Mold … Disgusting. Unhealthy. Hot buzzword today. But what is hype and what is reality? What is fact and what is fiction? Below we disclose the truth about mold, mold remediation, mold removal, mold testing, mold inspections and everything in between … about mold!
As far as we know, this is the more exhaustive list on mold anywhere! I
Facts about Mold
What exactly is mold? Molds are living microorganisms and forms of fungi like yeasts and mushrooms. Now that we have a basic definition of mold, lets start debunking some common mold myths!
Most of the information you find in the media and internet on “Black Mold” is completely bogus and horribly misleading. The fact is that the color of the mold as it appears to the naked eye cannot tell you anything about whether its toxic or not. This brings us to point #3:
With over 100,000 species, mold comes in about any size, shape, and color you can think of, making it virtually impossible to tell what type of mold you have without a microscope.
While there are over 100,000 species of mold, the good news is that you do NOT need to know what kind of mold you have to eliminate mold growth. All mold is treated in the same way. Since mold is a living organism, it requires food and water to survive. But controlling mold by eliminating food sources is very difficult since mold can feed off building materials, and the tiniest of organic matter like dirt, dust and debris. Thus the best way to eliminate mold problems is to eliminate water problems.
Eliminating mold problems is important because the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that we spend 90 percent of our time indoors, and that the air we breathe indoors is more polluted than the outdoor air. So indoor air quality matters a lot to our health.
Speaking of our health, so called “Black Mold” typically refers to molds that can produce toxins (specifically mycotoxins), such as groups of molds known as Stachybotrys. Mycotoxins will not always be produced when these types of mold are present. To put it another way, the presence of mold does not necessarily mean mycotoxins are present. The conditions needed for mycotoxins to be produced are not fully understood. Further, mycotoxins can be produced by other types of molds besides Stachybotrys and these molds are not always black. But all visible molds, regardless of color, should be removed. (We discuss removal tips in the next section, “Mold Remediation and Mold Removal.”)
Mold is a natural organism that serves many useful purposes in daily life. It breaks down dead organic matter, helps make certain cheeses and antibiotics like Penicillin. Mold only becomes a problem when it is found in elevated levels. Then, mold removal and remediation should be performed.
Molds reproduce by releasing microscopic airborne spores that find their way to a habitable surface. Molds can grow on almost anything, including most building materials such as drywall, insulation, wood, etc. If enough water is present on these surfaces, the mold grows into active colonies and releases spores into the air.
While mold grows most easily on porous organic surfaces such as drywall and unfinished wood, it can also grow on inorganic surfaces such as metal, plastics and glass when organic nutrients such as dust and debris are along with moisture.
You can be exposed to mold by breathing in mold spores or touching and/or ingesting moldy items. And under ideal conditions, active visible mold colonies can grow in as little as one or two days.
There are currently no federal guidelines specifying what constitutes an unsafe level of mold. But if you see visible mold growth or smell it, your environment almost certainly has elevated levels of mold.
If nobody knows how bad mold is, should you care? Yes! A moldy home is unappealing to buyers, and can cause allergies and illness to those living in it. It should be removed or treated as soon as possible.
Studies indicate that 50 – 65 percent of homes have a mold problem.
Tiny amounts of mold are in every breath you take. Only the cleanest environments, such as a sterilized hospital organ transplant room, are mold-free. A home will continue to have low levels of mold even after mold removal and mold remediation is finished.
Some people are not affected by mold. For others, mold symptoms include allergies, fatigue, stuffy head, headache, runny nose, and dry throat.
It is generally agreed that media reports of mold causing severe illness, disease or death are isolated cases that are sensationalized and scientifically unproven.
Everyone responds to mold differently, but certain groups such as the elderly, young children and people with autoimmune disorders are thought to be more at risk for the common allergenic symptoms associated with mold.
Many homeowners’ insurance policies specifically list mold as an exclusion and will not cover mold-related claims. There are insurance policies that will cover mold related claims. You should not assume your policy covers mold. Chances are, it doesn’t. If you want mold insurance, ask for it, and review your policy carefully to make sure you understand what is and is not included.
While mold is a hot buzzword today, it is not the only pollution source impacting indoor air quality. There are many other potential indoor air pollutants sources besides mold, including carbon monoxide, asbestos, radon, lead, chimney, fireplaces and stoves; cigarette and tobacco smoke, pets, construction materials and beauty care products – just to name a few!
