Mold is a four letter word that, for some people, strikes fear. Other people could seem to care less (or why else would they let it grow all over their homes). Large examples of mold are pretty easily identifiable for most people but mold can also be more difficult to find. In the photo below would you call this mold?
.I bet you would. If you were standing in this 10x15 room that was completely covered in black mold you would have also noticed several roof leaks. Looking closely, you would notice the black spots are fuzzy. Under a microscope I could see the spores. Really though, at this point it’s too late. Professional mold remediation is probably necessary. The mold problem got this severe because many early warning signs were missed.
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Preventing mold, for the most part, is fairly simple. There are a few main things to look for.
All molds are part of the Fungi Kingdom. If you remember back to high school biology there are five Kingdoms (some would say six) which biologists use to help classify all living things. Fungi have their own kingdom because they are not like plants, animals, or other single celled organisms. Fungi include molds, but also include the mushrooms we eat.
Molds cause two main problems in homes. First, they can destroy wood and cause structural damage. Molds don’t eat like we do. They send out digestive enzymes and actually digest their food outside of their bodies before taking in the nutrients. Molds growing in your home are digesting wood, or some other cellulose material like paper. They could also be digesting the dust lying around waiting for a water leak.
The other main problem with molds has to do with indoor air quality. Molds reproduce and spread to new areas by producing spores that are carried by the air. Nature evolved spores to be spread by the wind. Instead of wind, air from exhaust fans, furnaces, and people walking cause the air movements. As people walk around their homes they disturb molds causing them to release spores into the air. It is these air movements that cause molds to release spores into the air in homes. When people breathe in these spores a whole range of health problems can result. The CDC’s Facts about Mold and Dampness lists coughing, wheezing, nasal congestion, asthma aggravation, and possible infections in immunocompromised individuals.
How do we prevent mold from growing?
It is actually cheaper and easier to prevent mold than to have professional mold remediation. First, look for moisture. All molds must have a source of moisture to survive. The biggest dangers come from leaks. Roofs, basements, and plumbing can all regularly leak giving mold a constant source of moisture. These large leaks can produce the type of ‘larger’ molds seen in the picture above. Don’t let leaks go.
There is another source of moisture that most people do not think about. Humidity. Some molds can use the humidity in the air as their supply of moisture. These molds tend to be found in basements and vents and do not look like the photo above. We usually refer to these molds as mildew. Mildew is a mold that only grows on the surface of things like wood furniture and bathroom wall tile. Humidity is easily lowered through the use of a dehumidifier. RidgeLine recommends that all home owners use a dehumidifier in their basements. We recommend setting your dehumidifier on 50% and letting it run continuously. At 50% relative humidity mold does not grow well.
When looking for mold growth in your home remember that molds need a food source. Check wood framing. If you have a basement, mildew can easily grow on wood furniture and dust. Bathrooms are a great place to find mold because many people do not run their exhaust fan long enough after their shower to remove the moisture from the air. Many attics can have moisture problems which usually come from improper ventilation.
Finally, use your nose. Does it smell musty? If it smells musty then there is probably mold or mildew somewhere. Finding the source of the smell can take some effort. Pay attention to where and when you smell the musty odor and eventually you will find the source.
The mold problems you hear about in the news are extreme examples. Many of the horror examples are houses that were flooded and not dried out or were abandoned for some time. Other examples commonly involve the small percentage of people who are extremely sensitive to molds. Most people are not affected by the small number of mold spores normally in a house. All the hype about mold has led to some over worrying. If you use a dehumidifier, check for leaks, and have no musty smells or chronic health problems then your home is probably good.