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Q & A

Answers to commonly asked questions from the experts on Thumbtack.

What’s the best way to set up a consultation or an appointment with a general contractor during the COVID-19 pandemic?

To set up a consultation or appointment with a general contractor during the COVID-19 pandemic, start by performing an online search for local professionals near you.

Message the contractor, and see if they are willing to set up a video consultation call instead of an in-person site visit. With video chat, the contractor may be able to assess the scale of the project, give you better information on what needs to be done and perhaps provide an estimate. Be sure to discuss virtual payments, as well as general strategies for staying safe.

What is a mold remediation?

Mold remediation is the process of identifying and removing unhealthy levels of mold that have colonized in a home, office, school or other building. Over time, if untreated, mold can destroy a home by breaking down cellulose-based materials (like wood or ceiling tiles) and causing a slow and messy decay. In the shorter term, a mold infestation can cause severe health problems. According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), mold can trigger respiratory problems, nasal and sinus congestion, eye irritation, nose or throat irritation, skin irritations, problems with your nervous system, and aches and pains. Mold inspection and mold remediation are often requested in tandem, although they are two separate services. Nationally, mold inspection costs range from $250 to $300. If mold has been positively identified in your house, either by visual examination or through mold testing, remediation can safely remove it. Properly trained and equipped professionals use specialized equipment (like vacuums and air scrubbers with HEPA filters) to keep mold spores contained while they remove contaminated materials and treat infested areas with antimicrobial spray. A key component to a successful mold remediation after eliminating the mold is ensuring that the water source that caused the mold infestation is also resolved.

How often should you get your air ducts cleaned?

How often you should clean your air ducts depends on your situation. If you or someone in the home has asthma or is acutely allergic to certain airborne materials or pollen, regular duct cleaning may be helpful. The Environmental Protection Agency doesn’t have an official position on the necessity of air duct cleaning unless the ducts have been contaminated by rodents, insects or mold, or you are aware of particles blowing out through the vents. The EPA recommends you have your air ducts cleaned on an as-needed basis. The National Air Duct Cleaners Association (NADCA) suggests having air ducts cleaned every three to five years.

Be cautious with companies that offer “whole house air duct cleaning,” urges the NADCA. The company may be using unscrupulous tactics to upsell you once they get started. Before any work begins, always clarify in writing what the job entails and what the cost will be. To protect yourself against fraud, read customer reviews and verify that your HVAC cleaning service has applicable licenses and certifications.

How does mold remediation work?

Mold remediation can eliminate mold colonies from your home or business. Mold is a normal part of daily life, but in wet or humid settings mold can quickly colonize and spread by making spores. Whether visible or hidden, untreated mold can cause real health problems and cause extensive (and expensive) damage to your property. Mold remediation involves killing the mold, removing the dead mold and preventing future mold growth. Here is an example of the steps involved in professional mold remediation:

  • Contain work area and apply negative air pressure HEPA air purifiers to prevent cross-contamination. If spores spread, the colonies can easily regrow elsewhere in your home.
  • Mist an EPA-registered antimicrobial to suspend and kill mold spores.
  • Remove affected building surfaces.
  • Bag and dispose of contaminated materials properly.
  • Treat cavities/underlayment and dehumidify.
  • Abrasively remove dead loose mold.
  • Apply EPA-registered protective sealer.
  • Perform clearance testing.

Remove containment materials.

How is a mold test done?

Mold testing can help identify a mold infestation in your home or business. Mold inspection costs can vary based on the type of test you want done and the number of samples you request. The national average mold inspection cost is $250-$300. The EPA explains that if you have a visible mold problem, in most cases sampling and testing is unnecessary. However, if you have unexplained and potential mold-related illness or can smell mold in your house, mold inspection costs may be a good investment. To avoid unscrupulous testers, the EPA recommends working with a testing agency that adheres to the analytical methods laid out by professional organizations such as the American Industrial Hygiene Association or the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists. Mold inspection costs can vary based on the type of testing done. Prices can also vary, depending on the size of the home, the number of surface areas to be tested, and the extent of the mold infestation. Here are some examples of mold inspection average costs:

  • Swab testing: $200-$300
    • A professional collects a surface swab from a potentially infested area for testing in a lab. Some professionals have concerns about this being the sole test done because it only gathers a small amount of data from a certain area of the house. That’s why it’s frequently done in conjunction with air cell testing.
  • Air cell testing: $250-$350
    • A professional collects an air sample in the home to measure the amount of mold spores in the air. This test is frequently done in conjunction with swab testing to ensure more complete data. Costs are higher for this test because the equipment required of the contractor is more expensive.
  • Both air cell and swab tests provided by the same company: $400-$600.

