Homeowner Scams: Mold Inspection and Removal

Since mold inspection and remediation (removal) is such a new industry, it is no surprise that there are many con artists in the industry who are willing to play on the fear and lack of knowledge of homeowners. Especially since Hurricane Katrina, the threat of potential mold-related illnesses has been overemphasized. Mold is not dangerous for healthy people, but those with allergies may be sensitive to the mold spores in the air and suffer nasal congestion, coughing, or irritation of the throat, eyes, or skin. People with chronic lung conditions or suppressed immune systems may become seriously infected. The truth is, mold is commonly everywhere, inside and outside of your home, and impossible to completely eradicate. It will thrive anywhere that is consistently moist and humid.

Mold inspectors will come to your home and test the air for mold spores, but no standards have been set for acceptable quantities. The CDC (Centers for Disease Control) does not recommend having the mold tested for type; if there is mold in your home and it is causing health concerns, it should be removed. This is where the scam often begins. Unscrupulous mold inspectors can make the air in your home appear to be carrying more mold spores than it actually does. The facts are that 90% of homes tested have no unusual mold conditions, and of the 10% that do, the mold can be taken care of with minor cleaning and repair.

One method used to scam homeowners is to send a fraudulent sample to the lab for testing. The actual sample taken from the home may be switched with a sample from a place where mold is cultivated, and sent to the lab. The homeowner panics when the false report comes back with a ridiculously high spore count, and immediately contracts for mold remediation. One way to avoid this trap is to use a mold inspection service that does not offer remediation, and so will not be tempted to create work for their own company. The spore traps used to trap samples have a unique serial number; insist that you be allowed to see the traps before they leave your home and write the number down on the work receipt. Never contract a company that offers all-in-one testing, removal, and clearance services, and be aware of a mold inspection company that offers a referral to a remediation company, the two companies may be looking for an opportunity to scam the homeowner together.

Another scam method that mold inspectors use is called “house cooking”. Before taking an air sample, they will close all the windows, turn up the heat, and turn on ceiling fans and humidifiers full blast, to get as many mold spores into the air as possible. If your inspector begins his test this way, show him to the door.

Larger areas should be cleaned by a mold remediation service. A company that offers only remediation has an incentive to act ethically and professionally. Ask for references that are at least 10 to 12 months old, and check them If the job wasn’t done properly, it will take this amount of time for the mold to reappear. Never pay the remediation service until the work is done and clearance is given, and do not allow the company to provide clearance for their own work. If you agree to a partial payment to begin work, don’t settle the account until clearance is given. If a third-party inspector fails their work, they will have to keep coming back until the job is done properly.

If the mold removal is going to require major reconstruction, hire a remodeling contractor for the job. Paying a remediation service to do reconstruction will cost three to five times as much. If a remediation company insists on doing the reconstruction, show them the same door you showed the inspection company!

Another remediation scam are ozone generators. The line you are given is that if the house is tented and massive amounts of ozone are pumped into the house, it will kill mold. The ozone cannot get at mold growing in carpets and upholstered furniture, or inside wall, floor, and ceiling spaces. It will damage plastic and rubber components of your appliances and electronics, and is also unhealthy to humans. “Encapsulation,” where the mold is painted over with a stain-killing paint is not a legitimate way to control mold.. Even painted over, the mold is still there!

Small areas of mold on hard surfaces can be easily cleaned by the homeowner with soap and water, followed by wiping with a solution of one cup of bleach to one gallon of water. Dry the area thoroughly to avoid regrowth. To keep mold from becoming a major problem in your home, keep the relative humidity in your home between 40-60%, use air conditioners or dehumidifiers in humid months, provide adequate ventilation to the kitchen, laundry room, and bathroom, clean bathrooms with mold-killing products, and remove and replace any flooded carpeting. Fix any leaky flashing or roofs, windows, and pipes to keep moisture from getting inside the wall, ceiling, and floor spaces.

If you are concerned about the mold growth in your home, and decided to have your home tested, proceed with caution. There are many honest, ethical, and responsible mold inspection and remediation companies, but this fast-growing industry is also full of contractors willing to scam unwary consumers. Take care that you aren’t one of them!

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