Moving In After Mold
This summer's flooding has destroyed thousands of houses, from Indiana to Texas. The rebuilding process starts with mold remediation
Published July 16, 2015
Many DIYers gut it out through a renovation. From setting up an ad hoc kitchenette with a hot plate and coffeemaker for a few weeks while the real kitchen undergoes a face-lift, to sharing one bathroom while a second one undergoes a weekend-by-weekend remodel, staying put usually doesn't put a family's health at risk.
But there can be health consequences if you move back in before your house has been tested for mold. Covering up mold with a fresh coat of paint is only a temporary aesthetic solution—and it won't help clean the air. Once you've settled into a safe, temporary location, your next step will be to call in the professionals.
A reputable mold-remediation company will ask you to have your house tested by an independent pro before any work starts. The test results set the standard for reentry—how many parts of mold per million in a cubic foot of air is a safe level. Once the cleaning is done, the pro retests the air to make sure it meets that standard.
The remediation process starts by pumping out any standing water. The next step is more like a traditional remodel: demolition. "We'll pop a chunk of drywall off about 6 to 12 inches above where we see the high-water mark to check that mold hasn't migrated farther up the wall," says Lee King, of AFTERDISASTER, a mold-remediation company based in North Carolina. "Then we rip up any carpet and flooring and remove sofas, chairs—anything that is clearly not salvageable—to get down to the subfloor or slab."
When the drywall has been cut around the room, insulation is removed from the wall cavity and a mold treatment is added to the wall's structural elements. Once the water and flood-damaged materials have been removed, it can take three to six days to remove all the mold, King says.
Next, the house is dried with commercial-grade air-movers, and moisture is pulled from the rooms with a large dehumidifier. "Don't go buy box fans and set up a portable dehumidifier hooked up to a garden hose," King says. "It's not going to dry the space fast enough to keep up with mold growth in the walls."
Depending on how close to the ground the drywall sits, it can take as little as a ⅛-inch pool of water, sitting for long enough, to get under the base molding and wick up the drywall. Contaminated water is broken up into categories:
Category 1 Water: Clean water that is removed after a few hours or water from a washing-machine or ice-maker supply line that breaks.
Category 2 Water: Can either be Category 1 or gray water from a dishwasher or washing machine that has been sitting on the floor for up to 72 hours.
Category 3 Water: Either of the first two categories or raw sewage that has been sitting for at least 72 hours. "We did lots of work after Katrina, including a hospital where we pumped out 16 million gallons of sludge from the bottom two floors," says King. "Something like the Mississippi River on its best day is a very bad Category 2, and you don't need to wait 72 hours to confirm that."
What if that chest of drawers you had as a kid was soaked? It can be saved—for a price. "Unless they have historical or sentimental value, it's not cost effective to clean and restore pieces," King says. While most homeowners' insurance policies will cover a burst pipe, they don't come with built-in flood insurance. He suggests getting in touch with the insurance company as soon as you can to see what, if anything, is covered.
For more information on insurance coverage, see How to Review and Update Your Homeowner's Insurance.
One way to lessen the remediation cost is by acting as your own demo team. "Homeowners with limitations on their coverage can do their own debris removal," King says. It tends to be the most expensive part, and in some cases, when homeowners take the right precautions—which include using respirators, gloves, eye and skin protection and getting up-to-date immunizations—they can remove the debris themselves with advice from the remediation company. Once the home is sufficiently dried and tested, it becomes a traditional remodel with new drywall, floors, paint, and furnishings.