Mold spores. They almost sound like alien invaders from a 1950’s sci-fi movie –“Attack of the Killer Mold Spores!” But that description may not be too far off the mark. Mold is dangerous. It can be more prevalent and can cause more health problems than termites, carbon monoxide, asbestos, or radon. In fact, mold is everywhere and impossible to get rid of in nature. According to the EPA website, “There is no practical way to eliminate all mold and mold spores in the indoor environment; the way to control indoor mold growth is to control moisture.” From one third to one half of all buildings in the United States have the damp conditions necessary to facilitate the growth of mold, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
Mold and mold spores can cause serious health problems and, in the case of someone with mold sensitivities, even death. Many people are vaguely aware of the health concerns when it comes to mold but most do not know that mold can also cause serious damage to a house or building (similar to a termite infestation.) When it comes to protecting your family and your home, fighting and preventing mold should be at the top of every homeowner’s list.
WHAT IS MOLD?
The simple answer: molds are part of the fungi kingdom, similar to yeasts or mushrooms (the antibiotic Penicillin is actually a mold.)Mold is a living organism, a part of nature, and even has a beneficial function – it breaks down all of our dead organic matter. Mold reproduces by releasing tiny spores, invisible to the naked eye, into the air. These spores land in moist areas and begin to grow and spread. While there are hundreds of thousands of varieties of mold, none would exist without the presence of moisture, air, and something to feed on. Since mold will always exist outdoors, it is important to control the one ingredient a homeowner doesn’t need inside the house – moisture.
Mold can grow on rotting wood, grass, weeds, and compost piles. The problem is that it can also grow where you don’t want it to – indoors. It can be found on food or clothing, in bathrooms and attics and damp basements, on carpeting, and even inside the walls of a house. Mold can feed on the wood in the wall, breaking down the materials as it spreads unseen throughout a house. As the mold digests organic material, it continues to spread to find new food sources.
Spotting mold can be easy, if the mold colony is visible. Mold comes in a variety of colors (including white, black, green, gray, brown, and more), bunching as spots or discolorations. If the mold is not visible, someone may not recognize mold is present until it is late in the process. People discover mold when there is physical damage to a structure or an increase in musty smells. Sometimes mold won’t be found until the occupants experience health problems. By then, it may be too late. Whenever a house or building has an overexposure to moisture, it is important to inspect for mold. Moisture overexposure can come from many sources, including:
o Roofs or basements that leak
o Irrigation or fire sprinklers
o Shower or bath water
o Sink or sewer overflow
o Plumbing leaks
WHY SHOULD I WORRY ABOUT MOLD?
There are two main reasons to worry about the spread of mold in a building. The most important consideration – mold can cause health problems. The second consideration – property damage. Frank Foreman, President & CEO of NO ODOR, Inc, a mold remediation company, believes mold is coming to the forefront because everyone is learning that mold damage can affect property value.
Let’s start with the health issues. Molds produce allergens that can cause reactions such as sneezing, runny noses, even asthma attacks in those allergic to it. It can even cause irritation to the nose, throat, lungs, and eyes to those who are not allergic. Certain molds can also release toxins (mycotoxins) that cause more serious problems. According to the Mold Help Organization, exposure to these mycotoxins could cause people “to suffer from a myriad of serious symptoms and illnesses such as chronic bronchitis, learning disabilities, mental deficiencies, heart problems, cancer, multiple sclerosis, chronic fatigue, lupus, fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple chemical sensitivity, bleeding lungs and much more” (http://www.mold-help.org/content/view/478/).
Because many people are not as aware or concerned about the health threats of mold, it is also important to consider the damage it can cause to property. Everyone tends to pay more attention to a problem when it affects the wallet. A home or business is the largest investment most people have. A colony or colonies of mold can cause severe devastation. According to the EPA website, “If you already have a mold problem – act quickly. Mold damages what it grows on. The longer it grows, the more damage it can cause” (http://www.epa.gov/mold/moldcleanup.html).
Mold can cause structural damage to a building, because it feeds on and breaks down the organic matter (wood, mostly) within the structure. When mold grows in the walls, on insulation, or under carpeting, these items must be removed from the building. In addition to the damage caused to the building, mold may destroy personal items in the home. It can attach to personal property which may be very difficult or impossible to clean. Often the item will have to be destroyed because the mold cannot be completely removed.
WHAT CAN BE DONE ABOUT THE MOLD?
For the most part, since mold is everywhere, it is impossible to completely avoid all indoor molds. The key to preventing mold is to control the moisture levels indoors. The EPA website states, “If there is mold growth in your home, you must clean up the mold and fix the water problem. If you clean up the mold, but don’t fix the water problem, then, most likely, the mold problem will come back” (http://www.epa.gov/mold/moldbasics.html).
For small areas, usually a moldy section of 9 to 10 square feet, the home or business owner can usually clean up the mold themselves. For larger areas, it is important to hire a professional mold removal contractor to make sure the problem is taken care of safely.
