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5 Frequently Asked Questions About Black Mold

Thursday, October 17th, 2019
black mold

Though there are approximately 20,000 species of mold, only about five are commonly found inside structures. One of these species, Stachybotrys chartarum, is also known as “black mold.” It’s not the most common type encountered inside houses, but black mold has a reputation for triggering particularly problematic symptoms in certain people exposed to it. Here are five questions and answers about Stachybotrys chartarum to clear up some confusion surrounding it.

  • Is black mold always black?  No, it may also appear dark green or gray. Conversely, other types of more common mold that may appear black are not the Stachybotrys chartarum species.
  • Does black mold occur more frequently inside houses than other mold?  Actually, the reverse is probably true. Stachybotrys chartarum tends to require more moisture to proliferate than most other common mold types. Therefore, it is most likely to be found only in more chronically wet indoor settings.
  • Is there something about black mold that makes it especially toxic to humans?  For individuals with a sensitivity to mycotoxins contained in airborne mold spores, black mold is associated with a wider range of reported physical symptoms than other types of mold. However, the severity of reactions to black mold spores also depends upon the extent of contamination inside the home as well as the duration of exposure. Individuals who are not sensitive to mold mycotoxins may not experience symptoms from black mold exposure.
  • Is black mold contamination more difficult to remove than other types?  No, the same basic mold removal techniques are involved: First, eliminate the source of moisture that triggers active mold growth. Then, test to confirm the type of mold present on the premises. Locate all active mold growth and physically remove it. Disinfect surfaces where mold existed and remove any materials that are permanently contaminated. Follow up with later air sample testing to confirm decontamination.
  • Are physical symptoms caused by black mold permanent? For most people who experience a reaction to mold exposure of any type, including black mold, symptoms will gradually disappear when professional mold remediation techniques are utilized to remove contamination inside the house. 

National Preparedness Month: Teach Your Children Flood Safety

Wednesday, September 4th, 2019

Are you ready for National Preparedness Month?  Sponsored by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), September is the designated month each year to encourage readiness for potential natural disasters. The theme for 2019 is “Prepared, Not Scared.”  

In the U.S., floods typically kill about 100 persons every year, far exceeding the death toll caused by any other natural hazard including tornadoes and hurricanes. To make sure everyone in the family is aware of the potential danger, it’s important to include children when providing information on how to stay safe in the event of a flood. Here are some suggestions from FEMA and the American Red Cross.

  • Explain to kids that flash floods may happen very suddenly with little warning. Or, floods may develop more slowly, such as flooding associated with extended rainy periods or events such as rapidly melting snow.
  • It’s important to note that storms or heavy rain far away may cause streams and rivers nearby to overflow—even when it’s not raining close to home at the moment.
  • Children should avoid all contact with floodwater outdoors and indoors.  Emphasize that floodwater flowing outside may be strong enough to knock down a person and carry them away. Talk about the dangers of chemicals and germs present in floodwater that could make them sick, as well as poisonous snakes and other possible threats such as electrical shocks.
  • Encourage kids to remind parents and other adults not to drive through floodwater even when it appears shallow. “Turn around, don’t drown” is an easy-to-remember slogan for children to pass along to adults and keep the whole family safe.
  • Kids should be fully informed about the family plan in the event of a flood. They should know where the family will go to seek shelter and what each person in the family will do if a flood occurs. Children should also know the names and phone numbers of specified responsible adults to contact in the event of an emergency such as a flood if a parent isn’t available at the time.

Understand Your Homeowners Insurance BEFORE Disaster Strikes

Tuesday, August 27th, 2019

Experiencing a major disaster is a hard way to find out that your homeowner’s insurance won’t compensate you for your losses. Assumptions about insurance coverage on a home may prove to be incorrect or out of date just when you need it most. To protect yourself from unpleasant surprises, take these proactive steps:

  • Review your policy now to identify potential holes in coverage.
  • Stay up to date on any new exclusions or other changes that may have been made by the insurer.
  • Contact your agent for straight answers about issues that seem unclear or ambiguous.  
  • Look into available alternatives for specific coverage that isn’t included in standard homeowner’s policies.
  • Keep records of all maintenance and upkeep performed on the home.

Not all disasters are created equal in the eyes of homeowner’s insurance providers. Here’s how coverage breaks down in a typical policy.

