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Water Damage vs. Mold

Both water and mold can cause significant damage to your home or belongings – depending on how early it was detected and what corrective action you took to remedy the situation.

Water or excess moisture is a prerequisite for mold to grow.

Water damage is often visible after a short period and does not necessarily spread to other areas of your home. However, it can take weeks before you can spot mold damage, by which time mold spores might have spread to other areas of your home.

Unless you quickly eradicate mold in your home, it will slowly eat away at the surface of what it grows on, often causing irreparable damage.

Continue reading to learn:

  • How to tell if you have mold damage
  • Does homeowners insurance cover mold removal?
  • Why you should never DIY (do-it-yourself) mold removal
  • What does the average mold removal cost?
  • How to hire a professional mold remediation company
A man holds a magnifying glass over black mold to make it more visible

According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), mold is present almost anywhere. It can grow on virtually any substance, providing moisture is present.

How to Tell if You Have Mold Damage?

Many people think of mold as a sign that it is time to throw out food at the back of the fridge. But when mold takes root within your home, it is often not so obvious to spot.

Even meticulously clean houses might have mold growing in unexpected places.

Signs of mold damage include:

a. Dirty-looking spots that feel soft, slimy, or damp that smear when touched

Mold often looks like dirt or a water stain before it starts spreading. One way to test if it is mold is to touch it (with gloves) – if it feels damp and smears easily, it is mold. Remember to wash your hands afterward as mold can be a health hazard.

b. A pungent or musty smell in your home or parts of it

The first sign of a mold infestation is often not the visual appearance of mold but a pungent or musty smell permeating the air.

c. Blueish, greenish, grayish, or black spots on your walls, ceiling, or other places

Mold comes in many colors that often look unusual and should attract your attention. 

Common indoor molds include Cladosporium, Penicillium, and Aspergillus.  

  • Cladosporium – It is typically olive-green to brown or black.
  • Penicillium – Starts off white and turns bluish-green, grayish-green, and even pink or yellow over time.
  • Aspergillus – Typically looks blue-green to black on the surface and whitish or yellowish underneath.

d. Physical symptoms that might indicate the presence of mold

Health risks associated with indoor mold growth include:

  • Sneezing
  • Runny nose
  • Red eyes
  • Skin rashes
  • Dizziness
  • Headaches
  • Asthma attacks

These risks are especially harmful to children, elderly people, and those with pre-existing respiratory illnesses. If you or your family start experiencing any of the above symptoms or if your symptoms worsen, mold might be the culprit.

e. The grout between your bathroom tiles is dark

If the grout between your bathroom tiles is dark or there is a buildup of gunk in the grout, it might be mold and mildew.

In addition, pay attention to any discoloration of your shower curtain.

f. Peeling wallpaper

Black mold

Peeling and damp wallpaper often indicate the presence of moisture in the wall and mold.

How to Prevent Mold Damage

The key to preventing excess moisture or water damage from turning into mold is to fix any leaks and dry and clean the affected area without delay. 

Here are some tips on how you can help prevent mold damage: 

#1. Identify the Source and Do the Necessary Repairs

For mold to grow, water or excess moisture needs to be present. You cannot prevent mold damage if you have underlying water or moisture problems. 

The sooner you fix the source of the problem, the more likely it is that you can mitigate further water damage and prevent mold from growing.

#2. Dry the Affected Area and Your Belongings

The following tips can help:

  • Open the windows.
  • Wipe up water on the floor.
  • Remove any furniture that might get damaged.
  • Place a dehumidifier in the room.
  • Buy a cheap hygrometer and keep indoor humidity below 60%.
    – Use air conditioners and dehumidifiers
    – Increase ventilation
    – Use exhaust fans when necessary

#3. Hire a local mold inspector or mold inspection company. 

Mold is often difficult to spot, and by the time you notice it, it might already be too late. Hiring a professional to examine your home for any signs of hidden mold is recommended, especially after suffering a water damage event.

Does Homeowners Insurance Cover Mold Removal?

Mold is often a consequence of a sudden and accidental water damage event covered by your insurance company. However, if your insurer covers the water damage, does that automatically mean they will cover subsequent mold damage as well?

It’s not always an easy question to answer. It typically depends on what caused the mold. Usually, mold damage is covered if it is a direct consequence of a covered event.

However, if you didn’t do anything to prevent the mold from growing or spreading, it’s unlikely that your insurance company will cover it.

