Where there’s moisture, there’s often mold, which can cause health problems, building damage and lawsuits. But you can avoid the dangers of mold and get a head start on remediation with your inspection system.
While fires and earthquakes can be devastating, the damage and chaos inflicted by hurricanes can linger for years — requiring immense investments of time, money and hassle to overcome. It’s during this long tail of the disaster when the full, accumulated toll of major storms starts to become clear. In the case of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma in 2017, the damage ended up totaling more than $200 billion dollars when all was said and done; a figure comparable to Katrina.
Flooding is one of the most insidious sources of hurricane-borne damage, with a tendency to leave its mark on multiple areas of your apartment communities. What makes water infiltration particularly dangerous is that the full scale of damage isn’t always apparent to the eye. Indeed, there’s one risk – a “silent killer” – in the aftermath of major flooding that can bring serious consequences long after the windows have been fixed and the walls repainted: mold.
Health Risks and Problem Areas
Mold is a liability wherever there’s a persistent humid environment, but it becomes a virtual certainty after a hurricane. In October 2005, after Hurricane Katrina, the CDC found visible mold in 46% of inspected homes in the New Orleans area.
Because mold is likely to grow wherever there are damp spaces, the CDC recommends property owners check their buildings for leaky roofs, windows, and pipes — and examine porous materials vulnerable to drips, condensation and rot like paper products, cardboard, ceiling tiles, and wood spaces among others. To be sure, there is much to inspect to stay ahead of water intrusion and mold, but given the dangers, it is essential to do so regularly before the repercussions affect both residents and your checkbook.
The health concerns resulting from unchecked mold can be extremely serious:
- Molds create allergens that 10% of the U.S population is allergic to. This can result in symptoms including coughs, scaly skin, watery eyes, and an itchy nose and throat. Mold can also trigger severe asthma attacks.
- Molds also create irritants that affect all people, whether or not an individual is allergic. These irritants can cause headaches, damage to the throat, and even chronic respiratory conditions when mold infections take root in the lungs.
- Molds can also produce mycotoxins, toxic byproducts that can cause more severe versions of all of these symptoms, plus a host of alarming possibilities like vision problems and memory loss.
Mold not only endangers residents’ health, it’s also a clear threat to buildings. This is of particular concern in multifamily structures, where the potential losses are especially high — whether in life, limb or property. Mold destroys the material it grows on, which over time can weaken floors or walls and create unsafe living conditions.
Unfortunately, mold can prove difficult to find, with areas that go unchecked in regular property inspections presenting the highest risk. According to the EPA, these are 10 specific areas that are vulnerable to water intrusion during/after a hurricane and need to be inspected:
1) Leaking roofs
2) Condensing water pipes inside wall cavities
3) Fire-protection sprinkler systems
4) Landscaping, gutters and downspouts
5) Unvented combustion appliances
6) Poorly draining condensate drain pans
7) Acoustic liners inside ductwork
8) Roof materials above ceiling tiles
9) The backside of drywall
10) Undersides of carpets and pads
It’s a long list, especially over a high volume of units, but it’s critically important that owners and managers stay on top of each property item to protect their communities.
Toxic Mold Lawsuits
In addition to health and property risks, there is also the very real possibility of being sued by residents who become ill or lose their personal items. Toxic mold lawsuits are complicated, drawn out — and very expensive to lose. In what has been deemed the largest personal injury verdict in a toxic mold-related case, $2.7 million was awarded to a family residing in the Partridge Point Apartments in California when mold damage in their apartment complex was found to be responsible for their health problems. And it wasn’t an isolated issue. The problems created by mold can be quite prolific in their legal consequences, with a California lawyer once reporting that he had more than 1,000 ongoing lawsuits involving condominium residents with health issues resulting from long-growing mold. And California doesn’t even experience hurricanes like much of the country.
Even one mold problem can result in building damages, an expensive lawsuit, and a lengthy insurance fight — requiring owners and managers to be extra vigilant. The risks only multiply and intensify after major flooding, when mold can quickly spread between units. The good news is that there are proactive management and preparation strategies you can implement to mitigate the risks.
Managing Mold and Moisture on Mobile
Effective mold management starts with mold inspections, which are critical for collecting accurate intelligence about vulnerabilities in various buildings. The way you inspect is just as important. A digital inspection platform that can be used to inspect from a mobile device tops traditional pen-and-paper inspections since manual methods often result in missed areas and items and lack the visibility needed by management. A digital platform empowers property managers to send inspection reports straight to the cloud instead of requiring manual input that can take hours and introduce more opportunities to lose data through human error.
The value of inspection images cannot be overstated, particularly to protect against lawsuits and support your insurance claims. In defending yourself, it is absolutely critical to collect photo documentation and produce reports with inline digital photos that can be used to demonstrate good faith actions to remedy mold damage. Additionally, photos enable you to defend against resident claims that management’s errors or indifference created and/or worsened the problem. This is another arena where mobile inspections are of the utmost importance because they allow photos to be taken during inspections, collated to property items, uploaded automatically and shared instantly. Going a step further in the right direction with timestamped photos allows you to also demonstrate when you’re addressing mold issues, which can make all the difference between a dismissed case and a massive payout.
The benefits that come from upgrading your inspection workflow aren’t just speculation. Maxus Properties, based in Kansas City, is saving $300,000 annually on water intrusion since implementing HappyCo’s mobile inspection platform across 15,000 units.
Your inspection data and documentation provides a critical starting point for your investigation and remediation efforts (which you should also be documenting religiously!) For smaller mold problems that can spread, the CDC recommends using 1 cup of bleach in 1 gallon of water to treat mold spots, which can be handled by members of the property personnel (with proper mold safety gear, like respirators of course!).
When mold covers a large area, it’s better to hire a professional remediation specialist and document their efforts through your mobile inspection system. Relying on clipboard inspections means that just one lost piece of paper could be the difference between proving your due diligence in preventing mold damage, and costing you a multi-million-dollar settlement. Don’t take that risk.
Having a mobile digital inspection software at your disposal can reduce risk and save you money. With a mobile, cloud-based inspection solution, managers and owners can limit mold concerns, both for themselves and for their residents. On mobile, you can establish and automate a regularly conducted, comprehensive audit of risk areas — keeping your buildings safe and dry during and after hurricanes and flooding.
Stop mold in its tracks.
Manage mold and moisture intrusion with the 360° visibility and rock-solid insurance documentation of mobile inspections plus real-time data insights.