Mold and Humidity
Mold is a type of fungus that thrives in moist environments. Mold spores are harmless in small quantities. However, larger infestations pose more serious threats, as we’ll soon see.
What is Mold?
You can find mold on just about any surface that holds water, including wood, carpet, furniture, food and clothing.
As a living organism, mold eats whatever it grows on. That is why it is important to address the problem as soon as it occurs. Otherwise, you may be facing damage to flooring, furniture, drywall and framing.
Mold can be black, blue, green, yellow, white or brown. You can identify mold by its fuzzy or slimy appearance. Mold may also appear as white, gray or black powdery fluff on the surface of an object.
Where Does Mold Come From
Mold can appear on nearly any surface when moisture is present. Excess water from humidity, condensation and leaks create the prime conditions for the growth of mold.
How Mold Spreads
The fungus begins in a single spot and spreads outwards. Mold spreads to other areas when mold spores become airborne. The HVAC unit carries the spores to other areas of the home through the air ducts.
Dangers of Mold
Mold spores can trigger a host of unpleasant health problems. There is evidence that mold exposure can cause upper respiratory tract issues such as coughing, sneezing and wheezing in otherwise healthy individuals. Additionally, mold can aggravate allergy symptoms and trigger asthma attacks.
Dry rot is a term that contractors use to describe wood damage caused by mold. The term dry rot refers to wood that has deteriorated and decayed due to mold infestation. When the wood deteriorates, ultimately, the safety and structural integrity of the home suffers. You can spot dry rot easily as it tends to crumble in your hands. It may also puncture easily if you poke at it with a screwdriver.
Damages Carpet and Furnishings
Wet carpet and furnishings can begin to develop mold in as little as 24-48 hours. Mold spreads quickly. The longer you take to address the problem, the worse it gets. Ultimately, you may end up needing to replace the carpeting.
What is Humidity?
You may associate high humidity with a damp and muggy feeling in the air on a hot day. Humidity is a term that refers to the amount of moisture in the air. As water evaporates and condenses, it rises into the air as water vapor. The more water vapor in the air, the higher the humidity.
Why Humidity is Important
Humidity serves an essential purpose in the atmosphere in that it is vital to the water cycle. As water vapor rises, the excess moisture eventually condenses and forms rain. The rain is nature’s way of providing the essential water needed to sustain life.
How Humidity Leads to Mold
Excess water in the air tends to settle on surrounding surfaces. If not removed, that water becomes the perfect breeding ground for mold.
What to Do About High Humidity
Ideally, the humidity level should be between 30-50%. You can check your humidity level using a tool known as a hygrometer. If your humidity level is too high, a dehumidifier can help.
A dehumidifier is a device that draws moisture out of the air. A fan in the dehumidifier pulls air from the surrounding area into the unit. As the air passes through the unit, the dehumidifier’s coils remove the water vapor from the air. The excess moisture drips out of the unit into a drip pan or reservoir.
Tips for Controlling Mold
Awareness and proactivity are crucial to controlling moisture and preventing mold. Although it is a common problem, there are things you can do to minimize the chances for mold damage.
Controlling Mold in the Kitchen
You can control moisture in the kitchen by using an exhaust fan when cooking or washing dishes. Be sure the fan vents outside the home and not the attic. Venting to the attic will simply move the moisture from the kitchen to another area where mold can grow.
Clean up and fix any leaks right away. Common areas to check regularly include the kitchen sink, the ice maker and other water sources.
Controlling Mold in Bathrooms
Bathrooms are highly susceptible to mold due to the moisture from the shower, bathtub, sink, and toilet. As such, avoid carpeting in the bathroom. Instead, opt for hard flooring.
Showering with the window open will help prevent steam from building up in the bathroom. Lastly, remove damp towels as soon as you are done using them. Leaving them in the hamper, on the floor or hanging for too long invites mold.
Lastly, regularly inspect for and repair leaks around the tub, shower, sink and toilet.
Controlling Mold in the Basement and Crawlspace
Check for and repair leaks in the basement floor. Also, if you plan to install carpeting, check with a contractor on proper procedures. You may need to put down extra protection underneath the carpet to prevent moisture from seeping into the carpet.
Your crawl space usually is not protected by any sort of flooring. As such, the dirt in the crawlspace could soak in water from rain or from leaks in the floor above. Install plastic sheeting on the ground to prevent water from seeping into the ground.
What to Do if You Have a Mold Problem
Not all mold problems are serious. You’ll need first to identify the source of the problem. Next, assess the severity of the issue to determine if you can fix it yourself or if you’ll need to hire a professional.
Identifying the Problem
Visible signs of mold are the most obvious way to spot a problem. You may notice black spots on affected surfaces. The mold may also be white with a fuzzy appearance.
Another tell-tale sign is an odor. Mold tends to have a musty odor. Even though you may not see it (as is the case underneath carpeting), you may still smell it.
Areas of water damage are another sign you may have a mold problem. Discoloration or water spots on the ceiling or drywall could be an indicator of a mold problem. You may also notice the paint or wallpaper peeling.
If you’ve had past water leaks or flooding, chances are there is at least some mold damage somewhere. Remember, you may not always see the problem. That is why it is important to have a professional examine the area to determine if there is mold present.
Given the health problems mold causes, you may notice an unusual increase in allergy symptoms. Additionally, you may experience excessive sneezing, coughing, runny nose, sinus headaches or itchy skin.
What to Do Once You’ve Identified a Problem
The first step in dealing with mold is to identify and fix the source of the problem. Fix leaks, remove any standing water or install a humidifier if needed. Next, remove any items affected by mold, for example, carpeting, furniture and drapery. Wrap these items in plastic before removing them, as you don’t want the mold to spread as you remove the items from the house.
The next step is to clean the area. In cases where the damage is minor, you may be able to clean the area yourself. First, seal off the area to prevent spores from spreading to other areas of the house. After you’ve removed the affected items, use a shop vac to remove excess debris.
Next, use a mixture of ½ cup bleach to 1 qt. Water to scrub the affected area. Scrub the area until visible signs of the mold disappear. Allow the surface to dry. Don’t rinse the area as you’ll only draw more moisture and reintroduce the problem. Lastly, you’ll want to use a dehumidifier and a fan to dry the area thoroughly.
Why Hire Professionals for Mold Remediation
While these tips are useful for minor damage, it is a good idea to hire a professional for mold cleanup. Although you may get rid of visible signs of mold, there could be leftover spores that you may not see. A professional has the equipment and products to remove all mold safely. Removing mold properly is essential to avoid reinfection.
How the Pros Handle Mold
The first step in professional mold remediation is containment. The professionals use specialized air chambers and physical barriers to contain the mold to one area and prevent infecting other areas of the house. Next, is air filtration. Filtering the air using HEPA vacuums captures the mold spores out of the air. Depending on the severity of the problem, the company may need to remove all infected items such as furniture, carpeting and drywall. Lastly, the company will deep clean any items that can be salvaged and restored.