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The Toxic Mold Series

Part 3: Selecting The Right Mold Professionals.
July 5, 2022

Explore The Toxic Mold Series

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

The Toxic Mold Series

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Common Remediation “Shortcut” painting over mold vs removing mold from home.

“Half-Measures” Are Costly When It Comes To Removing Mold!

Selecting the right mold professional requires some knowledge in order to screen potential vendors.  This selection is crucial in both the short and long run. The principle of “sunk costs” is very relevant when it comes to mold.  Mold removal is very costly.  A mold infestation must be completely remediated or the project will fail and mold will return.  This means that by repairing only a portion of the mold problem, the expense will be a wasted.  As a result, second or third efforts will likely have to start from scratch.  In fact, many mold remediation projects done by building science mold experts are initiated after one or more DIY, inexperienced, or low-cost handymen or contractors’ efforts have failed.  This can lead to escalating costs by an order of magnitude. Hiring a seasoned Indoor Environmental Expert (IEP) to inspect and devise a remediation plan for your home is a more expensive way to mitigate the risk of not being knowledgable enough to evaluate work plans and estimates.

There are several diverse certifications or licenses to perform the many tasks required to fix the whole home. This makes the selection of the right mold inspector, remediator, and HVAC technician complicated.  Patients with a diagnosed chronic illness, inflammatory disease, autoimmune disease, or who are mold sensitive require a thorough and safely implemented remediation. Online, you can find many mold remediation companies.   Mold remediation can be turned into a lucrative business when the “scope creep” occurs. This means that work plan exceeds what is required.

There are very few requirements to become a mold remediators.  Some companies that serve other mold related needs (carpet cleaning, general contracting, and fire/water damage emergencies) may offer mold remediation services as an extension of their emergency services. Many are simply not qualified to deal with mold. They are clearly not qualified to address your health concerns.  Companies can have minimal certification by a single employee to meet qualification standards. There are very few experts in any geography that are familiar and experienced with all aspects of mold biology, moisture repairs, and ventilation.  The best professionals will also have some medical understanding of mold as antigens, pathogens, and toxins. As a result, they possess empathy for chronically ill patients.  Detailed questions are required to learn about the home and occupants.  It is essential understand the specific mold exposures and learn about any harmful past encounters involving mold and other toxins.

 

Selecting the right mold professional certification

There are many certificates with a wide variance of effort and scholarship to attain.

All Homes Present Unique Issues

Selecting the right mold professional

Each individual home has its own set relevant ventilation and moisture physics

Every home has a unique ecosystem comprised of the quality of the structure (materials), outdoor water management, floorplan, moisture, microorganisms, and ventilation (HVAC).

All homes have some mold but will have varying amounts of mold contamination.  It does not require initials after your name to walk through your home looking for  moisture issues, staining, or visual mold.  Once mold and moisture are discovered (DIY or professional), remediation planning must be developed and at least reviewed by an expert.  Every mold issue discovered can present a different puzzle that needs to be solved. By focusing on occupant health, Indoor Environmental Professionals (IEPs) are well suited to create such a plan. Mold remediation is a fluid field that requires continuous learning about mold mycology and new innovations in diagnostics, repair, and moisture management.  New innovations often provide improved precision, efficiencies, or savings. Hiring the right mold professional who possess these qualities is essential.

 

 

Indoor Environmental Professionals (IEPs)

IEPs always begin their job with a  discussion with occupants about the home history and the occupants’ health.  In some cases, IEPs will interact with your physicians (with permission).  They will have a deep understanding of the different types of indoor molds and their toxic secondary metabolites, mycotoxins.  This profession remains in its infancy today.  Most big cities will have one or a few IEPs.  Smaller towns may have to look for an IEP in a nearby large city. Many IEPs that I know operate regionally across several states, often through virtual consultations. Hiring an IEP is the easiest way to ensure all issues and competencies are addressed in the remediation plan. Alternatively,  being prepared to discuss complex issues and evaluate he different trades is the secret to selecting the right mold professionals.