Mold Remediation and Mold Removal
If you see mold, you typically don’t need to spend money on tests that identify it. Plain and simple: You need to remove it. All mold must be removed and done so in the same way (as described in the next bullet point), regardless of the type of molds identified from testing.
These are the five basic principles of all successful mold removal and mold remediation projects:
– Protect all workers and occupants.
– Make a preliminary assessment, an assessment during mold remediation and an assessment after mold remediation.
– Prevent cross-contamination and the spread of mold from contaminated areas to areas absent of or with less contamination.
– Physically remove the mold at its source.
– Eliminate the moisture problem that caused the mold outbreak.
These Five Basic Principles apply no matter what type or color the mold, including “Black Mold” as we explain here: The Truth About Toxic Black Mold: It’s Probably Not What You Think
No need to take a wrecking ball to the entire house at the sight of a little mold. Focus your mold removal and mold remediation efforts on the area where the water and mold growth is occurring by removing the mold at its source (e.g. on the drywall) and eliminating the water source.
After mold is physically removed from its source, the air should be cleaned of airborne mold spores using HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air) air scrubbers and air exchange (i.e. replacing dirty moldy air with clean fresh air through simple ventilation or more sophisticated negative air controls for bigger jobs)
When vacuuming and using air scrubbers for mold remediation, the filters used should be HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air). Only HEPA filters are designed to capture particles as small as mold spores. Regular filters will not work.
Mold remediation does not have to be expensive. In many cases, minor mold problems (less than about 10 square feet of mold) in places like a bathroom corner can easily be handled by the home owner with a free weekend afternoon and a few basic supplies from the hardware store. For more information, see Do I need a Mold Remediation Professional?
Mold Remediation Is Not Rocket Science! If a professional mold remediation company is needed, protect yourself from unscrupulous contractors. If someone tries to complicate and confuse you about the process and scare you into hiring them, walk away and say, “Thanks, but no thanks.” There are plenty of good honest mold removal and mold remediation companies out there as long as you are careful, educate yourself about mold remediation, and get multiple estimates.
Proper safety gear should be worn when dealing with mold. A high quality, high filtration face mask is a must, as are vinyl or neoprene gloves. A full protective suit is recommended when using harsh chemicals and for larger mold remediation projects.
Mold professionals seal off the work area, usually using plastic sheeting, so that mold spores do not become dispersed throughout the home.
The spread of mold contamination should be controlled as close as possible to its source.
Mold professionals use “negative air” containment, which is created by positioning blower fans and using air pressure machines to bring clean air into the contaminated space and push contaminated air outside the home.
Mold professionals usually discard moldy porous building materials such as drywall, insulation and baseboards. These materials are relatively inexpensive to replace and difficult to impossible to restore to their previous uncontaminated condition.
Most mold professionals use some sort of antimicrobial chemical to actually clean the mold and mold stains.
Mold professionals often use a sealer or encapsulant to make the treated areas more resistant to water damage and mold, and also to help with odor control.
Sometimes it is necessary to have your HVAC air ducts professionally cleaned since air ducts can collect dust and mold spores. For more information about duct cleaning, please refer to the EPA Publication ”Should You Have The Air Ducts In Your Home Cleaned?”
Some mold remediation companies also do restoration work, just like a general contractor. Restoration can often cost far more than the remediation depending on the style of home, building materials used, etc.
Sump pump failure can result in severe flooding throughout your basement. Flooded basements are very difficult to dry out properly and quickly, which makes them a common area for mold growth. Save time, money, and headaches by investing in a quality sump pump with a battery backup system. It will cost you far less than even just one average basement mold remediation and mold removal job.
Sump pump systems are drainage canals located outside your home that lead to a sump pit inside your home. The sump pump ejects the drainage water to a safe distance outside your home. If your sump pump breaks or fails during a power outage, you’ll have a river of water flowing directly into your home. If you have a basement, having a good sump pump should be a priority.
If basement flooding occurs, you must dry the area out within 48 hours or basement mold will follow. This requires powerful blower fans and dehumidifiers. Lifting up carpeting and cutting holes in drywall might be necessary to properly dry and prevent mold growth. The longer you wait to dry out, the more susceptible you are to a costly mold removal and mold remediation project.
We often see mold in basements caused by seepage, usually from a crack in the home’s foundation. The mold growth is often localized near the crack. Fill all cracks immediately upon discovery or risk having a much costlier problem in the near future.
