficient caulking, or other condition that caused top-down water intrusion from an upper unit. Since water from a bathroom can be especially contaminated, extra care should be taken to inspect the ceiling. A flashlight shined at an angle will often reveal the damage. If the drywall appears to have been replaced, documentation should be requested to confirm that joists, subflooring, and other damaged structural members were also appropriately remediated.

Hidden mold behind new baseboard molding

5. New Baseboard Moldings in Bathrooms, Laundry Rooms, and Kitchens: Installation of new vinyl, composite, or wood baseboard moldings is a common practice to cover up the lower edges of walls that were previously affected by a flood, persistent leak, or chronic water damage. When new baseboards are present, check for signs of uneven paint above the baseboards that might indicate that paint was applied over water damaged drywall.
6. Stains under Vinyl Flooring around a Toilet, Tub, or Sink: Chronic water seepage under vinyl flooring will often show up as a slightly darker plume around the source. The stain is usually apparent from the topside, but top surface of the vinyl is not usually altered.
7. Damage to Window Sills or Along the Lower Edges of Doorwalls and Windows: Drywall and wood around doorwalls and windows that have been repeatedly or chronically wet will typically display signs of damage, such as cracks, blistered paint, bumpy or uneven surfaces, and crumbling or weakened drywall. The underlying structures and backsides of drywall are likely to be contaminated if such conditions exist.

Mold on drywall around furnace was caused by leaking condensate drain pan

8. Damage around the Furnace: In most multistory apartments and condominiums, the furnaces are located in closets within the apartment or in a closet area on a balcony or patio. Check for signs of leaks from units above, as well as on and around the furnace, which is often on a wood platform with attached drywall. Damage is frequently caused by leaks from the condensate drain pan, which can get plugged with particulates. Drip stains and rust can often be seen on metal along the outside of a furnace that has not been properly maintained.
9. Rust on Vents and Registers: Excess moisture on vents and registers can be caused by condensation in the indoor environment and/or excess moisture the HVAC system.
10. Chemical Type Odors: New carpeting odors should not be detectable after a few weeks if proper ventilation is provided. If odors are present, find out when the carpeting was installed and request information from the manufacturers’ of the carpet, pad and glue. If no new carpet has been installed, ask about cleaning solutions and type of paint. The MSDS (material safety data sheets and manufacturers’ specification sheets should be made available.

Questions to Ask

  • Request the service and repair logs for the specific unit, as well as the unit above.
  • What is the policy for reporting and repairing water damage? Are procedures in place for handling mold after the source of water is repaired? Who removes mold if found?
  • How are emergency situations reported after offices are closed?
  • Does the property owner’s insurance policy cover personal injuries associated with water damage and mold?
  • Does the property owner or his insurance cover contents that are damaged by water? If so, what is covered, and what are the coverage limits. The answer is likely to be no. Renters should have insurance to cover contents.
  • What types of pesticides are applied? How are tenants notified of pending application? Who does the application? If the building was built prior to 1975, have lead and asbestos surveys been performed. If so, ask to see reports. If not done, and the building is old, the property should not be considered for rental.
  • What is the policy for inspection of the HVAC system and for filter changes?

“Sufficient epidemiological evidence is available from studies conducted in different countries and under different climatic conditions to show that the occupants of damp or mouldy buildings, both houses and public buildings, are at increased risk of respiratory symptoms, respiratory infections and exacerbation of asthma. Some evidence suggests increased risks of allergic rhinitis and asthma. Although few intervention studies are available, their results show that remediation of dampness problems can reduce adverse health outcomes.”

Dampness and Mould, World Health Organization, 2009, section 5.1

http://www.euro.who.int/__data/assets/pdf_file/0017/43325/E92645.pdf

Interview: The Craig Fahle Show On WDET Public Radio | Topic: Avoiding An Unhealthy Money Pit

The Dirty Secret On Foreclosures: Avoiding An Unhealthy Money Pit. WDET Public Radio host, Craig Fahle, interviews me on the topic of hidden hazards when purchasing a foreclosed home. Learn what to look out for and and tips on protecting your potential investment.

