Mold is one of the hottest things to hit the HVAC industry in years. Some contractors lust after sweet new business opportunities and profits from what is being touted as "Black Gold." Others have already tasted the bitterness of lawsuits in the millions of dollars, usually as a result of trying to help a customer. Have you looked at all the angles? Do you have a mold policy in place?

Keep this in mind: only you can determine your own position on mold. Once you’ve done this, you must be able to clearly and concisely present your policies to your employees and customers.

I believe prevention is job one for contractors. Two primary elements of Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) are temperature and humidity. By controlling these elements, you can be instrumental in preventing mold from forming and growing.

Molds needs three things to grow — moisture, oxygen, and food. Oxygen and food are everywhere. Dust and dirt throughout a typical home, along with construction materials such as wallpaper paste, provide an almost endless supply of food for mold spores. When moisture is present and other conditions are right, mold grows. Some of the more poisonous molds, like stachybatrus, also need a constant supply of moisture to grow. That’s why it’s rare that this deadly mold grows in situations with intermittent moisture.

We can control moisture to a certain point, but the ability of an HVAC system to remove moisture has its limits. For example, plumbing and roof leaks and other internal sources of moisture can easily exceed the latent removal capacity of an HVAC system. Also, an HVAC system doesn’t have the ability to pinpoint and remove humidity at a specific location of moisture accumulation such as a puddle in an attic or crawl space — it can only remove moisture in the air.

So Where Do You Stand?

To help determine your company’s position on how to address a possible mold situation, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. At what point does it make sense to get involved in an existing or potential mold situation?
  2. At what point is it best to get outside help?
  3. At what point do you walk away, or refer the customer to an industrial hygienist or mold remediation company?

The answers to these questions will help you set your policy on mold and IAQ in general.

Here’s Our Policy:

Whenever signs of mold are already present, the immediate situation is out of our hands. Existing, growing mold requires professional analysis and removal/remediation.

This situation should be in the hands of a trained mold professional, not an HVAC contractor who may not have the knowledge, tools, or liability insurance to handle a potentially disastrous situation.

Mold can grow in a wall for years before it becomes visible. Once it becomes visible, our course of action is to inform the customer that there appears to be a mold-like substance. We inform the customer that some forms of mold are toxic, and that they should secure the services of an industrial hygienist or mold analyst to determine the course of action that should be followed.

Once the mold is removed, and the home certified clean, then we can come in with our expertise in temperature, air quality and humidity control to help prevent it from coming back.

If your HVAC contracting business is running well enough and you have the time and money to start another business, mold testing and remediation may be a wonderful second profession. But don’t make a mistake and put your business at risk, just because you "think" you know how to handle it.

Mold liability will continue to increase for the HVAC industry until the lawyers and politicians understand what it means and who is responsible for it. If you act as if you can solve a mold problem, understand you may be accepting full responsibility for it.

A word to the wise: if insurance companies are removing themselves from mold liability, writing up exclusions faster than the ink can dry, shouldn’t you be doing the same?

There are some who herald mold as the black gold of the HVAC industry, promising that fortunes are to be made with untold profit margins and incredible business growth. Ask yourself this: Do they have enough knowledge and experience to know the difference
between real gold and fool’s gold?

Dominick Guarino is chairman and CEO of National Comfort Institute, a national training, certification, and membership organization. He can be reached at 800/633-7058, or at domg@nationalinstitute.com. For details on training topics and schedules, visit www.ncinstitute.com.