Watch out. Mold, like spring, has arrived, and it thrives on wet or damp surfaces. Too much rain or overwatering your yard when planting can be a breeding ground for mold spores that spread onto surfaces of homes and into the air. Fortunately, in recent years, there has been an increase in professional products that treat mold effectively and do far less damage to walls, floors and ceilings of a structure by allowing the mold to be lifted off more gently.
Caution! This is not a DIY project since the wrong steps and materials may aggravate the problems on your surfaces as well as hurt a homeowner’s health. Instead, mold needs to be spotted, confirmed by taking samples and removed by a specialist who uses commercial products. Often, those found on hardware and big box shelves simply remove stains and discoloration rather than the mold itself. We talked with Peter Duncanson, an expert in the field of disaster restoration and Director of Commercial Operations at ServiceMaster Restore, based in Memphis, TN. Peter shared the following do’s and don’ts on mold.
Most common signs. Mold, an allergen, triggers musty odors that may cause a headache, coughing and sneezing. "These may be the initial signs," says Duncanson. In the worst-case scenarios, the mold may trigger more serious health problems, especially for those with respiratory and allergic reactions. Visual signs are another clue that mold is lurking and may present as discoloration from blue to green and black colors on those surfaces where it most frequently shows up – and on organic fibers such as wood, canvas, leather, paper. All are hosts that promote mold growth.
Where it’s most prevalent. It could be a baseboard, sill plate, or pipe where there’s a leak if it wasn’t sealed properly, or a poor vent or no vent in a bathroom where moisture develops. Certain rooms tend to have more mold than others such as basements and attics because of stagnating conditions, as well as bathrooms, and also exterior walls. The key to preventing mold is to eliminate the growing conditions it feeds on. Begin by increasing a room or area’s ventilation and decreasing its humidity with a dehumidifier and fan. The next step is to determine the cause of the moisture. Has a pipe leaked? Are there foundation cracks allowing moisture to get in? Is condensation forming on windows? Has the basement flooded recently during a storm? Mold prevention requires finding the source of the moisture, repairing the issue to eliminate further water damage, reducing the humidity and inhibiting the growth of additional mold, Duncanson says.
Presence of pests. Pests and mold may show up in the same place. A downspout outside the home that’s not draining away from the home, but toward it, could be a breeding ground for mold and a place where ants show up since they like wetness.
More regional occurrence. Mold is more common in the South and East where there’s greater moisture and humidity. It’s less common in the Southwest where it’s dry, but it can occur due to other factors such as a leaky pipe or roof.
Most effective strategies. DIYers can certainly try to curtail mold by sealing openings to the outdoors so moisture doesn’t get in and using a dehumidifier and fan in rooms that are damp such as a basement. But once mold develops, the average home owner doesn’t have the tools to stop the spores from spreading. Bleach, which some think will work, takes away the stain and discoloration but not the underlying problem. To get rid of mold permanently, you need a professional trained in remediation or water and mold removal to get it out before it spreads or causes damage, Duncanson says.
When damage is severe, a portion of a floor or wall may have to be cut out and replaced. Before doing so, industrial hygienists take air samples that they send to a lab for confirmation. The good news is that mold grows slowly taking 48 to 72 hours for significant development, unlike bacteria which doubles in number every 15 minutes. A spot the size of a quarter probably grows for several days or weeks, not overnight, Duncanson says. The key is to determine where the moisture is coming from and fix that!
Cost of eradicating it. A typical industrial hygienist might charge between $500 and $800 to sample the air where mold is suspected. To remove an area the size of a quarter might cost another $500, but the charges may increase exponentially for much larger areas.
Home inspection. Not all home inspectors will catch the presence of mold especially if it’s early and there’s no discoloration. Before selling or buying a home, you may want to consider having a remediation expert sample the air in various rooms like bathrooms and the basement to see whether there’s mold. Few buyers want to purchase a home without having the seller correct the problem.