What is mold? Why should I be concerned about mold in my home? How can I prevent mold in my home, or what steps do I need to take to identify and remove mold? Read on. We'll answer all these questions...
What is mold?
Mold spores are airborne, seed-like organisms. They’re present in all environments, at all times. Mold spores can flourish in areas with high humidity levels, such as leaky roofs, windows, pipes, poorly ventilated bathrooms, laundry rooms and cooking areas. They thrive in undisturbed, dark, dusty and hidden areas, such as behind walls, under floors, in unfinished basements or HVAC systems where moisture could be present.
How does mold grow and spread?
When mold spores settle on organic or cellulose-like materials, such as cotton, lumber, drywall, paper and dirt, they can plant and begin to grow into a fungus. The mold fungus thrives on moisture combined with oxygen and organic matter. As it grows, mold releases digestive enzymes that gradually break down the matter they’ve settled on.
Once mold takes root on organic matter, it creates colonies that put off more mold spores, which can also become airborne and spread into unaffected areas.
There are thousands of types of mold and mildew in the United States. Mold can live in your home or on your clothing, your shoes, and even in your hair. Since you can’t avoid it, it’s smart to get the facts about how to keep mold in check.
The simple fact is that mold, whether it’s airborne spores or growth, can make you and your family sick. Exposure to mold could cause a variety of health issues, like watery eyes, a runny nose, congestion and other respiratory ailments as well as fatigue, body aches and even depression—if you’re a person who’s susceptible to it. Children, elderly people, asthmatics and those with already compromised immune systems are particularly vulnerable to the harmful effects of mold.
A particular type of mold spore called Serpula lacrymans causes “dry rot.” It typically presents itself as a powdery red substance. Left unchecked, mold and other fungi in your basement or attic can cause damage to the structure of your home as well as the roof.
ARE YOU SICK OF MOLD?
Could mold be causing a health issue for your family?
Dehumidifiers alone can’t mitigate water damage and prevent mold growth. While they can process the moisture that has been evaporated and prevent it from settling on the walls, a thorough drying with specialized equipment is necessary to remove the remaining moisture. Household fans are also incapable of drying to the extent needed to prevent mold growth. You’ll need the services of water removal specialists and perhaps mold removal and mold remediation experts too.
Keeping a clean house can’t completely ward off mold growth, but it definitely helps keep mold growth at bay. The good news is that you can take certain measures to make your home an unwelcome environment for mold by keeping an eye on potentially problematic areas.
Inspect your home periodically for signs of moisture, and follow these tips:
Keep your gutters clean so they can funnel water away from your house.
Fix leaks (no matter how small) in your roof or pipes right away.
Insulate cold spots to prevent condensation in summer months because mold can also grow in cold places.
Insulate your water pipes before the winter to prevent burst pipes from fluctuating temperatures.
Insulate and seal air leaks between your attic and your house.
If your house has a sump pump, test it once a year.
Install exhaust fans in bathrooms and kitchens, and make sure they are vented to the outside.
Keep HVAC filters clean, and ensure good air flow throughout your house.
Vent appliances (such as dryers, water heaters, gas fireplaces and
furnaces) to the outside.
Raise the temperature, and increase air circulation to colder parts of the home.
If you use a humidifier, a humidistat is highly recommended to control the moisture level being introduced into the home.
Use a dehumidifier in any area that seems damp.
Get some tips to prevent a moist home environment.
Colored spots in damp areas, like your shower or basement, walls or floor. Not all mold is visible, but if you see patches of black, white, yellow, brown, green, blue or black, further investigation is needed.
A musty or earthy smell. Mold produces microbial volatile organic compounds (MVOCs) called mycotoxins. While some are odorless, several of them give off a distinct musty, earthy smell, like dirt or rotting wood and leaves. If you often smell unexplained musty or earthy smells in your home, it’s likely mold is present.
Respiratory issues. If you notice that you tend to have respiratory issues at home that lessen when you’re outside of the house, mold might be the culprit. Look for congestion, itching or watery eyes and nose, sneezing, or other allergic-type reactions.
