Mold is all around us and in every breath we take. It plays an important role in the natural process of decay and is used to make everything from cheese to penicillin. If allowed to grow unchecked inside your home, however, mold can result in damage to both the structure and your health.
Exposure to most mold usually only causes minor allergic reactions—such as sniffling, watery eyes, and sneezing—that subside a few hours after leaving the infected area. Some people are more sensitive than others and may experience a stronger reaction that can include difficulty breathing and asthma attacks.
Several types of mold release toxic substances called mycotoxins. Exposure to high concentrations of mycotoxins from Stachybotrys (a greenish-black green mold that grows on cellulose material such as wallpaper, cardboard, and wallboard) or Chaetomium (a white to gray colored mold found on decaying wood and water damaged drywall) may lead to more severe health issues including chronic bronchitis, heart problems, and bleeding lungs.
There is still an ongoing debate in the scientific and medical community about the health effects of this so called “toxic” mold.
Where to Find Mold
Mold feeds off organic matter and requires a moist environment to grow. Typical areas where mold can accumulate in the home include:
- Bathrooms, kitchens, and laundry rooms.
- Basements and crawl spaces under house.
- Heating and air conditioning systems.
- Pipes and ductwork.
- Around windows.
- In attics due to leaking roofs.
Cleaning Up Mold
If the mold is limited to an area of less than 10 square feet, then you might be able to clean it up yourself. Areas larger than that should be handled by a professional.
If you decide to enlist a professional, make sure they are trained and experienced in mold cleanup. It is also a good idea to request and check references from past jobs to determine the quality of their work.
Removing mold yourself:
- Wear rubber gloves that go mid-way up your forearm. Household rubber gloves are fine for detergent use while neoprene rubber gloves are best for stronger cleaners.
- Use an N-95 respirator, which is available at most hardware stores.
- Wear eye protection, preferably goggles without ventilation holes.
- For mild cases, scrub with warm water and detergent.
- For more severe problems, use a solution of one cup bleach to a gallon of water. Never mix bleach with cleaning products containing ammonia as it can cause the release of toxic gas.
- Dry the area thoroughly. Remember, moisture is mold’s best friend.
- When done scrubbing the area, there should be no visible mold or moldy smell.
- Make sure the area is completely clean and dry before painting or caulking.
If you suspect mold in porous surfaces or carpets, it is best to throw them out. It is virtually impossible to get mold out of these materials.
Potential problem areas to address to keep mold at bay include:
- Roof Leaks: Check attic for roof leaks, and repair any that are found.
- Wall Leaks: Weather strip and caulk leaky windows.
- Window Condensation: Install insulated glass or storm windows to prevent condensation problems.
- Plumbing Leaks: Examine pipes for leaks and insulate if needed.
- Blocked Gutters: Keep gutters and downspouts clean.
- Foundation Leaks: Channel water from downspouts away from house.
- Basement Leaks: Examine basement for leaks and repair if necessary.
- Water Under House: Check crawl space for excess moisture, and apply black plastic to ground to reduce humidity.
- AC Drain Leaks: Be sure HVAC units drain properly and that drains are not clogged.
- Ductwork Condensation: Inspect HVAC ducts for excess moisture. Repair or replace the insulation around them if wet.
- Air Filters: Use a high quality air filter with HVAC units, and change it regularly.
- Bath Vent Fans: Install bathroom fans that are vented to the outside. Run them during—and for 15 minutes after—showers.
- Air Circulation: Open doors and windows during dry weather to increase air circulation.
- Indoor Humidity: Keep the humidity in your home between 30 and 50 percent. Check it with a humidity gauge or moisture meter and use a dehumidifier to lower it if necessary.
- Vent Gas Appliances: Make sure gas and kerosene heaters and fireplaces are properly vented to the outside to reduce the amount of moisture in the air.
Sizing an Air Conditioner to Reduce Humidity
When replacing your central air conditioning unit, be sure it is sized properly for the house and climate. While an oversized unit will cool the house down faster, it won’t remove as much moisture from the air. You might also consider adding a dehumidifier to the central system if you live in a climate with high humidity or use a portable model for problem areas.
If your home still smells moldy or members of your family are having health issues, there could be a hidden mold problem. Mold can grow unseen under wallpaper, dry wall, ceiling tiles, and in heating and air conditioner vents.
If hidden mold is suspected, have the house inspected by a professional. If you think there might be mold in your HVAC system, do not run the unit until the problem has been solved.
Though mold will always be with us, a little diligence on your part can help keep it in check. Prevention and early detection are important, so catch it early and you’ll breathe easier.
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