By: Licensed Mold Assessor Brad Fishbein
February 11, 2023
Mold remediation is an industry that really grown in the 21st century with all the stories about black mold in the media and people learning how to utilize their home owner's insurance policies.
There is a dark side to the mold industry that you simply have to know...
or you may find yourself in thousands of dollars of debt... or even with a worse mold problem than you originally had!
So if you are trying to figure out when you should hire a professional, keep reading because this guide could help you make a crucial mistake.
When referring to mold removal and a mold remediation company, both of these terms are used interchangeably as they both refer to mold cleanup.
If we are getting technical...
They are not the same thing.
Mold removal is just one part of the whole remediation process. Not all mold remediation projects will require mold removal as it may involve sanitizing the home only.
You may also read terms such as mold extraction or mold abatement. These are other synonyms for mold remediation.
But here is what you need to know:
Whether professionals refer to it as mold removal or mold remediation, the goal of having professional services do the work is removing or treating mold while preventing contaminated areas from affecting other areas of the home and building occupants.
People can really freak out when they hear mold remediation, but the truth is people tend to make more of it than there needs to be.
I am not insinuating that mold growth on an affected area can't be dangerous because it absolutely can.
There are usually some mold spores present in most indoor building environments, especially if you live in an area that is hot and humid.
Depending upon when mold removal is necessary may vary from person to person. If somebody has an auto-immune disease or allergic reactions to a particular species of mold, the home will need to be as close to mold-free as possible. Simple issues that don't affect the normal person may harm them and sanitization may be necessary for the home.
When the mold grows just on the surface, depending on the root cause, it can usually be cleaned by you rather than removed.
The key thing that you need to know about moldy surfaces without water damage is that this type of mold is not using the wall as a food source.
Surface mold is just kind of "chilling" on the wall. The affected area can easily be cleaned and sealed with an anti-microbial coating.
The Environmental Protection Agency states this about removing mold yourself compared to a mold cleanup by a licensed professional:
"Who should do the cleanup depends on a number of factors. One consideration is the size of the mold problem. If the moldy area is less than about 10 square feet (less than roughly a 3 ft. by 3 ft. patch), in most cases, you can handle the job yourself" Source
The keywords are "in most cases". It's easy to remove mold. Doing it the correct way to prevent mold colonies on organic materials from harming occupants in other areas of the home is the hard part which is why a professional may be the best option.
One of the most commonly asked questions that I receive has to do with mold remediation costs.
It would be completely irresponsible for me to answer that question without visiting your property.
The cost to remove moldy materials varies greatly from building to building, but most homeowners pay between $1,111 and $3,211. A minor infestation costs as little as $400 for a professional to remediate and a major problem costs as much as $10,000 or more. In some cases, you can eliminate the early stages of a mold infestation with a commercial fungicide and cleaning supplies. Source Improvenet.com:
According to HomeAdvisor however, the National Average is $2,272. Source
While these reputable sources indicate the removal cost to be these numbers, I can tell you these numbers are likely pre-pandemic numbers. You can expect to pay more than this as it has been a LONG time since I have seen remediation costs as little as $400. Fixing most mold problems can be quite costly and if the mold went through the HVAC system and became airborne, it can make the bill even higher.
If done correctly, mold remediation can ensure all mold is either removed or contained.
There is one thing that many homeowners obsess with during the mold remediation process:
Sorry to burst your bubble here, but killing mold is not all that important. Besides the fact, the mold may already be dead!
Let me explain:
Mold can be health hazards whether it's living or dead.
As a matter of fact, in some cases, dead mold spores may make you sick more than living mold spores.
Remember, you need three elements for mold to grow:
If you take any one of those three elements out, mold will stop growing
AKA become dormant mold.
For example, let's say you have a leak in your kitchen behind the dishwasher.
While the leak is active, all the mold spores growing on the wall behind the dishwasher are wet and heavy. Because of this reason, the mold spores may not be airborne as much.
Once the area is dried out, the mold spores are no longer wet, and no longer heavy...