Insurance Claims, Contractors, Homeowners: Why Can’t We all Play Nice? Here Are Seven Steps That Can Help…

After a fire or water loss, which can result in mold contamination, the only goal of most homeowners is to have competent and timely restoration that will protect both the indoor air quality as well as the asset value of the property. Similarly, the goals of good contractors are to restore the home, be paid for the services, and have a happy customer. The goals of reputable insurance companies are to restore the home to pre-loss conditions and pay a fair market price for the services. Since these goals are not mutually exclusive, they all can be realized with little or no conflict, right?

Most people who have experienced such losses are probably raising their eyebrows as they whisper, “Yeah right,” to the question. Unfortunately, many factors, including policy exclusions for mold, poor documentation from homeowners, greedy contractors, and overburdened insurance adjustors, can cause conflicts, delays, disappointments, and antagonism during the restoration of a covered water or fire loss.

At times, little can be done by the homeowner to mitigate antagonism if an adjuster takes on a confrontational demeanor from the get go. However, in many cases, proactive measures that begin at the time an insurance policy is purchased empower homeowners to steer an unfortunate loss in a harmonious manner. The following “to do” list for the insured party will go a long way toward making sure that the insurance company, contractors, and homeowners play together in the same sandbox without throwing sand in each other’s eyes.

  1. Understand the insurance policy before purchase. Ask questions about mold riders, sump pump and drain coverage, covered water losses, water damage after fires, smoke and soot damage, odor mitigation, and deductibles.
  2. Research and retain a list of reputable water damage, fire, and mold inspection companies and restoration contractors so that you can be in control of who is hired to do the work.
  3. Have your home inspected by a qualified inspection company that can document conditions relative to water damage and mold before you ever have a loss. This step can prevent claim denials due to poor maintenance or historical damage.
  4. Retain records of prior losses and repairs.
  5. Retain photographs and receipts of furnishings and belongings.
  6. Have realistic expectations regarding repairs.
  7. All documents, including the insurance policy, should be stored in a fireproof safe at home or at another location.

Just like a group of kids in a sandbox, bullies exist on both sides of the fence with insurance losses.  Courtesy, common sense and commitments to doing the right thing are sometimes overshadowed by fear, greed, and hidden agendas. I still believe that it is wise to be prepared and try to play nice before calling in the troops.

Healthy Homes: Testing and Remediation of Mold and Water Damage are Essential to Good Indoor Air Quality

Whenever I leave a mold inspection project feeling like I have just been struck in the forehead with a baseball bat, I wonder if the time has come to retire to the healthy clean nest that my husband, Tom, and I have created in our own home. After nearly two decades and more than 6000 mold investigations, we not only gained empathy for our clients, but were forced to design an optimum indoor environment that could provide relief for the classic mold-related illnesses such as allergies, chronic sinusitis and asthma that were consequential to our profession.

Since the inception of our company Sanit-Air in 1994, our team of scientists, mold inspectors, remediators, and healthcare professionals have been recognized as the leaders in the field of indoor air quality by providing consultation and solutions to healthcare facilities, commercial buildings and industrial settings. Although controlling workplace exposures remains a significant focus for Sanit-Air, our experiences have demonstrated that mold related exposures are frequently more intense in residential dwellings. Keeping in mind that most people have little or no control over the biological and chemical toxins present in workplaces, shopping centers, schools, and other public venues, Sanit-Air has developed CleanliNEST™, a division that is dedicated to optimizing indoor air quality in residential buildings.

My deeply held values include:

  • Protection of human health takes precedent over financial and business relationships.
  • Finding answers is not always easy or popular, but we must do what is right.
  • “Green buildings” are not necessarily healthy buildings.
  • Preservation of natural resources without regard to the impact on air quality could be a very unhealthy trend.
  • Water damage and mold can make people very sick.
  • Tunnel vision can botch an investigation and lead to erroneous conclusions.
  • Egos have no place in scientific investigations.
  • Seeking answers becomes most effective with a team of experts from varying disciplines.
  • Similar to human bodies, buildings are a complex interaction of multiple systems that must operate in a synergistic, balanced matter to achieve optimum health.
  • Any job worth doing is worth doing right.

I hope you find my CleanliNEST™ blog of great interest and value. I’m eager to hear your stories and welcome your questions, thoughts and comments.

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