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5 Frequently Asked Questions About Black Mold

Thursday, October 17th, 2019
black mold

Though there are approximately 20,000 species of mold, only about five are commonly found inside structures. One of these species, Stachybotrys chartarum, is also known as “black mold.” It’s not the most common type encountered inside houses, but black mold has a reputation for triggering particularly problematic symptoms in certain people exposed to it. Here are five questions and answers about Stachybotrys chartarum to clear up some confusion surrounding it.

  • Is black mold always black?  No, it may also appear dark green or gray. Conversely, other types of more common mold that may appear black are not the Stachybotrys chartarum species.
  • Does black mold occur more frequently inside houses than other mold?  Actually, the reverse is probably true. Stachybotrys chartarum tends to require more moisture to proliferate than most other common mold types. Therefore, it is most likely to be found only in more chronically wet indoor settings.
  • Is there something about black mold that makes it especially toxic to humans?  For individuals with a sensitivity to mycotoxins contained in airborne mold spores, black mold is associated with a wider range of reported physical symptoms than other types of mold. However, the severity of reactions to black mold spores also depends upon the extent of contamination inside the home as well as the duration of exposure. Individuals who are not sensitive to mold mycotoxins may not experience symptoms from black mold exposure.
  • Is black mold contamination more difficult to remove than other types?  No, the same basic mold removal techniques are involved: First, eliminate the source of moisture that triggers active mold growth. Then, test to confirm the type of mold present on the premises. Locate all active mold growth and physically remove it. Disinfect surfaces where mold existed and remove any materials that are permanently contaminated. Follow up with later air sample testing to confirm decontamination.
  • Are physical symptoms caused by black mold permanent? For most people who experience a reaction to mold exposure of any type, including black mold, symptoms will gradually disappear when professional mold remediation techniques are utilized to remove contamination inside the house. 

4 Reasons to Avoid DIY Mold Removal

Thursday, October 10th, 2019

Mold growth can occur almost anywhere under the right conditions. Dormant microscopic mold spores are ubiquitous in nature, both outdoors and indoors. In fact, you’re probably inhaling a small concentration of spores right now. So, if mold is such a common event, why not just handle it yourself?

Actually, small outbreaks of mold growth in common spots like a shower stall or underneath a kitchen sink aren’t a big deal and respond well to a DIY approach with off-the-shelf disinfectants. However, when more widespread contamination—or the conditions that inevitably trigger it—exist, professional mold remediation is usually necessary.

Here are four examples of why you shouldn’t handle mold removal yourself.  

  • Contamination is time-critical. When mold growth conditions are present, such as indoor water damage, the consequences become dire in a very short time. Mold activates and begins releasing airborne reproductive spores within 24 to 48 hours after exposure to water. Confronted by the aftermath of water damage, few homeowners are prepared to take the steps required to interrupt the sequence of contamination in that short time frame. Rapid professional intervention is vital.
  • You don’t know how much there is. Mold spreads and active growth is often not limited to a single occurrence. Every house is different. To evaluate the extent of contamination, mold remediation specialists take air samples and count the captured spores. This important calculation provides a basis for a treatment plan to deal with the specific circumstances in each home.  
  • Mold type matters. “Mold” is a generic term applied to a wide range of fungal growth. Some things that look like mold, actually aren’t. Certain types of mold growth are more likely to be toxic to some persons while other types are relatively benign. Because it’s important to know what kind of mold is present, mold remediation specialists physically sample active growth and have it laboratory-tested for positive identification.
  • It could be harmful to your health. Contacting and removing mold without protective measures could cause allergic reactions or illness in certain individuals, particularly those with specific fungus sensitivities. Leaving the job to properly equipped professionals is a safer approach. 

Elevated Levels of Mold: Common Health Effects

Thursday, October 3rd, 2019

If someone in your home is experiencing specific health concerns, could it be due to elevated levels of mold in the home? First and foremost, any concerning health issues should be discussed with your physician before attributing undiagnosed symptoms to mold.

