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Mold is everywhere-What it is and what to do about it
Mold has received considerable media attention recently, as though this were a new problem. While it's true that mold in homes can be a problem, this is nothing new, and probably not news. However, since there is an increased level of awareness and concern, let's look at the issue from a common sense perspective. I am not a doctor and don't play one on TV, but I have read up on the subject, and I'd like to help if I can.
What is it?
Mold is a common term for a large family of fungi that have a cottony or wooly appearance. There are nearly a million species of mold. Mold is a naturally occurring organism that has been around far longer than us. Mold grows in buildings where there is moisture, air, a food source, and whenever the temperature is between 40 and 140 degrees F. When conditions for growth are not met, mold becomes dormant; it does not die. Mold spreads by dispersing spores through the air as well as by growth on or within building materials.
Mold plays a key role
We can't eliminate mold, but this is a good thing because we need mold to break down animal and vegetable matter. Mold plays a key role in the food chain. When we say things are rotting or decaying, we are referring to mold at work. If there were no mold, there would be no rot and we'd all be buried under all the leaves and trees that ever fell down but never decayed.
Mold spores are everywhere
People sometimes tell us that they don't have mold in their home. We ask what happens if they leave bread in a drawer for a month or don't take out the garbage for two weeks. This helps them understand that no matter how clean they keep their home, mold spores are always there ready to grow on any favorable host. There are always mold spores in the air and there is always some mold in buildings, so the objective of a "mold-free home" is not realistic.
How dangerous is mold?
Since it is normal for mold to be present in air and in buildings, its mere existence is not necessarily a reason for alarm. But if mold is present in indoor air at levels higher than would be found in outdoor air, or if a significant mold colony is growing on building surfaces, it could be a cause for concern. People react differently to mold spores. There does not always have to be a visible growth to cause problems for sensitive people. The term "toxic" mold is not very accurate, in that mold (in and of itself) does not usually kill people. It usually causes unpleasant physical irritations and symptoms.
However, in a recent episode of ABC's "Extreem Makeover- Home Addition", a father of six children died from working in a mold-infested crawlspace. As part of the show, the home was destroyed and the family was built a new home with volunteer labor and the help of ABC.
Media articles about "black mold," especially Stachybotrys, have terrified some people. Actually, it is fairly common to find some black Stachybotrys in very small amounts in houses where there has been leakage or water entry. It is a mold and it should be removed professionally. But don't assume that anything black on the wall or ceiling is "toxic" mold. Other common species are also black but may be of low or no toxicity. For example, Chateomium glabo,S'um is allergenic rather than toxic.
Clado,sporium csphaero,spermum is often found growing indoors on bathroom tile or refrigerator gaskets. It's a member of the most common mold family, Cladosporium, the "universal fungus." Mold in your house might be only a cosmetic concern. "Bluestain" or Ceratocy.s'tis /Ophistoma is common on framing lumber and we often find it in attics on the underside of roof sheathing. Unless one of these cosmetic molds is in a living space, no action is needed.
You can't tell by looking
You cannot tell what kind of mold you are dealing with by looking at it. Don't assume that "black mold" is "bad" and that other mold is OK. Lots of black molds are cosmetic concerns, not "toxic killers." Some light-colored molds, which are hard to see in your house, can be a health concern. Some species of Penicillium and A.spergilli.s' are often light-gray to green, and these are probably more common than their infamous brother " Stachybotry.s' chartarum,"and may be more toxic. Of course, other Penicillium species are used as medicine. So competent identification is important. An expert, trained in microscopic identification of mold, can usually determine the identity of mold from a physical sample. We cannot rely on the naked eye, or on mold color to identify molds.
The home test kits are also not reliable.
The swab, culture, settlement dish, or simple air sample methods these kits use are fundamentally inaccurate: for example, the spores collected and "grown" in culture using these methods could be dead, fail to grow on the culture medium, and still be and irritant if inhaled. These methods are not a reliable way to determine or characterize a possible mold problem in a building.
Keeping mold in its place
Although mold is needed and always with us, we want to keep mold in its place, preferably outdoors. Wolves are a key part of the food chain too, but we don't want them inside our homes. While we will always have some spores in our homes, the goal is to keep the spores from growing to problem levels.
Prevention is the key
Four things have to be present to have a mold growth:
1. Mold spores
2. Temperatures between 40 and 140 degrees F
3. A moisture source.
4. A food source. This is wood or gypsum board, or that old bread in your bread box.
So, how do we control mold growth?
I. We have said that mold spores are everywhere. So is their food. We can't control those.
2. People are not comfortable in their homes at temperatures below 40 degrees or above 140 degrees, so this is no help.
3. The only thing left is moisture. The best way to prevent mold from growing is to control moisture. This is lucky in a way because controlling moisture is something we want to do in homes anyway.
Mold risk falls into three broad categories:
I. Some mold is harmless, a cosmetic nuisance.
2. Some mold is allergenic to some people, in much the same way some people are allergic to shellfish.
3. "Toxic" mold is dangerous for almost everyone, especially children, old people, and people with respiratory problems or compromised immune systems.
Sources of moisture in homes include:
1. Leaks into or through roofs walls, door, windows, basements, etc. The leaks that come through usually get corrected quickly. The leaks that stay in walls, for example, often don't get corrected because they are not noticed.
2. Leaks from plumbing or heating systems.
3. High humidity from cooking, bathing etc., resulting in condensation.
4. Air conditioning systems, humidifiers, dehumidifiers, sump pits and other places where moisture is commonly present.
A word of caution
People, who are allergic, asthmatic, infant, elderly (immune-impaired, etc.,) should not disturb mold and should not be in the area where mold remediation is being performed. Consult with your doctor, health department or other professional before tackling this job yourself.
Getting rid of a mold problem - Step One - remove the mold
Most molds can be cleaned up easily with soap, water, with a bleach solution. If the mold species is allergenic and present in large quantity, special procedures are necessary to assure that cleanup is performed safely and to prevent contamination of other building areas or contents. Specialists with respirators, skin protection and eye protection should be called in to clean up large amounts (more than 2 square feet) of irritant causing type mold.
Getting rid of a mold problem - Step Two - remove the moisture
Once we get rid of the mold, the next step is to remove the moisture source that allowed the mold to grow. Curing leaks, improving drainage and drying things up are important steps in controlling mold.
Maintenance is important
Don't forget to clean your refrigerator, including gaskets, coils, and evaporator tray. Regular furnace and air conditioning service will help ensure that standing water or chronic moisture is not an issue. Gutters and downspouts should be kept clear and leaks should be corrected.
Disclaimer: ActiveRain Corp. does not necessarily endorse the real estate agents, loan officers and brokers listed on this site. These real estate profiles, blogs and blog entries are provided here as a courtesy to our visitors to help them make an informed decision when buying or selling a house. ActiveRain Corp. takes no responsibility for the content in these profiles, that are written by the members of this community.