Mold is a 4 Letter Word
Mold is a four-letter word in most people’s minds. A sub-group of the Fungi Family, molds are essential to our daily lives. Fungi help break down garbage and debris and are an invaluable part of our ecosystem.
With other Fungi family members, molds are essential to our food chain and manufacturing. The most famous mold of all, “Penicillin,” is responsible for the birth of modern antibiotics.
Unfortunately, Fungi do not differentiate between what we consider beneficial and destructive. Some molds destroy the building materials and contents of our homes. While not doing extensive damage, others can cause severe allergic reactions and contribute to other issues in those with compromised health. Most mold allergies fall into the “hay fever” category; although annoying, these are not usually considered serious.
How do I know if I Have a Mold Problem?
First, most mold will be visible in bathrooms and kitchens, basements, and garages around and behind stored items or the corners of cabinets where small moisture leaks have occurred. These fungi are usually easy to clean up and are part of the typical housekeeping process.
The problem comes when mold grows in areas that are not readily accessible such as attics, crawl spaces, behind large appliances, or inside walls. Signs of hidden mold may be a musty smell, or it may be discovered after moving appliances, cleaning cabinets, or more often during a home inspection. The surface molds less than ten square feet and on a hard surface can usually be cleaned up with soap and water without further evaluation.
Your inspector may test for visible mold by taking a swab sample and submitting it to a laboratory for identification. A swab test will only identify the visible mold and may not indicate if other molds are also present. However, further testing will be required for peace of mind to know what different kinds of mold are present, either visible or hidden.
Air sample testing is the best test to determine what molds may be present. The lab report will include information about detectable mold spores and their comparison to the control sample. The laboratory report will identify whether the mold is destructive or harmful to the home’s residents.
We have found significant mold problems in homes that did not have a visible problem and surprisingly low levels of mold spores in homes suspected of infestation. The bottom line is the only way to know for sure is to have the home tested by an IAC2 certified inspector. In our opinion, it is best if the company testing for mold is not the company remediating the problem. A follow-up test is always recommended after remediation is completed.
What is Mold?
Mold and all Fungi family members require a food source, moderate temperatures, and moisture. To control fungi controlling the food source is hopeless because fungi thrive on almost everything in our environment. Temperature is not an alternative either because molds can grow in temperatures as low as 30 degrees or as high as 160 degrees. That leaves moisture control as our only viable alternative to controlling mold growth.
You can not eliminate all mold in your home. Medical laboratories have to go to extreme measures to eliminate mold. However, you can control the moisture that all molds must have to live and reproduce. Some favorite hiding places for molds are behind major appliances and kitchen and bathroom cabinets, where water is often available. As a side note, mold is asexual, meaning there is no male or female mold.
How does Moisture affect Mold
Moisture levels as low as 20% in building materials or furnishings and humidity levels above 60% make mold growth possible. Unless the source of the moisture is removed, the mold will grow back. Removing the mold does not solve the problem because mold spores are in the air and on every surface in your home, just waiting for the moisture to return so it can grow.
A straightforward solution is simply wiping up condensation around windows, although eliminating the cause of the condensation is preferred.
Mold can grow in as little as 24 to 48 hours under ideal conditions. So major water leaks or spills must be cleaned up and dried out as soon as possible. When dried quickly, most moisture problems can be controlled. In the unfortunate event of a flood or flooded basement, wall coverings may have to be removed, and commercial drying methods may be required.
Humidity levels above 60% are conducive to mold growth. The use of dehumidifiers and proper ventilation will help control this humidity. Bathroom and kitchen fans help remove humid air from homes. Dryer ducts should be as short as possible, smooth metal, and cleaned regularly to help remove moisture and reduce the chances of a dryer fire. Central and window air conditioner units will also help lower the humidity levels in your home. Either the moisture problem is resolved, or the mold will return.
How to Prevent Mold
Prevention is usually the best offense. Avoid placing rubber or foam-backed carpets on concrete or tile floors without testing for moisture. The standard home test is to tape a 12 x12 inch piece of aluminum foil on the concrete surface to be tested for 24 to 48 hours. If the surface under the foil is dry, it will be safe to place your carpet there. If not you, should consider an open weave product that will allow the moisture to move on through.
In the case of mold, you should avoid giving it the added advantage of a place to hide. Check nooks and crannies in cabinets and vanities and pay special attention to items stored in basements and garages left unattended for an extended period.
Often the mold is surface mold on window sills or other hard surfaces such as bathroom tiles. Removing surface mold is easy with soap and water. It doesn’t matter how you remove the visible mold if you do not remove the moisture. Many sources recommend using bleach or other harsh chemicals such as hydrogen peroxide. Although practical and often used by commercial mold mitigators, these harsh chemicals are not necessary for most home cleanups. Remember, mold spores are everywhere, just floating around, looking for a place to call home.
When to Call a Professional
Home owners with simple cleaning tools can handle most mold problems. Surface mold is easily removed with soap and water, but how about a severe mold problem? The EPA suggests a professional mold mitigation company handles areas of 10 square feet or more (about 3 feet by 3 feet). Hidden mold may require professional destructive methods. If flooding is involved, destructive measures such as removing the first four feet or all of the wall covering material may be necessary.
Mold can stay dormant for long periods. Because of this, it is essential to remove all water-damaged material. Materials exposed to sewage backups or flood waters should be disposed of properly.
Proper Protective Gear for Cleaning up
For homeowners doing small cleanup jobs, readily available items such as long sleeve rubber gloves and face coverings such as N95 masks should be sufficient. As always, common sense rules. Simple wiping will probably be enough if the mold is on a solid surface. However, if the mold becomes airborne when disturbed, you may want to use a spray bottle to settle the dust before cleaning up.
Some porous surfaces, such as ceiling tiles, may have to be discarded. Extra care is needed when dealing with ceiling tiles because of the added risk of contamination on the unseen side.
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