A Growing Problem

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Men laying new hardwood flooring

It comes in an array of colorswhite, black, brown, greenand often with its own distinct smell. It may be hiding behind the wallpaper or making itself known in the basement. It might be making you sick while you sleep or giving you a headache when you are awake. In one reported case, it even caused a cat to lose its hair.
Its mold, and while it has been around forever, it has become more of a problem in recent years due to the building of more tightly sealed houses. Early detection and cleanup are crucial and, accompanied by a good dose of prevention, can keep mold at bay even in the dampest months.

WHAT IS MOLD?
Molds are forms of fungi found all year round both indoors and outdoors. There are thousands of species of mold, and they can be any color. Many times, mold can be detected by a musty odor. Mildew is scientifically the same thing as mold, and is one of the lighter-colored species.

Mold needs four things to grow: mold spores, organic material, a suitable temperature and moisture. Mold spores are everywhere. Even in an uninfected house, there are about 600 spores per meter of air. You cannot get rid of mold spores completely. Organic material is of course found throughout any house or building in the form of wood, drywall, paper and paint. The suitable temperature for mold happens to be the same temperature that is suitable for humans. Moisture is the one aspect of the environment that can be controlled to make it inhospitable to mold growth.

CAN MOLD BE TOXIC?
Some molds produce toxic substances called mycotoxins. Airborne mycotoxins have not been proven to cause health problems, but the effects of breathing them are currently being studied.

Where theres water
One of the first things to look for if you think you have mold is water. Leaky pipes, windows or doors, damp areas and condensation can indicate a potential mold problem. Eighty percent of all warranty problems in new homes are water-related, says Terry Bradley of Mold Prevention Specialists. If you have a water problem, chances are youre going to have a mold problem. Its common sense. The longer the water problem exists, the greater the chance of mold.

HOW CAN I PREVENT MOLD GROWTH?
Controlling excess moisture is the key to preventing and stopping indoor mold growth. Ventilate or use exhaust fans (vented to the outdoors) to remove moisture. Proper exterior wall insulation helps prevent condensation from forming inside during cold weather.

Is it making you sick?
Walter Carter, president of EAQP Inc. & Inspection Center Inc., frequently gets called in to inspect situations where just one member of the family is sick. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, molds can produce allergens, irritants and toxic substances. Symptoms can include sneezing, runny nose and eyes, skin eruptions and scratchy throat. Mold also can trigger asthma attacks. Not everyone will have all the symptoms, and since not everyone is affected by mold, unaffected members of the household might not agree that there is a problem. However, according to Carter, Ninety-nine percent of the time, its real. If I havent found [the problem], I havent looked hard enough.

HOW DO MOLDS AFFECT PEOPLE?
Most people have no reaction when exposed to molds. Allergic reactions, similar to common pollen or animal allergies, and irritation are the most common health effects for individuals sensitive to molds. Flulike symptoms and a skin rash may occur. Molds may also aggravate asthma.

Recognize the signs
In addition to sickness, a few other signs of mold include an odor, which smells like Grandmas old damp basement, according to Lynn Ractliffe, vice executive manager for Bioremediate.com, LLC. Mold also might appear like a fungus growing or a velvety covering. Since there are more than 200,000 types of mold, this fungus could be almost any color. Basically, if you see it, you should get rid of it, Ractliffe says. It will eventually damage your investment. Molds sole purpose is to degrade organic materials, disposing of things like dead trees on a forest floor. However, that can be bad news inside the home. Mold can eat a house just as quickly as it can a tree.

SHOULD I TEST MY HOME FOR MOLD?
Looking for evidence of water damage and visible mold growth should be your first step. Testing for mold will cost you anywhere from $300-$500, so you should have a clear reason for doing so. In addition, there are no standards for acceptable levels of mold in the indoor environment. When testing is done, it is usually to compare the levels and types of mold spores found inside the home with those found outdoors. If you know you have a mold problem, it is more important to spend time and resources getting rid of the mold and solving the moisture problem causing the moldy conditions.

Take action
If you already know that you have mold, the next step is getting rid of it. Small affected areas of less than 10 square feet can be cleaned without professional help. The easiest method is to use soap and water and make sure the area is thoroughly dried afterwards. The EPA recommends considering throwing away porous materials that have moldy covering because the mold may have grown into the nooks and crannies making it impossible to thoroughly clean. It is a good idea to wear an N-95-rated respirator to avoid breathing in mold or mold spores and goggles to protect your eyes. Gloves also are a mustnot that anyone would want to touch mold with bare hands.

If the mold covers a large area, recurs or is just downright scary to look at, it is time to call in a professional for remediation. A good remediation company will come up with a plan to do the cleanup, letting you know how much it will cost and whether walls will need to be taken down. With microbial and chemical methods, professionals can clean behind insulation, under carpets and behind drywall, as well as on surfaces. Its really just a giant cleanup job with very special chemicals, Ractliffe says. Cleaning is a three-step process and can involve using a HEPA vacuum followed by biocide and phenol to kill the mold that remains and finishing with an antimicrobial treatment. Remediation companies offer guarantees ranging from one to 25 years.

WHAT IS
“BLACK MOLD”?

The news media often refer to black mold or toxic black mold. It is usually associated with Stachybotrys chartarum, a type of greenish-black mold commonly associated with heavy water damage. Not all molds that appear to be black are Stachybotrys, which triggers similar but more severe reactions than other forms of mold, including nosebleeds and flulike symptoms.

Keep it from coming back
Of course, after a remediation, or if you are lucky enough to not have mold (yet), prevention is key. All leaks should be fixed immediately. Keep humidity low throughout the yearless than 50 percent is recommended. Thoroughly clean your entire home twice a year. Any time walls or carpets are washed, make sure they are also completely dried. Dont keep old books and magazines in cupboards; they can absorb moisture. Keep your home well insulated. Regularly clean out gutters, and remove organic materials from around your foundation.

WHO DO I CALL TO DEAL WITH EXTENSIVE MOLD GROWTH IN A BUILDING?
A professional experienced in mold evaluation and remediation, such as an industrial hygienist, may need to be hired to address extensive mold growth in a building. It is important to correct large mold problems as soon as possible by first fixing the source of the moisture problem and removing contaminated materials, then cleaning the surfaces, and finally drying the area completely. If you use outside contractors or professionals, check their references and make sure they have experience cleaning up mold.

Source: The American Industrial Hygiene Association, www.aiha.org and Jeff Gatewood of HumidiPure

The most important thing about keeping mold to a minimum is removing these triggers. Mold spores are ubiquitous, Ractliffe says. Once mold starts to grow and spores spread its like a brushfire. Mold can grow in just 24 to 48 hours.

Probably the most important factor in discouraging mold growth is maintaining low humidity indoors. This can be done with the help of a proper heating and air conditioning system, which needs to be the right size and should run frequently enough not only to cool the air, but also to dehumidify it. Systems with variable speed fans are also a good choice.

In any of its forms, mold is definitely an unwelcome houseguest, and with proper prevention, it can be kept away. But in the event that it has already been invited in, professionals are available to clean it up and return your home to its natural, healthy state and make sure the welcome houseguests are happy and healthy, too.
Jonathan Williams contributed to this article.

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