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ALL ABOUT MOLD

 
     
Mold in Your Home  
  Mold plays an essential role in our outdoor ecosystem. Without mold, we would find ourselves wading neck-deep in dead plant matter. And we wouldn't have great foods and medicines, such as cheese and penicillin. However, problems arise when mold starts digesting organic materials we don't want them to, like our homes.  
     
What are molds?  
  Molds are microscopic organisms that produce two things:
1. enzymes to digest organic matter, and 2. spores to reproduce.

With more than 100,000 species in the world, molds can be found literally everywhere. Molds are part of the fungi kingdom along with mushrooms, yeast, moss and mildew. In nature, mold plays a key role in balancing the ecosystem by decomposing and digesting leaves, wood, plant debris, and virtually any other natural or man-made organic materials.

When defining mold it is important to distinguish between mold growth you can visibly see on a surface, and mold spores that cannot be seen with the naked eye but are ever-present in the air. The mold you can see growing on the surface of construction materials can cause property damage. The mold spores you cannot see floating in the air can cause people damage.

Mold spores are regenerative cells surrounded by a very tough coating that can survive detergents, chemicals, bleach and extreme temperatures. Invisible to the natural eye, mold spores typically require between 400 and 600X magnification to identify. It is has been said that 250,000 mold spores can fit on the head of a pin. A visible patch of mold the size of a quarter can represent literally billions of mold spores.

Molds reproduce by releasing spores. Airborne mold spores are literally everywhere - all the time, continually floating in and out of the buildings we all live and work in. Generally speaking, every day levels of mold spores floating in and out of buildings is not a problem unless there is dampness somewhere in the building. When airborne mold spores come in contact with wet or damp construction materials, such as wood, drywall, cabinets, carpet, etc. they colonize (settle). When mold spores colonize on a surface they can grow and spread rapidly, significantly multiplying indoor spore levels, giving off a variety of odors, and exhibiting hundreds of different colors and textures.
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Where can I find mold?  
  Molds thrive in warm and humid conditions, but you can find them year-round in virtually every type of environment, both indoors and outdoors. You'll find them outdoors in shady, damp areas and places where leaves or other vegetation is decomposing. Indoors you will find them in basements, showers, sink cabinets and in other areas where humidity levels are high or moisture intrusion has occurred. It's worth noting that you can use the terms "mold" and "mildew" interchangeably. Mildew is often applied to growth of fungi on fabrics, window sills or bathroom tiles, however, mold, mildew, moss, and mushrooms are all just different variations of the same thing - fungi or fungus.

People who live near the ocean or in areas where it rains frequently often assume that mold simply comes with the territory. People who live in dry desert areas assume they could never have mold problems. While both assumptions may likely be true outdoors, geography has nothing to do with indoor mold growth. Any time mold is growing indoors it is because something got wet.
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How does mold grow in my home or workplace?  
  Once mold spores settle in your home, they need moisture to begin growing and digesting whatever they are growing on. As long as there is no dampness, excessive humidity, or other of source water intrusion, indoor mold growth should not occur.

There are molds that can grow on wood, ceiling tiles, wallpaper, paints, leather goods, clothing, furniture, carpet, drywall, and insulation. When materials get wet or damp because of high indoor humidity, which is often caused by indoor humidifiers or excessive moisture in concrete slab, roof leaks, plumbing leaks, flooding, etc., conditions are often ideal for indoor mold growth. Indoor mold growth can also occur from sprinklers contacting exterior walls over time, or from standing water next to or under the structure. Realistically, it is almost impossible to rid all airborne mold spores from an indoor environment, however, you can prevent mold from growing indoors by controlling moisture.
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How can I be exposed to mold?  
  Illness from mold exposure can only occur one of three ways; 1. through absorption into the skin, 2. ingestion, or 3. inhalation. While it is never good to have mold growing indoors, if it is, you are not necessarily exposed to a health risk just because its there. Nobody gets sick looking at mold on a wall. But when molds are disturbed, their spores may be released into the air. You then can be exposed to the spores through the air you breathe. Also, if you directly handle moldy materials, you can be exposed to mold and mold spores through contact with your skin. Eating moldy foods or hand-to-mouth contact after handling moldy materials is yet another way you may be exposed. Other than small child who doesn't know any better, most people would not intentionally touch mold or knowingly ingest it. But disturbing mold can easily send billions of spores the air and create an immediate health risk in an enclosed indoor environment.

