Mamma Mia! Massive Mold! Mediation Mandated!
January 15, 2007 8:24 PM   Subscribe

How to best mitigate a *severe* mold/mildew problem?

We had a bit of a rot problem on the eaves, but that has been repaired (we had a new roof put on this summer due to hailstorm damage). We started smelling a mildewed odor in the office near where the roof had been repaired, and it eventually got strong enough that I started investigating. Last night I pulled down the bookcases that I had sort of "built-in" to the wall in that area, and found the entire area behind the bookcases completely black with mold and/or mildew... about 60 square feet of it. I suspect I'll have to replace the entire wall and ceiling in that area, but what should I do immediately to mitigate? I started by spraying it with Clorox cleaner to get some bleachish stuff on it, but I'm wondering if I should evacuate the house and call in a napalm strike or something. It's really bad. What would be your immediate action?

Factors to consider: One 5 year old, four adults and two cats live here. The area can be closed off, although ventilation is problematical due to outdoor winter temps.
posted by pjern to Home & Garden (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Around Indianapolis, if that's where you still live, you don't have as many choices of professional mold remediation services as in other areas, where such damage is more common, but you might start with these folks. Your first job is to avoid doing more harm in trying to fix the problem, and spreading mold spores throughout your house and HVAC system, which you might already have done, just moving the bookcases, and trying to bleach the walls. Stop what you're doing, seal off the room in question with plastic sheeting, close all HVAC vents in there, and keep all family members away from that end/side of the house, until you get some professional advice.

Remedition in severe cases is something of a misnomer. Probably, at the level you describe, removal of the drywall, insulation (if any) and even replacement of studs, structural members and sheathing showing mold is going to be necessary. Basically, to be right, that area of your home will need to be demolished and rebuilt, although you may get some recommendations about sealers and other techniques if you evidence enough unwillingness to authorize a full teardown to frame and replace all treatment. Cleaning your HVAC system may or may not be practical, but you could also be looking at new air handling equipment and ductwork. Maybe carpeting, too.

But be aware that mildew and other molds are millions of years in lineage, and hardy beyond your worst nightmares. Fire and sunlight slow them down, but anything less just stimulates their curiousity. So chosing encapsulation strategies is just betting that someone who wants to sell your something is going to beat millions of years of evolution pressure. Not likely, in the long (by petty human standards) run.
posted by paulsc at 8:48 PM on January 15, 2007

If you own your home, call your insurance company... If you rent, call your landlord... A lot of insurance policies will cover mold damage (and/or have a list of experts who know how to do clean-up and mitigation)... A severe mold problem can be a major health issue (especially for people who are allergic)... It's not something you want to try to tackle by yourself.
posted by amyms at 8:50 PM on January 15, 2007

Response by poster: Fortunately, there's no carpeting or ductwork in the area in question. I'm more concerned that there is active water ingress somewhere involved with the new roof.
posted by pjern at 8:57 PM on January 15, 2007

The bleach will help it from getting worse, but you should just cut out the damaged drywall and dispose of it. Get it out of the house, it's easier and safer than quarantining your office. Then you can also see if there is mold inside the walls, which would need to be dealt with also. I would guess that it is all moldy in the walls also. Replace any insulation and bleach any wood that is moldy, the wood usually cleans right up. Let it all dry very well before you close the wall.
posted by lee at 8:59 PM on January 15, 2007

"Fortunately, there's no carpeting or ductwork in the area in question. I'm more concerned that there is active water ingress somewhere involved with the new roof."
posted by solopsist at 11:57 PM EST on January 15

That may be true, but you're not going to find that out, until you can have the structure examined, and that is likely to call for demolition.

And I want to disagree strongly with those suggesting that you tear into this further, yourself. If your problem is severe, the waste materials that you create in cleaning and demolition activities are hazardous not only to you and your family during demolition, but to garbage workers who you may want to dispose of material, and to dump workers. Although IANAL, and not familiar with landfill regulations in your area, I do know that you can't dispose of molded construction materials, as you would household garbage, in many areas of the country.

Also, if your house isn't heated by forced air, you may have lesser problems in remediation, but don't count on closing doors to isolate the mold, now. In an situation such as you originally describe, a spore test in many other areas of your home is nearly guaranteed to turn up positive. It is remarkably easy for mold spores to colonize wide areas in a short time, and you'll have a hard time believing it yourself, until you start looking at microscope slides. You and your family members, and pets, are actually very good vectors for spread of mold spores in situations such as you describe. Swabs of your shoes and your pet's fur will probably be loaded with spores.
posted by paulsc at 9:13 PM on January 15, 2007

I'm not a professional mold remediator, but I've spent some time assessing homes for mold damage and tearing down mold-damaged walls in the past year.

