Walk onto the scene of any house flip and assuming the project is going halfway well you’ll hear the sound of change. Drills will be whirring. Circular saws will be slicing through planks with a punctuating high pitch as each cut is complete. But, our flip had a much different sound.

What sound does a commercial air scrubber make?

There’s a phrase I’d never think I would say. Our contractor answered it for me. “It’s not wet inside the walls anymore luckily” the conversation began. We had moved on to employing a handful of the best air scrubbers money can buy to remove invisible airborne particles and mold spores from the premises.

That was the sound. Air scrubbers. It doesn’t sound like any of the highly productive whirring and slicing. It’s just a mind numbing humming sound that doesn’t quit. And, our home flip looked less like a Bob Villa production and far more like an episode of the X Files.

Men in white (toxic black mold suits)

A crew in what we now all-to-well know to be Tyvek white suits wearing (what we have also come to know and wear ourselves) and N95 respirators were in control of this unanticipated project phase. It has a name that just makes you feel like something has gone completely wrong: MOLD REMEDIATION.

How did we end up in toxic black mold hell?

Let’s back up a bit. My husband and I love those shows on cable TV where couples flip homes. It’s incredible to see the transformation that takes place. A once run-down, banal home becomes a paparazzi-worthy place to live that not only looks amazing, but was also a profitable business venture on top of it all.

Well, we’ve got a tail to tell, too. This one is a bit less fun than picking out new flooring, countertops, paint and tile only to later deposit a fat check into a bank account.

Black mold: Home-flipping horror of horrors

Every home purchase has risks. And, watching the flipping shows, there’s always a handful of roadblocks that must be overcome. These common challenges to overcome often include phrases like remove this wall, expand this space, not up-to-code and the all-to-common re words (as in reinstall or repaint). But, you rarely hear our much bigger hassle: toxic black mold.

In fact, our challenge-of-challenges started with one of those common phrases: remove this wall. Yeah, it’s a mainstay on those shows. To create an open feeling without redrawing the entire floorplan, removing walls that cut spaces up is a go-to tactic. And so, we too identified a wall between a kitchen and the living room that just had to go.

Water was here. Water was everywhere.

When our contractor set out to take down that wall the demo, supposedly the fun part, became the beginning of our hell. When the drywall came down the problem was very apparent.

While nothing was wet it was definitely damp. And, between the dampness, the darkness and one of the many favorite home construction foods of mold, drywall and wood, there was a mold takeover inside the wall. Carefully moving through to adjoining walls with the kitchen and other rooms, there was a mix of good and bad news.

The mold only continued into one room, thankfully. And, that room was the kitchen, which was already slated for a pretty serious teardown and rebuild. So, while we had a hell of a problem on our hands, it was at least contained to an area that was going to be rebuilt anyway.

Mold remediation for dummies

So, for all intents and purposes, mold remediation can be thought of as the process of removing mold that can be seen as well as the mold spores and particles in the air that cannot. Unfortunately, cleaning everything up is a bit more invasive than spraying some bleach and wiping things down.

Our flip had plastic containment barriers around the kitchen, and of course the space-age-suited team that took care of the process. That process involves a few steps.

Dry it out, get it out, then rebuild

First moisture is removed from the area. Next, those humming air scrubbers are hooked up with ductwork that exhausts the HEPA-filtered air. While they’re running, the actual mold removal takes place. Any material that is too-far-gone, usually porous material, is removed completely. Everything else is cleaned and treated.

When it’s all done, what was removed is restored. For us that mean the extra cost of framing wood and an altogether new expense: new cabinetry (we hadn’t intended on replacing the already-upgraded cabinetry in the kitchen). New drywall for the kitchen was already in the budget so there wasn’t an addition cost in that regard.

Lesson learned in time, dollars and humility

Before continuing, I hope we haven’t scared anyone off from opening up a wall in their home to do some renovation, or from even taking on a home flip themselves. The truth of the matter is, the more information you have, the better you’re prepared for any strange occurrence that life throws at you.

At the end of the day, we were out about eight working days and less than five-thousand dollars. It was absolutely not part of the plan. But, how could it have been. In all reality, if you do take on a home flip, I think what we learned was to simply expect the unexpected. And, had we not opened up that wall our investment would not only have gone un-transformed, we would have sold a home that we were proud of, but that held a secret that was a health risk first and foremost, not to mention a major hassle down the road.