Property Management Tips: How to Effectively Minimize the Impact of a Mold Outbreak
Today’s headlines may not be dotted with stories of toxic mold in apartment units like they were during the “outbreak” of the 1980s, but issues can persist if remediation of flooded properties isn’t properly done. Merely sucking up water from a soaked carpet and not thoroughly drying a water-logged unit can spell disaster for apartment property owners when mold gets a grip.
Mold can spread like wild fire from flooding caused from a natural disaster or even broken water pipes. According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, there are tens of thousands of mold fungi species, including black mold, which has been cited for health issues many years.
Molds grow best in warm, damp and humid conditions and spreads by making spores. There is a natural level of mold spores in the air indoors every minute of the day, and all it requires for growth is water.
Public Health Hazard
Flooding resulting from hurricanes, tropical storms, and heavy rainfall has been key instigators of mold issues in recent years. Following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in New Orleans in 2005, outcrops of mold were prevalent throughout the city. Two months after flood waters receded and remediation was complete, a CDC investigation revealed that 46 percent of water-damaged homes in Jefferson, Plaquemines, and St. Bernard parishes had visible mold growth that created a public health hazard.
Typical allergic reactions to mold are nasal stuffiness, eye irritation, wheezing, or skin irritation. Those who have more serious allergies to molds may have more severe reactions. A study by the Institute of Medicine in 2004 noted that there are links to indoor exposure of mold to upper respiratory tract symptoms, coughing and wheezing in otherwise healthy people, among other conditions.
In a flooded apartment unit, mold can escalate and grow behind walls, cabinets, and in closets if areas are not dried properly, especially if there is a pre-existing problem. It is unlikely that a mold outbreak that appears immediately after flooding was caused by the recent onslaught of water. Usually, that signals an existing problem, because it takes 7-10 days for mold to grow visible colonies if no previous mold growth existed.
Even when water is removed, mold spores remain and the colonies are still intact. Mold will go dormant but will activate when the next supply of water arrives. And for people who are allergic to mold, health issues can reappear.
Signs of Mold
Sight and smell are two of the best indicators that a mold problem exists. A visual inspection of the premises can determine whether mold is growing on the property. When people think of mold, they usually visualize green or black furry cultures, but the fungi can be brown or even white. Mold growing behind some wall finishing applications can be orange or purple.
Inspections should focus on areas where there are signs of moisture or water vapor, or areas where water can penetrate, like under walls. Furniture should be moved, carpets removed, and checks done behind wallpaper or paneling, in duct work, and other wall cavities.
There are also signs of existing mold problems, including cracked or peeling paint, warped wood, discolored walls and black growth on or under flooring or counter-top tiles. Mold on one side of the wall can be an indicator that it’s present on the back side.
Minimizing Mold’s Impact
Taking preventative measures to keep an apartment dry is the first step in minimizing mold. But should an apartment get flooded, a complete and thorough remediation will get rid of the immediate threat and help prevent future problems. A flooded apartment requires immediate attention that goes beyond drying wet carpet. Wet walls, if not dried quickly, can promote growth on the back side as well as the outer surface. Once mold has appeared, the likelihood of it returning the next time the area is exposed to water is even greater.
Mold only grows about the thickness of a couple of dollar bills on any surface. Non-structural materials (i.e. drywall and baseboards) should be discarded and replaced, but structural materials (studs and concrete) can be cleaned and/or sanded to remediate the mold. Evaluate contents to determine whether they should be discarded or cleaned.
But mold can become a problem without a heavy deluge of water. That’s why informing residents of everyday preventative measures through newsletters, web pages, or an email is a good idea. Some specific recommendations for both residents and property owners include:
- Maintain humidity levels in units at 40%-60%
- Air-conditioners or dehumidifiers should be used during humid months
- Units should have adequate ventilation, including exhaust fans
- Mold inhibitors can be added to paints before application
- Bathrooms should not have carpeted floors. Tile or stone floors are best.
Mold is nothing to take lightly. But well-informed property owners and managers along with thorough remediation can minimize the impact of an outbreak if a unit gets soaked for whatever reason.