After a hurricane or other regional disaster, the hardest-hit areas are often flooded with contractors and service providers that aren’t properly licensed or qualified to perform the work they are hired to do. Too many people hire the first vendor who knocks on their door because they are desperate to start the recovery process. Perhaps the salesperson just seemed nice or gave them a quote that seemed reasonable. This can be dangerous, however, because an unqualified service provider can lead to work that is not done correctly or in the worst cases, they take a deposit and are never heard from again.

Before hiring a contractor or service provider, it is important to do your research to make sure they are a reputable company with the knowledge and experience to get the job done right. Here are a few ways you can ensure you don’t fall prey to these scandalous companies who claim to be water damage restoration or mold remediation experts.

Insurance

Any company you choose must be fully insured for handling water damage and mold remediation. A good service provider should be willing to provide you with proof of their insurance coverage. Ask them for a Certificate of Insurance (COI) from their agent, and look for liability insurance, pollution liability, and worker’s compensation coverages at a minimum. Failure to verify their insurance can cost you! For example, if a worker is injured on your property and their employer doesn’t have worker’s compensation insurance, the worker could come after you to pay for their medical expenses.

Licensing

While there are no federal regulations relating to mold assessment or mold remediation, several states started requiring licenses to perform mold-related services after Hurricane Katrina because a lot of people did inadequate work relating to mold. After homes and businesses were rebuilt, many discovered mold growing because the building wasn’t dried properly or remediated effectively.

States that require licenses for mold assessment and mold remediation include Florida, New York, Texas, and Louisiana. You can look up licenses for each state online to verify the service provider you are considering possesses the appropriate license. If you live in a state that does not require a license to perform mold-related services, ask to see the service provider’s qualifications or search for service providers such as certifications or training records from through reputable organizations such as the Institute of Inspection, Cleaning, and Restoration Certification (IICRC), Indoor Air Quality Association (IAQA), and National Organization of Remediators and Mold Inspectors (NORMI).

Most states also require licenses for specialty trades such as contracting, plumbing, electrical, roofing, etc. Check with your state and county to ensure that the service provider you are considering has the proper licenses and that the license is currently active. In addition, make sure the company you hire has properly registered their business entity to do business in your state.

Certifications, Training, and Experience

While some companies claim to be able to perform water damage restoration or mold remediation, they often lack the experience, training, and equipment to do a thorough and safe job. The IICRC has set the standards most companies follow for restoration work. A qualified service provider should follow their guidelines at a minimum, and ideally possesses certifications from this organization to prove they have received training on these standards. Look for water restorers and mold remediators with certifications in the areas relating to work you need to have completed.

In addition, companies are required to be compliant with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) standards. OSHA offers numerous important training programs intended to help reduce the likelihood of an accident in the workplace. Beyond the potential for workers experiencing serious injury or even death, failure to follow OSHA standards can lead to project delays, increased liability to property owners, and large fines imposed on the contractor. Talk to the service provider about the safety measures and protocols they have in place to keep their workers safe.

You can search for IICRC qualified firms and individuals by visiting www.iicrc.org, and our profile can be found at www.iicrc.org/member/floodzonedrs. Other great training and industry organizations to research restorers and remediators include NORMI and IAQA.

Equipment

Anyone can buy fans and dehumidifiers from the big hardware store up the street and say they do water restoration. However, truly effective drying equipment can’t be purchased there, we get it from specialized suppliers. It’s even more important that the restorer understands how the equipment works for it to be effective. A reputable company will have well-maintained equipment and will be able to explain how it works.

Ask what type of equipment they will be using and how it works. Even better, ask if you can look inside their vehicle. If their equipment looks like it is older than you, it probably is. A good restorer will also check their equipment’s functionality frequently to ensure it continues to do what it is supposed to.

Reputation

A good reputation is extremely important. If someone comes to you and says they do water restoration or mold remediation, they should be able to prove they have done it successfully before. If your project is large-scale or specialized, you need a company with experience on similar projects. Ask for references, check online review sources, and check with your friends and neighbors. While not every customer will not have good things to say about a company, happy customers say a lot about the company! When you call, is their office staff friendly, professional, and able to answer (at least most of) your questions? If not, that’s a warning sign that their staff may not be properly trained.

Ask Questions

Will you have air quality testing performed before and after mold remediation is completed?

Third-party testing by a mold assessor should always be performed after mold remediation work is completed to ensure successful and complete remediation. We also recommended testing be performed prior to remediation on most projects to ensure nothing is missed from the start of the project. Pre-remediation testing should also include a thorough protocol describing the areas to be remediated and how the remediation project should be completed.

The company that performs testing should be a third-party that is not related to the remediator to ensure an unbiased result. In some states, it is illegal for the assessment and remediation to be completed by the same company.

What is the primary way to have a successful mold remediation project?

The correct answer is to remove the mold! All affected porous building materials such as drywall and carpeting should be removed and the area should be thoroughly cleaned. Simply wiping the mold off the surface or spraying it with chemicals is not enough. Structural materials such as framing, and non-porous materials can be cleaned in most cases, however, it is important to remember that killing mold does not make it safe. The mold must still be physically removed from these materials through cleaning, wiping, HEPA vacuuming, and proper air filtration.

The remediator should also understand that, when removing mold-contaminated drywall, the drywall should be removed at least 18 inches beyond the last sign of discoloration. This helps ensure all affected drywall is removed and nothing is missed.

Can my flooring, cabinets, or drywall be salvaged?

This depends on many factors, but the goal should be to salvage as much as possible. However, if the building was flooded by water that came from the ground outside or from any sewage line, porous building materials such as these cannot be salvaged as they contain harmful bacteria, pathogens, and chemicals that can make you sick. If a restorer attempts to salvage these building materials after a flood, that is a major red flag!

How many dehumidifiers and air movers are needed?

The IICRC has calculations for air movers and portable dehumidifiers based on the size of the area, class of loss, type of equipment. There are additional calculations for sizing the large equipment requirements for large losses (desiccant dehumidifiers and generators). A properly trained restorer will know how to do these calculations and can show you why they have decided on the type and quantity of equipment.

What is the normal moisture content of wood framing which prevents mold from growing?

A properly trained water damage restorer will understand that wood framing should be dried to less than 16% EMC (equilibrium moisture content), according to the IICRC. The restorer should check the moisture content in areas that are difficult to access such as under sill plates and framing, behind cabinets, and under flooring to ensure the structure is completely dry before removing equipment. Just because the drywall seems dry from the surface, doesn’t mean the framing behind it isn’t still wet. The restorer should also be willing to walk you through the building and show you the moisture content of various materials to prove that it’s wet or dry.

Whatever You Do, Get it Sorted Fast

Water damage is something that you can’t wait too long to deal with. Water damage that is left alone only worsens, leading to mold infestations, disease, and even permanent damage to the structural integrity of the building. Do your research quickly. Better yet, when putting together a disaster plan for your business, make sure a water damage restoration company is added to it so that, if you ever have the need, you can just make the call right away.