To Tell Or Not To Tell: That Was The Question

December 19, 2002
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The question: If you or a technician find mold in a customer’s HVAC system, should you tell them, and have them sign paperwork stating that you told them about the problem? Or, should you just address system problems (such as moisture removal) without mentioning mold?

Tell them, agreed the majority of the respondents to The News’ informal online survey. Some called it the customer’s right to know; others stated that it might open up IAQ opportunities.

Survey question: If you think you have found mold during a service call, should you tell your customers and make them sign a statement that you told them?

YES, TELL THEM

Scott Hamilton of Hialeah, FL, stated, “Absolutely tell the customer you found mold. It is their house and if anything life threatening is found, including mold, I always tell them, and let them decide what they want to do!”

“I tell them,” agreed Joe Sykes of Hemet, CA. “It is then up to them to decide how they want to handle it. Having them sign an acknowledgement is a good way to cover your butt.”

“By all means, tell them,” said Alfred R. DeMatteo of Kill Devil Hills, NC. “Sign a statement that you told them? That’s a question for a lawyer to answer.”

Chris Brown of Wichita, KS, said, “I don’t make them sign a statement — I wonder if I should? — but it is written on my invoice that they sign.”

“We have a company policy that we will notify our customer of a product that has developed in the system that is not normally there,” explained Dan Moore of Oceanside, CA. “We then advise them that they need to consult an industrial hygienist.

“Based on the fact that most techs are not capable of determining the type and source of the product, we have also provided a notice on all invoices that ‘we are not qualified’ to make the determination of the product. Contact a certified industrial hygienist for documented control information.”

Dave Yates in York, PA, said, “Yes, tell them; but I’d also include a follow up quote for UV! Then I’d throw in a HEPA filtration quote too. You never know; I just sold a matched set yesterday.”

Finally, “Shawn,” in Keller, TX, said the best path is to “Inform them, show them; then have them sign a ticket that you have given them notice.

“Since I’m into the repair side of things, most problems are traced to the design, for which I usually make a few new recommendations. If you really want to stop the problem, you had better start moving towards the responsible parties, like poor insulators, poor inspections, poor attitudes, and poor builders.”

DON’T TELL THEM

Of the replies advising not to tell customers specifically that there is a mold problem, some pointed out that humans have lived with mold for many years.

Others pointed out the possibility of increased liability if a contractor does, in fact, inform customers of a mold problem: “If you put up a ‘beware of dog’ sign and your dog bites someone, their lawyer might say that you knew the dog bites and as a result, you could lose the case,” said Steve Wiggins of Waco, TX.

Finally, Joel Aderhold of Snellville, GA, said that “During this infant stage of mold awareness, I feel the most appropriate action is for the HVAC contractor to draft appropriate mold disclaimers for invoices, maintenance agreements, and proposals, and not raise possible inappropriate concern about mold, or misdiagnosed mold.

“I believe that until more hard data becomes available on the effects of mold, the best approach is not to create alarm with a customer by pointing out a condition that may have existed for many years in their home without any noticeable health side effects.”

Sidebar: Survey Comments

Yes, Tell Them

Scott Hamilton, Hialeah, FL: “Absolutely tell the customer you found mold. It is their house and if anything life threatening is found, including mold, I always tell them, and let them decide what they want to do!”

Chris Brown, Wichita, KS: “I don’t make them sign a statement — I wonder if I should? — but it is written on my invoice that they sign.”

Dave Yates, York, PA: “Yes, tell them; but I’d also include a follow-up quote for UV! Then I’d throw in a HEPA filtration quote, too. You never know, I just sold a ‘matched set’ yesterday.”

Joe Sykes, Hemet, CA: “I tell them. It is then up to them to decide how they want to handle it. Having them sign an acknowledgement is a good way to cover your butt.”

J. Burkhardt, Carolina Beach, NC: “Some molds can be extremely toxic, which is a health issue. We are there to provide a service and that should be a part of that service.”

Alfred R. DeMatteo, Kill Devil Hills, NC: “By all means, tell them. Sign a statement that you told them? That’s a question for a lawyer to answer.”

“Shawn,” Keller, TX: “Inform them, show them, then have them sign the ticket that you have given them notice. Since I’m into the repair side of things (that is I seldom do new installs), most problems are traced to the design, [on] which I usually make a few new recommendations. If you really want to stop the problem, you had better start moving towards the responsible parties like poor insulators, poor inspections, poor attitudes, poor builders. I could literally blow your mind if you’d just come see the new construction [here].”

Dan Moore, Oceanside, CA: “We have a company policy that we will notify our customer of a product that has developed in the system that is not normally there. We then advise them that they need to consult an industrial hygienist. Based on the fact that most techs are not capable of determining the type and source of the product, we have also provided a notice on all invoices that ‘we are not qualified’ to make the determination of the product. Contact a certified industrial hygienist for documented control information.”

Don’t Tell Them

“Stan,” Atlanta, GA: “Why in the hell do you people continue to harp on this mold crap? There has been mold in houses for hundreds of years. If a serious mold problem exists we would inform the homeowner. If a small patch is seen, we go on with life.”

Joel Aderhold, Snellville, GA: “During this infant stage of mold awareness, I feel the most appropriate action is for the HVAC contractor to draft appropriate mold disclaimers for invoices, maintenance agreements, and proposals, and not raise possible inappropriate concern about mold, or misdiagnosed mold. I believe that until more hard data becomes available on the effects of mold, the best approach is not to create alarm with a customer by pointing out a condition that may have existed for many years in their home without any noticeable health side effects.

“However, the mold disclaimer should be in the contractor’s forms and documents to afford as much protection as possible from the occasional customer who may overreact due to a news report or magazine article. I fear that informing a customer who might hedge toward being somewhat of a hypochondriac, might set them up to be victimized by one of the mold remediation scam artists who are about inciting fear, disrupting people’s home lives, and digging as deep in the gold mine as the insurance companies will allow.

“I feel we should be able to market products to control mold and improve indoor air quality without being liable for mold appearing anywhere in the house. If you visit your doctor and express concern about potential cancer, he will recommend that you not smoke and eat certain types of foods. He will tell you how to best prevent cancer, but he cannot guarantee that it will not occur. We can offer solutions to help control or prevent mold, but mold, like cancer, is a natural occurrence, and cannot be totally predicted or guaranteed not to become a problem.”

Steve Wiggins, Waco, TX: “If you put up a ‘beware of dog’ sign and your dog bites someone, their lawyer might say that you knew the dog bites and as a result you could lose the case.”

Publication date: 12/23/2002

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