I have been a Licensed General Contractor for 35 years. Residential remodeling has constituted the lion’s share of business that our company has performed during this time.
Throughout all of these years and hundreds and hundreds of remodeling projects that involved some very damp and musty bathrooms with rotted floors and walls, we have never discovered mold of any type – neither the garden variety nor toxic strains. I don’t know if we’ve just been lucky or if it has to do with our climate – or both.
Of course, like the reset of humanity, we have seen the telltale mold and mildew that permeates grout and caulk joints around tubs and showers, but nothing that could be considered out of the ordinary or that might remotely require testing and remediation.
Unlike asbestos and lead, which we encounter from time-to-time in our business, we have never been faced with mold, let alone the toxic type. But, as they say, there’s a first for everything. It’s a tale that long and complex so I’ll share the Cliff Notes version.
My wife and I purchased a small three bedroom, two-bath vacation home in the California Desert. About a year and a half into ownership, we decided to install new flooring, which necessitated removal of the existing baseboards. Upon removing the base I noticed that the drywall – previously covered by base – was black. After doing a double take and jamb drop, I quickly surmised that I had discovered mold. The move base I removed the more mold I uncovered.
Concerned that the mold was not confined to the area immediately behind the base, I decided to investigate further by removing a section of wallboard about four feet up the wall. What I discovered was like a bad horror movie. Mold everywhere! And not just a little touch here and there. This stuff was dense and black!
I had no idea what I was up against, but I stopped there and ran to the store for a DIY mold test kit. I followed the directions, collected a sample for the mold-tainted wallboard and packaged and mailed it off to the testing lab for analysis. The bad news arrived about a week later. High levels of Black or Toxic Mold were indeed present.
Out of my league, my next move was to find a mold remediation specialist who could review the report and make suggestions for next steps. The news wasn’t good. He suggested that more wallboard needed to be removed and that a thorough cleaning and remediation would need to be done. That would be followed by a final air testing and “Clearance Letter”, which would deem our home mold free.
By the time “more wallboard” was removed, our furnace closet – including furnace, our laundry, hall closet, master and guest baths and our entire kitchen was reduced to rubble.
Interestingly, yours truly made the pre-purchase home inspection – as I had for so many previous personal real estate purchases. I inspected every inch of the space, inside and out. I crawled the attic, inspected cabinets, sinks, behind toilets – every square inch. I found nothing out of the ordinary and not a trace of mold. I have a hundred or more photos that document my findings.
What I have since learned from this very painful and expensive process may be as surprising to you as it was to me. First, most insurance policies will limit mold-related coverage – if they offer it at all. In our case, it was $10,000.00. That took care of the remediation and clean up but didn’t begin to make a dent in the $120,000 plus repair bill. Thank God that I’m in the business and that it was a second home that would allow for the process to take as much time as I needed – subject to protests from my wife.
Second, trying to get the seller or the seller’s real estate agent to be on the hook is almost impossible – unless you’re willing to invest a ton of money in legal fees with only a slight possibility that things will go your way.
Finally, and most importantly, I will never purchase a piece of property again without having a mold inspection. Pre-purchase home inspections, structural pest reports and roof inspections have become standard. I suggest that where there is reason to suspect asbestos, radon, and/or lead that you also test so that you’ll know what you’re up against.
By the way, every member of our family – including our dog – exhibited health issues consistent with exposure to high levels of mold.
So, you say, what does this have to do with my business? Lots! If you discover mold when working on a project, stop, cover it with temporary plastic and call a mold remediation expert for advice on how to proceed. Exposing yourself, your crew and your homeowner to mold can have devastating health effects and be equally hard on your pocketbook.