Mold in the Home
The first thing to understand about mold is that there is a little mold everywhere – indoors and outdoors. It's in the air and can be found on plants, foods, dry leaves, and other organic materials.
It's very common to find molds in homes and buildings. After all, molds grow naturally indoors. And mold spores enter the home through doorways, windows, and heating and air conditioning systems. Spores also enter the home on animals, clothing, shoes, bags and people.
When mold spores drop where there is excessive moisture in your home, they will grow. Common problem sites include humidifiers, leaky roofs and pipes, overflowing sinks, bath tubs and plant pots, steam from cooking, wet clothes drying indoors, dryers exhausting indoors, or where there has been flooding.
Many of the building materials for homes provide suitable nutrients for mold, helping it to grow. Such materials include paper and paper products, cardboard, ceiling tiles, wood and wood products, dust, paints, wallpaper, insulation materials, drywall, carpet, fabric, and upholstery.
The importance of mold in the real estate market today
Much has been made of indoor mold in advertising and the media lately, so it’s a common concern for homeowners and buyers. It's common to find mold even in new homes. Whether you’re selling your current home or looking into buying one, it’s vital to get a mold inspection. Presence of active mold can drastically affect the resale value of any home.
For homeowners, a mold inspection will either put your mind at rest or make you aware of any problems that could otherwise cause delays or deal breakers once you’ve entered negotiations with a buyer. A professional mold inspection will give you a signed report from an expert before you put the home up for sale. Imagine being able to show a “clean bill of health” to potential buyers that express concerns – they’ll be impressed by your thoroughness and commitment to your home.
For buyers, getting a mold inspection will ensure that you’re not surprised by costly clean up and the potential health hazards of mold. If any mold is found to be present and active in the home, the mold inspection will allow you to ask the seller to do the clean up prior to buying the home.
Exposure to mold
Everyone is exposed to some amount of mold on a daily basis, most without any apparent reaction. Generally mold spores can cause problems when they are present in large numbers and a person inhales large quantities of them. This occurs primarily when there is active mold growth.
For some people, a small exposure to mold spores can trigger an asthma attack or lead to other health problems. For others, symptoms may only occur when exposure levels are much higher.
The health effects of mold can vary. The production of allergens or irritants can cause mild allergic reactions and asthma attacks. The production of potentially toxic mycotoxins can cause more severe reactions, and in rare cases death.
Should I be concerned about mold in my home?
Yes. If indoor mold is extensive, those in your home can be exposed to very high and persistent airborne mold spores. It is possible to become sensitized to these mold spores and develop allergies or other health concerns, even if one is not normally sensitive to mold.
Left unchecked, mold growth can cause structural damage to your home as well as permanent damage to furnishings and carpet.
According to the Centers for Disease Control*, "It is not necessary, however, to determine what type of mold you may have. All molds should be treated the same with respect to potential health risks and removal."
Can my home be tested for mold?
Yes. We offer thorough mold inspections that involve visual examinations of the most likely areas to harbor mold. We also take air samples indoors and out to determine whether the number of spores inside your home is significantly higher. If the indoor level is higher, it could mean that mold is growing inside your home.
How do I remove mold from my home?
First address the source of moisture that is allowing the mold to grow. Then take steps to clean up the contamination. Here are helpful links to lean more about cleaning up mold in your home.
Molds are simple, microscopic organisms whose purpose in the ecosystem is to break down dead materials. Molds can be found on plants, dry leaves, and on just about every other organic material. Some molds are useful, such as those used to make antibiotics and cheese. Some molds are known to be highly toxic when ingested, such as the types that invade grains and peanuts. Most of the mold found indoors comes from outdoors.
Molds reproduce by very tiny particles called spores. The spores float in on the air currents and find a suitable spot to grow. Spores are very light and can travel on air currents. If mold spores land on a suitable surface, they will begin to grow.
Molds need three things to thrive- moisture, food and a surface to grow on. Molds can be seen throughout the house, and can be found in most bathrooms. Mold growth can often be seen in the form of discoloration, and can appear in many colors-white, orange, pink, blue, green, black or brown. When molds are present in large quantities (called colonies) they can cause health problems in some people.
Who does mold affect?