There are too many unknowns and differing circumstances for any one person to claim they understand all mold issues.   To keep up, IEPs often network amongst themselves, other home professionals, and physicians.  They leverage each others experience when needed to borrow wisdom.  The mold remediation industry is regulated by individual states that implement EPA, OSHA, and other policies  An unfortunate reality is that almost all companies, regardless of training, seem to be willing to submit a proposal and will oversell their capabilities to win a project.

Selecting the Right Mold Professionals

Ideally, when a water leak, flood, or other water damage occurs, occupants should have the problem fixed immediately to maintain a healthy environment and retain property value.

Selecting the right mold professional

Commercial Dryer and Humidifier

When promptly addressed, moisture problems can usually be repaired without the need for a mold expert.  This is always the best solution.  Commercial dryers and dehumidifiers can be rented at the local hardware store or purchased so you can act very quickly. Mold takes 24-48 hours to begin reproducing at a high rate.  First, the moisture issue must be identified and repaired,  It is critical that visual water damage is dried immediately (within 24 hours).  In these cases,  mold remediation is not necessary.  For mold sensitive people, immediate action is required, as any mold can become harmful to the health of the individual.

While it is normal to seek the lowest cost solution when seeking estimates to fix the mold problem, focusing primarily on price often leads to failure.  Mold is too resilient to be responsive to “half-measures.”  If the cause of moisture is not permanently repaired, including removal of mold debris, a patient with chronic symptoms will not heal. This is because their immune system will be taxed whenever people are home and breathing the contaminated air.  Sleeping with good indoor air quality is essential for the body to heal.

The IEPs and building scientists I know participate, and often seek specific advice from, other experts.  The majority of their projects involve working on fixing homes for sick patients AFTER tens of thousands of dollars are spent ineffectively on unqualified remediation tradesman.  In somcases, a doctor treating environmental illness will recommend these experts.  Another common problem identified by IEPs is the recognition that home mechanical systems (HVAC, plumbing, and water management) may not have been installed properly or according to building code.  Having a lengthy discussion regarding all these issues is critical during the vetting process of finding a mold expert to facilitate the repairs and remediation.

Certificates and Experience Required

A very high level of understanding and competence across multiple trades is required to remediate a home when human health is concerned.  A Certified Indoor Environmentalist (CIE) will have first hand experience having worked with and mentored by a seasoned mold professional and must pass an a qualification examination. This credentialing was created by the American Council for Accredited Certification (ACAC).  ACAC is a “gold standard”, independent organization that regulates industry qualifications. IEP candidates must take a two-day onsite training course to help prepare for the certification exam. Alternatively, training is available online, which takes about 32 hours to complete.  Not everyone qualifies to become a Council-certified Indoor Environmentalist (CIE). The ACAC requires applicants to have 2 years of field experience in indoor air quality.  In some cases, some states may reduce the experience requirement to 1 year if the candidate has a college degree in science, engineering, or a related field.  It is important to know that there are also non-accredited CRIE certifications that can be misinterpreted, as this level of training does not require prior experience.

Examples of Different Types of “Mold Certifications”

Often, the IEPs are primarily mold investigators that develop remediation plans and have a local network of trade professionals that understand the precise steps for a complete remediation.  These professionals will do the remediation properly and have working relationships with experienced subcontractors.  To better understand the benefits of identifying and collaborating with the right expert, you must determine if your IEP has a network across the broad field of service providers required for your home.  There can be a great deal of variance between the different professionals.  Conversely, some remediators who are not IEPs might have numerous course certifications coupled with decades of experience in solving indoor air quality issues as well as keeping up with the latest knowledge and innovation.

Understanding or asking questions about the certifications can help you quickly disqualify estimates from remediators who may not be qualified to find the right solution that addresses you air quality issues, health concerns, and make measurable improvements.   The ultimate metric is to be able to live in the home without harmful effects of mold on occupants. Expertise and experience are essential to fix a “sick home” safely.  A poor choice in selecting a professional can lead to lost work time, human suffering, and the spreading of mold contamination.  If you are severely sensitive to mold and wish to get better, it can be a life saving and a financially beneficial to search for the right experts to help you and your home. The consequences are severe. They include diminished quality of life, pain and suffering, financial insecurity, and relationship strain.