That means, yes, they can now become more airborne easier!
When breathing in mold spores, your body cannot distinguish the difference between living or dead spores.
Dead mold spores affect humans just as much.
Killing mold growth is not the answer! Proper mold removal is.
The mold industry is broken down into two separate sectors. You have the mold remediation companies and you have the mold assessors which can also be referred to as mold inspectors.
The mold inspectors are the ones that originally should be called out to the home to investigate any suspicions you may have about having mold in your home.
They are also qualified to take air and surface samples to confirm that you have a mold problem.
A mold inspector will be performing various mold testing such as checking your indoor air quality, checking your HVAC system and air ducts, looking for hidden mold growth, and writing the protocol for the remediation work that needs to be done. They will be the ones that determine if you have surface mold or active mold colonies. Their job plain and simple is to find mold in the living space and discover any water leaks. A good one will also guide you on how to prevent mold growth.
When having the original mold assessment, it should never be done by the company that performs the remediation.
In certain states, it's actually a law that a company can't do both on the same project. Having a company that does both at the same job site gives the remediation company a license to scam you out of money and completely exaggerate the extent of mold damage.
You can hire a mold assessor to not only perform the original inspection but to be a consultant to you through the remediation process and ensure the work has been done correctly after remediation. This may cost you some money but can save you THOUSANDS in the long run.
It's ok to take recommendations from your mold inspector for mold removal companies, however, you should always ask for three. Make sure the inspector has no affiliation with any of the companies or tries to sway you in the direction of one particular company.
Emergency water damage restoration can be a precursor for the removal process. I would call it a sister industry to mold remediation. Some companies just do the emergency dry-outs and some mold abatement companies do both.
Nothing can be quite as stressful as having a flood in your home due to a water leak.
Having a big leak is usually a surprise...
Everything is soaked, wood is expanding, and you're concerned about mold growth, it's just a messy situation.
But here's the thing:
If you catch the leak early enough, you can dramatically decrease your chances of having to need mold damage restoration.
Timing is everything.
For example, if you go away on vacation and come home to your home looking like this:
It's too late...
However, let's say you wake up in the morning and find water on the ground of your home due to a water leak that happened three hours earlier, how quickly you act will be crucial.
As stated above, there are companies that specialize in drying everything out to prevent mold. These companies' services are referred to as:
Usually with the word "emergency" in the name because when you get a leak, well, it's usually an emergency! These terms are all used interchangeably. You may find these companies in a few different ways...
Your first phone call should probably be to your insurance company. These services are usually covered by your homeowner's insurance company but that is no sure thing.
Insurance may send somebody out there, or they may direct you to find your own vendor.
They may not be reachable if it's outside of normal business hours.
Emergency restoration companies are generally 24 hours.
Ok, so let's say that unfortunately, emergency water damage dry-out is not an option.
You were too late and now have a mold problem.
Your first choice is going to be hiring a company to remove mold on the porous materials. While mold removal is not rocket science, there is a certain art form to it.
One of the most important decisions you can make for the health of yourself and your family is the selection of the company that is going to perform the work.
Look, I'm going to level with you:
In my experiences in this industry, there are a TON of shady people and companies. I have seen on dozens of occasions where the remediation company puts fear into their clients and makes it sound like a life-or-death matter. They all love using the term "black mold" (more on that later) I have also seen situations where the estimate provided to the customer is thousands upon thousands of dollars more than it really should be.
Once remediation is done correctly, the mold is gone and your home will be fine. To determine if a remediation company is worth hiring I have come up with a few tactics you can use to select the right remediation company.
Consulting with multiple Mold Remediation companies can be tedious.
I get it...
You have this mold problem in a section of your home and you can't even go in that area for fear of getting sick.
You want to get this "mold problem" solved as quickly and cheaply as possible. One of the mold professionals can't get out there until next Wednesday and another company wants to wait until you contact your insurance company.
...It's a hassle
But here's what you should know:
Let's say you call three remediation companies to come in to give you an estimate, the possibility exists that you may hear three completely different things.