How is mold disturbed?
An action as simple as cleaning mold that is growing on a surface will send spores airborne. Other ways include:

  • scraping or scrubbing mold off of moldy surfaces
     
  • demolition or tear out of mold contaminated construction materials
     
  • vacuuming moldy carpet (conventional vacuum cleaner bags do not trap mold spores - they blow them through the bag and into the air)
     
  • running a furnace or air conditioner with mold in the duct work
     
  • running fans in rooms where mold with contaminated materials
     
  • opening doors an windows when a house smells like mold. If a strong breeze is blowing through it can stir up a lot of settled mold spores into the air.
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How do I know if I have a mold problem?  
  You may have seen white thread-like growths or fuzzy blue-green clusters or small black specks on surfaces in your house, or smelled a "musty" odor. Obviously, if you see mold or smell mold indoors, you have a mold problem. However, you can't always rely upon your senses to tell if you have a mold problem. Hidden mold can be growing inside wall, floor, or ceiling cavities long before being detected.

Remember that all indoor mold growth is caused by some form of water intrusion. Have you ever had a flood, a toilet or bath tub overflow, a roof leak, a slab leak, a plumbing leak, a hot water tank leak, or even a freak accident like a fish tank break open? Does water pool under or next to your house. Has water from sprinklers been spraying on the building for a long time? All of these things are what causes indoor mold problems. If you answer YES to any of them, it is possible that you have a mold problem.

Common places to find mold are in areas where water has damaged building materials and furnishings. Mold can also be found growing along walls where warm moist air condenses on cooler wall surfaces, such as inside cold exterior walls, behind dressers, headboards, and in closets where articles are stored against walls. Rooms with both high water usage and humidity, such as kitchens, bathrooms, laundry rooms, and basements are often havens for mold. If you notice mold or know of water damaged areas in your home, it is time to take action to control its growth. It's time for a professional mold inspection.
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How can I control mold growth in my home?  
  Fix any moisture problems in your home:
  • Stop all water leaks first. Repair leaking roofs and plumbing fixtures. Move water away from concrete slabs and remove water from crawl spaces. Redirect sprinklers that spray on exterior walls. If you're not sure about current or previous water intrusion sources, have a mold inspection and moisture assessment done by a Certified Mold Inspector.
     
  • Increase air circulation within your home, especially along the inside of exterior walls, and ventilate with fresh air from outside. Provide warm air to all areas of the home. Move large objects away from the inside of exterior walls just a few inches to provide good air circulation.
     
  • Install and use exhaust fans in bathrooms, kitchens, and laundry rooms.
     
  • Ventilate and insulate attic and crawl spaces. Cover earth floors in crawl spaces with heavy plastic.
     
  • Clean and dry water damaged walls, cabinets, carpets, clothing, bedding, upholstered furniture within 24 to 48 hours, or consider removing and replacing damaged furnishings.
     
  • Invest in high quality Heppa vacuum cleaner bags. Vacuum and clean your home regularly.
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How do I clean up mold?  
  The time you are most likely to stir up spores and expose yourself and other occupants to potential health risks is the very time you are trying to clean up your mold problem. That's when you need to be the most careful.

First, try to determine the extent of the mold infestation. If you are absolutely certain that the affected area is small and well-defined, you can do the clean up yourself, as long as you are free of any mold allergies or health problems. However, if you cannot be certain whether or not the mold problem is extensive, such as between the walls or under the floors, you should leave clean up to a professional.

The best money you will spend before hiring a mold remediation contractor is having an independent, third-party, certified mold inspector conduct a mold inspection and moisture assessment. For more information click here.
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