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Mold in your Home? Here's How to Handle it.

Mold is in every home, I've been told by many a home inspector. We’ve all heard of horror stories in the media of mold infested homes, where families were forced to leave the homes they had put their life savings into after they found out they were having serious health issues. It’s a scary proposition - but thankfully, it's very rare. In the Northeast, we are lucky to have a more dry, and cool, climate that makes it hard for mold to spread rapidly. However, it’s important to know what causes it, how to look out for it, how to solve the issue - and best of all, how to avoid it before it happens.

When buying a home, the inspector isn’t testing for mold. As we covered in our last post, mold detection and testing is not part of the standard home inspection - but a good inspector will point it out, to you if they encounter it in the home during the inspection.  While mold is something to take seriously and the conditions that promote it, will need fixing, it doesn’t have to be a dealbreaker, as long as you are comfortable with seeking out the source and remediating the problem so it doesn’t come back.

The type of “toxic, black” mold that the media has reported is a misnomer - according to the CDC, there is no type of mold that is toxic, although some types of mold can produce mycotoxins that are harmful if swallowed, and sometimes if inhaled for long periods of time. In most cases, this is seen when animals eat moldy crops or food. The CDC's website explains, “Hazards presented by molds that may produce mycotoxins should be considered the same as other common molds which can grow in your house. There is always a little mold everywhere - in the air and on many surfaces. There are very few reports that toxigenic molds found inside homes can cause unique or rare health conditions. These case reports are rare, and a causal link between the presence of the toxigenic mold and these conditions has not been proven.”

While serious side effects to mold or mycotoxins are rare, excessive exposure to mold can exacerbate those with chronic respiratory illnesses, so if anyone with those issues are living in the house or are expected to purchase shortly, it’s a good idea to take care of the problem as soon as possible. There are no EPA or CDC regulations that cover the thresholds of mold exposure that are safe or unsafe. If you are experiencing breathing issues you believe are related to mold in your home, consult your physician.

(Photo courtesy of Flickr user Pete Brown) This moldy 2x4 is an example of how moisture can destroy wood - and it should be ripped out and replaced.

Pre-existing mold will not be covered by a typical Homeowner’s insurance policy, and some mold is not covered at all unless it’s directly related to an issue normally covered by your policy, like a burst pipe or roof leak. Remediation is also likely excluded from your policy unless you reside in certain states with special regulations, but it’s best to check with your individual carrier to see if you have coverage.

According to the CDC, mold spores are likely to enter your house from an outside source and then make their way indoors through open windows or doors, ventilation systems, or any other air intake source. They can also attach themselves to people or animals, and can be transmitted on clothing and shoes. Once they’re in your home, the spores may be dropped or find their way to a place with excessive moisture - and then they’ll start to grow. Mold spores, found everywhere usually travel by air.

(Photo courtesy of Flickr/user Andrew Ratto)

There are ways to test for the presence of mold spores in the home. For instance, you can purchase a kit, in the range of $50, that will capture mold spores in a petri dish that contains a growing agent. After a certain amount of time has elapsed, you send the dish back to the kit’s manufacturers for testing. This will give you an answer on the type of mold in your home and possibly the severity of the problem. However, the kit won’t find the source of the mold - that’s another key piece of the puzzle. There are mold remediation companies that can test inside of walls by removing air through electrical outlets and filtering the mold spores from the air, or, more simply by cutting a hole in the wall near where the problem is likely to be hiding. A professional mold inspection can cost several hundred dollars - but if you think your problem is serious, it’s worth the money to find the problem and the solution now before the mold spreads.

Finding the root cause of the moisture is the first step. The most important thing to do is stop mold at the source is to tackle any moisture and/or ventilation flaws in your home. One of the biggest mold problem areas is in the bathroom, where the steam from hot showers or baths often attaches to walls and ceilings. Having a working exhaust fan that vents outside and not into the attic or crawl space is a must. Check on plumbing, especially around sinks and toilets  (frequently) to spot possible leaks. Replace mildewed shower curtains often, and use a shower squeegee to reduce moisture and mildew on shower walls.

The attic area is also prone to mold, due to inadequate ventilation. Not only can a heavy rain cause an older roof to leak, but the underside of a roof is a common place for mold to grow, due to poorly vented attic spaces, or incorrectly installed insulation. Warm, moist air from the lower levels can rise into the attic space and, as it rises, causes condensation of water vapor on colder roof rafters. Air circulation through vents and fans go a long way toward preventing mold.

It’s a smart idea to use dehumidifiers in moist spaces, open windows and use fans during the spring, summer, and fall. When you cook, especially if boiling pasta or soup, make sure to use the exhaust vent. Wash fabrics, including curtains, routinely, so mold spores don’t get a foothold. Make sure you store extra fabrics and linens in a dry and well-ventilated area.

Sunlight, air movement and dry air are the antidote to mold. Use dehumidifiers, fans, and open windows to help reduce the moisture in your home. Be especially vigilant during hot, humid months. Air conditioning can help to alleviate humidity, but make sure all window units are mounted correctly to avoid leaking. Do what you can to prevent rainwater from entering into your home, through the roof area, windows, doors, and even in basements. Check potential problem areas regularly. 

If your mold issue are on the surface, there are easy ways to clean nonporous areas, as well as linens and fabrics. All linens and fabrics, if they are durable, will need to be washed on a hot wash with bleach .

If a carpet has mildew, vacuum it and then mix a tablespoon of liquid laundry detergent with 2 cups of cold water. Sponge the cleaning solution onto the carpet until the mildew stain is gone, then rinse with just water, and dry thoroughly with a towel or fan directed on the area. For surfaces like tub, tile, or cement, it’s best to use a bleach and water mixture and sponge.

(Photo courtesy of Your Best Digs)

If you believe you have a mold issue in your home that needs solving, there are several good sources of information on how to deal with the problem. Visit the following websites for more details:

Research - The CDC’s website about mold

Clean - Better Homes and Garden’s article on how to clean moldy and mildewed items and areas

Local Resource - Environmental Resources Environmental Mold Testing and Consultation Company

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