  • Fire and lightning damage are usually covered, as well as smoke damage associated with such events.
  • Wind damage to a house including the roof and other structure caused by weather events like tornadoes and hurricanes is generally covered by homeowner’s insurance.
  • Flood damage such as storm surges during hurricanes, as well as widespread floods from overflowing rivers and other outdoor sources is not covered. Flood insurance is available from the National Flood Insurance Program administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
  • Earthquake coverage is not standard in most homeowner’s policies. However, it can be added as an endorsement or, alternatively, a separate policy specifically for earthquake damage may be purchased.
  • Indoor disasters like water damage from “sudden and accidental” non-weather-related events such as a ruptured plumbing pipe are usually covered by homeowner’s insurance. An exception is gradual damage resulting from lack of proper maintenance. For example, long-term water damage caused by a chronic leaky water pipe that was not repaired or an ongoing roof leak that was ignored may not be covered.
  • Coverage for sewage backups is not standard in most policies but can be affordably added.
  • Mold contamination that is a direct consequence of sudden indoor events like pipe ruptures is typically covered by homeowner’s insurance.

How to Stop Foundation Water Damage to Your Home

Tuesday, August 13th, 2019

Every element of your home’s structure ultimately relies on an intact foundation. A damaged or deteriorating foundation undermines the stability and strength of the entire house. What’s worse, a permanent fix can be exceedingly costly—a major reason why a defective foundation is often a deal-breaker when a home’s up for sale. Ironically, one of the biggest threats to the integrity of that solid concrete structure supporting your house is simply water.

Chronic exposure to water deteriorates concrete foundations and also undermines the soil supporting it. Here are some ways to keep water and foundation separated and avoid highly expensive consequences.

Manage Drainage

Grade landscape so water flows away from the foundation. The slope away from the house should decline by at least 6 inches over a 10-foot distance. For best results, create the graded slope using dense soil such as clay that carries water away instead of absorbing it.

If drainage by grading isn’t adequate, consider adding a french drain around the foundation perimeter. Installed in a gravel-filled trench about two feet deep, a perforated plastic pipe conveys accumulating ground water away from the house to a deeper portion of the yard.

Maintain Gutters

Clogged, overflowing gutters pound water deep into the soil adjacent to the foundation during heavy rain. Chronic moisture from saturated soil infiltrates the pores of a cement foundation as well as seeping through cracks and crevices, causing ongoing deterioration. Keep gutters flowing freely and extend downspouts to discharge water at least three feet (more is better) from the house.

Resolve Plumbing Issues

Water supply lines are frequently routed beneath the slab foundation of a home. Unseen leakage from these pipes can erode supporting soil, causing the foundation to shift and crack. If a hidden plumbing leak is suspected due to unexplained water bill increases or other signs, have it checked out by a qualified plumber.

Install A Sump Pump

In some locales, the continuous pressure of natural ground water rising under the foundation causes deterioration and seepage. A sump pump installed in the foundation or basement floor relieves pressure by collecting water and automatically pumping it outdoors.

Summer Storms Can Bring Summer Damage… Be Prepared

Tuesday, July 30th, 2019

Every year, summer storms cause about 15 billion dollars in property damage. High winds, flooding, hail, tornadoes, lightning: winter seems like a fairly benign season compared to the damage potential present during the summer months. No home in any state can be considered totally safe from these three months of tempestuous weather, driven by rising heat and moisture. From the top of the house to the bottom, here are a few timely suggestions to be prepared:

Secure The Roof

Your roof takes the brunt of summer storms. Schedule an inspection by a roofing professional to check for split or missing shingles, dislodged flashing, leaky skylights and other issues that could cause indoor water damage from a heavy rain. Also, ensure gutters are securely attached and water flows freely through downspouts. A complete roof inspection should include an attic check to look for evidence of leakage or deterioration on the underside of the roof sheathing.

Manage Trees

Overhanging limbs can become an issue in high winds. Thrashing limbs scraping the roof can cause damage even if limbs remain intact. If they break, the weight of a heavy limb impacting the roof can inflict severe damage to the roof structure. Large limbs extending over the house should be cut back. If any tree limbs that are close enough to strike the home are weak, dying or otherwise compromised, consider having these limbs or the whole tree removed.

Divert Drainage

Water pooling close to the home during heavy rain may seep into the structure or undermine a slab foundation. Ensure that your surrounding landscape is graded so that water flows away from the house and into the yard.

