I’ve had health issues my entire life, mostly manifesting as fatigue. I managed to get through high school, but had to drop out of college after my junior year because of fatigue.
I was told I was depressed and needed medication. Well, that only made me feel worse. I didn’t take it for very long before taking myself off of it. Fast forward 20 years, and I finally had a complete breakdown in my health. You can read the full story here.
For years, we searched to find the answer to my mystery illness until I was finally diagnosed with Lyme disease. However, after doing MANY Lyme treatments, I still wasn’t much better. I worked with some of the best Lyme doctors in the country and they were baffled by my case.
Finally, one of them recommended that I test my house for mold using the ERMI (Environmental Relative Mold Index). Sure enough, it came back with “off the charts” toxic mold in my basement which had sustained water damage a couple of years before. I thought we caught it early and dried it out sufficiently so was shocked to see the levels of toxic mold.
I’ve been trying to figure out what to do and decided that I needed to find a new place to live. After months of looking, I found the perfect place. I secured the property contingent on the mold test, ERMI, coming back clean. Well… it came back high as well.
Not as high as my basement, but high. This whole process has been such an emotional drain.
So many questions…
Will I find ANY place that tests within acceptable levels of mold while living in a humid environment?
How am I going to pay for all of this work?
Will an inspector even be able to find the source of the mold?
If he does, how will I know the problem has been fixed?
Well, I am a graduate of Google and the University of Youtube, so I went back to school to educate myself on all things mold related. It just so happened, that Bridget Danner of Women’s Wellness Collaborative, was putting on Mold Week on her webcast. Her timing couldn’t have been more perfect. I listened to all of the interviews and learned so much!
Bridget told her story of living in a house that had had a slow water leak and the negative health effects it had on her and her husband. She talked about some mistakes they made when going through the mold remediation process and how it made them even more ill.
So, after many hours of reading articles and watching videos related to mold illness, mold testing, and mold remediation, I want to share with you what I’ve learned. Please tell me in the comments what I’ve left out.
First and foremost, do an ERMI to establish what species of molds you’re dealing with and how concentrated they are in your environment! It’s not necessary to test again until after the remediation is done. Unless, you want to take samples from furniture and other items in order to find out if you can keep them or not.
Find out WHERE the source of mold is coming from! Most of the time, this means discovering a hidden water leak, past or present. It is imperative that you hire a COMPETENT MOLD INSPECTOR that is NOT AFFILIATED with remediation.
There is a clear conflict of interest if the company who is doing the remediation is the same company that is testing and giving the stamp of approval that the work has been done correctly. There are companies that only do testing. Sometimes, these people are called Indoor Environmental Professionals.
This person should find the source of the mold and establish the scope of work for the remediation company. Then, when the work has been completed, they will test to make sure that the problem has been solved and the work was done correctly.
When inspecting the property, the mold inspector should begin outside looking for where the water goes. They should look at the elevation of the foundation in relation to the grade of the soil. How high is the dirt and how low is the slab? This will give you some clues as to where potential mold problems are hiding.
Correct ANY water problems! If this step is skipped, then you are only putting a bandaid on a gushing wound. The mold WILL come back. You must find and correct any leaks.
Turn OFF the HVAC system before remediation begins! The return vent pulls in the inside air which will be full of mold spores in the affected area, and distributes it throughout the entire house.
These spores settle on fabric and on walls lying dormant until they come in contact with moisture. Then they germinate and start to grow. To slow down mold distribution, you can use a HEPA filter in the unit and clean it often.
CONTAIN the affected area! The last thing you want is for all of the mold spores that will be stirred up when remediation starts to be spread throughout the rest of your house.
This is where you will want to keep a close eye on your remediator and make sure that they are not spreading the problem. Don’t be afraid of offending them. This is your health and living environment we’re talking about not to mention the money it costs to have this done, and you can’t afford to let this step slip.
First, they need to put up a plastic barrier and tape it off to create a seal. Even though the HVAC system has been shut off, it’s still a good idea to seal off the vents.
They need to wear suits over their clothes that they can take off and put in plastic bags when they leave the containment area.
This area needs enough room for clean air to come in. There also needs to be a window or door for them to dispose of the contaminated materials.
If it’s more than one room, then they need to make a containment tunnel leading to a door.
Wet visible mold! This keeps the mold spores from going airborne. Whatever you do, DON’T USE BLEACH!
Bleach is not a fungicide. It will kill bacteria but not mold. It also damages surfaces and is toxic to humans and animals. It can also make the situation worse by breaking apart the cell wall of the mold releasing its mycotoxins.
Just plain water works just fine.
Use a HEPA vacuum cleaner to eliminate as much dust as possible! A shopvac will work if you buy an exhaust extension and run it out of a window.
REMOVE the affected materials! If it’s drywall, cut it out and take it out of the window or door INSIDE the containment area. DO NOT take any affected materials outside of the containment area.
Use an air scrubber! This is a good reason to hire professionals to help you with your mold problem. An air scrubber takes the contaminated air and runs it through two HEPA filters to remove the particulate matter and exhausts clean air back into the area.
However, as Chris Rose of Inspection Plus says, “The solution to pollution is dilution!” It’s always a good idea to let in fresh air.
Clean the frame! Now, that you are down to the studs, inspect and sanitize the frame. It’s a good idea to do this twice. then let it dry to 18% moisture.
Encapsulate! When the frame is dry, then spray it with a primer mixed with Fiberlock in order to encapsulate anything that might still be in the wood. This ensures that even if moisture were to get back in this area from the inside that mold will not grow back.
Re-test! This is when you will want to do another ERMI, air samples, and maybe tape samples in order to confirm that the mold spores are gone.
This is where the environmental professional should come back and sign off on the work. If the results are not satisfactory, DO NOT pay the remediation company until they are.
Rebuild! When the tests confirm that the mold is gone, then you can start putting things back together.
WHEW! I’m worn out just typing all of that out! As difficult as it is to go through this process, I would rather know that the work was done right and the mold is gone rather than worry that it’s still there.
One thing to keep in mind is that not all mold is bad. Not everyone reacts the same way. That’s why it’s important to know what you’re dealing with.
Also, if you just have surface mold (mold that is growing around a window or a bathtub), then you can use a product called Concrobium Mold Control to kill it and keep it at bay. This is a wonderful, non-toxic product with a great track record. You can usually find it at Home Depot or a local hardware store.
Other Helpful Resources:
Have you been through this process? I’d LOVE to hear about your experience!