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.

The Shortcomings of Shortcutting A Mold Remediation Project

My mom’s words of wisdom, “Any job worth doing is worth doing right,” never rang

Contaminated drywall must be removed under controlled conditions.

truer than in situations where partial remediation is viewed as being better than no remediation.  Contrary to this misconception, no remediation is better than substandard remediation.  Case in point – a family inherits a home that has been unoccupied for an extended period, and had not maintained for more than ten years.  Water intrusion into the basement and attic caused mold growth to building materials that were in contact with water.  Sustained high humidity resulted in secondary mold growth due to condensation on interior drywall.  Testing revealed concentrations of Penicillium and Aspergillus in the range of 80,000 to 100,000 counts per cubic meter of air.  Outdoor concentrations of spores in these genera were less than 1,000 c/m3.  Toxigenic mold species, such as Stachybotrys chartarum, were also identified.

In the throes of financial difficulties versus living rent-free, the family made a decision to move into the contaminated home and perform remediation in a piecemeal fashion.  They believed that small efforts to remove mold would cumulatively achieve the desired end product of good indoor air quality.  However good their intentions might have been, the reasoning was flawed.  Unlike cosmetic or structural renovation projects, mold remediation cannot safely be performed “a little bit at a time”.  Effective remediation requires removal of mold contamination along with addressing spores that are liberated from areas of actual mold growth.

Attempting to live in a contaminated home while performing remediation one step at a time is similar to paying minimum monthly payments on a high interest rate credit card.  There is no light at the end of the tunnel, and the problem compounds over time.  If one area is effectively remediated, yet contamination remains in other locations, re-contamination to the cleaned area will occur.  Additionally, with ongoing exposures, individuals become sensitized and progressively react to  lower concentrations of mold.

Mold Remediation: Standards of Care are More Important than Regulatory Requirements

Painting over mold is not appropriate remediation

“Since mold is not a regulated contaminant, contractors have the freedom to create their own methods and products to treat or remediate mold – Right”?  This argument, which is often disguised as a question) is frequently touted by inexperienced, ignorant, or unethical mold remediators and remediation wannabe’s.  In asking such a question, they are supposedly seeking my professional opinion.  However, the questioner becomes argumentative when my answer does not agree with the desired response. 

Interestingly, individuals asking this question seldom sustain successful businesses, and often become defendants in negligence lawsuits.  Napoleon Hill in Think and Grow Rich teaches that successful people do not reveal what they hope to hear when asking questions.  Instead, successful people are those that seek truth, have vision, and refuse to accept failure.  Successful mold remediators are those that choose to align themselves with masterminds within industry, professionals that not only provide great services, but work to promote ethics and knowledge.    Ethical contractors seek out the most discerning industrial hygienists for pre and post remediation assessment, and they also insist upon doing a job the right way (source removal and detailed cleaning) regardless of who pays the bill.

State licensing for mold remediation contractors will not halt charlatans who use fear tactics to sell quick (but inappropriate) fixes.   The building industry is an excellent example of how licensing fails the consumer.  Poor construction practices are a primary cause of mold problems in residential and commercial buildings.  Unfortunately, licensed contractors that cause mold problems due to substandard building practices receive little more than a slap on the wrist from the state licensing departments.   

Excellence in the mold remediation industry is achieved by:

  • Hard work, both in job performance and promotion of ethical practices within the industry
  • Consumer education
  • Training
  • Alliances, both within the remediation industry and with sister industries, such as builders, HVAC professionals, engineers, architects, and the medical community
  • Accountability in the form of policing within professional organizations in the indoor air quality industry

From Our Video Archives: Sanit-Air Featured On PBS “The Business Page” Television Program

The nationally recognized Public Broadcasting System affiliate in Detroit, WTVS Channel 56, produced and aired a wonderful local business program titled “The Business Page.” Sanit-Air and our team of environmental IAQ experts and technicians had the distinct pleasure of an extensive feature on “The Business Page.”

Producer Mike Echols narrates this business feature that serves as a nice introduction to the basic understanding of the workings of Sanit-Air and the foundation for our CleaniNEST™ brand and consumer crusade. We hope you find “The Business Page” feature on Sanit-Air informative.

