March, 2007










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Danielle and Charles Dobbs


Natural disasters happen beyond our control but there are things homeowners can do to minimize damage.

We are asked sometimes what is the worse mold case scenario we've encountered.  Homes damaged by fire that received the visit of the fire department will usually develop a lot of mold, but fire affects one home at a time.  However, hurricanes bring about the worse mold conditions for a great number of homes.  Homes are built with the notion that rain comes from above - straight down.  During hurricanes wind driven rain defies gravity and can enter homes in ways never thought possible. 

The worst that can happen to a home during a hurricane comes from the roof.  Once shingles are blown off, or worse a piece of roof is blown off, water can pour in freely into homes destroying ceilings and running down into wall cavities and into rooms.

If carpet is present the damaged is compounded.  Depending on the amount of water that enters, the damage may not be immediately seen because furniture and personal effects may hide the damage evidence.  For homeowners with tile flooring, the conditions are a little better.  They will be able to sponge off water and the material will have a chance to dry much faster than if carpet was present.

Following the hurricane homeowners immediately notify their insurance company and they are told that an adjuster will be sent to their home.  One of the greatest mistakes people make following water damage is to wait for their adjusters to come without disturbing anything to preserve the evidence.  Tens or hundreds or thousands of homeowners are waiting, like you, for their insurance adjuster.  It may take weeks or even months before he can visit you.

Homeowners should take matters into their own hands and not wait for their insurance adjuster to come and evaluate the damage.  So, when you first call to report the damage, inform your insurance company that you will document the damage with pictures, and ask him to note in your record that you will try to minimize the damage by doing what you can in terms of clean up.  The key is for you to thoroughly document the damages.  Homeowners should take many pictures and date them.  If the carpet is soaked the carpet should be immediately removed and put outside the home, and kept as evidence for your insurance adjuster.  For details on how to handle large water intrusion, you may want to read our book: Mold Matters - Solutions and Prevention. Use your judgement, if only a little water came in at the door, don't take the opportunity to remove your old carpet in hope of getting a new one - that won't work. In this case, you can dry the corner as much as you can, and if power is off and you have no fan to dry the carpet, you can pull the carpet away from the wall to allow ventilation to allow the pad and carpet to dry.

To illustrate why a soaked carpet should be removed, let us look at what is happening when the roof has been compromised: Let us start with the attic.  Water will permeate the insulation and soak the ceiling.  The insulation will keep things moist for a long period of time, during which time mold will start growing, or if enough water comes in, the ceiling may collapse with the excess weight.

Water will take the path of least resistance and run down into the wall cavities.  The water will enter the rooms under the baseboards and soak the carpet.  Over time the water will wick up the walls where mold will start growing.  The water from the carpet will raise the relative humidity (RH) of the room, causing mold to grow inside wall cavities and on walls inside the rooms and ceiling.  An RH above 60% promotes mold growth.

Note that it is not unusual when a hurricane hits to have the power cut off for weeks before power is restored.  Since hurricanes usually occur during the summer months, the humidity found in the southern states is quite high.  Without power, homeowners are unable to run their air conditioning system, thus the relative humidity inside a water-damaged home is at least and usually greater than the outside relative humidity.

Time is of the essence. The first 24 to 48 hours following water intrusion is crucial because during that time mold can start growing.  Mold grows when three things are present - Food (organic material, such as wood, drywall, etc.), a surface to grow on, and water.  Water is the determining factor and the only thing we can control.  Unfortunately, we are powerless against natural disasters but we can minimize the effects of water damage and the resulting mold by taking matters into our own hands immediately after the hurricane, while documenting the damage and keeping the evidence outside the home, on the porch.

ABOUT THE AUTHORS: Danielle Dobbs and Charles Dobbs are principals of Dobbs Enterprises, Inc. a mold inspection and sampling company based in Maitland, Florida.  They are authors of MOLD MATTERS – Solutions and Prevention, and has written many articles.  They both founded the International Institute of Professional Mold Inspectors,, where they offer online courses.  They give onsite and online classes to engineers and maintenance crew to teach water intrusion and mold management.  A unique telephone consulting service, a first in the nation provides homeowners and building owners with an unbiased expert opinion or guidance about their particular mold problem.


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