Monthly Archives: October 2014

The Nature of Mold: From a Mold Inspector’s Viewpoint

Mold Basics

Nature has supplied Earth with thousands of types of fungi in order to break down (or decompose) organic material to its basic carbon form. This contributes to the carbon cycle and since carbon is a main component of biological compounds, mold activity is essential to Earth’s ability to sustain life. Mold does its job well, but unfortunately it continues to work even when we don’t want it too. This can mean big and expensive problems when it affects our homes and our health.

Here’s how mold works: ambient microbes called spores float around in the air until they make contact with a wet surface which they then attach too. Then, the spores begin releasing enzymes which decompose the material. All the while, they are bulking up their decomposing power by reproducing new spores. This process is known as colonization and looks like a fuzzy fibrous growth when it becomes large enough.

But the conditions have to be right in order for mold to grow and it can grow almost anywhere! Mold thrives in dark, warm, and wet places and like all living things, needs food to survive. Our homes are the perfect breeding grounds for mold: the area behind walls, under carpet, in attics, and in crawl spaces provide the perfect dark and warm conditions. Materials such as wood, padding under carpet, and paper backing on drywall are abundant sources of food. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that, “…many fungi grow readily on any surface that becomes wet or moistened.” In fact, WHO also reports that dust and other microscopic components in water alone, provide enough nutrients for mold to grow. In other words, ANYTHING that is wet could potentially grow mold.

Mold growing on personal items

Mold growing on personal items

How Mold Affects Our Homes & Health

Mold and Our Homes

Mold has one main purpose—to decompose. This alone is the basis for the negative effects it has on our homes. Once colonization begins, mold can literally eat away at our homes and weaken or even destroy its structural integrity if left untreated for a prolonged amount of time.

When decomposition occurs on our property, the damage can be expensive and sometimes permanent. It is estimated that mold damage repairs cost homeowners over $1 billion annually which has prompted the spike in pre-purchase home inspections—and rightly so. Hidden building components like wooden studs, the backs of walls, and other structural members can usually be repaired, but the further the extent of the mold damage – the more expensive it is. If you are purchasing a home or new property, a low-cost mold inspection by an experienced mold inspector is worth taking the time to do. If a mold problem is identified, then you can avoid assuming the cost and liability of remediation. On the other hand, if no mold is found then the property gets a clean bill-of-health and you get the peace of mind that your new home and your health won’t be compromised by mold. As the saying goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

Mold growing inside wall cavity

Mold growing inside wall cavity

Mold and Our Health

Mold is everywhere and affects everybody differently. Many people will not experience any health issues when exposed to mold, even at high levels; on the other hand, some experience severe health issues with low levels of mold exposure. Children and the elderly are the most susceptible, accounting for the majority of health related issues. What’s more, people with impaired respiratory or immune health are more vulnerable. Common symptoms related to mold are: inflammations, nasal and sinus congestion, dry cough, wheezing, sore throat, shortness of breath, burning eyes, skin irritation, central nervous system problems, and other respiratory problems.

If you are experiencing any adverse health effects related to the time spent in your home, contact your local mold inspector to assess the property.

Ditch the DIY & Hire a Pro!

To ensure water damaged areas are thoroughly dried and you are in compliance with your home insurance policy, avoid doing it yourself and call a professional!

As an unregulated hazardous material, many Do-It-Yourselfers choose to save money and take on the task of mold mitigation without the help of professionals. In my experience, these DIYers, oftentimes landlords looking to cut corners, tend to overlook an important piece of the mitigation protocol and within a matter of months, guess whose back?! A formal mold inspection with report comes at a very minimal fee, takes less than an hour to conduct, and provides site-specific and industry-driven protocol to remediate the mold problem for good—that value cannot be captured in an at-home mold self-test kit.

Even if you are a DIYer, there are still ways to make sure the problem is gone for good. To ensure mold remediation is completed successfully, have a Post-Remediation Verification (PRV) done before tearing down your contained work area. This PRV protocol is a post mold mitigation clearance inspection and testing service that provides visual and analytical verification that the mold has been removed from all affected areas. In addition, a PRV uses moisture identifying equipment and samples analyzed by an accredited laboratory to assess the air quality and ensure the area is safe for re-occupancy and ready to be rebuilt. Upon the successful completion of remediation, a formal PRV report is given to the client which substantiates its completion and provides the property with a clean bill-of-health.

Swift Action is the Key!

The rate at which mold colonizes varies based on conditions and spore type. Basically, the larger and wetter the affected area is, the bigger the problems will be. The Environmental Protection Agency recommends you, “Act quickly since mold damages what it grows on, and the longer it grows, the more damage it can cause.” They also recommend drying water-damaged areas within 24-48 hours to prevent mold growth—sooner if it is category 3, bacteria-containing sewage water. Promptly addressing water losses could also ensure you are in compliance with your insurance policy. Most policies will cover water damage, but mold remediation could end up being an out-of-pocket expense. To put it plainly, water damaged areas should be dried quickly and thoroughly.

If you are unsure of what to do when you have a water loss in your home, contact a restoration professional in your area. If there is no noticeable water damage on your property, but you are experiencing adverse health effects or smell musty odors, contact a mold inspector. Our team at BuildSafe can provide you with a low-cost, visual mold evaluation and advise you of the best steps to take to ensure your home and health is protected. As an independent third-party consultant, we can also refer a reputable, professional mold mitigation or restoration contractor in your area. A great first step to take is just making the phone call. So don’t wait – phone consultation is free!

Atypical Sources of Moisture to be Aware of:

  • Bathroom humidity from shower—Bathroom fans should be ran while the shower is on to evacuate moisture out of the house. NOTE: Be sure fan is evacuating moisture out of the house and not into unconditioned spaces like the attic or behind walls.
  • Exterior perimeter above sill plate—Water will often infiltrate the horizontal seam where the concrete foundation meets the rest of house if the ground level sits near or above it.
  • Window wells—If water gets trapped in them, it can seep through the seams where the window meets the foundation. Water should be diverted away from window wells, or, the window wells should provide adequate drainage.
  • Condensation—Moisture will accumulate on surfaces that are cold. For example, a poorly insulated door or wall will become cold in the winter and the humidity in a warm home will build up on its surface.

Sources:

Cleaning up After a Flood: Addressing Mold Problems. Environmental Protection Agency, PDF file. <http://www.epa.gov/katrina/outreach/mold.pdf>.

Dampness and Mould: WHO Guidlines for Indoor Air Quality. Germany: Druckpartner Moser, PDF file.