- Joshua Leviton
How to save your money and your sanity from bad mold remediation companies.
There have been a few cases recently where clients of mine have been getting taken advantage of by remediation companies and this is my attempt to outline what is supposed to happen vs. what is not supposed to happen. The more informed you are about the process of mold removal, the easier you will be able to spot a crooked contractor and give them the boot!
First, let me outline how the process should go. Lets say you hire me for an inspection because there is a leak behind your washer/dryer. I come by and take some air samples, check for moisture, etc. It turns out there is an allergenic mold behind the wall because of the leak and I recommend professional remediation. I provide you with a bunch of reports and a "scope of work" outlining what needs to be done and how it should be done. First thing you need to do is get the leak fixed. If you don't fix the leak mold will just grow back in the future. Next you call a remediation company, or two, or three hopefully and they come by to check it out and give you a quote, this should be free. The quote will outline how much it will cost for the mold removal and how much the rebuild will cost in most cases (sometimes they will only give a quote for the removal). This is my first piece of advice; DO NOT hire them for the rebuild or for the clearance test at the end of the remediation. You can get a normal contractor to rebuild everything for way, way cheaper and they honestly will probably do a better job as well.
So now you have hired a company who gave you a reasonable quote and the first thing they do is set up a bunch of plastic with zippers to create a containment area so no cross contamination occurs. Anything they take out of the containment area during work should be wrapped in 3-mil plastic and should be taken outside and disposed of properly. This is their responsibility, don't let them leave a mess behind. If they are removing something like a bathroom sink or a dishwasher for example, they should wipe it down and place it outside until it is time to rebuild. There is nothing more frustrating than having a bunch of mold in your bathroom that is then spread everywhere when they place the mold covered sink on your bedroom floor with no plastic! (Yes I have seen this happen several times).
Before they begin demolition, in the containment area they should set up something called "negative air pressure" with a hose leading outside. This is essentially taking all the air in the containment and sucking it outside. Once they are all finished they should place air scrubbers in the containment and run them 24-48 hours to clean the air of as many mold spores as they can. Now it is time for the clearance test to confirm remediation was successful. Don't let them take care of the clearance test for two reasons. The first being that if they perform their own testing it is a clear conflict of interest, no one should be checking their own work. Second, even if they hire a third party inspector like myself, they will charge you an extra $100-$200 on top of what the mold inspector costs just for being the middle man. A clearance test should cost Between $300-$400, any more and they are definitely pulling a fast one. Do yourself a favor and hire a 3rd party inspector of your choosing. Also try negotiating a deal that if it fails the clearance test that they need to pay for the follow up test once more work is done. They might not always go for this but the good companies should. There is nothing more annoying than needing to pay for 3 or 4 clearance tests just because the company doing the removal is careless and doesn't do a thorough job. After the clearance test passes and the inspector gives the ok, reconstruction can begin with confidence that all the mold is gone. At this point it is up to you who you want to do the reconstruction but I can confidently say that if you hire a normal contractor as opposed to having the mold remediation company do it, you will save an average of $2000 or more depending on the size of the job.
Now let me give an example of mold remediation gone wrong and show you how deep the rabbit hole gets. I had a client who had a rental that had a leak under the sink. The tenant had complained of mold so as a good landlord should do, he hired me to go and test it to identify if it is hazardous or not and then what to do about it. Samples confirmed it was an allergenic mold and I wrote up a "scope of work" outlining what should be done and the guidelines that should be followed while performing removal to prevent cross-contamination. (Lot's of times remediation companies will have their own scope of work but it is good for at least the clients to read the "scope" so they know what the remediation company SHOULD be doing. In this case, to summarize, the company needed to remove a piece of wood from under the sink and if they discovered any more mold while doing so, the scope changes and they need to remove more. This is where it gets tricky because the scope of work will change a lot of the time, but they should be very communicative with the client about what they are doing. In this instance they removed cabinets, the dishwasher, and more. They had originally quote my client $4000 to do both repairs and rebuild. During the removal my client was sitting out front in his car so he could see what was going on. They had quoted him for 10 hours of work and in the end they only did 3 hours of work. They ended up charging him for more than 10 hours AND a 3rd worker who apparently was never even there. When he argued they only offered to remove 1 hour of work. They then took down the containment before having a clearance test performed and left moldy wood on the porch and the dishwasher in the living room. They said they would reinstall the dishwasher for $600. (You can youtube how to hook up your dishwasher and see how absurd this is.)
After all of this they then told my client that they could no longer work on the project and sent him an invoice. So my client was left with a bill, a bunch of unfinished work, and a contaminated living room/kitchen. I am assuming he is going to sue them to get his money back but that in itself is a huge headache. All that being said, sometimes these companies don't show their true colors until all is said and done but the best thing you can do is know the process and be able to keep an eye on them. The more informed you are the better you will be at spotting a company that is cutting corners. If you are interested in learning more about the procedures that should be followed you can download one of my "scope of work" examples to get informed.
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