Hurricane Aftermath: Home Mold Prevention
By Rebecca Morley, Executive Director of the National Center for Healthy Housing Flooding from hurricanes and the hazards that accompany it are seri-ous healthy homes problems. Mold growth, pest infestations, and struc-tural damage can all follow residential flooding. Flood waters can carry a mix of toxic chemicals, human waste, and other hazards that can contaminate homes, personal belongings, and yards, even after the flood recedes. The National Center for Health Housing (NCHH) and NeighborWorks America routinely respond to residential flood damage and help homeowners minimize related health hazards. NCHH recommends property owners take the following steps: 1. Wear rubber boots, rubber gloves, goggles, and an N-95 respirator (available at hardware stores) before entering a home that has been underwater for more than 24 hours. 2. Remove all standing water as quickly as possible, even if the amount of standing water is small. If electrical boxes or wires are submerged, have an electrician clear the area first. Restoration companies have large fans, water extrac tion equipment, and dehumidifiers that can help quickly remove water. If you’re doing this yourself, dehu-midifiers, window air conditioners, and undamaged, uncontaminated, properly filtered HVAC systems can be used to dry out a building. Shop Vacs can be used to extract water. 3. Remove all wet materials. This includes carpeting that has been under water for more than 48 hours, throw rugs, bedding, and other items that cannot be cleaned. Drywall, including walls behind appliances may be wet. A moisture meter (available at hardware stores) can help you determine the moisture content of wood products. 4. When possible, professional con-tractors trained in materials removal and mold clean-up should perform this work.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that trained mold remediation professionals conduct mold clean up if mold growth covers more than 100 square feet, or a 10 foot-by-10 foot area. NCHH recommends the following tips when hiring mold remediation professionals: Know your state’s rules about using licensed mold remediation professionals. Some states require licensing and you should not hire unlicensed professionals in those states. Do not hire contractors who recommend fogging or spraying as the way to clean up. Moldy materials must be removed from the building. If possible, get quotes from more than one company. Ask each contractor to give refer-ences on similar jobs and check to see if the references were satisfied with the job done. Require each contractor to give a written estimate that includes: A detailed scope of work. A detailed plan for how you and other residents, your belongings and the workers themselves will be protected during the work. An agreement that you will hold the payment until the work passes an inspection by a professional. The inspection should show there is no visible mold, no mold odors and that air tested after the work was done has a safe level of indoor air quality. Ask for proof that the contractor has commercial general liability, contractual liability and pollution (mold) liability insurance. Use a highly qualified person for the inspection and testing. In some states, that person must not work for the mold remediation contractor and must give a written report of the inspection findings. The report lets you know that it is safe to re-build. Save this report and show it to prospective buyers when you sell or rent your home. Basic Mold Clean-Up: How To For those homeowners who suffered only minimal water intrusion from minor flooding or other damage to their homes, cleaning all nonporous, wipeable materials and surfaces with a hot water and de-tergent solution can help. If a hot water and detergent solution does not clean these surfaces, a very dilute bleach solution (1 cup bleach to 9 cups water) can be used. Remember that this pertains only to homes where mold growth is impacting small, easily contained areas. If using a dilute bleach solution, NEVER MIX BLEACH WITH ANY OTHER CLEANING PRODUCT OR DETERGENT! Chemical fungicides should be used only as a last resort against mold, and only the lowest-toxicity fungicides should be used in these circumstances. Wear rubber boots, rubber gloves, goggles, and a respirator before entering any dwelling with potential mold.