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Everything You Need to Know About Mold
Mold is a naturally occurring substance in our society. Having over 30,000 ‘flavors’, mold is mostly harmless and actually beneficial, having such roles as cleaning up vegetation in the forests, as well as aiding in the creation of beer, wine, and cheese. To be fair, mold does have its ill effects, ranging from skin irritation and respiratory problems to cold symptoms and in [very] extreme cases, death. It can affect everyone, but some say that 2-20% of the population is really affected by its presence. Common indoor mold allergies are a result of a reaction to penicillium, aspergillus, fusillarium, and stachybotrys. Those at the greatest risk of a mold reaction are those with low immune systems such as infants, the elderly, people with respiratory conditions, HIV patients, chemotherapy patients, and those recovering from the flu or pneumonia. Some say that mold is ‘the new asbestos,’ but it is much different. For example, asbestos-related illnesses generally have a 30-year gestation period, while many people react to mold in just a few hours.
Although mold has been around since day one, its quantity has grossly risen since the early 1970s. At that time, there was an energy crunch, which put citizens on a program of tightening their homes against air loss. This resulted in an increased amount of mold, which is due to the lowering amounts of changed air. Prior to this time, the air changed in a home about four times an hour. Now, air changes about once every four hours, sometimes less.
Sources of Mold
The concentration of mold indoors compared to the outside world is dramatically increased, being 100 times greater. Given that we spend 90% of our time indoors, it is important that we can spot potential mold-growing areas and try to contain the situation.
Mold needs three elements to grow: food – more specifically cellulose, moisture, and warmth. Below are some common moisture sources in homes that you can use to see if you may have prime breeding grounds for mold. It is recommended that you keep your home’s moisture level at 20-40% during the winter, and below 60% at all times of the year.
Sources of Moisture
- Improper exterior grading & drainage
- Flooding & water seepage
- Roof leaks
- Improper installed synthetic stucco (EFIS) & other composition materials
- Improper flashings
- Plumbing leaks
- Overflow from the tub, sink, and toilet
- Firewood stored indoors
- Improper venting of kitchen, bath, and combustion appliances
- Clothes dryers without exterior venting
- Line drying clothes indoors
- House plants
- Showering & bathing areas
- Washing floors
- Et Cetera
Testing for Mold
First, visual observation of the home is conducted for surface mold. These may appear as cottony, velvety, granular, or leathery and have colors of white, gray, brown, black, yellow, or green. Look in areas with noticeable mold odors. Look for signs of excess moisture or water staining. Look behind and under things (this may require destructive testing such as opening up wall cavities).
You can have an inspection company place test devices in the home that will collect mold spores. These will be given to a laboratory for analysis.
Fixing a Mold Problem
The first and most important step to fix a mold problem is to identify the source of moisture and correct it. As soon as possible, begin drying out all material that has gotten wet. This may include the use of fans and dehumidifiers and removing all wet items from the premises. Items that are porous that have absorbed moisture may have to be removed and replaced with new materials.
All materials that are removed should be collected in plastic bags and thrown out. This can include sheetrock, insulation, plaster, carpeting and pads, ceiling tiles, and wood products. Non-porous materials with surface mold growing on them may be saved if they are cleaned well. You should take steps to protect yourself if you are going to try to remove the moldy material. Protective clothing and breathing apparatus should be worn. The area where the mold is going to be removed should be cordoned off with plastic sheeting so the spores are not spread throughout the house. The work should be done to minimize the amount of dust that will be generated, as it is this dust that will carry the mold spores to the other sections of the house.
Surfaces that are to be saved, such as non-porous materials, can be cleaned using a stiff brush, hot water, and a non-ammonia soap detergent or commercial cleaner. Any excess liquid should be mopped up or cleaned up with a wet vacuum. Once the surfaces have been cleaned, they should be rinsed with clean water. After cleaning, the material should be disinfected with a cleaning agent. This can be done with a mixture of 1/4 to 1/2 cup of bleach per gallon of water, applied to the contaminated surfaces. This solution can be sprayed on or brushed on. Once again, collect any runoff of the bleach solution with a wet vacuum or sponge mop. Do not rinse or wipe the bleach solution off the area being treated; allow it to dry on the surface.
However, be warned that if all mold spores are not found and eradicated and the moisture conditions are not corrected, the mold can reappear. It is difficult, if not impossible to eradicate all mold spores. Mold eradication is best left to professionals who are familiar with proper procedures and safety precautions.