If you have a small patch of black, green or gray colored spots, Frank Foreman, of NO ODOR, Inc., has a smart tip to determine whether or not it is mold: put some hydrogen peroxide on the growth and watch the reaction. Almost everyone has one of those brown bottles of the 3% hydrogen peroxide solution in their medicine cabinet, so he suggests putting it in a clean spray bottle and spraying the colored spots. If the solution runs down the wall and there is no reaction, then the spots are not growths of mold (it could possibly just be dirt.) Since mold is a living organism, when sprayed with the hydrogen peroxide, there will be an oxidation process. If you hit it and the growth starts to foam up with white foam, then you know you are dealing with mold.
For small amounts of mold, many sources recommend using a combination of water and detergent to clean the moldy surfaces. However, Frank Foreman recommends using only products that are approved by the EPA to kill mold. He further states that care and precaution need to be taken when doing the cleanup by an individual. “Mold is a living organism and it can travel easily when disturbed. Someone may wash away half of the mold and the other half might release mold spores that can escape to another source of moisture in the home. Or worse, into the A/C or heating system which can spread mold spores to every room in the house,” claims Foreman.
Foreman also suggests that someone with a mold problem should really educate themselves before hiring a professional to remove toxic mold. “The mold removal industry is completely unregulated. There are no federal, state, or local regulations that govern mold removal professionals.” This means, according to Foreman, with no standards, there is no way to prove the job was done or that it is done right. “Only seventy to eighty percent of all mold removal jobs are done right, which means the property owner is going to have residual problems.”
He says that it is important to shop around, to get references, and to scan the Internet to learn as much as possible about toxic mold and mold removal. “Education is the key. Learn the basics so you can talk to the remediation expert and you’ll have a good idea if he or she really knows what they’re doing.”
Mold removal methods vary from company to company. But the process can be complicated and expensive. For example, if a 10′ x 10′ bedroom has two walls infested with mold, it may be necessary to seal off that portion of the house, remove all wall boards until there are no more visible signs of mold growth. Next, the remediation pro will have to hand sand away the mold. Then, a mold killing detergent will be washed over the surface. The exposed area will then be HEPA vacuumed to remove remnant spores. After the area is tested to make sure there is no more mold, new walls will have to be built back up and painted. As you can see, the process can be time consuming and very expensive. However, to save on excessive destruction, some professionals have been employing fiber optic technology to view within the walls or ceilings, looking for mold growth, before tearing down all the drywall.
If you have had a flooding problem or a major water leak, it is also important to contact your insurance company. Many do not know that insurance may cover the mold removal as well. However, most insurance companies are starting to put limits on mold removal coverage (sometimes keeping caps at $5000 to $10,000.) While it may sound like a lot of money, the insurance company will be giving you money to fix the damage and remove the mold. The mold removal process may cost more than repairing the damage caused by the water. For example, if the roof of a house comes off during a storm and causes water damage to the house, the insurance company may give a lump sum to cover the repairs to the roof, the damage inside, and the mold problem. By accepting their lump sum, you have to pay to replace the roof and damage from water but the money also has to cover the costs to remove the mold that may come days, weeks, or months later.
HOW CAN I PREVENT MOLD FROM COMING BACK?
Once you have removed the entire mold infestation from your property, it is still important to control moisture levels in the structure.
– If there is any kind of flooding, it is imperative you remove the water within 24 to 48 hours.
– Whenever possible, move wet items to a dry, well-ventilated place or outside to speed up the drying process. Remove drywall up to the height of the water level. Remove carpeting as soon as possible.
– Keep the indoor humidity low. If possible, keep below 60 percent relative humidity.
– If condensation or moisture collects on windows, walls or water pipes, dry the wet surface and reduce the moisture. Condensation can be a sign of high humidity.
– Keep gutters clean and make sure water drains away from the building to prevent it from collecting around the foundation.
– Run or install venting fans in high moisture areas, like the bathroom.
– Run a dehumidifier in moist areas, such as a basement or bathroom.
– Ventilating areas can help reduce moisture, as well as keeping the temperature up or the air conditioner on. However, aim the air conditioning vents away from the condensing surfaces to prevent cold spots where moisture condensation can occur.
– Adding thermal insulation to walls, ceilings, and pipes can help, too (in fact, rust spots on any water pipes could be an indication there is too much moisture in a room. Adding insulation to the pipes is a good idea.)
Mold can be a very serious problem in homes and businesses and it is important to take care of the problem as soon as possible. The consequences to health and property can be severe. While remediation of mold can be expensive, the damage mold can cause could be even worse. Frank Foreman has seen many cases where it is actually cheaper for the homeowner to knock down and rebuild an entire house rather than remove the existing mold infestation.
Keep in mind some of the potential signs that mold may be growing within a property:
o Unexplained discoloration on a surface
o Musty or earthy odor
o Dark spots on or around vents
o Water stains anywhere
o Peeling or curling of floors or wallpaper
Do your homework and hire a professional to handle even moderate mold problems as soon as possible. If one is not sure where to look for a mold removal and remediation specialist, there are services that can help everyone find a local professional.
Whenever a home or business owner believes there are signs of mold growth within their property, he or she should contact a professional as soon as possible to avoid future problems or costs. Attack those “Killer Mold Spores” before your own personal home invasion gets any worse.