Mold Facts and Homeowners Insurance
Note: This information was developed to provide consumers with general information and guidance about insurance coverages and laws. It is not intended to provide a formal, definitive description or interpretation of Department policy. For specific Department policy on any issue, regulated entities (insurance industry) and interested parties should contact the Department.
During the past few years, a growing number of Illinois residents have become concerned about mold in their homes or businesses. This fact sheet is designed to give you some general information about mold, and how Illinois insurers are responding to mold concerns. This information can generally apply to renters, condo owners, and business properties, as well as to homeowners.
Can Mold Become A Problem In My Home?
Yes. Molds will grow where conditions allow. Molds require two things to grow – a food source and moisture. Food sources can be anything from dry wall and insulation to carpeting or mattresses. Moisture can come from many sources, including high humidity levels, leaky pipes or appliance hoses, neglected or inadequately repaired roofs, improperly maintained air conditioners, landscape and drainage problems, etc.
Should I Be Concerned About Mold In My Home?
Yes. Indoor mold growth is unsanitary and undesirable. If you can see or smell mold inside your home, you should take steps to eliminate the cause and clean up and remove the mold.If left unchecked mold growth can become more serious and may cause health-related problems and structural damage to your home.
Are Molds a Health Concern?
According to the Centers for Disease Control, exposure to mold does not necessarily result in a health problem. Molds have existed for thousands of years and there are over 100,000 kinds of mold. Most people touch, eat, or breathe some mold every day without ill effects. There is even mold in fresh air.
If mold growth is active, extensive, and persistent, it has the potential to cause health problems, the most common of which are allergic reactions such as wheezing, sneezing, coughing, eye irritation, etc.While many people seldom experience ill effects from mold exposure, some individuals are more sensitive to molds than others. The same amount of mold may cause health problems in one person, but not in another. The Illinois Department of Public Health identifies those who may be at greater risk for more severe symptoms or illness as individuals with existing respiratory conditions such as allergies, asthma, or chemical sensitivities; individuals with weakened immune systems; infants and young children; and the elderly.
Do Homeowners Insurance Policies Cover Mold Damage?
It depends on what caused the mold and the policy coverage you have. Molds need water or moisture to grow, but not all causes of water damage are covered by homeowners insurance policies.
For example, standard homeowners policies do not cover water damage caused by “maintenance” problems, such as continuous or repeated water seepage or leakage, humidity or condensation problems, or landscaping or drainage problems. Homeowners policies also exclude water damage caused by floods. Therefore, if one of these water or moisture problems results in mold, it would probably not be covered by your policy.
Standard homeowners policies do cover some types of sudden and accidental water losses, including burst pipes, and sometimes sewer back up or sump pump failure if you have that coverage. However, even if your policy covers these types of water damage, some companies have begun to specifically exclude or limit coverage for mold that results.
In Illinois, if mold results from water damage following a covered fire or lightning loss, the mold damage would be covered, and the total of all damages, including the mold, is subject to the full policy limit.
How Do I Know if My Homeowners Policy Will Cover Mold?
Read your policy and all endorsements. Some companies have taken steps to avoid or limit their exposure to mold claims by:
- Excluding all coverage for mold-related damage (except mold that results from a covered fire/lightning loss as stated above).
- Excluding all coverage for mold-related claims, but offering buy-back endorsements, which provide some mold coverage if you pay extra money.
- Providing a limited amount of coverage for mold-related claims, either by limiting the amount of money available to pay mold-related claims (e.g. $5000); or by paying for some mold-related expenses, such as clean-up, and excluding others, such as remediation and testing.
- Providing coverage for mold-related claims in the policy and increasing the price of the policy to pay for anticipated costs.
- Placing tighter restrictions on what kinds of homes they will insure, such as refusing to insure homes that have suffered previous water damage, or homes that are built of certain construction materials such as synthetic stucco.
If you’re unsure whether you have mold coverage or the amount of coverage you have, contact your insurance agent or company for further explanations.
Regardless of whether your insurance pays for any mold claims, you should take steps now to prevent mold growth in your home due to maintenance issues, and act quickly when water losses occur.
What Can I Do to Prevent Mold from Growing in My Home?
Since mold needs a food source and moisture to grow, the best thing you can do is to prevent moisture problems that allow mold to grow.
There are many sources of information listed at the bottom of this fact sheet that explain in more detail how to prevent moisture problems, but here are a few things to get you started:
- Maintain lower levels of humidity in your home (preferably between 30-50%) by: venting bathrooms and dryers to the outside; using air conditioners and de-humidifiers; increasing ventilation by adding crawlspace and attic vents; using exhaust fans when cooking, dishwashing, and cleaning, etc.
- Add insulation to reduce the potential for condensation on cold surfaces such as windows, pipes, exterior walls, roofs, or floors.
- Inspect your home regularly for indications and sources of indoor moisture such as leaking pipes, appliance hoses, showers, tubs, sinks and toilets. Replace plastic hoses with steel-reinforced hoses. Check windows, doors, attics and ceilings for leaks or evidence of water stains or odors, particularly after rains. Fix plumbing, flashing, and roof leaks right away.
- Don't carpet bathrooms, basements, kitchens or other areas prone to moisture. Clean bathrooms often with mold killing products and keep surfaces dry.
- Cover dirt in crawlspaces with a moisture barrier plastic sheeting.
- Prevent water from entering basements and crawlspaces by repairing holes and cracks in walls and foundation. Use landscaping to direct water away from your foundation.
- Clean and maintain your gutters and make sure drainpipes carry water several feet away from your home.
