My sister-in-law and her new husband are building a new addition to their Kansas City home. Along the dusty path to home renovation, they have encountered a possible mold issue. I wrote this piece a few years ago for San Diego Family magazine; This one’s for you, sista!
When Linda Coffman developed hay fever-like symptoms including sneezing, runny nose, red eyes, and skin rash (dermatitis), she treated her symptoms like any allergy. During a renovation of the Coffman family’s out-dated bathroom, the contractor discovered hidden water damage on the back side of the bathroom’s wallpaper, dry wall and paneling, and advised the family to seek medical attention for any cases of irritated eyes, skin, nose, throat, and lungs which are commonly a result of exposure to mold.
Household mold, a type of fungi similar to mushrooms and yeasts, is no laughing matter. After floods or major leaks, mold spores may land on a damp spot indoors and begin growing and digesting whatever they are growing on in order to survive. There are at least 1,000 species of mold in the United States which grow on wood, paper, carpet, tile grout, and foods. Molds have the potential to cause health problems by producing allergens (substances that can cause allergic reactions), irritants, and in some cases, potentially toxic substances.
“There’s one reason why someone should be concerned about mold,” Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) engineer Bob Thompson says, “and you can sum it up in one word: damage.”
Thompson sees firsthand what mold can do to both your home and your health; “Mold can grow on most of the materials that are used in building a home the top side of ceiling tiles, the underside of carpets and pads, or areas inside walls around pipes (with leaking or condensing pipes), the surface of walls behind furniture (where condensation forms), inside ductwork, and in roof materials above ceiling tiles (due to roof leaks or insufficient insulation). It can use it as a food source,” he reports. “Mold will actually cause a physical change and sometimes chemical changes in these materials, rendering them worthless.”
The EPA advises that investigating hidden mold problems may be difficult and will require caution when the investigation involves disturbing potential sites of mold growth. The removal of wallpaper can lead to a massive release of spores if there is mold growing on the underside. If you believe you may have a hidden mold problem, an experienced professional can help.
Where Are Most of the Common Moisture Spots in a Home? Blame it on Moisture!
Molds can be found on virtually any substance, providing moisture is present. This list is courtesy www.HGTV.com:
- Bathrooms—This room is a major source for moisture in any home, which is why ventilation is vital. Without a vent and fan, the moisture can’t be pulled up and out of the room.
- Windows—Most windows sweat, so it’s important to wipe the moisture from the windows with a mixture of detergent and water.
- Attics—Dark patches of mold can spread under the insulation in an attic when humidity is high outside the home.
- Kitchens—Steam from cooking can produce excessive moisture.
- Soffit Vents—These vents attract moisture from outside the home.
- Small Holes in Walls—Outside moisture can reach the inside of your home through small holes in the walls.
- Light Fixtures—If your ceiling light fixtures aren’t sealed well, moisture and humidity can penetrate your home.
- Vinyl Wallpaper—This type of wallpaper will not let moisture come through the wall as it should normally. It traps the moisture in the coldest part of the wall, which is the surface. This is where the moist air condenses, fueling the growth of mold.
- Leaking Air-Conditioner Systems—A typical air-conditioning system is only designed to do 30 percent of the work in moisture removal. Air conditioners can harbor dirt and moisture, which can lead to mold problems. Tip: Be sure to have your air-conditioning system serviced twice a year—in fall and spring.
- Roofs—If the structure of your roofing system doesn’t eliminate moisture and rain properly, you cannot only see major damage to your roof, but the excessive moisture can lead to mold problems.
- Crawl Spaces—If you have missing downspouts nearby, a crawl space can develop a major moisture and mold problem. Faulty duct work can be the culprit here. This can become a breeding ground for problems right under your house.
- Basements—Usually the most damp room in the house.
How do I get rid of mold?
The EPA recommends that homeowners don’t attempt to clean a mold problem larger than a three-foot by three-foot patch (just less than 10 square feet). Anything larger requires professional assistance.
