Because mold is an issue throughout the U.S., Canada, and pretty much the entire world, some expect Home Watchers to recognize it, report it, or even prevent it. This is an unrealistic expectation and should be addressed immediately. While we can report the mold we see, we can’t do much else. And, because of the recent hurricanes that have affected the Southeastern U.S., we felt it important to make a statement regarding the responsibilities of an accredited Home Watch company as it relates to mold.
In April of this year, a member of the NHWA was contacted by a homeowner who had hired a Home Watch company that they blamed for allowing mold to occur in the client’s home. It seems that not only was the company uninsured, but it was being accused of contributing to the cause of a mold bloom that occurred in the client’s home. The clean-up and repair of the mold was an out-of-pocket expense for the homeowner totaling about $15,000, and he wanted to know what our member would have done if they had come across a similar situation and asked whether their liability insurance would have covered the damage and clean–up. The member emailed back, letting the homeowner know that they followed the standards and best practices of the NHWA. They also asked how often someone was checking; did they have a humidistat, etc. Later that day, I received an email from an attorney in the town the homeowner lived in. The attorney asked what the NHWA’s standard for mold was.
Now I want to be perfectly clear about this: A Home Watcher is not a mold expert. As a matter of fact, a Home Watcher is not an expert in anything…unless they advertise that they are an expert in a specific area. However, the truly professional Home Watcher will make sure that their client fully understands that he or she only looks for obvious issues. We at the National Home Watch Association define Home Watch as, “A visual inspection of a home or property, looking for obvious issues,” the key words being “visual” and “obvious.” We hope that companies – accredited members or not – will also use this definition, in order to create a realistic expectation of Home Watch. No Home Watcher should ever be sued because they set realistic expectations.
Having said this, I would like to share with you the email I sent to the homeowner’s attorney:
“Thank you for contacting the National Home Watch Association. Your question about standards with regard to mold is fairly easy to answer, because we have no “standards” regarding mold. We define Home Watch as “a visual inspection of a home or property looking for obvious issues” – obvious being the key word. Mold can begin to grow when the relative humidity in a home is 55% or more. Some water-sourced species of mold can become visible on certain surfaces (upon very close inspection) in as little as 72 hours. So, this is really not something that falls under the scope of what we’d consider to be obvious. Put another way, by the time mold can be seen or smelled – it is too late. Our visits are most always weekly or every other week. Because of this, mold can happen between scheduled visits. And, since there are thousands of species of mold spores that can hide inside walls and furniture, in cabinets and under appliances, there is no way for the Home Watcher to see everything, and therefore no way to discover mold that has not presented itself in an obvious manner.
“That said, I can tell you that Accredited Members of the NHWA do discuss procedures and recommendations. For example, the NHWA recommends the AC system to be set between 76 and 78 degrees in an unoccupied home in the Southeastern US. Since the air conditioner dehumidifies while it operates, upon the advice of top HVAC companies, we recommend these temperature settings to be the desired settings for our members to use and to recommend. Many companies will use a hygrometer as a guide for determining increased humidity in homes not equipped with a humidistat. But in no way is this to be used as “expert” findings. Ultimately, the licensed professional will be called in as soon as possible. Accredited Members of the NHWA never represent themselves as experts in anything. Our job is to observe and report to the homeowner our findings as accurately and expeditiously as possible. The NHWA encourages members to take pictures and/or videos, so they can be shared with the homeowner enabling them to make informed decisions, as well as allowing them to document the situation for future reference. Once we have informed the homeowner of the possible existence of mold, we will make arrangements for the home to be tested by a licensed mold remediation company if instructed. After this, we will follow the instructions and direction of the homeowner as to the next steps to be taken.
“The NHWA has developed best practices which serve as recommendations to our members. They address many things including what we feel are the best ways to perform certain services; which tools and items we feel are necessary to have on hand; and most importantly, the best way to address certain situations. And in the case of suspecting mold, we recommend that the Home Watcher leave immediately and return wearing a mask or half-mask respirator to protect themselves. They’ll take pictures and contact the homeowner as soon as possible.
“I hope that I was able to give you the information you were looking for. Please call our office if you have additional questions.”
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So, mold can happen in a very short time when relative humidity is above a certain percentage, can hide in walls, under and behind furniture and cabinets, boxes, ductwork and vents as well as many other places in the home. By the time you can see or smell it, it is already there. And because we are looking for obvious issues, once it does become obvious, we will immediately inform our client. Any expectation of more is unrealistic.
As always, I wish you