I agree that you need professional assistance, especially because you are still living in the home and there is roof involvement. Certainly, staying out of the room is a good idea for now. However, if it looks like making an appointment with a remediation expert or getting insurance clearance will take a while, it's possible to remove the affected drywall yourself and get professional help with the secondary steps.

If you decide to do that, bear in mind that the tear-down will also release tons of spores. Do it when people (especially the kid) can be out of the house for a couple days, and get yourself a good respirator (not a paper face-mask). Consider wearing a Tyvek suit and bleach any boots and gloves after use. Try to minimize the amount of dust you produce by bringing the drywall down carefully in large sections and bagging it immediately in heavy-duty contractor bags. Double-bag, even, and tape the bags closed. Ditto the insulation. Vacuum as soon as you're done to get spores and dust off furniture and anywhere else it may grow. Bag the dust too, then vacuum again. Don't sweep--that just stirs stuff up.

Once the wood is exposed, don't just wipe bleach over the studs--really scrub them. It's important to disturb the layers of mold or else the bleach will kill only the top layer and the mold will come back. Let the wood dry for a few days, then bleach and scrub it again.

In the meantime, keep an eye out for reactions to the mold. Different species affect the body in different ways, but head/sinus stuffiness, a sore or coated throat, persistant cough or wheeziness, unusual fatigue, and itchy rashes are all common for people sensitive to mold.
posted by hippugeek at 10:06 PM on January 15, 2007

I got this brochure from the EPA on mold when I moved in here. Looking over it, it looks like it answers a lot of your questions plus has cleanup information (precautions, etc). Also, it has contact info for the EPA. They might be willing to discuss your situation specifically.
posted by ctmf at 11:02 PM on January 15, 2007

I had a mold problem, not as severe as yours but more widespread, and I was able to fix it without tearing too much out. The very first thing I did was fix the source of the problem.

In my case, a dirt crawlspace had to be leveled so trapped water could get to the sump pump. There was mold in the flooring, in some of the drywall in two rooms and along the stone foundation. Once the source was fixed, using bleach on the surfaces and ventilators to force dry air under the house did wonders.

My (uninformed other than the one incident and completely inexpert) advice would be to find the leak source in the roof first, fix it, then tackle the rest. Good luck.
posted by letitrain at 11:14 PM on January 15, 2007

Response by poster: I may have not been too clear; I *think* that the leak source was fixed when the roof was replaced in October; we just didn't notice this damage until recently, due to it being completely hidden behind the bookcases.
posted by pjern at 11:17 PM on January 15, 2007

IANA mold remediator - however, what I've done to contain/restrict mold in the past is:
1. dry it (Hints from Heloise suggested using low-watt lights to warm and dry it up), driving it into dormancy/spores.
2. bleach it and dry it
3. use a HEPA filter in that room to try to keep the spores and bleach down
posted by plinth at 5:25 AM on January 16, 2007

it is possible to test your mold to see if you have garden variety mold (think your bathroom tile) or the dread pirate "black mold". We found a company that sent out swabs and tested them for the type of mold and spoor count. I would be way less likely tackle remediation of "black mold" (the most reported on type has a scientific name, but i can't remember it nor spell it) than I would other types. Since cellulose materials have been attacked in your home, chances are increased you have a more toxic type of mold and I would take precautions in cleaning it up.

Do call your insurance company and be prepared to put up a fight if necessary. Water damage is a sticky subject with them, but since you repaired a leaking roof recently, probably with their help, you have some proof of a problem caused by something other than poor construction or rising water. It could be argued that your problem was ultimately caused by the hail, which should make it coverable.
posted by domino at 6:31 AM on January 16, 2007

I suspect it has something to do with the damage caused by the storm, prior to your new roof being built. Where did you find the contractor┬┐ Were they a referral┬┐ Did you check the references┬┐

How long has it been between the damage and the new roof being built.

It could be because water got in during the storm and conceivably be part and parcel of the damage, which wasn't examined thoroughly past, "oh, the roof needs fixing". It's definitely in the walls.

Check out Holmes on Homes, you may have seen his tv show. He's brilliant and a genius.

Back to the insurance company, don't start solving the problem yourself by ripping off the drywall. This may mean moving to Mom's or a motel. Keep all receipts and good luck.
posted by alicesshoe at 1:59 PM on January 16, 2007

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