Homeowners use their basement for storage. Extra boxes are a nightmare to clean up if there is a flood and mold growth. Anything stored in basements, especially valuables or important documents, should sit at least 6 inches off the ground on racks/shelves and 6 inches away from walls.
Finished basements are a nice feature as they add value to your living space. But in most older homes, basements were never meant to be finished. As a result, they often have seepage problems that lead to basement mold growth. If you decide to finish your basement, do it right. It will save you lots of hassle and money in the future.
Many homeowners rarely go down into their basements, which means they seldom open up windows for fresh air exchange and look around to notice any mold or water problems. Even if you use your basement infrequently, be sure to check it regularly for water spots, and air it out to reduce the likelihood of basement mold growth.
We often see basement mold that started from wet, fallen leaves covering the floor drain pipe on an outside stairway leading to the basement. Be sure to keep your back basement stairs clear of leaves or add a drain cover that will help prevent blockage.
Tile flooring in basements is typically a better solution than carpet or wood flooring since it is far less prone to mold growth.
Window wells from a basement are often covered. While this covering prevents rain water from coming in through the basement windows, it also prevents proper ventilation. Buy window well covers that have a ventilation system or remember to take the covers off regularly to air out your basement.
Many common moisture problems with framing are located at joints where two dissimilar materials (such as wood attached to masonry) join each other. Cracks and holes often occur because the materials expand and contract at different rates over time.
Mold Outside the Home
Make sure the dirt around your home is slightly sloped away from your home so water flows away from the perimeter. Water that pools against your home’s outer walls can lead to water seepage and mold growth inside the home.
All gutters should discharge water at least 6 feet away from your home. You will probably have to buy gutter extenders to accomplish this. Sump pumps should eject water at least 20 feet away from your home.
We often see cracks between the concrete walkway around the home and the perimeter walls of the home. These cracks should be filled either with concrete or some sort of caulking or tar to discourage water seepage and mold growth in the home.
Keep the perimeter walls of your home free of wet leaves and debris that can pile up and cause mold growth.
Mold growth on siding can typically be cleaned with a pressure washer and mold killing chemicals from any standard hardware store. Buying them is easy. But be prepared to spend an entire day cleaning mold on siding and exterior parts of the home.
Mold and moss on roofs is often caused by overhanging trees whose constant shade does not allow the roofs to dry out properly. Mold and moss can significantly reduce the life of your roof. Trim those trees regularly.
Make sure you don’t have any drippy hose spouts on the exterior of your home. They can lead to water seepage and mold.
Attic Mold & Crawl Space Mold
Attics and crawl spaces are not technically counted as “livable space” in a home, as very little time is spent in them. “Out of sight, out of mind” is a big reason that crawlspace mold and attic mold is so common. Be careful not to ignore these areas when taking care of your own home or purchasing a new one.
If you have attic mold, you should consider discarding the attic insulation because mold spores will have likely settled on it. However, taking out and replacing attic insulation can be expensive. You’ll have to weigh cost vs. benefit. Many homeowners decide to leave the insulation as-is.
Make sure you have proper insulation and ventilation in your attic, because attic mold problems are difficult and expensive to fix. All those tight spaces and protruding nails make it difficult to work.
Most attic mold problems we see are not caused by roof leaks but by attic (soffit) vents being improperly covered by insulation. Without proper ventilation, moisture gets trapped in your attic and leads to mold growth.
Attic mold and crawl space mold is often caused by inadequate ventilation. As a general rule, ensure 1 square foot of ventilation per 150 feet square of attic floor is needed. For crawl spaces, we recommend at least 1 square foot of ventilation for every 150 square feet of crawl space area. Building codes vary by area so check with your municipality first prior to installing ventilation.
Attics and crawl spaces, like unfinished basements, are often ignored because they are rarely visited. Check on your attic at least once every three months so you can catch any problems early before they get to be too big and expensive.
Make sure plumbing stacks, and vents of any kind (e.g. from kitchen, bathroom, clothes dryer, etc) terminate outside your house, not inside your attic. Otherwise, moisture and hazardous gases in the plumbing vents can build up in your attic, leading to mold growth.
Many homeowners do not even realize they have mold in their attic or crawl space until a home inspector or appraiser tells them when they’re trying to sell their home. Mold has killed countless real estate transactions. Prevent this from happening to you by checking your attic and crawl space at least once every three months.
