House of Horrors - The Day the Mold Spores Spread

Real Estate Agent with RE/MAX Results

I recently toured a home wherein the listing agent referred to the basement as having "slight discoloration" from water damage.  Of course, this is a bank-owned property so I took it with a grain of salt, expecting more than just some discoloration.  Particularly after learning the house had been empty all winter and the pipes had burst in the first-floor kitchen, I knew there had to be more than just "discoloration."  I informed my buyer, who's looking for a "good-deal fixer-upper," and off we went to view the property.

Let's start by saying this listing agent should have her license revoked - there wasn't just "discoloration," there was mold EVERYWHERE in the basement!  It was like entering a house of horrors and all the walls were fuzzy with living organisms.  This wasn't just white or green mold either - this was thick, black mold on the doors, walls, windows, furnace, water heater, everywhere.  It kinda looked toxic and I thought, "Man, they should be handing out gas masks to people before coming down here."  And I don't think it was just a coincidence that my eyes were itchy and watery the rest of the evening.

I tell this story not to gross people out (though that's always fun to do, too!), but to bring up the topic of mold and how every house actually has mold in it - but it's a matter of keeping moisture under control and not allowing the mold spores a chance to land in a moist spot and grow.  There are many types of mold, but none will grow without moisture present.

Some mold basics:

  • Every house has mold; it's a matter of controlling the moisture level in your home.
  • Molds have the potential to cause health problems - allergic reactions are common.
  • Molds produce allergens, irritants, and in some cases toxic substances (mycotoxins).
  • You can never totally eliminate mold spores from your home, but you can keep them from growing by controlling the source of their growth - moisture.

How to get rid of mold:

  • First and foremost, you must address the moisture problem; if you don't, the mold will return.
  • If the area with mold is less than a 10x10 foot space, you can usually clean the mold up yourself.
  • If the area with mold is larger than a 10x10 foot area (such as in the house referenced above), you should hire a professional contractor with experience in mold remediation to perform the job.
  • If you also suspect mold may be contaminating the ventilation system, you should also have an HVAC professional investigate.  In the meantime, do NOT turn on the ventilation system as that will cause more mold spores to be spread throughout the home.
  • If carpet, ceiling tiles or other porous types of material have mold growing on them, they may need to be thrown away, as mold fills in crevices and empty spaces and you'll never be able to get rid of all of it.
  • Avoid exposing yourself and others to mold
  • Do not just paint over moldy surfaces - the paint will eventually crack and peel

If you decide to do the cleanup yourself, be sure to wear a mask, gloves, and eye protection, preferably without ventilation holes.  Scrape the mold off any hard surfaces, then clean and dry the area thoroughly. As mentioned above, porous materials may need to be tossed (unfortunately, no reuse or recycle here!).  If you have furniture, sentimental or valuable items that have been affected by mold, consult a local furniture or other type of restoration professional who is familiar in restoring items damaged by mold or water.

For more information, refer to the Environmental Protection Agency's pamphlet on mold, which can be found at the EPA's web site. You may also call the toll-free EPA hotline at (800) 438-4318 for a free copy of the pamphlet.  If you live in the Massachusetts area, feel free to check my web site for some local eco-friendly partners who may also be able to help you.

Until next time, Peace!



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John Lynch Certified Residential Mold Inspector AZ

Great article...................we have mold issues in Arizona due to rapid growth in higher temperatures when moisture is present for over 48 hours.


John 480-236-9470

Jul 15, 2009 02:25 AM #1
Tim Cahill
RE/MAX Results - Arlington, MA
MBA, EcoBroker

Thanks, John!  What part of AZ are you in? 

I wouldn't normally think AZ would have a mold issue because I think of it as always being dry.  I guess not, huh?

Jul 15, 2009 03:17 AM #2
Lizette Fitzpatrick
Lizette Realty - Richmond KY - Lexington, KY
Lizette Realty, Lexington KY MLS - Kentucky Homes

Hi Tim, thanks for stopping by my blog to comment on my post about meth labs and moldy house foreclosures. This is a great post you have written. I think I will go throw a mask in my car to keep as a precaution for the next time I tour a vacant home! LOL 

Jul 15, 2009 12:28 PM #3
Lesley Burton-Dallas
Turtle Clan Global - Stratford, CT
Environmental Consultant

Mold is a chameleon, it will turn whatever color that the food their eating is. Just because it's black, doesn't mean it's toxic. It must be tested to find out what species it is...CANNOT be done visibly. When I hear about client saying they had a visual assessment and everything was clear, I ask them," How does someone see air?"

There is a 24-48 hour window of time to dry out wet, before mold starts to colonize and turn into a house of horrors.

Thanks Tim for some great insights and accurate info everyone needs to know! And masks are a GREAT idea for you to be wearing if your'e in homes like these. Listen to mommy!

Oct 10, 2009 08:40 AM #4


My sister's home (lower level) has water damage from her AC unit.  Mold started to grow and

now she is having remediation done.  My question is that she is staying at my home while

she cleans hers.  Do I run any risk of these spores coming into my home from her clothes, shoes,

etc???  Thank you.  Sheryl

Feb 02, 2010 04:28 AM #5
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