Check Your Insurance Policy

A standard HO-3 homeowners’ insurance policy will typically contain the following (or similar) wording:

We do insure for loss caused by mold, fungus, or wet rot hidden within the walls or ceilings or beneath the floors or above the ceilings of a structure if such loss results from the accidental discharge or overflow of water or steam from within:

  1. A plumbing, heating, air conditioning, or automatic fire protection sprinkler system, or a household appliance, on the “residence premises”; or
  2. A storm drain, water, steam, or sewer pipes, off the “residence premises.”

For purposes of this provision, a plumbing system or household appliance does not include a sump, sump pump, or related equipment or a roof drain, gutter, downspout, or similar fixtures or equipment.

Additional exceptions include:

  • Wear and tear
  • Mechanical breakdown or a latent defect
  • Smog, rust or other corrosion, or dry rot

Temporal Exclusions

Many insurance companies have temporal exclusions or time limitations in their insurance policies to protect their interests, such as:

“We do not cover any water, or the presence of water, over time from any constant or repeating gradual or slow seepage, leakage, trickle, collection, infiltration or overflow of water from any source… whether known or unknown to any insured.

Based on the above, it might not matter when you discover water or mold damage. The only thing that matters is when the event leading to the water or mold damage occurred.

Some insurance companies, like American Family Insurance (AMFAM), provide optional coverage for hidden water damage. In the case of AMFAM:

“It covers the cost to repair the damage done by a hidden water leak you can’t see within the walls, floors, ceilings, cabinets, beneath the floors, or behind or under a home appliance.”

Why You Should Never DIY (do-it-yourself) Mold Removal

Hidden or undetected water damage often results in mold growth. You might be able to remove small amounts of mold with a bleach-based mold cleaner, wearing protective gear.

However, unless you eliminate mold infestations, they might spread and become worse. It can also have a detrimental impact on your health.

One patch of black mold is often just the “tip of the iceberg” – chances are it has already spread throughout your home. Simply removing visible mold may not be enough.

The dangers of DIY mold removal include:

– You Don’t Know the Different Types of Mold 

There are many different types of mold, and it can be hard to differentiate between them. Without knowing which chemicals and removal techniques to use for a specific variety, you might be wasting your time and endangering your health.

– It Is a Big Job!

Most assume the job is complete when they can no longer see any mold. However, this is often only the start of eliminating a mold infestation.

DIY mold removal can be frustrating and time-consuming, especially if you lack the necessary know-how and experience. And to make matters worse, unlike a trained professional, you have no way of knowing if you successfully removed all the mold.

– You Could Make Things Worse

By attempting to remove mold on our own, you could inadvertently release thousands of mold spores into the air. These spores can spread to other areas of your home where there was no mold growth before.

In addition, you or your loved ones could accidentally ingest or inhale them. Doing so might create health problems or worsen health conditions such as allergies or asthma.

Based on the above, do not attempt to remove mold by yourself. It is not one of those jobs you can do yourself unless you are a trained professional.

Call a mold removal expert who knows how to detect and eliminate mold.

What Does the Average Mold Removal Cost?

The average mold removal cost depends on several factors, including:

  • The location of your home
  • The square footage of your home or affected area
  • The type of mold and how hard it is to reach it

For example, removing mold in hard-to-reach places, like your HVAC system, typically takes longer than in other more accessible areas.

Mold removal and remediation costs in Los Angeles range from around $14 to $27 per square foot. It amounts to about $28,000 to $54,000 for a 2,000 square foot home.

Prices may be higher when:

  • The area has both mold and water damage.
  • Your home is in a remote location.
  • A lot of material needs to be removed and replaced.
  • It is labor-intensive and time-consuming to remove the mold.
  • The affected area is hard to reach.

Prices may be lower when:

  • The damage is minimal, or only cleaning is required.
  • The damaged area is easy to reach and treat.
  • No or little material disposal is required.

Typical costs (based on Angie’s List) to remove mold in specific areas:

  • Attic – $1,000 to $4,000 
  • Basement – $500 to $3,000
  • Crawl Spaces – $500 to $2,000
  • HVAC System – $3,000 to $10,000  
  • Bathroom – $500 – $1,000
  • Air Ducts – $600 – $2,000

Mold inspections typically cost $300 to $1,025.

How to Hire a Professional Mold Remediation Company?

Cleaning mold from wall

A proper mold remediation company should be able to perform the following tasks:

  • Thoroughly inspect your home – identify mold and determine the resources required to conduct the necessary work.
  • Contain the mold and prevent it from spreading.
  • Remove mold and damaged materials such as drywall and carpets.
  • Apply antifungal and antimicrobial solutions to eliminate mold colonies.
  • Clean, sanitize, and remove odors from your home.
  • Dry the structure.