Mold spores can cause adverse reactions, much like pollen from plants. Mold spores cause health problems when they become airborne and are inhaled in large quantities. Everyone is exposed to mold in some concentration in the outdoor air. Indoor exposure to molds is not healthy for anyone. In particular, people with allergies, existing respiratory conditions or suppressed immune systems are especially susceptible to health problems from mold exposure. Additionally, infants and children, pregnant women and the elderly can be sensitive to the effects of mold exposure. Some molds are more hazardous than others. For some people, a small number of mold spores can cause health problems. For others, it may take many more.
What are Symptoms of mold exposure?
There are many symptoms of mold exposure. The extent of symptoms depends on the sensitivity of the exposed person. Allergic reactions are the most common and typically include: respiratory problems such as wheezing and difficulty breathing; nasal and sinus congestion; burning, watery, reddened eyes or blurry vision; sore throat; dry cough; nose and throat irritation; shortness of breath; and skin irritation.
Other less common effects are: nervous system problems (headaches, memory loss, moodiness); aches and pains; and fever. If you have any of these symptoms, and they are reduced or completely gone when you leave the suspect area, chances are you have been exposed to some sort of allergen, quite possibly mold.
How can I tell if I have mold in my home?
Some mold problems are obvious - you can see it growing. Others are not so obvious. If you can see mold, or if there is a musty odor in your home, you probably have a mold problem. Areas that are wet, or have been wet due to flooding, leaky plumbing, leaky roofing, or areas that are humid (such as bathrooms and laundry rooms) are most likely to have mold growth. Look for previous water damage.
Visible mold growth may be found underneath wallpaper and baseboards, behind walls, or may be evident by discolored plaster or drywall. If you don't have any observable mold, but are experiencing symptoms likely to be mold-induced, the mold could be growing in areas you can't see, such as the ducts of a heating/cooling system. In this case, the only way to know if you have mold spores is to test.
Many home inspectors or Industrial Hygienists can conduct air sampling to detect the presence of these spores in your home. If you have obvious mold, you can conduct a swab test that can be analyzed to determine the molds that are present. Testing is the only way to determine if you have a mold problem and what type it is. Take a copy of the laboratory report along with you when you visit your doctor or allergist. This will aid in determining a method of treatment.
If I have mold in my home, what should I do?
The first course of action is to determine why the mold is growing. Investigate any areas that are moist, and repair the source of the moisture. There could be a roof or plumbing leak, or groundwater leaking into your basement. Your air conditioning drip pan could have mold growing in it. Your air duct system could be contaminated with mold. If you see mold in your laundry room, chances are that your dryer is not properly vented to the outside.
Clothes dryers generate humidity and should never be vented inside the house. Mold will grow on any surface that provides moisture and food. Substances that are porous and can trap molds, such as paper, rags, wallboard and wood, should be thrown out. After you have made all the repairs, it is time to clean. Use the following pointers:
Mix a household cleaner without ammonia with hot water and scrub affected areas before sanitizing with the bleach solution that is 10% bleach and 90% water.
Wear gloves when handling moldy materials. If you are sensitive to mold, you may wish to wear a particulate-removing respirator or facemask. Also wear protective clothing that is easily cleaned or may be discarded.
Hard, non-porous materials can be cleaned with a solution of bleach and water, 10% bleach to 90% water. Use a sponge or cloth to wipe the area clean. Never mix bleach with other cleaning products; it can produce a toxic gas! It is important to clean thoroughly. If you leave some mold behind, the spores will be easily released back into the air when the material dries out.
Remove porous materials such as ceiling tiles, carpeting and sheetrock (drywall) and dispose of them. They are nearly impossible to clean and will surely produce more spores when dry.
If mold is the result of flooding, remove all drywall to at least 12 inches above the high water mark. Visually inspect the interior of the walls to ensure that you removed all contaminated drywall.
Allow the area to dry for 2-3 days after cleaning and sanitizing with the bleach solution.
Use a stiff brush to remove mold from block walls or uneven surfaces.
Have family members or bystanders leave the area while cleaning or abatement is being done.
How can I keep mold from damaging my home?
Watch for signs of moisture, such as condensation on windows, cracking of walls, loosening of drywall tape, warped wood or musty odors.
Install bathroom fans that vent humidity to the outside.
Vent your clothes dryer to the outside
Clean any moldy surfaces as soon as they are noticed.
Sources: California Department of Health Services Indoor Air Quality Info Sheet, "Mold in My Home: What Do I Do?" revised July 2001; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "Questions and Answers on Stachybotrys chartarum and other molds" last reviewed November 30, 2002.