When to Do Mold Cleanup Yourself and When to Call in the Experts
IRS Section 42 requires that LIHTC units be maintained in a habitable condition and in a rent-ready state. One issue that repeatedly 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.
But who should do the mold cleanup work at your community—your employees or an outside expert? Guidelines issued by the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), as well as New York City’s Department of Health, offer some commonsense standards for you to follow. The guidelines give recommendations as to when you should hire a professional to deal with a mold problem. The guidelines also offer recommended cleaning methods. Below, we’ll tell you what the guidelines say and give you tips on how to choose a mold remediation company, if you need one.
Who Should Handle Mold Problem?
The guidelines issued by the EPA and New York City’s Department of Health recommend basing the decision on who should handle a mold problem on the amount of square footage affected by mold. The guidelines discussed below apply to most mold problems you’d encounter but don’t apply to mold found in the HVAC systems of buildings.
10 square feet of mold or less. If mold is found only in a small area (10 square feet or less)—say, on ceiling tiles or patches of walls—the guidelines say that your maintenance staff can take care of the problem.
Maintenance staff should wear proper protection when doing the work. This includes using N95 disposable respirators (which can be found in most hardware stores) and wearing gloves and goggles.
The actual work area should be unoccupied, the guidelines say. But there’s no need to vacate people from adjacent spaces unless they’re particularly at risk, like infants or people with serious medical conditions or immune deficiency problems.
Your staff should place any mold-covered material they find in a sealed plastic bag. And when finished, they should wipe the work areas clean. They should also wipe clean any pathways they’ve walked on during the cleanup.
10-30 square feet of mold. If mold is found in this amount of space, covering one or two entire wallboard panels, for example, the guidelines say that your maintenance staff can take care of the problem. The recommended precautions are identical to those above, with these additional recommendations:
- Cover the work area with a plastic sheet and seal the sheet with tape to contain the dust before starting the mold cleanup; and
- Vacuum the work area and paths taken by staff with a vacuum containing a HEPA filter.
30-100 square feet of mold. If mold is found in this amount of space—say, for example, several entire panels of wallboard are covered with mold—the guidelines say that while you can try to have your maintenance staff fix the problem, it’s smarter to call in the experts.
If you choose to have your staff remove the mold, the recommended procedures to follow are identical to those for 10-30 square feet of mold, with these additional recommendations:
- Use plastic sheeting to seal off ventilation ducts or grills in the work area and to seal off the area immediately adjacent to it;
- Make sure that not only the work area but the area immediately adjacent to it is unoccupied while the work is being done; and
- If you expect to generate a lot of dust while taking care of the mold problem (for example, if you have to knock down plaster walls), follow the procedures explained below for 100 or more square feet of mold—including hiring a professional to fix the problem.
100 or more square feet of mold. If mold is found in this amount of space—say, the wallboard in an entire room is covered with mold—the guidelines say you should hire a professional mold remediation company to combat the problem. This amount of mold would be too much for your maintenance staff alone to deal with safely.
Recommended Methods of Mold Removal
In addition to giving you information about when to hire a professional to take care of a mold problem, the guidelines also give recommendations on how to remove mold. According to the guidelines, the first thing you should do when faced with a mold problem is to locate and get rid of the source of moisture or humidity that’s causing the problem. Then try to get rid of the mold itself. If the mold is on a nonporous surface, like metal or glass, or on a semi-porous surface, like wood or concrete, tell your staff to clean up the mold with a sponge or cloth soaked in soapy water. If the mold is on a porous surface, like ceiling tile or wallboard, and there is more than a small patch of mold on it, tell your staff to remove the ceiling tile or wallboard and replace it.
How to Choose Mold Remediator
If your mold problem is too big for your maintenance staff to handle, you’ll need to find a company that can do the mold cleanup for you—a mold remediation company or mold remediator. But be careful before hiring such a company. Before hiring a mold remediator, check these two things:
Certification. Make sure the company is either a Certified Industrial Hygienist or a Certified Mold Remediator. The American Industrial Hygiene Association maintains a list of all certified industrial hygienists on its website at http://www.aiha.org.
References. Do a thorough background check on the company you’re thinking about hiring, including a check on its credit and insurance coverage. You should also ask for three or four references to see how the company solved other sites’ mold problems. Mold can create huge public relations headaches for sites. You don’t want a mold remediator whose workers just come into your community wearing protective suits and scare your tenants. You need to find out how the company’s workers talk to tenants and what they plan to do to allay tenants’ fears while working at your site.