We’re talking about toxic mold, which can spring up behind the walls and under the floors wherever there is a source of moisture. There are more than 200 types of mold, but with and with 1 in 12 Americans affected with asthma or some respiratory illness, mold in the home can severely affect your health – or even cause hospitalization or death in extreme cases. Luckily, if you’re buying a house there are very specific mold disclosure laws in California, and we always recommend you get a thorough home inspection, which should be able to identify potential problem areas. But it can’t hurt to be careful and proactive, so here is a quick primer on the problem of mold in your home:
What is it?
Mold is an organic fungus and part of the natural environment. In the outdoors, mold serves a purpose by breaking down dead organic matter like leaves and dead trees. There are over 200 types of mold and it can come in several colors – like black, green, gray or white. Some molds are visible and give off an odor, but others are virtually undetectable. The most dangerous molds give off mycotoxins, which can cause severe illness. Mold grows where there is consistent moisture or dampness. Therefore, mold growth in houses or apartments is a major problem that could impact the resident’s health and should be taken seriously.
Mold reproduces by releasing its spores, which are invisible to the naked eye but can spread through the air. Mold spores will only grow and spread if moisture is present.
The scary thing about mold in the home is that it can grow virtually detected wherever there is a moisture source and needs only 24-28 hours to appear. Mold can grow at the base of leaking windows, on the back of sheetrock, the top of ceiling tiles, under carpet or flooring, and even take hold inside your heat and air conditioning vents. Bathrooms, basements, anywhere there is a water leak, areas of flooding, and near area where pipes or vents access the outdoors are typical areas of potential mold.
Is mold dangerous?
Mold can be extremely dangerous so should be treated seriously and with the utmost caution. Mold spores produce allergens, irritants, and sometimes mycotoxins, which can exacerbate allergies or health problems or even cause sickness. While most molds are not deadly, black mold and other strains can seriously affect a person’s health or even prove fatal over time. Some molds can take a toll on your health immediately, while others manifest over time.
How can I prevent mold?
Remember the mantra, “The key to mold control is moisture control.” Around the house, look for dripping pipes, leaking plumbing, windows, doors, or areas of the roof that allow water in, or other constant moisture sources.
If you have an area of the home that is prone to moisture, like a damp basement, buy a humidifier to take some of the moisture out of the air. Make sure your bathrooms have good ventilation fans.
Inspect your home inside and out for areas of mold growth, water damage or consistent water access and fix accordingly.
Inside the home, look for wet patches or areas of flooding. While these are often behind the walls or in other areas hidden from eye, there are warning signs. Look for brown or discolored patches on sheetrock or building materials. Look for signs of soggy or rotting walls, woodwork, door and window sills and jams, or ceiling tiles. Of course keep an eye out for drips, leaks, and standing water. Check basements, AC pans and hoses indoors and out, and in or behind appliances like refrigerators, washing machines, or dish washers. Check ventilation registers and inputs for signs of discoloration or dampness. Some mold gives off an odor that’s warning sign – a damp, earthy smell, but other mold is odorless. But remember that mold can only exist with moisture, so thoroughly examine your home with that in mind.
How can it impact my health?
If airborne mold spores are inhaled, which means they can easily affect a person’s respiratory or immune system. People with asthma or other respiratory illnesses usually are most susceptible, and could have problems sleeping and headaches. Other health problems that could develop from mold spore exposure are breathing problems, congestion, headache, severe or increased allergic reactions, asthma, sinusitis, and many kinds of infections. Since mold spores are allergens, they can cause skin rashes (dermatitis,) sneezing, red and itching eyes, throat and lung issues, and other symptoms.
It’s recommended that you hire a professional if you have a serious mold problem or any doubt about its existence or seriousness. But some times there may be small areas of non-toxic mold that you want to clean up proactively. You can buy a simple test kit at any Home Depot or most hardware stores. You’ll probably also want to wear a N-95 respirator, which you can buy for $20 or so. Wear protective rubber gloves and dispose of everything carefully when finished. Most non-toxic mold infestations can be cleaned up by scrubbing with regular household detergent. Some people have used biocides like chlorine bleach to clean up mold, though it should never be mixed with other detergents or chemicals and a proper respirator, gloves, and protective eyewear should be worn. Never just paint or caulk over mold and make sure to keep it away from children.
If in doubt, hire a professional to run the appropriate tests. If mold becomes a significant problem or you suspect airborne spores or are having any health problems, consult professionals.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) provides extensive information in the Molds and Moisture section of the EPA website.
The Center of Disease Control (CDC) offers comprehensive information on mold on their site.
Always get a home inspection when buying a home and pay attention to the seller’s disclosures about mold and water damage.
Mold remediation companies can do a thorough inspection of your home, inside and out, and detect mold in the air by running lab tests. They can also take samples of building materials like walls or ceilings to check for mold. A professional inspection may cost you a couple hundred dollars but may be the best money you’ve ever spent!