Mold Remediation Certification

The restoration industry and building contractors who primarily focus on smoke, fire and water damage, and carpet cleaning. They prepare for mold remediation by taking a Mold Remediation Course. Mold certificationThe requirements are 1 Year of Verifiable Experience in Contracting, Restoration or a Related Field. A course to become certified costs $299, and is 40 hours.  The same requirements apply to a water restoration license.  Only 6 states in the US require this license: FL, MS, LA, TX, MD, NY.  These professionals focus on remediation and renovation costs and do not make it a practice to investigate with the occupant’s illness in mind.  In many cases, these professionals may not test for mold species or suspect mycotoxins due to lack of understanding of the role mold plays in the home dweller’s health.

HVAC Providers

There is no national association that provides Indoor Air Quality Certification.  HVAC providers often see IAQ/mold as an opportunity to sell more stuff, such as air cleaners, UV lights and dehumidifiers. IAQ logoHVAC-trained providers can receive an “Indoor Air Quality Certification” by taking an open book, online test for $25.  HVAC companies can also gather further certifications by taking course training in a 2-day seminar or 16- to 36-hour online training courses for Certified Indoor Environmentalists (CIE), Certified Microbial Investigator (CMI) and Certified Microbial Remediator (CMR). Costs range from $300-$800 per class.  HVAC providers profit from selling add-ons, like air filtration, dehumidification, and ultraviolet decontamination products.  These professionals do not address mold remediation or water damage from other sources like leaks.  They also often do not test for mold.

EPA Certificates of Learning

EPA-certified professional certificates can be acquired by purchasing manuals and taking EPA mold coursesonline tests for minimal costs.  These courses provide theory around numerous subspecialties in HVAC, Electrical, Measurement with an emphasis on Energy Efficiency and other topics.  These cources are designed to provide information and do not provide any official certification.  Unfortunately, none of the topics include human health care and mold remediation

Bau-Biologists/Building Scientists

Certified Bau-Biologists are building professionals (experienced builders, architects, and multidisciplinary contractors with HVAC, plumbing, electrical, and other relevant trades)  that seek this specialized training.  These professionals take a 1-2 year course consisting of four 4-5 day seminars, coursework, online training, and a final project conducted with an assigned mentor to demonstrate competence, a final exam, and continuing education. In addition, professionals must sign a code of ethics to practice the profession. Bau-Biology (Building Science in US) is often a secondary expertise to building professions who 1) understands building science physics 2) psychrometrics (a field of engineering concerned with the physical and thermodynamic properties of gas-vapor mixtures); and 3) applied engineering competence focused on the human health aspects of living in a home.

The main focuses of Building Biology include inspecting and testing for:

  • Healthy Indoor Air (free of allergens, pathogens, toxins, VOCs, and harmful vapors);
  • Thermal and Acoustic Comfort (moisture control and mold);
  • Human-Based Design (focus on the sensory perceptions of sight, hearing, smell, and touch);
  • Sustainable Environmental Performance (avoid causing environmental harm when building new or renovating)

There Are Notable Exceptions

On numerous occasions, I have encountered small business “contractors” who specialize in mold remediation.  Many of them are not “IEPs”, nor do they have special training.  These individuals learned on their own over decades of experience.  May described their learning from “Google” , books, and mentorship from experts.  Because of the scarcity of  mold professionals, they can operate at full capacity simply by word of mouth.  I have met several that get all of their business from mold physician referrals. Is is helpful to have a series of “gotcha” questions to ask potential professionals to determine their level of experience, competency, adherence to safety standard, etc.

Coming Next Week

Next weeks article will provide details on how to spot a mold scammer or determine whether the mold professionals are truly experienced and competent to fix your home.