Is There a Fungus Among Us?
Mold has taken hold! Not that the microbes have reached out and grabbed us, but rather they have captured our attention. A rash of recent high profile media stories have petrified many people with concerns for both their health and finances. While it is true in some situations that variations and concentrations of mold can kill us both physically and financially, in the vast majority of cases mold problems can be remedied simply and economically.
Molds exist naturally all around us. Molds play a vital role in the decomposition of organic waste such as in a compost pile. Other molds are essential in the creation of some of our finest foods, such as wine and cheese. But, when mold growth occurs in an inappropriate place or in extreme concentration, the health of our home and family can be at risk.
All molds need two basic ingredients to grow, food and water. The favorite food of mold is cellulose. In our home, cellulose is a common constituent. Wood, paper, cotton, and drywall are plentiful in construction and are great sources of cellulose. Water is everywhere in our homes, both on the surfaces and in the air.
As the tightness of our homes has increased in response to a desire to conserve energy, the unintended consequence has been the trapping of moisture. The increase in moisture in our homes has in some cases resulted in a relative humidity above the 60% level needed to sustain mold growth in interior spaces. In some cases, the moisture level of the interior spaces is below the mold growth threshold, but the exterior wall cavities retain the required moisture level for rapid mold growth within the walls. To make matters worse, this condition is also perfect for accelerated wood rot and termite infestation.
So what is a reasonable person to do? Much like a physical exam is the first step in a plan for personal health, a home inspection is the first step in a mold survey. The intent of the inspection is to seek out all sources of moisture that may contribute to an environment that is attractive to mold and to visually identify any existing mold colonies. Roof leaks, plumbing leaks, and improper sprinkler positioning are among the more common sources of mold-causing moisture problems. After identification of the moisture source, a reasonable and practical remedy can be prescribed.
Areas with visible mold colonies can be thoroughly cleaned with detergent, followed by wiping with a bleach and water solution. Porous materials such as ceiling tiles and carpet are difficult to clean and often require removal and replacement in all but the most minor of outbreaks.
In most cases, testing to determine mold species is not necessary to solve the problem. If an individual has an extreme or specific health risk factor, testing may be of value in assisting the medical professional in addressing the specific health situation. If the outbreak of mold is extreme, testing maybe wise in ensuring safety during remediation. The choice to test or not should always rest with the homeowner or potential homebuyer, but the decision should be an informed one made with the assistance of an ASHI certified home inspector who has received additional training specific to mold management.
With a basic understanding of the management of moisture, household mold maintenance is simple. Molds have been around forever and will never be gone, and it is good that they are here. But like so many things, too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. Stay informed, but don’t get caught up in the hype. Remember, it’s about knowing!