Although mold can be found almost everywhere, you don’t want to find it in your home. Mold is a red flag to buyers, and may cause them to reconsider purchasing your home. Even if you don’t plan on selling your home in the near future, the presence of mold can be harmful to you and your family.
Here’s what you need to know about mold.
Dangers of Mold
Mold is unsightly, but that’s the least of your problems if you discover it in your home. According to Cheryl Hoerr, fellow at the American Association for Respiratory Care, it is usually found in dark, damp, areas of your home that can be difficult to access. “Mold can grow and spread rapidly and become an issue before homeowners are even aware that there might be a problem,” she warns. And the longer it grows, the more spores are released into the air. “Longer exposure time and higher spore levels can exacerbate existing breathing problems, and may even cause healthy people to develop chronic breathing problems or other allergic sensitivities.”
According to the EPA, exposure to mold can result in sneezing, red eyes, runny nose, and skin rash. And even if you don’t usually suffer from allergies, it can still irritate these areas – as well as your throat and lungs.
Mark Snell, the owner and founder of Polestar Plumbing, Heating & Air Conditioning in Kansas City, KS, agrees, adding that mold thrives in warm and humid conditions. And if that source of moisture isn’t identified and eliminated, mold will quickly spread throughout your living space.
“The emergence of increasingly larger pockets of mold can be highly destructive to both you and your family,” he says.
However, mold can do more than cause health problems. “Mold can weaken and deteriorate building materials over time, damaging the structure of your home,” Snell says.
Sometimes, you can see mold on windows or pipes. However, it can grow on a variety of sources. “Mold will damage your home as it feeds on organic material such as wood and drywall paper, and it can also grow on carpet, ceiling tiles, and upholstery, explains Allen Rathey, director of the Indoor Health Council.
How to Identify Mold
If you have a large infestation, you’ll likely be able to see or smell mold. But if it isn’t sizable, you may not be able to easily identify it. “When it comes to mold, we typically think of those green, brown, and black growing masses that are fuzzy, fluffy, or powdery,” says Michael Rubino, a mold and air quality expert, and founder HomeCleanse. However, he says mold exposure doesn’t just extend to this visibly-growing organism.
“Before these living colonies begin, they first start out as a nonliving particle called a spore, which can range in size from 1 micron to 40 microns – in comparison, the size of a single strand of human hair is approximately 70 microns in diameter.”
Sometimes, mold can be hidden, and you won’t be able to see it, but you may have a moldy smell in that area. You can also look for areas that have leaks, stains, and paint that is peeling or bubbling.
Homebuyers and Sellers
If you’re buying a home, you’ll definitely want a home inspection, since the inspector will test for mold. “If mold is found in the home, the buyer needs to assess the mold situation to better understand the pros and cons of moving forward,” advises Brett Ringelheim, licensed real estate salesperson at Compass in New York, NY. “I highly recommend my clients make sure the inspector checks for mold, as I believe it is one of the most important items to check for.”
If you’re selling your home, he recommends conducting an inspection before you even list your property for sale, since you don’t want this problem to pop up later.
How to Avoid, Eliminate, or At Least Control Mold
When you’re dealing with mold, moisture is not your friend. “To avoid mold on surfaces, one should have good moisture control and avoid damp conditions, explains Jianshun “Jensen” Zhang, professor and executive director of Syracuse Center of Excellence (SyracuseCoE) in Environmental and Energy Systems at Syracuse University. “This can be achieved by proper ventilation, air movement/mixing in the space, and dehumidification when necessary (e.g., for a basement in the hot and humid summer conditions).” Zhang says moisture control is the most effective way to minimize the risk of mold growth. “Good insulation and airtightness of building enclosure can avoid condensation in materials and help moisture control as well.”
Other ways to achieve these goals include quickly drying condensation on windows and walls, ensuring your roof gutters aren’t clogged, and making sure your clothes dryer vents outside.
“Also, be sure your home insulation is properly covering wall and ceiling cavities,” advises Tony Abate, a certified mold inspector and vice president and chief technology officer at AtmosAir Solutions in Fairfield, CT. In fact, Abate points to bathrooms with showers as a common problem area. “Also, in any situation where water comes into your home, be sure to address it quickly and completely as this can be the breeding ground for mold.”
Rathey agrees that adding insulation can lower potential condensation on walls, pipes, et cetera. “Air conditioning, dehumidifiers, exhaust fans, and ventilation can help lower relative humidity; but outdoor air must be dryer than indoor air for ventilation to reduce indoor relative humidity,” he says. Rathey recommends stopping mold at the source by lowering indoor humidity to 30% to 60%. “Also fix leaking pipes and water leaks, and dry wet areas within 24-48 hours – these are the best ways to keep airborne levels as low as possible.”
Abate also considers the 24-hour time frame to be crucial. “Since mold can occur and grow in as little as 24 hours, you must address why the mold occurred – which is usually due to water intrusion or overly-humid conditions.” And if it’s not addressed, Abate warns that mold growth will continue – and the longer it does, the more intense and evasive the mold remediation will need to be.
In summary, Rubino, says the key to eliminating mold is proper protocol, and he says successful remediation will do the following:
- Remediate the sources properly
- Identify and address the problems that led to those sources in the first place
- Eradicate all contamination created by those sources, including toxins and bacteria
However, if you fail to hit every point, Rubino says it will lead to failed remediation. “If the problems that led to the contamination aren’t addressed, the conditions for growth are still there, allowing the growth to come right back,” he explains. “Allowing the source or sources of mold to continue existing in the home means it will continue releasing microscopic particles into the environment, lowering the indoor air quality, and leading to continued exposure.”