Mold Cleanup Tips for Property Owners in Hurricanes' Wake

After four hurricanes in 6 weeks, the southeastern and eastern United States has been hit with an unprecedented moisture problem, and with it comes mold.

Mold can develop in as little as 48 to 72 hours, especially in warm, humid climates. A naturally occurring substance that can grow anywhere moisture and oxygen are present, in extreme situations, such as the post-hurricane environment in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia and elsewhere, mold can have immediate and long-term effects on properties' structural integrity and resale value, as well as on people's health and quality of life. People with existing respiratory problems need to be especially concerned about preventing overexposure to mold.

LVI Environmental, an environmental and restoration company, offers the following advice for homeowners and owners and occupants of office buildings, retail outlets, hotels, schools, health care facilities and government buildings:

Begin the drying process immediately. Using fans and humidifiers, as well as taking advantage of sunny, breezy days, you can dry out many personal belongings, which could save you a fortune in the long run. For less valuable paperwork and basic building materials, disposal is often the best course of action.

Get the air moving. Property owners should get air circulating as soon as possible to prevent mold growth. In cases where there is minimal water damage, this can yield significant results.

Don't make rash decisions. Sometimes, the initial view of the devastation is emotionally overwhelming, but a seemingly insurmountable task can be separated into manageable action items. Identify specific needs and implement discrete tasks, i.e. take care of family heirlooms and other valuables and separate clothes for drying.

Determine priorities. Start with "low-hanging fruit," if available, so you can make early progress. This could include salvaging the least-damaged items first, or immediately throwing out severely damaged items, thus improving air flow and making room for items worth saving. This is an activity in which property owners, especially those with large commercial interests, may benefit from calling in a professional to help with the risk assessment to determine the recoverability of various items.

When in doubt, throw it out. Discard anything that water has soaked into, especially highly porous building materials such as carpets and pads, ceiling tiles, drywall and insulation. These are rarely recoverable and, even if they look fine on the surface, they can be sources of long-term mold growth.

Try to do the basics yourself but know when to call for help. Figure out what you can do on your own, i.e. pick up small items that you want to salvage, and toss out building materials and furnishings that are obviously damaged beyond repair. If you have tried to eliminate water damage for a day or so and little or no progress has been made, an outside contractor will probably be needed. Experts should also be called in for imminent danger situations such as downed power lines or unstable structures.

Work together. Don't be shy about asking neighbors, friends and co-workers for help. You're all in this together, and chances are, they can use your help too.

Dig deep for mold problems. The surface of walls and floors can be cleaned with bleach and water, and a commercial disinfectant. However, mold can also grow insidiously below the surface. LVI Environmental has found, for example, that wind-driven rain can be so forceful that it penetrates deep into the walls and furnishings, enabling mold to grow rapidly from the inside out. In those situations, no amount of surface cleaning or drying will save the building materials or home furnishings.

Be contract-savvy. If you are hiring an outside contractor, don't pay for all of the work upfront and be sure to carefully evaluate any changes in the contract, and get them in writing! Ask when the work will be started and how long it should take. Consider asking for a penalty clause if the work is not done as specified. Make sure the contractor has broad relevant experience, with employees specifically trained in responding to water damage, not just related areas such as indoor air quality or hazardous materials cleanup.

Ask questions. Talk to lots of people and organizations friends and neighbors, demolition and mold experts, your insurance company, government officials, reporters about what they are doing and what advice they are getting. On the other hand, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. This is a difficult situation with no easy, quick solutions. Anybody who makes quick-fix claims is probably either ill-informed or not well-intentioned.

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