How do you test for mold?
Air testing is the most common way to test for mold. Typically, a baseline is established by testing in unaffected areas around and outside the home. Air testing can be expensive. If you smell a musty or earthy smell, or you see discolorations on a surface in your home, mold is most likely present. Remember that various types of mold can cause different colors, such as red, brown, green, white, yellow and black. You might choose to forego the expense of air testing and call a mold remediation expert. He/she can test for the various types of mold in your home and let you know if they present a health issue for you and your family.
What are the most common types of mold?
Of the thousands of types of mold in the environment, these are the ones most commonly found in homes.
Aspergillus. Aspergillus is quite common. While most people are not troubled by its presence, those with weakened immune systems, damaged lungs or allergies can be at risk from these spores. Aspergillus can cause a disease called Aspergillosis, which can lead to lung and other organ infections. Aspergillus can be particularly detrimental to asthma sufferers.
Cladosporium. Cladosporium is commonly found on dead herbaceous and woody plants, soil, textiles and paper. It forms a branching chain of a velvety, powder-like substance. As is true of many types of mold, Cladosporium can cause respiratory issues and infections in those who are susceptible to it and in people with compromised immune systems.
Penicillium. Penicillium does have some good qualities. Some members of the genus produce penicillin, which can kill or stop the growth of certain types of bacteria. And while Penicillium is often the culprit behind food spoilage, it’s also the mold found in blue cheese. On the flip side, Penicillium produces an array of mycotoxins, including Citrinin, Citreoviridin, Patulin and Penitrem, which can trigger reactions in those who have mold sensitivities and even cause neurological, kidney and liver damage.
Stachybotrys chartarum. (Black mold.) Stachybotrys chartarum is considered to be the most widely detrimental types of mold. Most mold remediation experts recommend a zero tolerance level for it. Over the years, black mold has been identified as the cause of the so-called “sick building syndrome.” Discoveries of black mold have caused schools and office buildings to be closed for mold remediation. Black mold in your home should be remediated by a mold removal professional without delay.
Again, mold spores are everywhere, so it’s unlikely that your home is 100% mold-free. However, there are a few questions you should consider when choosing between cleaning the mold yourself or hiring a professional to remediate the mold.
Where is the mold? Small amounts of surface mold, especially on non-porous, hard surfaces such as your shower, tub or window sills are possible to clean yourself with mold removal sprays, special soaps and bleach. (For your safety, never mix chemicals.) However, if the mold is multiplying in hard-to-see or reach places such as inside walls, ceilings, or in an attic or crawlspace, hiring a mold removal professional is highly recommended. You should also keep in mind that if mold spores go airborne during your cleaning, they may end up settling in and on other hard-to-reach places, thus starting the mold growth cycle over again.
How much mold is there? As a general rule of thumb, anything over ten square feet of mold growth requires professional mold remediation. The mold removal experts will HEPA-Vac the entire area including all of its contents, and they will wipe everything down with an antimicrobial surfactant. If you’re an avid DIYer, you might try to replace your own insulation or drywall if that’s where your mold is growing, but it’s important to remember that it’s not enough to remove mold. You must contain it and clean it from surrounding surfaces to prevent its return.
Where did it come from, and when did it start? If you know where and when the mold-causing moisture originated, you can better determine how much mold may be present, especially if you know how long the moisture has been an issue. Finding the source of moisture intrusion is key. If you don’t cut off the source of the moisture, there’s no point to mold remediation. The mold will return. If you can’t identify where, when and how the moisture occurred, you need to get professional mold remediation help.
Do you have the right equipment and know-how? When you have experienced water damage in your home, it’s hard to know where to start and who to call. You can attempt to dry things out yourself with fans and dehumidifiers, but if the water has penetrated areas you can’t see or reach (and that’s hard to know,) you’ll need to enlist the services of a water removal expert. You’ll have the comfort and confidence that mold won’t cause health issues for your family or structural damage to your home down the road.