The key to mold control is moisture control. Mold can grow on wet or damp surfaces within 24-48 hours—dry water-damaged areas immediately to prevent mold growth. If mold is a problem in your home, you must clean up the mold and eliminate sources of moisture. There is no practical way to eliminate all mold and mold spores in the indoor environment; the way to control indoor mold growth is to control moisture. Fix leaky plumbing or other sources of water. Absorbent materials (such as ceiling tiles and carpet) that become moldy may have to be replaced. Wash mold off hard surfaces with detergent and water, and dry completely. Clean and dry all damp or wet building materials and furnishings within two days to prevent mold growth.
The use of a chemical or biocide (such as chlorine bleach) to kill mold organisms is not recommended because bleach can be dangerous when mixed with some other chemicals, and potentially harmful to the environment. The EPA now recommends a mixture of mild detergent and water. The EPA also notes that dead mold may still cause allergic reactions in some people. If you or a family members suffers from an allergy, it is not enough to simply kill the mold, it must be removed.
Tools–And Important Safety Information!
- Rubber gloves that extend to the middle of the forearm (select gloves made from natural rubber, neoprene, nitrile, polyurethane or PVC)—It’s important to have sturdy gloves that have no rips because even the smallest amount of exposure to mold can cause skin irritations or rashes. And be sure to throw the gloves away once you’re through. Don’t reuse!
- Goggles without air holes—The EPA suggests wearing sealed goggles without holes to guard against mold spores coming in contact with your eyes.
- Filter mask (rated N-95 or higher)—To keep from inhaling the spores, it’s vital that you wear a filter mask. The rating of N-95 stands for the percentage of particles that will be captured and stopped from coming through the mask. For example, with the N-95 filter mask, it will capture 95 percent of the particles released when removing the mold. Make sure the mask is comfortable but tight enough to eliminate any air leakage.
- Scraper or sponge—To clean mold from a hard surface such as metal, the EPA recommends a scraper or sponge and a mixture of water and detergent.
- Small drywall saw for removing material that can’t be cleaned—For a porous surface such as drywall or wood, there’s no easy cleanup method. Cut away and replace the material.
If you suspect a larger mold problem lurking behind your cleanup, call a professional. Avoid household mold by reducing indoor humidity (to 30-60%) to decrease mold growth. Use air conditioners and de-humidifiers, increase ventilation in the bathroom, and use exhaust fans when cooking, dishwashing, or cleaning. In areas where there is a perpetual moisture problem, do not install carpeting. Simply put, anything you can do to help prevent moisture in and around you home, the better chance you’ll have to eliminate mold problem.
Who should do the cleanup?
According to the EPA, if there has been a lot of water damage, and/or mold growth covers more than 10 square feet:
- Consult the Mold Remediation in Schools and Commercial Buildings guide. Although focused on schools and commercial buildings, this document is applicable to other building types.
- If you choose to hire a contractor (or other professional service provider) to do the cleanup, make sure the contractor has experience cleaning up mold. Check references and ask the contractor to follow the recommendations in EPA’s Mold Remediation in Schools and Commercial Buildings, the guidelines of the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygenists (ACGIH), or other guidelines from professional or government organizations.
- If you suspect that the heating/ventilation/air conditioning (HVAC) system may be contaminated with mold (it is part of an identified moisture problem, for instance, or there is mold near the intake to the system), consult EPA’s guide Should You Have the Air Ducts in Your Home Cleaned? before taking further action. Do not run the HVAC system if you know or suspect that it is contaminated with mold.
- If the water and/or mold damage was caused by sewage or other contaminated water, then call in a professional who has experience cleaning and fixing buildings damaged by contaminated water.
- If you have health concerns, consult a health professional before starting cleanup.
Get Mold Tips from the National Association of Home Builders
For more information on mold related issues including mold cleanup and moisture control/condensation/humidity issues, write to:
U.S. EPA, Office of Air and Radiation
Indoor Environments Division (6609J)
1200 Pennsylvania Ave., NW, Washington, DC 20460
Ask for EPA Publication #402-K-02-003. This Guide provides information and guidance for homeowners and renters on how to clean up residential mold problems and how to prevent mold growth.