Eighteen months ago, I had no idea how fast mould grows in a house with water damage; nor that a home can be unsafe, from very high levels of airborne mould, without any visible sign on the ceiling or walls.
My husband Rob and I were about to learn. Water damage and resultant toxic mould left our home in Melbourne, Australia uninhabitable in November 2011; and after two failed remediation attempts.
We’ve heard since of other families remaining in or returning to water damaged homes, and becoming ill.
In Christchurch, where the earthquake and aftershocks caused burst water tanks and pipes, leaking roofs, floods, and “liquefaction” of soil under homes, it seems like a “no brainer” that many homes will have mould.
So here are our top ten non-expert tips, from Internet research, discussions with mould professionals, and personal experience:
1. Every house has some level of mould. It’s a problem when the concentration of spores in the air, or on surfaces, is high – or species are present that cause allergies, infection or illness.
2. Health risks range from minor to serious including skin reactions, respiratory problems, neurological disorders and (long term) cancer.
3. A house can have very high levels of mould, even if you can’t see or smell it. The only way to know is expert technical testing.
4. Mould can grow within 1-2 weeks – some sites say, after an area has been wet 24-48 hours. If a water source is undetected or ignored, mould spreads, new species emerge, and the home becomes harder to repair.
5. Mould needs a moisture source to start growing, but not to keep going. Fans may spread the mould.
6. Major mould contamination requires professional remediation. Capability and reliability of contractors varies, so shop around. Inept efforts can exacerbate a mould problem.
7. Competent remediation begins with extensive testing to determine the scope of the problem, and a strategy to kill and remove mould spores.
8. Protective clothing and breathing apparatus must be worn during remediation.
9. If moisture and mould have penetrated porous building materials, heating systems or insulation, the only sure solution is to remove and replace them.
10. After remediation, more testing is needed to verify outcomes. Keep this independent of the remediation work to avoid potential conflicts of interest.
In Australia we see serious knowledge and process gaps for dealing with mould. Your insurer may not get it.
In the US, too, a new report on Hurricane Sandy’s “mould legacy” suggests a high failure rate of remediation attempts. It says mould remediation is “difficult, potentially expensive, and easy to do incorrectly”.
Elsewhere, a Milwaukee home was demolished last year due to mould (after its owners won a six-year legal battle with their insurer).
In Christchurch, mould contamination may be another reason a home is beyond repair, and an insurer liable for the cost of replacement.
Bron Williams is a PhD in Arts and a Graduate of the Australian Institute of Company Directors. She and her husband Rob Guerin feel strongly about raising awareness of the risks of mould in water damaged homes.
Twitter address @BronMW.