The intrepid author of this story, clad in full protective garb, readies himself to conduct a mold-related floor covering inspection.

It's taken a while for mold problems to become associated with the flooring and tile industry. Be that as it may, mold has arrived on the scene and, therefore, it behooves you to familiarize yourself with its associated problems if you hope to protect yourself and your clients from its negative effects.

The first mold problems I became aware of, and involved in, were associated with the vinyl flooring segment of our business. These mold problems began to crop up shortly after manufacturers removed asbestos from their sheet vinyl products.

Certain vinyl floors began showing discolorations that ranged from pink to purple to black. Some of these discolorations were the result of certain gypsum patch formulations - some contained material that, when exposed to moisture, supported mold growth. Other discolorations were caused by the vinyl adhesives.

After lengthy research and product development, this problem is now behind us. One benefit that came out of the situation was manufacturers decision to develop rapid-setting patch products derived from Portland cement. This reduced the need for the fast-setting gypsum materials that were previously the most commonly available patches.

Mold beneath this vinyl flooring installation appears as a dark discoloration.

A litigator's delight

In contrast to the old days, today's trend in mold-related litigation is associated more with health concerns than the appearance of the flooring. And a new industry, populated by mold litigators and mold inspectors, has surfaced.

My initial involvement with health-related mold concerns was associated with large institutional and health care facilities. In most cases, the mold problems were directly related to ceramic tiled showers and vinyl flooring adjacent to showers.

At first, I believed such circumstances would account for all of the mold-related problems that I'd encounter - especially because they involved wet areas where water was present continuously.

However, it didn't take long before additional mold issues surfaced, particularly with on-grade installed hardwood floors. In its Problems-Causes-Cures handbook, the National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA) addresses stains and discolorations. One of the causes outlined in the handbook refers to water exposure from a continual source leading to mildew (black discoloration) or decay (brown-white) or alkali contamination (white). NWFA's recommended cure is to stop the water exposure, let the floor dry and follow repair recommendations. Generally, a tear out is not required.

Another source of complaints is cupping in wood floors. These complaints sometimes raise mold-related issues, again, as a result of moisture exposure. NWFA also has repair recommendations for this problem.

In the past, such problems were normally resolved as part of doing business. They did not require additional mold remediation. But times have changed.

What we're seeing now is somewhat more involved. Today, at the first sign of discoloration, decay and/or cupping, "mold inspectors" call in industrial hygienists to look for spores.

Currently, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency does not regulate or quantify acceptable levels of mold or mold spores in the air. There are hundreds and hundreds of mold spore types. Stachbotrys (black mold) may be toxic, and as many as 50 others can be problematic.

I now see condominium developers, sellers and property managers presenting prospective residents with legal forms that describe how a mold-mildew environment is created and ask them to inspect for damage and any visual presence of mold prior to occupying. In other words, to limit their liability, they are putting the residents on notice.

A building industry consultant in California says, "Mold is the next major litigation concern for builders." This concern should extend to you because, the flooring professional is certain to be draw into the fray.

Growth of mold and mildew beneath this wood floor is manifested in the darkened patches that appear in the installation.

Protect yourself

For our industry, the issue is to forestall the problem. More than ever before, we must be sure that our pre-installation job prep is adequate and complete. Be sure to perform a moisture test to determine the substrate's suitability for flooring installation. And by all means, document the test results.

We didn't create this problem. We certainly don't want to become a party to it.

To prevent problems with tile installations, certain manufacturers recommend that all grout joints be sealed. If fungus still appears despite such precautions, application of bleach will serve as an effective fungus killer.

Also recommended is the elimination of all sources of water exposure. The installation then should be allowed to dry and repair procedures initiated.

Once again, when it comes to preventing mold problems, I cannot over-emphasize the importance of pre-installation prep and moisture testing. Believe me, I don't enjoy wearing the white suit.