“I thought we were just going to dry the carpet out,” said Shayne Foley. “When someone’s telling you your whole house is going to be ripped up, it’s like, ‘Are you kidding me?’ ”
Plenty of homes and businesses in the Tampa Bay area may be in for a similar experience after recent flooding. Weeks of rain exacerbated by a Sunday-Monday deluge left Pasco County rivers over their banks, inundated South Tampa and turned streets from Tampa’s Town ’N Country neighborhood to St. Petersburg’s Shore Acres into streams.
“Whenever you have a storm surge like this, it’s inevitable that we’re going to get some mold damage afterward,” said Scott DeMalteris, owner of Lightning Restoration of Tampa. Homeowners “don’t really realize how bad it can be, and a lot of times they don’t get it taken care of. And we usually find there’s a big surge of mold work that comes to us.”
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It doesn’t take floodwaters to breed the molds, viruses, bacteria and odor-causing organisms that can hide between walls, under floors or in attics and crawl spaces. Leaky roofs, broken pipes or even an untended open window can do the damage.
Plain old humidity — anything above 60 percent for a sustained period — supports mold and microbial growth, said Kevin Renner, owner of Air & Surface Disinfection in Tampa. That was a widespread issue with the so-called REO homes of the late 2000s: “real estate owned” by lenders that sat vacant sometimes for years after foreclosure.
A moldy home can be dangerous, particularly for people with immune system issues, children and the elderly.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency advises that homeowners usually can handle mold cleanup if the area is less than about 10 square feet. But experts caution against do-it-yourselfers taking squeegees and bleach bottles to a major outbreak and calling it a success. Or worse, simply masking the damage.
“I’ve gotten into some REO stuff where people have painted over it and the (new) homeowner closed on the house,” Renner said. “You open one wall where they thought they had a little bit of mold, and you open up a can of worms because half the house has it.”
The pros segregate contaminated areas with plastic or similar sheeting and typically wear sterile suits and masks during treatment. They use specialized equipment, from commercial dehumidifiers to drying fans and high-efficiency particulate arresting air filters.
“We’ve come in behind a lot of other companies, and we’ve come in behind a lot of homeowners that ask us to step in at that point because they’ve actually agitated everything,” Renner said. “They’re not sealing air vents, they’re running air conditioning, and then they’re calling us down the road saying, ‘Hey, now I’ve got mold in my ductwork, in my AC system.’ It’s very easy to cross-contaminate and spread this stuff through the entire residence.”
A small mold remediation project can cost $1,500 to $2,500, the experts said. Treating an entire property can run into tens of thousands of dollars.
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Whether homeowners insurance policies cover the damage largely depends on the cause. If the source is something covered by a policy, such as moisture from a burst pipe, it’s likely to be covered. Separate flood insurance is required to cover mold damage from rising water, likely the case for much of the recent damage.
The experts say homeowners looking to treat a mold infestation should talk to licensed remediators. It’s now the law, after the state Legislature cracked down on a high-growth industry rife with fraud.
Effective in 2011, lawmakers required licensure, mandatory education and examination and college-level courses in microbiology for practitioners while placing the industry under the regulation of the state Department of Business and Professional Regulation. The law separates mold remediators from mold assessors — splitting the tasks to eliminate the obvious conflict of interest from a remediator testing his or her own work.
A smorgasbord of acronyms help police the industry. DeMalteris is involved with the Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification, the Indoor Air Quality Association and the American Council for Accredited Certification, among others.
Both Renner and DeMalteris said they strongly support the oversight. “It weeds the riffraff out of there,” DeMalteris said.
Foley, the Clearwater resident, said after she and her husband discovered the damage to their home, “some jokers showed up” and proposed a major demolition project. Working with her insurer, she eventually called in DeMalteris’ Lightning Restoration.