Protect The Basement

Water inundation may damage a basement in two ways: Heavy rain saturating the soil can penetrate basement walls and/or rising ground water may infiltrate through a basement floor. A sump pump installed in a basin excavated at the lowest part of the basement collects entering water and automatically pumps it out to prevent flooding. Due to power outages frequently associated with summer storms, a sump pump with battery backup feature is preferable.

What is the Difference Between a Flood Warning and a Flood Watch?

Thursday, July 25th, 2019

Officials at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) report that fully 98% of counties in the United States have experienced severe flooding at one one time or another in their history. A FEMA fact sheet expresses this risk in more plain and simple terms: “Anywhere it can rain, it can flood.”

To inform you of a potential flood event and necessary flood safety measures, the National Weather Service (NWS) issues bulletins keyed to areas located along specific bodies of water such as rivers or coastal regions, as well as on a county-by-county basis across the entire country. Here are the levels of NWS alerts regarding flooding:

Flood Watch

This is the preliminary alert to make you aware of conditions that could potentially cause flooding. Typically, a flood watch is issued to cover a time frame of 24 to 48 hours. The watch will state that flooding could possibly take place in a designated general area. A flood watch does not mean flooding is already occurring, nor is it a guarantee that it will occur. If your home is in an area covered by a flood watch, it’s a good idea to keep a radio or television tuned in to potential updates in the event you are advised to take additional action.

Flood Warning

This means flooding in your area is already occurring or is imminent. The alert includes vital information such as forecasted conditions, duration that the warning is in effect, evacuation advisories, information about blocked roads and locations of emergency shelters. If a flood warning is issued, follow the information provided in the warning and take immediate action to evacuate the area or move to higher ground.

Flash Flood Warning

These alerts warn of rapidly-developing flash floods that can turn dry conditions into a life-threatening danger zone in a matter of only minutes. You will be advised to move to nearest higher ground without any delay. There may not be time to evacuate to any remote location. Flash flood warnings should never be disregarded, even if it’s not raining at your specific location at that moment.

6 Important Flood Safety Tips Everyone Should Know

Tuesday, July 23rd, 2019

In the U.S., more people are killed every year due to floods than the total of all deaths from hurricanes, tornadoes and lightning. Flooding is statistically the most common natural disaster and no locale is totally immune from the potential danger. Because the right time to familiarize yourself with the hazards and make plans to stay safe is before disaster strikes, here are six flood safety tips:

  • Know the risks. Find out if you live in a flood-prone zone. FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) provides online flood risk maps for most communities in the U.S. With this information, you can estimate the risk of flooding from local sources and plan evacuation routes if the need ever arises. 
  • Keep informed. If conditions that may trigger flooding occur—such as severe storms or an overflowing river—monitor local radio broadcasts for updates. Keep all occupants of the house informed of the threat and prepared to evacuate, if necessary.
  • Leave if you are advised to. If evacuation is recommended by authorities, leave your home, ASAP.  Staying put in the house will do nothing to prevent the damage if flooding strikes and only exposes occupants to increased dangers.  
  • Stay out of moving water. Don’t walk or wade into moving floodwater during evacuation. Just six inches of water with typical flood current can knock you off your feet. If you encounter flooded roads while driving, stop, turn around or back up, and take a different route.  
  • Don’t come home until it’s safe. Monitor radio broadcasts for updates that indicate it’s safe to return. Flash floods are often a delayed effect that occurs following severe weather events. Just because it stops raining and the sun is out, don’t assume the threat is over.
  • Be aware of dangers at home. If you return to a flooded or wet home, don’t enter the house if electrical power is still active. Contact an electrician to disconnect utility power at the meter. Floodwater is toxic, so avoid direct skin contact. Snakes and other vermin may also be present in a flooded structure.

Floodwaters are Coming – What NOT to Do…

Thursday, July 18th, 2019

Over 75% of Presidential disaster declarations are issued due to flooding. While more dramatic natural calamities may draw more media coverage, inundation by water from one source or another leads the statistics for damage and dislocation in this country. Information about positive steps to take in case of a flood is widely available and applicable to scenarios in most locales. However, now and then it’s helpful to take the reverse approach and pass along advice from various experts about what not to do.

