Ask 10 Questions Before Choosing a Mold Remediation Contractor
Hiring the wrong remediator can make the problem worse—and more costly.
IRS Section 42 requires that LIHTC units be maintained in a habitable condition and in a rent-ready state. One issue that comes up in many physical inspections of LIHTC sites is the presence of mold and mildew in units. Many sites implement a preventative maintenance program to stop mold before it starts. But if mold has already been found at your site or if tenants are complaining of illnesses that may be mold-related, you need to get rid of the mold as quickly and effectively as possible.
If you have or suspect you have a mold problem at your community that you think is too big for maintenance staff to tackle, your first instinct will likely be to quickly hire a mold remediation contractor to fix the problem. While your instinct to move quickly is correct, you need to take precautions when hiring a contractor.
We’ll tell you why hiring a qualified mold remediation contractor is critical, and we’ll give you 10 questions to ask prospective contractors. We’ll also tell you what information to get from contractors’ references.
Improper Remediation Can Make Problem Worse
The EPA guidelines recommend using a professional, certified remediation company to remove mold growth of 10 to 100 square feet. And if your site has 100+ square feet of mold-contaminated surface area, the EPA recommends full containment protocols and use of a certified remediation company. This amount of mold would be too much for your maintenance staff alone to deal with safely.
Improper mold remediation can lead to the following problems:
- Airborne mold spores spreading through the building due to improper containment measures—possibly contaminating previously “clean” areas or other nearby property and exposing the building’s occupants to mold;
- Mold spores hidden beneath the surface going undetected. These spores can go dormant and reactivate with just a little moisture; and
- Wasted money and time because you’ll have to hire another, qualified mold remediation contractor to do the job right, by which time the problem is likely to be worse and more expensive to fix.
What to Ask Prospective Mold Remediation Contractors
Here are 10 questions you should ask a mold remediation contractor before making a decision:
1. Do you also do mold testing? An important thing to find out when interviewing remediation contractors is whether the contractors also do mold testing That’s because there’s too much of a conflict of interest when a contractor is hired to discover whether a mold problem exists, as well as fix the mold problem. If you’re going to get testing done ahead of time, make sure you hire a separate testing company to do this.
2. Do you have prior mold remediation experience? You want to hire a remediation contractor that has prior mold remediation experience. So ask prospective remediation contractors whether they have prior mold remediation experience. If they say yes, ask about the nature and scope of that experience. For example, ask whether the prior mold remediation experience was in a residential or commercial building and how extensive the remediation was.
You want to hire a remediation contractor that has experience with mold problems similar to yours. So if your mold problem is extensive and a remediation contractor’s only prior experience involved, say, remediating a house’s bathroom, you may want to continue to look elsewhere.
3. Are you affiliated with a recognized professional association? There are currently no government-imposed standards on mold removal or the contractors that perform it. So you can’t require a mold remediation contractor to be “licensed.” You can, however, require that the contractor be somehow affiliated with a recognized professional association.
Many of these associations offer courses that contractors can take to become certified in mold remediation. For example, associations such as the Restoration Industry Association (RIA) or the Institute of Inspection Cleaning and Restoration Certification (IICRC) offer professional certification programs. To be certified under these programs, mold remediators must take courses and be trained in containment, the use of personal protective equipment, and cleaning and disposing of moldy materials. Also, they must also have a certain amount of experience and participate in continuing education.
4. What products will you use for remediation? Some mold remediation guidelines, like those put out by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), suggest that biocides, such as bleach or other products, are proper to use to kill mold. Others argue that the use of biocides to kill indoor mold is actually more harmful than the mold itself. But the key in all remediation projects is to get rid of the mold, not just to kill it. A good remediation contractor should tell you that it plans to remove materials that can’t be cleaned, such as moldy drywall, and to use a cleaning solution with water to clean out all the mold that can be removed without totally removing the material, such as moldy ceiling tiles.
5. How will you dispose of mold-infested material? You don’t want any of the material, such as contaminated dry wall, carpets, or furniture, to be left in a Dumpster at your site. The contractor should dispose of the material properly by carting it away to an approved disposal facility. So make sure you ask what will happen after mold-infested material is removed from your site and only hire a contractor that will remove it properly.
6. What type of containment will you use? Remediating medium- to large-sized areas of mold contamination often requires containment. Containment keeps the contaminated area separate from the rest of your site or building so that the airborne mold spores can’t spread and contaminate other areas. Most remediation contractors do this by using “negative pressurization,” which is done by covering an area with plastic sheeting to seal the space between the remediation area and the rest of the site.
7. What’s the nature and extent of your insurance coverage? Mold remediation, like any other contracting work done at your community, can potentially cause damage. For example, the contractor could get hurt when knocking down or removing drywall, or residents’ property can get damaged. You need to ask remediation contractors if they’re adequately insured for any property damage that may occur and any incident or injury that may arise during the course of the job, including injury to residents, staff members, or passersby. Make sure the policy lists the owner and management company as additional insureds on the policy.
Also, ask prospective remediation contractors whether they have worker’s compensation insurance for their employees. Less reputable contractors may often drop worker’s compensation insurance as a cost-cutting measure. But mold remediation can cause injuries to workers, and you don’t want to be left holding the bag if someone gets hurt.
8. Will you use only your own employees? Ask prospective remediation contractors if the workers who will be doing the actual remediation work are company employees or merely day laborers hired for the job. You want the contractor to use its own workers who have received specialized remediation training.
9. To what extent will you warranty your work? Ask prospective remediation contractors to what extent they’ll warranty—that is, guarantee—their work. And find out if they have the financial strength to stand behind any warranty they give you. If a remediation contractor promises to pay all your costs if the mold problem recurs and you have to hire another mold remediation contractor to address the situation, but the original remediation contractor is a small company with limited finances, it may not be able to stand behind that warranty.
However, don’t expect the remediation company to guarantee that you’ll never have a mold problem again. That’s because a pipe can burst the month after remediation work is done and cause a totally unrelated mold problem. The warranty you get from the company should basically say that testing done to the contaminated area after the remediation will show that you have good indoor air quality.
10. Can you give several references? It’s important to check the reputation of prospective remediation contractors. Ask for several references and pay close attention to the quality of the references you get. For example, if big builders, government agencies, or hospitals are using the contractor for their remediation projects, they probably have researched the contractor’s reputation.
When you check references, speak to someone who supervised the work or has direct knowledge of the work and find out the following:
- Names of the specific senior employees who worked on the reference’s remediation job, including foreman, project manager, or supervisor;
- Nature and scope of the reference’s job (that is, an entire skyscraper, one floor of a suburban office building, basement of a home);
- Quality of the remediation contractor’s work, including timeliness, responsiveness, and clean-up;
- Any problems that occurred during the remediation and how the remediation contractor handled those problems;
- Remediation contractor’s willingness to work with the reference on matters such as scheduling, notifying tenants, and building access; and
- Whether the reference would hire the remediation contractor again.