Mold . . . . A Growing Concern

A brief guide on mold and what you can do to help prevent it in your home

Could there be something in your house at this very moment that is endangering the health of you and your loved ones? The answer is yes. Mold is a common problem that results from the improper control of moisture in your home. Molds are microscopic fungi that can live virtually anywhere moisture is present, including wood, paper, carpet, and foods. But what exactly are the health risks of mold? And what can you do to make your home safe? These questions and more will be answered in this deeply informative investigation of Mold: A Growing Concern.

There are many different types of mold, but the health risks are typically the same for all of the types. The most common health risks of mold in your home are for people with allergies and/or asthma. For persons with allergies, mold can cause hay fever-like allergic reactions, including sneezing, runny nose, red eyes, and dermatitis. Inhaling mold particles can trigger an asthma attack with increased difficulty of breathing for individuals with asthma. While these individuals are at the highest risk, everyone is harmed by the hazardous effects of mold. Mold can cause irritation to the eyes, nose, skin, throat, and lungs of anyone. In some rare cases, memory loss or pulmonary hemorrhage, the entering of blood into the air passage of the lung, can result from prolonged exposure to mold. If you are coughing blood or having nose bleeds that are not injury induced, consult your doctor immediately as pulmonary hemorrhage may be the cause.

While serious health risks are rare, it is still a good idea to eliminate the threat before it even has a chance destroy the life of you or a loved one. The easiest way to get rid of mold in your home is to prevent it from entering in the first place. Mold cannot survive without the presence of water, so to control the mold you must simply control the moisture in your home. There are many things you can do in your everyday life to help regulate the amount of moisture in your home:

• The number one thing you can do to prevent water from entering your home is to build the grading up around the outside of your house. This means to create an angle such that the ground, along with the water in the ground, slopes away from your house. Top-soil, easily purchased at most gardening or home maintenance stores, can be used to create the slope needed.

• If you ever find moisture in your home, be sure to dry the area quickly (ideally within 24-48 hours of the moisture being present). Then find and stop the source of the moisture.

• Always use exhaust fans in the kitchen and bathroom when necessary (when cooking, running the dishwasher, showering, etc.). Make sure these fans vent to the outside and not into your attic. Check that your dryer vent also vents outside.

• Use a humidifier or dehumidifier to keep the relative humidity in your home between 30-50%. Relative humidity can be measured with a humidity meter, available at most hardware stores. Without a humidity meter, high humidity can be detected by signs such as condensation on windows, walls, or pipes.

• If moisture condensates in a cold area of your home, raise the temperature of that area. For example, closets are usually colder than the rooms themselves, so if moisture condensates in a closet, it may help to keep that closet door open. Also keep as many doors between rooms open as possible to ensure a good amount of air circulation in your house.

• Be extra cautious with carpet that is on concrete floors as these carpets are at an increased risk for moisture problems. In some cases, it may be necessary to lay plastic sheeting over the concrete (called a vapor barrier), and cover that with insulation, followed by plywood (a sub-floor), and then your carpet on top. The easiest way to carpet a concrete floor without risk of moisture problems is to use area rugs that can be easily taken up and washed often.

• If you have a dirt crawlspace in your home, cover the dirt with plastic sheeting and keep the area well ventilated to prevent moisture from coming up from the ground.

• Clean your gutters and downspouts regularly. Obstructed gutters can cause water to run into your house instead of down the downspouts and away.

No matter how well you control the moisture in your home, there will always be a small amount of mold spores floating in the air and in house dust. It is when there is moisture in your home that these spores grow and become a problem. When the mold in your home gets out of control, you will be able to see and smell the mold. If you can smell mold but you can’t visibly see it, you most likely have a case of hidden mold. Another sign of hidden mold is when you know that there is a moisture problem and people are becoming sick and reporting symptoms like those listed above.

Hidden mold is mold that is present yet unable to be seen. The most common locations of hidden mold are on the back side of drywall, wallpaper, or paneling, the top side of ceiling tiles, the underside of carpets, areas inside your walls around pipes that might have leaked, the area of your walls directly behind furniture, inside ductwork, and in roof materials above the ceiling tiles. If you suspect that your home may have a case of hidden mold, be extremely cautious when searching for the problem. If there is mold growing on the back side of wallpaper, for example, and you peel back a piece of that wallpaper, massive amounts of mold spores will be released all at once. Hiring an experienced professional may be the best way to investigate your home for hidden mold if you feel uncomfortable.

For those of you that like to do-it-yourself, there are a few safety tips to keep in mind before taking on the mold. First, wear goggles when dealing with mold to avoid getting any spores in your eyes. Goggles that do not have any ventilation holes are recommended. Next, avoid breathing in the mold spores. To limit your exposure to the spores, an N-95 respirator, available at most hardware stores, is recommended. Make sure that, if you wear a respirator, it fits properly or else it’s not really doing anything for you. Lastly, wear gloves when handling mold. Long gloves that extend to the middle of the forearm are recommended. Ordinary household rubber gloves are proficient for the job unless you use a disinfectant, biocide, or strong cleaning solution, in which case you’ll want to wear gloves made from natural rubber, neoprene, nitrile, polyurethane, or PVC.

Now that you’re safe, do you know what to do to eliminate the mold? First, find and fix the water problem or else the mold will just grow back when you’re finished. Once you’re confident that the water is under control, you can start getting rid of the mold. Mold growing on hard surfaces can be scraped off with detergent and water. Make sure you completely dry the area after scraping the mold off. As mold can grow on and fill in the empty spaces and crevices of porous materials, such as ceiling tiles, it will be pretty impossible to scrape the mold off of them, so these materials may have to be thrown away and replaced. In areas such as the bathroom tub that are often or always damp, mold control can be a major problem. If the mold in areas such as this keeps reappearing, increase the ventilation (open a window or run a fan) and clean the area more often. This will at least keep the mold to a minimum if not completely eliminate the problem.

Another option to treating the mold in your home is to kill it with biocides. Biocides are chemicals that can destroy living organisms, and a common biocide that you probably have right in your home is chlorine bleach. When using biocides to kill mold, there will most likely be a small amount of background spores left behind, and for this reason the use of biocides is not highly recommended. Also, dead mold can still cause allergic reactions in some people, so the mold must still be removed. If you do feel that biocides are the best option for you, be sure to ventilate the area and exhaust the air to the outdoors. If you have health concerns, consult you physician before starting any cleanup.

Now that you’ve learned a little bit about mold, I’m sure you want to rush out and make your home safe for you and your family. Before you jump in to the job, though, remember the most important fact about mold: water is your biggest enemy and without moisture control you will never have control of the mold in your home. With all of this knowledge you probably think that you can take on any amount of mold, but keep in mind that for a contaminated area of larger than approximately 3ft x 3ft you would be best to call a professional. Also, this guide only provides a brief overview; it does not provide all potential health problems related to mold. I hope this guide has helped you understand the growing concern that is mold. For more detailed information consult a health professional. You may also wish to consult your state or local health department. If in doubt, please call a professional before attempting any mold remediation on your own.

Disclaimer: This report is for informational purposes only and conveys the opinions of the author. This in no way is a comprehensive report on all of the hazards of mold. Sometimes a mold problem is not visible and may only be revealed with a mold test. If you feel that you have a mold problem in your home, you should contact a mold specialist in your area. They will be able to discuss with you the different types of testing available and what the best course of action would be.





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