Here are some things to avoid when floodwaters threaten:

  • Being out of touch. If potential flood conditions are present, keep a radio or television on and tuned to a channel that provides current coverage and emergency information.
  • Engaging in denial and delay. If official warnings are issued by authorities, don’t put off taking proactive steps to ensure your safety. Past experience with floods that didn’t materialize doesn’t mean you’ll get lucky again.
  • Not having a plan. Every household should have an evacuation plan including routes (and alternate routes) to get out of the area as well as the location of nearest high ground for emergency escape.
  • Staying home to “save the house.” Occupying a house during a significant flood does little or nothing to prevent water inundation nor limit the extent of damage. What it does do is expose the occupant to unnecessary dangers and often require first responders to rescue the trapped individual if/when things get really bad.
  • Wading into floodwater. Moving floodwater is more powerful than you think, deeper than you expect and usually highly toxic due to raw sewage and chemicals picked up along the way. Stay out of it if at all possible.
  • Coming home too soon. Even if local conditions appear to be moderate, don’t return home before an official announcement that it’s safe. Severe weather remote from your location may still swell rivers and lakes and trigger a flash flood.
  • Entering a wet house with power on. Electrical power may still be live in flooded houses. Fatal electrocutions are a frequent post-flood danger. Contact an electrician to disconnet utility power before entering the house.

Take Stock of What You Own – How a Home Inventory Can Help You

Thursday, July 11th, 2019

In the event of an emergency like indoor water damage, fire, severe weather or earthquake, would you be able to quickly account for damage and losses to personal possessions? If not, maybe it’s time to put together a home inventory to take stock of those belongings. It’s basic to know the value of your home’s structure and to have insurance coverage appropriate to that amount. However, what about all the valuable stuff inside the house? Here are three ways a home inventory can help you before and after an emergency strikes.  

Make sure you’re covered in advance.  To receive proper compensation if possessions are damaged or lost, you need to be prepared beforehand with the appropriate type and amount of insurance. In order to work with your insurer and accurately determine the type and accurate value of belongings inside your home before a potential loss, put together an orderly account of what’s what and/or look into apps designed specifically to organize home inventories.  Information gathering at this point should include:

  • A master list of all valuables.
  • Serial numbers or any other unique identification.
  • Date of purchase.
  • Purchase price of each item.
  • Photograph or video of valuable items and supporting information such as receipts.

Expedite filing claims and replacement. In the stressful period after a natural disaster, fire or other damaging event, it’s going to be difficult to recall and accurately quantify all your losses—and the appropriate value of each—strictly from memory for insurance purposes. Claims must be filed in a timely, organized manner. To ensure full, prompt compensation, you need to be prepared to present all necessary information including associated documentation in an orderly, accessible way.

Document losses for tax purposes. In order to claim certain losses on your tax return, you’ll need to provide very specific information about high-value items and at least a credible general estimate of less expensive losses. Home inventories, particularly those generated by dedicated apps or other software, are helpful to meet tax requirements and deduct losses from your income tax.

How to Manage Humidity in Your Home this Summer

Tuesday, June 18th, 2019

High outdoor humidity is a fact of life during summer in many locales. Often, it doesn’t stay outdoors. In addition to being a source of discomfort to occupants, persistent indoor humidity degrades building materials and triggers growth of toxic mold. Because your air conditioner runs longer to maintain indoor comfort when humidity is high, monthly cooling costs are also elevated.

How High Is Too High?

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends maintaining the indoor humidity level at a range of 50% to 60%. During summer, most locations in the U.S. exceed that level in either morning or afternoon measurements. Therefore, special effort is required to keep the indoor environment less humid than outdoors. Here are some things you can do to reduce excessive humidity in the house this summer:

  • Maintain the air conditioner. Indoor humidity control is an important function of the air conditioning process. Dry air cools more efficiently than humid air. Schedule annual professional A/C maintenance including servicing the indoor evaporator coil that extracts water vapor from air and checking refrigerant charge to ensure optimum humidity reduction. Also, change the air filter monthly to keep system airflow up to specs.
  • Air seal the house. Outdoor humidity naturally migrates into drier zones indoors. Small cracks and gaps in the structure of the house allow humid air to leak into the interior and raise indoor levels. Check the weatherstripping around doors and windows and replace if its worn or missing. Look for cracks in the structure around exterior walls and gaps along the baseboard; seal with silicone caulking.
  • Exhaust humid rooms. High levels of water vapor in kitchen and bathrooms are common and should be controlled with ceiling exhaust fans. Make sure the fan exhaust duct extends all the way to the exterior of the house, not just into the attic.
  • Install a whole-house dehumidifier. These units, connected to your central HVAC ductwork, automatically extract water vapor from the system airflow to keep indoor humidity levels at the desired setting. All air circulating through the entire house is continuously dehumidified as long as the system is running.