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Mold authorMold
by Gerry Aubrey of Blue Bell Consulting, Inc.
05-11-2004

The latest feeding frenzy for the television and print news media is mold in your home. It will completely destroy your dream home, make it totally uninhabitable and the only solution is a bulldozer. Sounds pretty scary. Has it happened? Yes. Has it happened often? Absolutely not.

There are a few basic facts about mold you should know. First, your house has it. Every house has it. Molds are tiny plants that facilitate the breakdown of plant and organic matter. Wood, paper, and food fall into this category. Everything you need to know about mold you can learn from a piece of bread. Leave bread in your bread drawer for about two weeks and take a look at it. It will develop a pretty shade of green. What do you do with the bread? You throw it out. This is a miniature case study in mold. You left a food source for mold in a warm dark location with ample moisture. The mold had everything it needed to grow: food, water, and darkness. So, the spores took root and blossomed. In most cases this is penicillium, which is considered less toxic than other molds. However, all molds are considered toxic, and removal is recommended.

It is estimated that one third to one half of all homes have some form of mold growth present in the house. Before you tear down the house and move into a tent in the back yard, let's take a rational approach. Unless you have a strong medical concern from your health care professional that mold is creating a health risk in your house, there is no reason to test your house for mold. If you test, the answer will be yes, you have mold. There are no guidelines for "safe" amounts of airborne mold in the home. Testing will only keep you up at night, and not solve any problems.

The best way to approach mold is to remove conditions that are conducive to its' growth. First and foremost, reduce the humidity in your home. Do not use a humidifier. If not operated properly, they are a health risk. If you read the EPA guidelines on a humidifier, they recommend using distilled water. If your humidifier is running off your tap water, it's not distilled. There are so many problems that an improperly maintained humidifier can create, they do not seem to be worth the risk. Get a hygrometer, monitor your humidity, and keep it below fifty percent in the basement. They say molds grow at sixty percent. Fifty percent is safer, and it's still very comfortable. Get a dehumidifier that is draining constantly. Clean the dehumidifier pan every few days with bleach.

Next, ventilate, ventilate, and ventilate. The vents for the dryer, and the fans for the bathrooms should vent to the outside. Older homes often had kitchen fans that operated on a pull string. They took the cooking moisture outside. If you have one, use it. Be sure to clean it regularly. Every month is usually sufficient. I have seen some that looked like a science project. If you don't have one, open a window slightly when you cook. Be sure your attic has lots of ventilation. A balanced ridge and soffit venting system is best. Never close off attic vents in the winter. You will destroy your house. If your house is above a crawl space, insulate under the floor of the living area, and vent the crawl space. Put a sheet of heavy weight plastic or roofing felt paper over all dirt areas in the basement or crawl space under the house. If you have a basement, insulate the perimeter band joist area of the basement.

Aggressively attack any water source, or source of dampness in your home. Any areas damaged by plumbing or roofing leaks should be dried immediately, and removed if saturated. No water entry in the basement should be tolerated. Keep your gutters clean. Drain your downspouts several feet away from the home, and re-grade so the home is higher than every point at least eight feet away from the home. In many cases, only a few inches of re-grading are all it takes to make the water run away from the foundation. Check all caulking, roof flashings, gutter end caps and seams, and keep them sealed and tight. A roofing professional should check flashings. Homeowners and nonprofessional roofers seem to think that the more roof cement you use, the better the job. Check these areas annually.

If you are thinking, I have a new home, all of this doesn't apply to me, you couldn't be more wrong. You are far more likely to have mold problems in a brand new home than in an older home. Be sure all of the preventive measures listed above are in place and working in your new home. New homes are very tight. This tightness traps moisture in the home, which leads to mold growth. If your new house has a problem with mold, the homeowner, through poor maintenance, is far more likely to be the cause than the builder. I personally would not buy a home with an Exterior Insulation Finished System, (EIFS). This is a stucco system that can work very well. However, the tendency towards human error creating insurmountable problems and mold concerns with the product, lead me to advise new homebuyers to ask for a traditional stucco system instead.

Lastly, if buying a home, don't expect the home inspector to be able to tell you if the home has molds at an unhealthy level. Mold is a health issue. Talk to your doctor about it. Some people with weak immune systems, asthma, or other health conditions, may react to the presence of molds, and others will never know its there. If there are obvious moisture problems such as a wet basement, leaky roof, or visible evidence of plumbing problems, these conditions can create mold concerns, but it's not a reason to panic. Go to www.EPA.gov and you will find all the information you need about molds. Mold grows out of sight more often than in visual areas. Remember the bread. Often, homes will have a roof leak that's repaired. The stained area is painted and forgotten. The mold on the other side of the wall or ceiling is never cleaned off. No home inspector can find every area that may have gotten wet in the history of a house. Mold is everywhere. The chances your home will develop unhealthy amounts of it are very remote. There are many ways to address it short of a bulldozer. Most involve common sense, good maintenance, and checking the home on a regular basis for warning signs. Condensation on windows, a black film in damp areas such as basements, bathrooms, attics, or cold closets, and rust or black rings around nails in the attic are all indications of too much moisture and potential mold problems.


Gerry Aubrey is President of Blue Bell Consulting, Inc. His company has been specializing in home inspection services in Southeastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey areas since 1994. He has been in the construction industry since 1970 and is a Member of the American Society of Home Inspectors. Visit his company website at www.homeinspect1.com, send him an E-mail, or call his office at 1-888-336-B-E-L-L (2355) for more information.

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