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Stopping Water Damage from Becoming Mold Damage

A client of mine just got back from a family trip to Israel to find his basement covered in mold. Twelve hours before he left for this trip to celebrate his daughter’s bas mitzvah, a pipe fitting in his basement disconnected and flooded his basement with a few inches of water. In their hurry to clean it up before they left, they (and their water damage contractor) made a few mistakes.

The water saturated the base of the walls, the carpet and the contents on the basement floor. The most common mistake made by most contractors and homeowners in situations like this is in not getting all the water out they possible can before the drying process is started. Quite often, homeowners and contractors are pennywise and pound foolish for not opening up the base of the walls to allow the interior wall cavity to dry. If the base of the walls are not opened up, the studs and runners cannot dry properly and mold will form on the wood surfaces. If there is insulation in the walls, the water will wick up the back of the insulation, which is in contact with the drywall, and cause mold to grow on that surface.

The outer surface of the affected walls need to be inspected to determine if water is trapped behind moldings or cabinetry. In this homeowner’s case, the three inch base moldings were not removed and the built in cabinetry was not disassembled to allow proper drying behind and under them. Although the contractor had placed dehumidifiers and blowers in the basement, he had not properly opened up the water soaked area. This resulted in massive amounts of mold growing under the built in cabinets, between the walls and moldings and behind the walls during the two weeks the homeowners were away. And, unfortunately, the blowers the contractor had set up to help dry the basement actually spread the mold spores around the home.

Other important drying techniques include the treating of the entire water damaged surface with an appropriate biocide, keeping the area warm and raising contents to allow proper dry air flow. Biocides should retard the growth of mold until the mechanical drying equipment installed has reduced the moisture levels in the building materials and contents to a level that will not support mold growth. Contents should be removed from the area or put up on pegs or Styrofoam blocks. The warmer a work area is, the more efficient and effective the dehumidifiers will work. Dehumidifiers will actually freeze up or be inoperative at temperatures below 60 degrees.

In this case, due to the heavy mold growth, the homeowner had to dispose of all the contaminated contents and the basement had to undergo a costly mold remediation of all the affected walls. This could have easily been prevented if the techniques suggested above were employed.