IP: After sitting in a garage for several years, boxes containing papers and tapes have been damaged by mold. How would SERVPRO preserve these items?
Dudley Floyd: It is very difficult to preserve items as such. One must understand that mold grows and feeds on anything organic. Paper is organic, and it is a very stable mold food. Once mold starts growing on paper and starts growing hyphae [...], it is virtually impossible to salvage the paper itself. It’s not something that you can wipe off and remove. Once it is heavily contaminated, you pretty much cannot salvage it.
Jason Hollen: That’s when we deal with the freeze drying and trying to restore the documents and make copy of the documents. But once the mold actually starts to grow on documents, there is no salvaging the actual documents. It’s a process of duplicating it.
IP: How would you deal with audio tapes, any kind of magnetic tape? Does that go to the same outsource company?
DF: We would outsource it. At this point, we haven’t really had much need for that. That’s certainly not something that we specialize in. We would find out who specializes in that type of thing and outsource it.
IP: We’re trying to get people to start think tactically. Do you have any advice for people who are trying to potentially avoid such problems?
DF: In the modern world that we live in, a backup is very very important to scan documents, salvage documents. I think everybody today really has backup documents of a majority of what they have. I think when we start looking at damaged documents today it’s probably legal stuff that you need original copies of or historical documents, something that has some type of value as an historical document. Don’t put it in a cardboard box and dump it in your garage. That’s going to look for trouble. Garages are not air conditioned spaces. Your humidity inside a garage is always going to be a whole lot higher. Your cardboard box itself is going to absorb moisture and mold is driven by moisture. If your relative humidity is maintained at below 60% RH, mold technically cannot grow. It’s not possible. I would take documents, put them inside plastic folders, put them inside plastic tote bins, and seal them. If they are sealed without any moisture inside, those containers are going to be fine. Keep the air dry. Make sure that you have dehumidifiers and you store stuff in an area where mold can’t grow. Mold cannot function without moisture. As long as you keep the air dry and you can control moisture, you will directly control mold.
JH: Your air conditioner works as a dehumidifier.
DF: If one just wants to guard against water and mold, you can be very careful. You can protect it against mold and suddenly you have a fire and you’ve lost the documents anyway. If the documents are that important, get a fireproof safe, keep it in an air conditioned area, where your humidity is regulated and controlled. If it’s that important to you, then that is probably what you need to do. I would always recommend having an electronic back-up. Scan them, photograph them. Do what you have to do. If your document is that important, fireproof safes in a climate controlled area is probably the only way to go.