What Do You Do When Flood Recovery Leads to Discovery of Hidden Mold?
The Great Flood of 2016 sure has complicated things. I know that’s not exactly news – that applies to every day life things like having to find temporary housing while figuring out how to repair homes and businesses, or whether or not to sell homes as-is and start over, handle insurance claims – you name it. And of course, dealing with more mold – this time, hidden mold.
But there are other complications. Like how to handle moisture problems that were previously hidden, and as a result of demolition and remediation, have come to light. Hidden mold can really aggravate recovery team members and make things more complicated.
Believe it or not, high tech white paint can also complicate things.
Here’s an untreated wall after demolition and cleanup:
Notice the studs and stud track. I’m not sure what the corrosion rate of steel studs is, but it takes a while for studs to corrode to that extent. And of course, take a look at the damaged sheathing – there’s mold on the remaining paper (mold ate the missing paper!). These areas experienced moisture problems that pre-dated the flood, hurricane, or whatever event that brought about the demolition and renovation. This is textbook hidden mold – and the underlying (and latent) moisture problem.
And if this side of the studs and sheathing look like this, what do you think the other side, the hidden side, looks like? I’ll bet the paper is missing there too. What do you think about the structural integrity of the studs and sheathing?
Some really good, hard to answer questions typically follow opening up a wall and seeing mold like this.
Our clients ask, “What do we have to do?” That’s followed by: “What do you recommend?”
These are great questions. And there’s no one-size-fits-all answer. It’d be nice if there were some requirement that mandated things like this MUST be fixed. But when it comes to mold, there’s no set requirement that covers situations like this. So the building owner gets to decide, based on their risk tolerance. Regardless, we recommend finding and fixing the moisture problems. Finding and implementing the permanent fix is always easier said than done.
The situation gets even more complicated when trying to figure out what insurance or FEMA will cover, since there’s the whole debate over event-related repairs. Determining when the problem really started for many of these situations is difficult, if not impossible. FEMA’s decision making process for what’s covered or not is inconsistent, and many times doesn’t follow common sense. Hidden mold is the same.
FEMA will reason (and I can’t blame them 100% for this) the hidden mold was there before the storm, and their job is to help get people back to pre-disaster conditions. So putting back, repairs, whatever the work, commonly leads to letting that hidden mold remain. That is, unless the owner wants to pay 100% of that part of the work, or the hidden mold removal coincides with other work that the government or insurance DOES cover.
What does all that mean?
First off, the way to fix problems like this once and for all is to fix the cause of the moisture problem.
Or if the cladding is improperly designed and/or built, that can lead to wall sections like the ones shown. And who wants to rip off the brick, or stucco, or whatever cladding makes up the building? Answer: no one but the guy who gets paid to do it. And it takes time. And money. Besides that, no demolition project is ever pretty.
So, some owners reason that the building was like that for however long before, and since there were no problems or complaints, just build the wall back as it was, and hope the disaster or whatever catalyst that brought about opening up the wall never happens again. They’re willing to take the risk and let the hidden mold continue hiding.
Other building owners choose skinning the building, removing the mold, and rebuilding properly (stopping the latent moisture problem). Some owners want zero risk. And that means eliminating the risk from hidden mold.
Check this out – here’s a shot that shows the difference between an area that got treated, and one that didn’t – on the same piece of wallboard. Only because the remediation contractor missed the gypsum because there was a column in the way. Maybe an attention getter, maybe not, but I think it’s rather profound.
Besides the anti-microbial coating, what’s the difference between this wall area and the one shown above?
This photo shows how the mindset can change, merely with the application (or not) of something that hides the problem. Yep – this hides the hidden mold (and often hides stud and stud track damage). Coating the damage with a fancy (and expensive) white biocide is much the same as putting lipstick on a pig. You still have a pig, and you haven’t solved the problem.
Kind of like using one of those plug-in deals to mask odors in a building, isn’t it?
Sometimes using these materials is considered the long term solution. For others, the anti-microbial coating is an interim risk management option.
Who’s right? You guessed it – it depends. Probably none of us can answer that.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m not 100% pro anti-microbial application in these cases, or against it. It’s another topic of discussion on what options to pursue – that’s it.
When figuring out what to do and how to handle these materials, get all project team members in the room and have an open discussion about the problems – stopping the water, remediating the mold, managing risk, and dealing with funding. It’s always better to try and get team members to understand all the angles.
Remember, if you need help:
If you have a situation like this that’s difficult to assess, we can help. Or tell us how you managed your situation – if it can help anyone else in your shoes, it’s time well spent. Give me a call or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
I hope your recovery projects are going well. Have a great spring and summer.
Stay dry, my friends.