Most contractors will encounter mold at some point in their careers.
While mold is more prevalent and intrusive in certain pockets of the U.S., particularly in wet and humid climates, it can crop up anywhere. And, contractors who’ve partaken in the remediation process acknowledge it is often a painstaking process. Though, with the proper education and tools, remediation can be yet another arrow in the quiver of a successful contracting business.
DON’T USE THE ‘M’ WORD
Mold yearns to break down and consume dead organic material.
“Modern buildings and homes are constructed using materials that mold loves to feed on,” said Sanjay Gupta, digital marketing director, Mold-B-Gone Remediation LLC in Atlanta. “Wood and wood products; paper and other paper products, like cardboard and wallpaper; leather; fabric and upholstery; grout; painted walls; cement; plaster (drywall); ceiling tiles; insulation materials; and carpet are all ample food sources.”
However, approaching mold is not a one-size-fits-all process, and some contractors are very careful in how they identify such a growth.
“Never call it mold,” said Sonny Swann, vice president of Climatic Heating & Cooling Inc. in Middleburg, Virginia. “It comes with a lot of liability. Every air handler we open that is sweaty and wet may have some type of growth inside of it. We look for signs of bacterial growth. If we see that inside of a unit and in the ductwork, then we can offer products to take care of it.”
Martin Hoover, owner of Empire Heating and Air Conditioning in Decatur, Georgia, also refrains from identifying any biological growth using the “M” word. “We typically advise the homeowner to contact an industrial hygienist, if appropriate. We do a simple clean up and use UV lights for minor issues.”
ADDRESSING THE ISSUE
Once bacterial growth or mold has been spotted and identified, contractors have been known to treat the problem in a variety of ways.
“Routine maintenance is essential,” said Swann. “A lot of times, mold that originates from duct systems is the result of an improper installation. If a poorly done installation gets saturated, that allows mold to get started. A lot of the higher-end systems have built-in humidity control. If you can control humidity, you can prevent most issues.”
“One of the core problems with mold is that it is usually hidden,” said Gupta. “Because of this, many homeowners are unaware a mold problem exists. One of the first signs is a musty or mildewy odor.”
Operating in a dry climate, Christopher Roth, president of Climate Control Experts in Las Vegas, encounters mold a little differently than other wet-climate contractors do. “Here, our condensate drains are not used to capacity very often. Contractors use makeshift pans underneath. They use buckets, pots, and pans. In 2015, we had a little more moisture than in previous years. For this reason, we put in a wet safety switch or a secondary switch in the secondary pan in every installation. We’ve had very good success with that, and it’s been a great add-on for us.”
Swann said mold problems are rarely eliminated solely through IAQ products. Contractors should address mold first and then put products in place to prevent future issues, he said.
There are times when mold or bacterial growth issues are simply too severe for contractors to properly address. Knowing how and when contractors should step back from a problem and call in a remediation specialist depends on a contractor’s knowledge, experience, and willingness to address the situation.
“[Knowing when a problem is too severe] is a feel thing,” said Swann. “You can’t play around with mold, as it can be a serious health issue.
“At times, mold can be difficult to identify,” continued Swann. “For example, we discovered mold in a customer’s home about two weeks ago. We had everything cleaned but discovered it was coming from a water leak in the bathroom. It got into the air and duct system and the evaporator coil. We ended up replacing the coil and installing UV lights, because the customer wanted those extra assurances.”
“Don’t dive in to a serious mold case, because you can make it worse,” said Hoover. “[To prevent future mold issues] we tell customers to get humidity control, UV lights, dehumidifiers, and properly sized units.”
Any contractor who says there is an easy fix for mold removal does not understand the biology of mold, said Gupta. “The key to mold prevention really depends on moisture prevention. As long as consumers understand that mold will only grow when moisture is present, then they can be proactive in preventing mold.”
When mold is discovered, customers are often willing to do whatever it takes to permanently eliminate the problem.
“I try to be as honest as possible and tell them when something is a bit gimmicky, but, a lot of times, customers want to be reassured,” said Swann. “Customers aren’t willing to gamble. They want to do whatever needs to be done to fix the issue.”
Roth prefers to bring in a professional to test for mold. His customers seem to support this approach, as well.
“We have always had great feedback [from customers],” said Roth. “We hold the customer’s hand and walk them through the process, as they tend to get really worried and concerned. We are pretty good at explaining what it is, and we give them a handout, which kind of takes the worry out of it.”
Gupta stressed that customers must know there are no shortcuts to mold removal.
“One of the biggest concerns most homeowners have pertains to the cost,” said Gupta. “Because of the expense that professional mold removal poses, the human tendency is to try to find the best deal. Consequently, many consumers fall prey to unscrupulous contractors trying to make a fast buck on mold removal.”
Publication date: 1/18/2016