The harmful effects of an incorrect mold diagnosis
Most of us have heard or read stories of mold's long-term harmful effects. It goes without saying that if there is the possibility of its existence within your home, diagnosing and eradicating it quickly can be crucial to your family's health.
What most people don't realize is just how harmful it can be to your home's long-term health if a misdiagnosis is made, wrongly claiming the existence of mold, when it may not exist at all.
Before I get into those specifics, let me first attempt to explain as simply as possible how mold grows, thrives and persists, primarily from an Arizonan's perspective. Mold "spores," from which mold is produced, are tiny particles naturally found in minute quantities in the air, particularly during very humid conditions.
In such small quantities, they are as harmless to the human system as any other dust particles we breathe in on a daily basis. However, certain conditions, specifically periods of high temperatures combined with excessive and continuous moisture, provide a ripe landing spot for these spores to accumulate, reproduce and grow into active mold colonies.
Building materials common to our homes (wood, drywall, etc.) provide mold a perfect food source for survival. High concentrations of spores are then released from these colonies, which can cause us many ill effects. Coastal regions and other areas where humidity remains above 50 percent most of the time tend to have much higher incidents of chronic mold outbreaks.
For those of us living inland, especially desert regions like Southern Arizona, outbreaks are thankfully fairly rare and usually require some neglect on our part in order to thrive. Even during our summer monsoon season, our humidity still averages well below the 50 percent range needed for mold colonies to persist.
For that reason, 99 percent of mold colonies found in our areas are caused by unintended water ponds or neglected plumbing or roof leaks. For our purposes here, I'll focus only on roof leaks.
Most of our monsoonal storms produce rain lasting anywhere from a couple minutes to several hours in length. Even if your roof has a persistent leak, those wet areas beneath it generally tend to dry out within a day or two.
Those spores will die out or go dormant when dry conditions return and temperatures rise above 95 degrees or fall below 70 degrees. Even under ideal conditions, most of the "mold" I've encountered here tends to be of the mildew variety, which is much less harmful and much easier to eradicate.
It's fairly easy to tell the difference between mold and mildew with the naked eye. Mildew starts out whitish or yellow, eventually turning brown then black, but always remains fairly flat in appearance. Mold, on the other hand, can be a variety of colors or black as well, but always appears cottony and fuzzy.
When I was first certified for mold remediation in 1992 through the IICRC in Southern California, I was taken aback by just how lucrative a business mold remediation can be. In most states, to perform this service, one needs annual re-certification, specified insurance and to follow specific guidelines set by the EPA.
All of this can lead to a hefty bill (upwards of 150 dollars per man hour) when all is said and done. It’s no wonder some unscrupulous contractors will insist that remediation is necessary when trace amounts or only mildew is found.
Some will even sell you on the idea that you'll only need to pay your deductible and your homeowner's insurance will cover the rest. This is where you get into the slippery slope of your home's long-term health that I mentioned at the outset.
Most of you are aware that when buying a used car, a record can easily be obtained which details any record of the car's accident history. But what many aren't aware of is that a similar record can be easily purchased regarding your home's insurance claim record, known as a Comprehensive Loss Underwriting Exchange, or CLUE file.
Every claim filed on your homeowner's insurance is listed there. Each claim filed, and even some inquiries, will cause a spike in your rates on your current and future homes you own. Mold claims especially can also be a red flag to anyone wishing to purchase your home in the future, which can dramatically effect your selling price.
For this reason, it’s important to be absolutely sure of a positive mold diagnosis and good practice to get a second or third opinion. Of course, where mold is found, it's imperative to have it eradicated as quickly as possible. Just make certain your contractor knows what he's doing and isn't trying to over-sell you unnecessarily.
About this Angie’s List Expert: John Soria is the owner of JB’s Home & Roof Repair, providing roofing services in Tucson, Ariz. Since 2007, JB’s has specialized in roof repairs, carpentry, drywall and minor electrical and plumbing service. Soria received specialized training and was certified in mold remediation.
As of August 29, 2013, this service provider was highly rated on Angie's List. Ratings are subject to change based on consumer feedback, so check Angie's List for the most up-to-date reviews. The views expressed by this author do not necessarily reflect those of Angie's List.