Mold. The very word can put terror into the eyes of a homeowner. After all, mold in your home can make you and your family sick. If nothing else, it looks disgusting. But it can also weaken your walls, ceilings and floor. And if you try to sell a house known to have mold, you might as well put a sign on your front lawn that reads: “Not For Sale.”
So if you think you have mold, and plenty houses do – a 2003 University of Arizona study found that 100 percent of homes have mold (albeit not necessarily the dangerous kind) – what should you do?
Test for mold. That’s probably the last thing you or any homeowner wants to hear because mold testing can be expensive, and there are plenty of horror stories out there. Several years ago, Gayle Lynn Falkenthal, who owns a public relations consulting company in San Diego, had a “wicked case of mold” in her kitchen.
“I had no idea it was developing until I could smell it,” Falkenthal says.
It turned out to be mold that had developed due to a slow plumbing leak, and by the time she could smell the mold, it was so bad, she ended up having to hire a flood restoration team to gut her kitchen, remove the mold and rebuild a new one during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. The mold removal alone – not including the cost of rebuilding her kitchen – set her back $15,000.
“My house looked like a hazmat scene,” Falkenthal says, adding that on the bright side, “That’s one way to get a new kitchen.”
If you’re deeply suspicious, it’ll probably be worth it to hire a mold inspection company. The average cost to test for mold – not to remove, just to test – is $834, according to HomeAdvisor.com. If that price makes you ill, you could buy a mold testing home kit, which generally runs anywhere from $10 to $50. That said, molding test kits have a reputation for being unreliable, so as the expression goes, let the buyer beware.
If you do have mold. Don’t panic yet. This may not be a major problem. As noted, all homes have some mold. If it’s a small area, generally less than 10 square feet, and not that this is a recommendation, but you may be able to do it yourself or hire a handyman to come in and clean it. Websites from RemoveMoldGuide.com to Good Housekeeping articles explain the process, which basically entails treating areas of mold with a mixture of 1 part chlorine bleach and 15 parts water while wearing goggles and making sure you’re in a well-ventilated room.
But you may need to hire the professionals. Lynn Munroe, who owns a public relations company in New City, New York, says that about 10 years ago, her youngest son, then 8 or 9 years old, had an unexplained stomach illness, and his asthma was getting worse. Munroe had taken him to numerous doctors, all of whom had no idea what was wrong.
It turned out the problem was with a dehumidifier in the basement. It was attached to the pipes behind the wall, to keep the basement dry. Unfortunately, the pipe apparently became disconnected from the drain pipe behind the wall, and for some time, had been dripping behind the wall.
“Next to where it was dripping was a cedar storage closet with my kids’ old clothes that I was saving for my sister’s kids,” Munroe says. “I opened up that door one day and the inside of the closet was filled with black mold. The wall of that closet leaned up against my sons’ playroom – and his TV where he spent countless hours with his brother playing video games. Air tests revealed a really bad mold problem not only in the closet but in the air.”
Twenty-four hours later, Munroe says, “hazmat suits came and demolished my completely finished basement.”
The very bad news: It set her back $40,000, including the costs of refinishing the basement. Munroe and her family also had to move into her sister’s house for six weeks. The very good news: “My son’s health condition improved immediately,” she says.