Tips on How to Find a Reputable Mold Remediation Company

What qualification(s) do they have?

As per the California Department of Public Health, a mold inspector or remediator does not require a license in California:

“At present, California has no state regulations regarding mold inspection, assessment, or remediation. Any business is subject to local requirements, such as a business license. A company performing building construction or improvement valued at $500 or more (labor and materials costs) must have a state contractors’ license.”

However, that does not mean you should hire just anyone who says they can do the job.

Before you hire someone, ask if they have a mold inspection and remediation certification. If yes, it is a good indication that they have the required skills.

Note that in California, contractors need to be licensed by the Contractors State License Board (CSLB).

What experience do they have? 

Hiring a mold remediation company, mold inspector, or remediator who lacks experience is risky.

Hiring someone with five, ten, or twenty years of experience is typically safer than hiring someone with little to no experience but who has a mold inspection and remediation certification.

Do they have many positive reviews?

Reading reviews (both positive and negative) from past customers is one of the best ways to determine if you are dealing with a reputable mold remediation company.

The best review sites include Google, Yelp, and the Better Business Bureau (BBB).

If you cannot find any reviews online, it is often a sign that you are dealing with a relatively new company. Should this be the case, ask them to provide you with contact details of past clients you may contact. If they are unwilling, it is a red flag.

Ask for recommendations

Ask your friends or family if they can recommend a mold remediation company based on their personal experience or the experience of someone they know.

It may also be a good idea to ask some plumbers in your area if they can recommend a good mold remediation company they have experience with.

Obtain a detailed, written estimate

Ask the mold remediation company to provide you with an estimate in writing. It should contain details about the work to be done and a breakdown of material and labor costs.

How long will it take them to complete the job?

You want mold removal and damage to be taken care of as soon as possible.

Ask the mold remediation company when they can start and how long it will take them to complete the job. If possible, get them to include the time frame on their estimate. If you don’t, they may prioritize other jobs before yours.

Do they guarantee their workmanship?

Not all mold remediation companies will guarantee their work, but many do. It’s advisable to ask them what guarantee they offer.

You don’t have to use a mold remediation company recommended by your insurer

When dealing with a homeowners insurance claim for a mold, your insurance company will typically provide you with a list of mold remediation companies.

However, as per Section 2695.9 of California’s Fair Claims Settlement Practices Act, you are not obliged to use a preferred insurance vendor recommended by your insurance company.

Using a preferred insurance vendor has both pros and cons.

Pros include:

  • Your insurance company has vetted the mold remediation company.
  • If you have a complaint, you can file it with your insurance company. Most insurance vendors prefer to fix a problem than risk not getting recommended for future jobs.
  • A vendor will often try to prioritize and expedite insurance-related work in the hope that it could lead to more recommendations.

Cons include:

  • An insurance company might limit the scope of a job to save money when you accept a vendor recommended by them.
  • Recommended mold remediation companies might not want to query things with an insurance company if it might compromise their relationship with them.

Do not make an advance payment

You should never pay a mold remediation company the entire project fee before they complete all the work. Be careful of companies that require you to pay them an advance, often before they’ve even started working on the project.

If a company wants payment in advance, they might not have the funds to buy materials or pay their staff. It’s a big red flag. In California the law specified that an advance should be the lesser of 10% or $1,000.

Note: A mold remediation company might request to be paid directly by your insurance company. It is not an unusual request – the company will provide you with a “direction to pay” form.

Do they want to test for mold?

Most mold remediation experts feel that testing for mold when it is already visible wastes time and money. An exception might be if you need a report for an insurance claim or if you have a dispute with a buyer or seller.

You only need the mold remediation company to remove the mold and restore the indoor air quality to normal levels.

If a company pressures you to spend hundreds of dollars on mold testing when the mold is visible, it is a red flag.

That’s a Wrap

We hope this section answers your questions about water damage versus mold damage. We covered how you can tell if you have mold damage and if insurance covers mold removal, and why it is not a DIY job.

In addition, we also looked at the average mold removal cost and how to hire a mold remediation company.

Mold has the potential to not only cause significant damage to your home and belongings but also harm your health.

If you are experiencing mold growth caused by a covered event and have challenges with your insurance company, call Avner Gar, Inc.

With over 17+ years of experience as a public adjuster in Southern California, we protect homeowners from the games and fine print that insurance companies are known for.

Call us at (818) 917-5256 to find out how we can assist you.