Sanit Air & CleanliNEST™ Featured in Today’s C & G News

Connie Morbach Suited Up Examining Mold

That's me all suited up and taking mold samples...

We’re excited to announce we were featured in today’s C&G News in an insightful feature written by the C and G’s Christa Buchanan. Click on the link to read and learn more: http://www.candgnews.com/Homepage-Articles/2010/06-23-2010/Indoor-contaminants.asp

Raising the Bar Promotes Peace of Mind for Remediation Contractors and Homeowners

While attending a certification course for EPA’s new Renovation, Repair, and Painting (RRP) Rule, I tried to empathize with contractors that were outraged that the government would “force them out of business” due to the increased costs associated with requirements for notification, certifications, documentation, and environmental controls that would be mandatory with the RRP, which was enacted April 22, 2010 .  Understandably, the new lead law, which applies to all residential jobs in homes built prior to 1978, raises concerns that certified contractors could not compete with the bids from the “chuck and a truck” one-man contractors that operate under the radar of building inspectors and state regulators.   However, based on the devastating and permanent damage that lead exposure can have on small children and unborn infants, I would have felt much better about the restoration industry if the expressed fears dealt more with being concerned about causing harm.

I am not fully confident that governmental agencies should be regulating professional standards of care.  Over the last ten years, the uninformed attempts that many state governments have made to set standards for mold exposures convinced me that politicians should not be allowed to “spin” scientific data for the purpose of getting votes.    However, if as professionals, we cannot police our industry, some governmental intervention is necessary to raise awareness and protect the public.

I admit that numerous creative suggestions regarding avoidance of the RRP Rule arose during the class.  One contractor suggested that the demolition part of a job for a home built before 1978 would be performed at no costs, while the re-build portion of the proposal would be elevated to cover the “free” demolition.  This would supposedly eliminate the need to comply with the lead rule because the law applies to work performed “for compensation. “   Another attendee suggested that we should ban together as an industry and protest to Washington about too much governmental intervention.   Too bad the same effort was not spent on trying to figure out how to expedite “doing the right thing”.

The bottom line regarding lead or any other hazards that might be present in the homes where contractors perform any type of repair, renovation, restoration, or remediation is that we have a professional obligation “to do no harm.”    Ethically, this mantra should be part of every contractor’s written or implied mission statement.  It is in fact, the number one cannon in the Code of Ethics for most professional indoor air quality associations, including the Indoor Air Quality Organization and American Industrial Hygiene Association.

Doing the right thing provides peace of mind, which is priceless.

Additional Information at

www.epa.gov/lead

www.cdc.gov/nceh/lead/tips.

Creepy Crawlspace: A Major Source of Contamination In 9 out of 10 Homes

What can you expect to find in a typical crawlspace? It has been determined, after reviewing thousands of air samples collected from properties with occupants that suffer from poor indoor air quality, that the source of contamination in 9 out of 10 homes comes from a poorly ventilated crawlspace. Common environmental contaminants found in crawlspaces include mold contamination, radon gas, pathogenic bacteria, fiberglass, pesticides, foul odors, asbestos fibers, raw sewage, and/or rodent excretions. Although some of these contaminants are classified as allergens, some are classified as carcinogens, which is why evaluating these air contaminants is important and significant.

If it’s in your crawlspace, it’s in your home! Studies have shown that approximately 40%-50% of the air inside the home generates from the crawlspace. Contaminated crawlspace air will enter the home through pressurization differentials or a condition known as the “Stacking Effect.” Inside a house, warm air rises (especially in multi-story properties) which then reduces the pressure in the base of the house (i.e. crawlspace or basement). This reduction in pressure then forces cooler air from the crawlspace to infiltrate the home through plumbing and electrical penetrations, through cracks or seams in flooring, and up into wall cavities.

During property inspections, crawlspaces are often the most overlooked and under-inspected areas of a property, yet they continue to be the source of more damage than any other area of the house. Crawlspaces are a major source of indoor air quality (IAQ) problems and should be one of the first places you and/or your IAQ Specialist inspect when trying to determine any suspect indoor air quality issues.

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