- Watch your utility bills. An abnormally high water bill could signal a water leak.
- Before you travel, turn off the water at the main valve. Have a trusted friend or neighbor check the inside and outside of your home periodically while you're away.
What Should I Do if I Have a Water Loss in My Home?
Contact your insurance company right away to report the water claim even if you are unsure whether your insurance policy covers the water loss and/or resulting mold. Have your policy number handy and be prepared to answer questions about the extent and severity of the water damage.
Regardless of whether your insurance policy covers the water loss or resulting mold, you should take immediate action to protect your property and prevent mold growth that could cause further damage.
Mold can start to grow as soon as 24-48 hours after a water problem occurs. Mold will probably not grow if you clean up the water immediately and stop the source of the leak. Here are some steps you can take:
- Immediately stop the source of leaking or flooding by shutting off the water or contacting a plumber if necessary. If the loss is covered by insurance, your policy allows you to make reasonable and necessary repairs to protect the property. However you should not make large structural or permanent repairs until your insurer has inspected the damage.
- Remove excess water with mops and/or a wet vacuum. If there is a lot of water damage, you may want to contact a water extraction/drying company for immediate action. If many homes are affected, you may be placed on a waiting list.
- Dry the damaged areas and items as soon as possible (preferably within 24-48 hours) by moving rugs, pulling up areas of wet carpet, and removing wallboard and flooring materials. Increase circulation by opening closet and cabinet doors, moving furniture away from the walls, and running fans.
- Keep all removed and damaged materials for your insurance company to view. Keep all receipts, photos and other relevant information necessary to document the loss and expenses you incurred to minimize the damage.
Should I Have My Home Tested for Mold?
Testing for mold is difficult, time-consuming, and expensive. The Illinois Department of Public Health does not currently recommend mold testing since there are no standards about how much mold is acceptable, and testing cannot determine which, if any, health problems will occur.
In most cases, if you can see mold, don’t waste the time or money testing it. Instead, fix the source of the moisture problem, and clean up the mold.
Should I Move out of My Home if I Discover a Mold Problem?
If you are concerned about possible health risks from mold growth in your home, you should consult a physician. While experts agree that there is no current scientific evidence that links specific levels of mold to serious health problems, some individuals appear to be more susceptible to mold allergies and problems than others.If your homeowners insurance policy provides coverage for mold-related loss, you and your insurance company will discuss the need for you or a family member to move out of the house. If you need to move out, discuss with your insurer how much money is available for additional living expenses (ALE) and whether that amount is in addition to other mold coverage. Additional living expenses are limited under most policies and only cover amounts over and above your normal living expenses.
How Should I Clean Mold That is Growing in My Home?
The Illinois Department of Public Health, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the federal Environmental Protection Agency, as well as other authorities, have consumer brochures and web sites that explain how best to clean up mold from your home. See their contact information at the bottom of this fact sheet. However, here are some general tips:
First, make sure that the cause of the moisture or water problem has been permanently fixed. If it hasn’t, the mold growth may recur.
- You probably shouldn't clean the area yourself if you are pregnant, have asthma, other respiratory or pulmonary problems, or a weakened immune system.
- Ventilate the area well by opening doors and windows.
- Start with a non-ammonia soap or detergent and hot water or a commercial cleaner. Thoroughly scrub all contaminated surfaces. Rinse with clean water.
- Clean and disinfect non-porous surfaces, such as tile, wood and concrete floors and walls, with a bleach mixture (one part bleach to ten parts water). Wear protective gloves, a dust mask or respirator, and eye protection and don't ever mix bleach with ammonia or products containing ammonia since the vapors would be toxic.
- Apply the bleach solution by wiping it on with a sponge or rag. Be sure to wet the studs, wall cavities, and floors thoroughly.
- Allow the bleach solution to dry naturally for a 6-8 hour period.
- Porous, moist, fibrous materials, such as sheet rock, insulation, and paper should probably be discarded if they harbor mold.
If I Can't Clean or Remove the Mold Myself, How Should I Choose a Mold Remediator?
Currently, mold remediators are not required to be licensed and there are no standards or certifications for mold remediation specialists or other indoor air quality contractors. Because there is no state or federal oversight of these contractors, you should be cautious about signing contracts and avoid being taken advantage of by unscrupulous mold remediators. Here are some tips when choosing someone to clean up and remove any mold in your home:
- Even if you don't have insurance coverage for mold, your insurance company may be a good resource. Ask your insurance company or agent if they have a list of recommended specialists, but keep in mind that the final choice is yours to make.
- Ask the contractor how experienced he is in removing mold from homes and make sure that he has any necessary safety equipment to do the job.
- Ask the contractor to give you a list of references and proof of education in mold remediation and related areas.
- Ask to see written company operating procedures and proof that the company carries insurance.
- Obtain a written contract that includes estimated completion dates for various stages of the work.
- Diligently monitor and supervise the remediation and repair process to ensure that work is progressing and completed in a timely fashion.
The remediation and repair of your home can cost thousands of dollars. Therefore it is important to be selective in your choice of a mold remediation specialist.
What if I Have a Complaint About My Homeowners Insurance Policy or Claim as It Relates to Mold?
Call the Department of Insurance Consumer Assistance Hotline toll free at (866) 445-5364 or visit our website at: http://insurance.illinois.gov.
Where Can I Get More Information About Mold and Its Health Effects or Clean Up?
- Illinois Department of Public Health
- Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)
- (202) 566-1600
- Centers for Disease Control (CDC)
- (888) 232-6789
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
- (800) 438-4318