Got mold? A Guide to Who Can Help

When you find mold or rot in your house, it can be so overwhelming. I know it was for me. I just wanted someone to tell me what to do and who I needed to call so it could all be better again. I wanted to know why we had mold and how to keep it from coming back. 

But, you know what I discovered? 

There was like this blackhole of information. I didn’t know where to look or who to look for. And Google didn’t help. It was so hard to figure out who does what and what kind of professional we needed. Does this sound familiar? 

When I googled things like “mold inside walls + my town” the only results I got were mold remediation companies. We had them come out and they tried to remediate the mold. At the time, I thought they were supposed to tell me WHY we had mold, but they could only guess at the cause. So, the search began for someone who could give me answers. Everyone I talked to had a different suggestion for what kind of professional I needed to call. 

I’m usually pretty scared to call people and talk to people I don’t know, but I sucked it up…

I called mold remediators, energy auditors, builders, handymen, industrial hygienists, our home insurance company, home performance professionals, architects, geotechnical engineers, ventilation experts, forensic engineers and so many more. I would find good people who would have ok insight into PARTS of the problem, but most of their advice was wrong. I had to piecemeal little clues together here and there to figure out what was going on. It was incredibly inefficient and wicked FRUSTRATING! 

So, I’d like to share what I learned from going through this process and give you a crash course in the professionals that may (or may not) be able to help you. This is not an exhaustive list, and it is only based on my experience. It will be updated as needed. 

Ahhh! Mold!

Let’s start with a hypothetical situation: you suspect you have mold in the house, but can’t visually identify it. Then, one day, you notice a leak in the first floor ceiling below the shower pipes area. You go to the bathroom on the second floor and open (or cut open) the drywall to get to the plumbing. When you remove the piece of drywall, an overwhelming mold smell smacks you in the face. (Ok, so, this isn’t a hypothetical situation – it’s how I found my mold!). 

Who do you call….? Mold Busters! Right?! Well, maybe, maybe not. These descriptions are based on my own experience, and your experience may differ. Please leave a comment and let me know who has helped you! 

Mold remediator

What they do: Mold remediators perform the removal, cleaning, sanitizing, demolition, or other treatment, including preventive activities, of mold or mold-contaminated matter. A remediator most often will need to be shown what area to remediate.

What they don’t do: In general, they will not perform invasive inspections looking for mold, just surface inspections, nor do they look for the cause of moisture that led to mold. 

Can they help? They can help clean up mold. But, be careful, because some will just tell you they can “encapsulate” it and will use harmful chemicals. Don’t ask a mold remediation company to help you figure out why you have mold so you can prevent it from coming back. Remediating mold and testing home performance are very different, and very specific, specialities. If you hired someone to clean your bathrooms, would you assume they could tell you why your plumbing isn’t working? Same with mold. Hire someone to determine why you have mold, then hire someone else to clean it.  

Industrial hygienist

What they do: Industrial hygienists usually approach mold from a scientific, biological level. They are typically trained to take air and surface samples of visible mold. They are not mold inspectors (though, some may use that title), but rather mold testers. 

What they don’t do: Industrial hygienists don’t remediate mold. They don’t (generally) look for the source of mold. 

Can they help? If you have a lot of money to spend, and want to know what kind of mold you have in your house, then they can help. But, if you want to get to the root of the problem, they cannot help. 

Home Performance Professional

What they do: Home performance professionals focus on how all aspects of a home work together as one comprehensive system with the goal of creating the most comfortable, healthy, and resource-efficient place in which to live. They will evaluate how well your house heats and how evenly it heats, how your heating system is functioning, the air pressure in the house, and things like air infiltration in wall cavities. A home performance evaluator can help you find some of the causes of moisture in the house. With a good inspection and testing, a home performance evaluator can give you important data that will help you prioritize what work to do, and to make sure the people doing the work are doing it well. 

What they don’t do: They don’t remediate mold. Although their testing will help determine weaknesses in the building envelope that could lead to mold, it requires correct interpretation of the findings.

Can they help? Yes, to find potential causes of mold, and to give you more data so you will know your home better and be better prepared to oversee people doing work on your house. 

Energy Auditor

What they do: An energy auditor performs an inspection survey and an analysis of energy flows for energy conservation in a building. It may include a process or system to reduce the amount of energy input into the system without negatively affecting the output. An energy auditor may perform similar tests to a home performance evaluator, with the goal of improving the energy efficiency of the home. 

What they don’t do: Energy auditors don’t remediate mold. They don’t look for the sources of mold. Their focus is on energy efficiency. 

Can they help? Generally, no. Often, doing energy upgrades can make existing problems worse, or cause new ones where they didn’t exist. That being said, you may find some home performance professionals advertising themselves as energy auditors, or energy efficiency professionals. This is because most people will think of “energy efficiency” before “home performance”. So don’t automatically rule out an energy auditor. Look at the website closely and interview them, and find out if they can do the work with a “home-as-a-system” approach, rather than only energy efficiency.  

Builder/contractor

What they do: They build houses, or oversee the building of houses.

What they don’t do: 99% of the time they are not trained in moisture management or air sealing, and, usually, the ones who are trained are too busy to do small jobs. If you get lucky, you will find a builder who can help find the source of moisture, but most often they don’t want to take the time to do this and will suggest bandaids, not solutions. 

Can they help? Their knowledge and experience vary widely, so it is hard to say. In general, they will be better suited for doing the repair work required after intensive mold remediation. 

Forensic engineer

What they do: Within the world of construction, forensic engineers investigate materials, products, structures, or components that fail or do not operate or function as intended. They will most often be hired by insurance companies to determine whether the company has an obligation to cover the costs of the damage in your house. This results in a narrow focus on the specific goal of relieving the insurance company of liability, thus you probably won’t get much help from them. 

What they don’t do: Forensic engineers won’t remediate mold. They most likely won’t even look for mold. They will look for the cause of mold (or other “failures”), most often to relieve an insurance company from having to pay for damage.

Can they help? Maybe. Maybe not. If they determine that the damage should be covered by the insurance company, then, yes, they can help. If they decide that it’s a “construction defect” (as in our case) and thus not covered by insurance, then, no, they can’t help. You could hire them yourself, but they are very expensive.

Geotechnical engineer

What they do: Geotechnical engineers will look at soil and rock mechanics to determine stability of slopes, evaluate site conditions, design foundations (usually ones that are on challenging soil and terrain, and evaluate erosion. Their work is focused on the earth and the structures that go on, and in, it. 

What they don’t do: Geotechnical engineers won’t help with mold, or evaluating why you have mold (unless it has to do with significant drainage or erosion problems). 

Can they help? Not directly. See my answer above. 

Weatherization technicians

What they do: Weatherization technicians provide weatherization services to make houses more comfortable and efficient, particularly in cold climates. This may include repairing windows, insulating ducts, sealing windows, and other things to make houses safer and more comfortable in the winter. Depending on the state and employer, they may or may not do air sealing and insulation work. 

What they don’t do: They don’t remediate mold or look for causes of mold. 
Can they help? Not really. In fact, doing some of these things before determining the cause of mold can make the mold worse (or cause mold where there wasn’t any).

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