By Charles Furlough
RISMEDIA, October 19, 2010—Often, our first encounter with mold at home occurs in that infamous spot between the shower curtain and tub. It’s pretty disgusting, but it’s easy to wipe up. Unfortunately, in most homes, this isn’t the extent of the mold—the more problematic mold is the insidious kind, hiding behind walls and in floorboards, and potentially contributing to a range of allergies and other illnesses. In fact, a 1994 study by the Harvard University School of Public Health, which involved 10,000 homes in the U.S. and Canada, found that half of those homes had mold levels that participants said caused a 50-100% increase in distressing respiratory symptoms.
What causes mold? Surprisingly, advanced building materials are one of the main culprits. In the last few decades, buildings have increasingly been made to prevent the infiltration and exfiltration of air, leading to higher humidity levels. The insulation materials used in this type of construction contain cellulose and other materials that lock in moisture. Adding to the problem, many wall cavities are wrapped in plastic, allowing for even more moisture. An aging home is at even greater risk, as normal occurrences like window and roof leaks bring in even more moisture—and moisture is a direct cause of mold. Limited ventilation or sunlight only makes the problem worse, and things can get bad fast—one square foot of moldy drywall can harbor more than 300 million mold spores.
When you hear the term “mold,” it can generally be one of two types—allergenic mold, and black mold. Allergenic mold is found in nearly every home, in some amount, however small. This type can provide unpleasant symptoms if it becomes excessive, depending on a person’s sensitivity level. These symptoms include fatigue, nasal and sinus congestion, skin and eye irritation and headaches. While these symptoms can be extremely annoying and make someone ill, they’re almost never life-threatening.
What’s much more dangerous, however, is toxic mold—more commonly, the black mold stachybotrys. Shockingly, over 27% of homes in the U.S. contain black mold. Black mold, in smaller amounts, causes many of the same symptoms as allergic mold, but, in high levels or among people with preexisting conditions or compromised immune systems, black mold can cause neurological damage, causing debilitating headaches and even memory problems.
How do you find the mold in your home? Sometimes it’s easy—it may be right in front of you, or you’ll find it by its distinctly musty smell. Though it’s harder to find hidden mold, you can do so by looking behind and beneath fixed materials and appliances: refrigerators, dishwashers, sink cabinets, washer/dryers, carpets, vinyl flooring—anywhere near where water flows or where air doesn’t penetrate readily. Also, look for signs of discoloration on walls and ceilings; this can denote a moisture buildup behind which mold may lurk.
Once you find the mold, remove it with a store-bought anti-fungal solution, or get rid of it with a weak bleach solution—1 cup bleach in 1 gallon of water. (If mold exists in an area over 2 square feet, call a professional to have it removed). But even more important than removing it is eliminating as many of its causes and sources as possible.
Follow these 10 tips to drastically reduce the mold in your home:
1. Call in a home inspection professional to assess water-damaged areas.
2. Keep humidity low. Humidity levels should be under 40% in order for mold to stop its forward march.
3. Replace any carpets and furniture that have ever been significantly damaged (i.e., saturated in water), even if they look OK on the outside.
4. Carpet in the bathroom or basement? Don’t even think about it. And if you have it, get rid of it.
5. Use an air-conditioner during the summer. We know it’s not cheap to run the A/C, but if it’s in the budget, even setting it to 80 degrees when it’s 90-plus outside, will help. Use fans to circulate A/C most effectively.
6. Dust and clean furniture regularly, and vacuum carpets at least once a week (make sure your vacuum has a HEPA filter).
7. Provide adequate ventilation in hot areas. The kitchen and bath are two of the highest-risk rooms for mold. Install exhaust fans in the kitchen and bathroom.
8. When you’re shopping for house paint for big or small painting projects, ask the sales rep about mold inhibitors you can add before painting.
9. Does your central air system have a fan from the Ford Pinto era? If so, replace it with a high-performance electrostatic air filter. Your local HVAC technician can help withy this.
10. Don’t neglect areas underneath the house—have a professional drain and ventilate all sub-basement areas, especially crawl spaces.
Charles Furlough is Vice President of Pillar To Post Home Inspections.
For more information, visit www.pillartopost.
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