One may seem like a snake oil salesman,
One may seem like fixing the mold problems is not a big deal,
And the last one may make it seem like your house is going to fall down.
Hopefully, this isn't the case and the three companies you contact will be pretty consistent with each other, but that's just not guaranteed.
If you have three estimates though, you will be able to have some leverage. Make sure that each company knows you are getting other estimates as well. A little friendly competition will keep the bids low.
Do not just go with the lowest estimate. This is especially the case if you receive one estimate that is just way lower than the rest. Sometimes you get what you pay for.
A very low estimate opens the door for scammers as well.
Let me explain:
There is a very real possibility that whichever estimate you receive, will not be the final price of the remediation cost. You really don't know the extent of how bad the mold damage is until the walls are opened. Sometimes the problem can be worse than originally thought and more building material may need to be removed. This will affect your bottom line.
That fact can also lead the scammers who gave you the lowball estimate to tell you,
"The problem was worse than previously thought and we have to remove the wall in the entire room."
Guess what just happened,
Your estimate went right out the window and they went from being the cheapest estimate to the most expensive bill.
Check your state laws. Mold remediation professionals may need a special license. Licensed General Contractors are exempt from obtaining a license and are free to perform remediation.
Here's the problem:
Just because state law may allow them to perform mold removal or mold cleanup, doesn't mean they know what they are doing!
This is not a rule of thumb as I know a few general contractors that also went through licensing for mold remediation and have been trained.
You want to make sure that whoever you decide to do the work is a mold specialist.
Always keep in mind, Mold Remediation not done properly can cause more harm than good.
Look at it like this:
If you were to get braces would you have it performed by a general dentist or an orthodontist?
Sure, the dentist may be able to do it, but of course, you would rather the orthodontist put on the braces!
Many mold and water damage restoration companies are small companies that have a small crew which includes the owner and licensed mold remediator as the project manager.
There are many large franchises that employ many people who are not licensed and work under the owner's remediation license.
The problem is, the owner sits behind a desk and will never visit the job site.
In these cases, you have low-paid workers who are not licensed themselves to deal with mold removal that is doing the actual work.
That's not to say large companies should be disqualified. There are many of these companies that have a project manager that is licensed or very qualified due to his time in the field.
If I had to pick one of the two, it would probably be the small company where the owner is in the actual field and performs the work.
Staying in your home should not be left up to you. Your mold remediation pro should know this answer. They must effectively decide whether they can successfully perform remediation without cross-contamination.
If the whole entire home needs to be treated, you should not be in the home. Lean on your hired company for this answer.
Black mold just refers to a particular type of mold called Stachybotrys. It is known as toxic mold. Contractors may use this term as a scare tactic and boost their removal costs. Whether it's black toxic mold, white mold, or green mold if you have a problem where microscopic spores on porous materials are present in the home, it will be necessary to remove mold.
Actual remediation to remove moldy surfaces needs to be done if there is a problem regardless of the color of the mold.
I'm really not a big fan of homeowners performing do-it-yourself mold removal.
There is a whole schooling process for mold removal workers to get certified to perform the work. They have spent countless hours learning on the job and training classes. This is in no way shape or form meant to replace the protocols that they have learned nor are they even half as good to them.
This DIY mold remediation guide is literally meant to simplify the process for anybody that is insistent on doing the work themselves instead of hiring a professional company. While I tried to make it as thorough as possible, I could not possibly list all the steps, safety procedures, and equipment necessary in this one article.
It is recommended that you follow OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Act) standards: Section 1910, Section 1926
Bottom Line: I am discouraging you from doing mold removal for an area larger than 10 square feet. There is more to mold remediation process including:
Chances are you known nothing about any of these and just reading a guide will not get you the knowledge to deal something like mold that can produce health issues.
Meet the author: Brad Fishbein is an ACAC council-certified Microbial Investigator. In the fall of 2012, he became a Licensed Mold Assessor in the State of Florida through the Department of Business & Professional Regulation. Brad has helped homeowners with over 5,000 successfully completed Mold Inspections since 2009.