Do you need to clean your air ducts?

Air duct cleaning is done by heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) professionals. The pros use industrial-strength, truck-mounted vacuums and powerful brushes and hoses to clean inside the metal ducts that make up your forced air heating and cooling system. The Environmental Protection Agency recommends duct cleaning if there is “substantial visible mold growth inside hard surface ducts, ducts that are infested with vermin such as rodents or insects, or ducts that are clogged with excessive amounts of dust and debris and/or particles are actually released into the home from your supply registers.”

You should also have air ducts cleaned after recent water contamination or water damage to prevent mold; after renovations or remodeling to ensure debris and dust didn’t settle in the vents and ducts; if you are having problems with allergies or asthma; or when you are moving into a newly purchased home, especially if the previous owners smoked or had pets. The National Air Duct Cleaners Association (NADCA) recommends getting your air ducts cleaned every three to five years, or every two to three years in regions where homeowners use their air conditioning and heater for many months of the year, while the EPA suggests homeowners have duct cleaning done as needed.

How can I find out if a general contractor is considered an essential COVID-19 service provider?

To find out whether a general contractor is considered essential in your area during the current coronavirus pandemic, visit your city or state’s government website, which will have information on essential services.

Find information on national recommendations by visiting CISA’s Identifying Critical Infrastructure During COVID-19 webpage. However, not all jurisdictions follow CISA’s definitions of critical infrastructure. 

How do you get rid of mold?

Mold is a naturally occurring and important part of our ecosystem. That said, excessive mold can actually be hazardous to your health. Mold remediation is usually the best strategy to get rid of unhealthy levels of mold in your home or office. If you’re not comfortable working with mold or the area is larger than 10 square feet (3 feet by 3 feet), it is highly recommended to hire a mold remediation professional to resolve the problem. However, if you’re DIY-savvy, don’t have any health risks, and are not freaked out by mold, the EPA gives homeowners the greenlight to clean mold areas that are less than 10 square feet. Here are some EPA-recommended DIY cleaning tips:

  • Fix plumbing leaks and other water problems as soon as possible. Dry all items completely.
  • Scrub mold off hard surfaces with detergent and water, and dry completely.
  • Throw away absorbent or porous materials (like ceiling tiles and carpet) if they become moldy.
  • Avoid exposing yourself or others to mold.
  • Do not paint or caulk moldy surfaces. Clean up the mold and dry the surfaces before painting. Paint applied over moldy surfaces is likely to peel.
  • If you are unsure about how to clean an item (art, fine furniture, etc.) consult a reputable specialist affiliated with a professional organization in their field.

Is mold damage covered by insurance?

Mold damage may or may not be covered by your homeowner's insurance. Mold damage is caused by standing water and excess moisture. Mold damage can be covered by insurance when an item already covered under your homeowners insurance breaks accidentally — for example, if your plumbing suddenly ruptures and water floods your house, the homeowners insurance will cover part or all of the costs for the plumbing repair and any mold remediation costs necessary as a direct result of the water damage.

But you may not be able to get insurance to pay for your mold remediation costs if the damage is a result of your neglect — for example, if you’ve had a slow leak under your bathroom sink for years and have ignored the issue. If the insurer can determine that the mold damage is a result of your negligence, they likely won’t cover mold remediation costs. Also, most homeowners insurance will usually not cover mold remediation costs after a flood unless you have a special insurance rider covering your home in case of a flood. To help prevent mold damage, always keep humidity levels in your house between 30 percent and 60 percent, clean up water spills and damp areas right away, and ensure you have exhaust fans in your kitchen and bathroom.

How long does it take to get your ducts cleaned?

The amount of time air duct cleaning takes can depend on how extensive your duct system is, how old your air ducts are, and whether they have ever been cleaned. On average, expect a standard size home (between 2,000 and 3,000 square feet) to take 2-5 hours for one to two technicians to clean. Here are the proper protocol and equipment you should expect from a professional duct cleaning service, as recommended by the Environmental Protection Agency:

  • All doors and access ports opened to ensure the entire duct system is inspected and cleaned.
  • Thorough system inspection prior to cleaning to identify possible asbestos-containing materials. If asbestos is present, specially trained and equipped contractors must do the removal.
  • Use of approved vacuum equipment that exhausts particles outside of your house. If the vacuum exhausts inside your home, it must be HEPA equipment.
  • Furnishings and carpet covered and protected.
  • Soft-bristled brushes only on fiberglass duct board and sheet metal ducts internally lined with fiberglass.
  • Ductwork properly protected.
  • Adherence to guidelines and practices set down by the National Air Duct Cleaners Association.
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