A vapor barrier on top of a dirt crawl space beneath your home is a must if you want to prevent mold growth. A vapor barrier is usually a thick piece of plastic that covers the dirt under your home.
Mold in a crawl space is as common as in any part of your home due to the high moisture and humidity levels often found in these spaces. We’ve read studies that estimate a whopping 60 percent of homes have mold in their crawl spaces.
You do not need standing water in crawl spaces to trigger mold growth. Humidity levels above 60 percent are enough to cause crawl space mold growth. High humidity levels are very common in crawl spaces even in the absence of flooding.
Make sure there are no holes or cracks in the ceiling of your crawl space. These holes can be a gateway for mold and water transport from the crawl space to your living area since air rises.
In vented crawl spaces, insulate tightly against the sub floor. Secure the insulation snugly with mechanical fasteners. Do not just stuff the insulation up in the sub floor between the joists and hope it stays. Without fasteners, it will likely fall out. The vapor barrier portion of the insulation (e.g. the paper side) should face the heated source, which typically means upward against the subfloor.
Mold and Building Materials
Drywall is basically gypsum dust sandwiched between two layers of paper. Mold loves to feed on this drywall paper. Drywall also absorbs water well. The fact that drywall provides a food source (the paper) and is highly absorbent to moisture, makes it especially prone to mold growth. If you have a flood or other water damage, you must dry out the drywall on both sides—inside and out—or mold growth will occur.
Mold also likes to grow on wood. Keep all wood and wooden framework dry in your home. Pressure treated wood and sealed/lacquered wood is more resistant to water and mold than untreated wood.
If your carpet gets wet, lift it and dry it immediately. Be sure to also dry the carpet pad and the wooden carpet tacking. The first spores often grow on the carpet tack.
Carpet padding should be thrown away after a flood, especially if it has been wet for more than 24 hours. Carpet padding is essentially a sponge that can start to smell badly soon after getting wet. Fortunately, it’s inexpensive to replace.
These days, most baseboards are not made from solid wood, but from a “compression board” that is essentially pressed sawdust held together by a glue product. Modern baseboards absorb water easily, and must either be pulled off and dried immediately or completely replaced when there is a flood. Damp baseboards are like Petri dishes for mold.
Replace insulation that has gotten wet. Insulation absorbs water well and is best to throw away once it becomes wet.
Water usually finds its way into a home through old or improper window caulking and sealing. Window sills and window trim are often water damaged. If the trim is made of compression board, we usually recommend replacing it.
Properly caulking and sealing doors, windows and bath fixtures is essential for moisture and mold prevention. It is important to actively monitor your caulking, at least once/year. This is because caulking cracks with age. Cracked caulking should be replaced.
Double and triple pane windows are much better at insulating—and therefore better at discouraging moisture & mold problems—than single pane. If they are within your budget, we encourage them.
The spray-foam insulation that comes in a can may be ugly to look at, but it’s a good way to plug small air leaks and stop drafts, discouraging condensation and mold.
Kitchen Mold and Bathroom Mold
Small amounts of kitchen mold and bathroom mold can often be found under sinks because of unnoticed leaks.
Using cheaper plastic plumbing materials often leads to an increase in kitchen mold and bathroom mold under sinks, especially in rental units where plumbing fixtures take on more wear and tear by tenants.
If you smell a musty odor under your sink but don’t see any water or mold, you could have a slow plumbing leak behind the drywall.
Kitchen mold can start with food you drop behind the oven or under the refrigerator and forget to pick up. Clean these areas periodically.
Simple bathroom mold in and around your tub is the most common type of mold problem in the home. Most of the time, this mold problem is due to improper ventilation.
Bathroom ventilation is a must for preventing bathroom mold. Run your ceiling vent, open a bathroom window, or keep your bathroom door open every time you shower or bath so it can air and dry out.
People are often extremely frustrated with bathroom mold because no matter how many times they kill it, it keeps coming back. Why? The bathroom is poorly ventilated. Mold will always come back if your ventilation system is not changed.
Simple bathroom mold can be easily treated with over-the-counter mold killer that you buy at any drug or hardware store.
If you have mold in the caulking around your tub, it will probably be difficult to bleach back to its original white color. If this is the case, it is best to strip it off and re-caulk.
Tile around tubs and showers should have a layer of cement board underneath them as their base, not simple drywall.
Mold Prevention and Cleaning Devices
Usually, do-it-yourself home mold kits found at hardware stores do not provide much value. These tests tell you the types of mold you have, but will not quantify the amount of each mold species found. Since mold is found in every home, knowing you have mold is not especially helpful. If you suspect a mold problem but do not actually see it or smell it, these test kits do not help you locate the problem or tell you how serious it is. Rather than spending your money on one of these kits, just remember our simple rule: If you can already see mold, you need to remove it and testing is usually unnecessary.
We highly recommend the use of HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air) vacuums in your home. HEPA filters trap the smallest particles, including mold spores, which collect in your carpets. Only HEPA filters are designed to capture particles as small as mold spores. Regular filters will not work. We think paying a few more dollars for a HEPA vacuum is well worth the money.
Small HEPA Air purifiers are readily available at most hardware stores for around $100 and are usually effective for cleaning the air in small areas. They often remove more than 99 percent of the particulate pollution, including mold spores, in the air they filter.
Industrial strength HEPA air scrubbers can clean an entire house in a matter of a few hours, but they can cost more than $1,000 and are intended for professional mold remediation.
Dehumidifiers can be great for controlling humidity in basements (which can lead to mold), especially in the summer. They cost around $150. You will be surprised by how fast they fill up with water. (For more information on dehumidifiers, HEPA vacuums and HEPA air purifiers, see mold home gadgets.)
The opposite of a dehumidifier is a humidifier. We do not recommend them unless it is needed for a medical condition or in treating illness. We often see humidifiers used in babies’ rooms. This can cause moisture buildup (condensation) on the windows during the winters, which often leads to mold.
A product called DampRid is a non electric dehumidifier that uses pellets (calcium chloride crystals) to absorb excess moisture in the air. The family of DampRid products are inexpensive (a bucket costs less than $10) and can be used to help control areas prone to high humidity levels, such as closets and storage units.
You may have seen a mold inspector or an insurance adjuster use a moisture meter. This device uses a weak electrical current to measure how much moisture content is on a surface. Generally speaking, your walls and floors should have zero moisture content. If the moisture meter indicates that water is present you could have a water problem, and potentially a mold problem.
Hygrometers are inexpensive instruments used to measure relative humidity levels and can be purchased at most hardware stores. We highly recommend them since high relative humidity can lead to mold growth.
Almost every homeowner owns a fan or two. Not only are fans inexpensive, but they are great for moisture control and fresh air exchange – both of which aid in reducing mold levels in the home.
Mold Prevention and Cleaning Chemicals
Bleach can sometimes be used to clean mold, but it is not usually recommended by professionals because it gives off harsh, dangerous fumes.
Most over-the-counter “mold stain removers” contain bleach that is mixed with other chemicals. These cleaners can be effective at cleaning minor mold problems such as those often found in bathrooms.
Killing mold and removing it from the surface won’t stop it from coming back. You must find and fix the water source or the mold can return.
The Environmental Protection Agency recommends cleaning mold off hard surfaces by using detergent and water, and drying completely.
There are many chemical products that “encapsulate” mold. These products are most often used after a separate anti-microbial is applied to kill the mold. The encapsulants act as a secondary layer of mold protection. Like other products these products are mold resistant, not mold proof.
One common method of spreading encapsulating chemicals is “fogging,” which is usually done in tight spaces such as attics and crawl spaces. Fogging is done by putting the chemical in a fog machine and shooting it as a mist that coats surfaces.
Sealing wood and concrete with water-proofing chemicals is also a popular method to prevent mold. Sealed wood is more resistant to water damage and mold than untreated wood. Popular primers such as KILZ and ZAP can be used to seal wood and protect it against water damage. They also help reduce odor.
Currently, there is a popular movement among homeowners, mold professionals, and cleaning professionals to “go green” with natural, biodegradable cleaning products with low VOCs (fumes). In our experience, some of these green products clean mold effectively. But remember: Just cleaning mold will not stop it from coming back. You must stop the water source.
And our #1 Mold Tip is …
Mold may sound intimidating, but the most effective prevention strategy is to keep a clean house with plenty of fresh air exchange, and to be proactive about potential water problems by routinely checking water sources, including those in hidden and infrequently used parts of your home. Always remember, cleaning mold does not stop mold growth. Moisture control is the key to mold control. If you have a mold problem, you must fix the water problem or the mold can return. Don’t be afraid to turn to a reputable professional if the problem seems too overwhelming or big to tackle on your own.