Mold In The House

Mold spores are present everywhere in nature. Microscopic and airborne, spores readily infiltrate indoor environments and may accumulate to high levels. When exposed to moisture, dormant spores convert to active growing mold that releases mycotoxins, a known trigger of allergic responses in certain individuals.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), there are no established standards or criteria for unhealthy levels of mold inside a structure. Air samples taken inside a mold-contaminated house may reveal a spore count that is more than 150 times the count in an uncontaminated house. However, symptoms reported by residents of the contaminated home may range from absolutely none to severe, depending on the specific type of mold present, as well as the varying individual sensitivities of the people exposed to it.   

When physical reactions do occur in a home with confirmed high levels of growing mold, symptoms experienced by residents tend to follow certain patterns. Here are some of the typical responses seen in these cases:

Allergy Symptoms

Allergy symptons represent the most frequently reported consequences of mold exposure in enclosed indoor environments.  These symptoms fall into the general category of upper-respiratory issues, including sneezing, coughing, a runny nose and a sore throat. More acute responses to airborne spores may resemble asthma attacks that include coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath. Persons who already have some form of obstructive lung disease or those with compromised immune symptoms may exhibit more severe forms of these symptoms such as frequent chest colds and lung infections.

Long-Term Complications

Living in an indoor environment continuously contaminated with high levels of mold spores may be a factor in certain chronic health conditions. Some of the common denominators reported by affected individuals include symptoms such as:

  • Chronic fatigue and lethargy
  • Headaches
  • Loss of appetite
  • Depression
  • Poor sleep
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Memory loss

Buying a Home? Add Mold Detection to Your Inspection Checklist

Thursday, September 19th, 2019

The wrong time to discover mold contamination in a house is after you’ve just purchased it. Dealing with unexpected mold may delay moving into the home as well as burden the buyer—that’s you—instead of the seller with the expense of remediation.

Isn’t A Standard Home Inspection Enough?

Many prospective buyers aren’t aware that comprehensive mold detection is not specifically included on the standard checklist of most home inspectors. If obvious mold growth is conspicuous, that fact may be noted. However, because hidden mold frequently occurs in areas that may be difficult to access and visually inspect, contamination is typically not detected by the protocol of a standard pre-sale inspection.

Can’t I Take the Seller’s Word For It?

In most locales, home sellers have no obligation to inform a potential buyer that a house is contaminated with mold, even when the seller is fully aware of it.

Why Is A Mold Inspection A Better Idea?

To protect your family’s health as well as your considerable financial investment, most experts recommend mold testing as part of the pre-sale process. Here’s what’s involved to make sure your new house is a safe, healthy home, too. 

  • Visual inspection of all zones of the house, including use of technology, such as moisture meters and infrared cameras, to detect mold in hidden areas that can’t be accessed.
  • In addition to detecting active mold, a mold-specific inspection notes conditions or events that frequently accompany mold growth. These include ongoing moisture issues like leaky plumbing, high indoor humidity, evidence of water damage in the past, and other red flags, such as cosmetic attempts to paint over or otherwise cover up mold or mold damage.

To confirm any suspicious findings in the mold inspection, two methods are utilized:

  • Air sampling. Airborne mold spores captured in air samples indicate that mold is present. The concentration of spores in the sample also helps estimate the extent of contamination inside the house.  
  • Surface sampling. This definitively identifies the type of mold as well as distinguishing it from other kinds of fungus that visually resemble toxic mold.

How Healthy Humidity Levels In Your Home Can Protect You

Thursday, September 12th, 2019

A healthy humidity level inside your home doesn’t just happen naturally. Just as you usually wouldn’t be comfortable simply letting the indoor temperature match outdoor readings, leaving indoor humidity to chance isn’t a strategy for a healthy, comfortable indoor environment, either.

The interaction between water vapor in the air and a healthy home occurs at both low and high humidity levels.

  • Airborne particulates like bacteria, spores and viruses are more active at certain humidity levels. Colds and flu viruses, for example, actually thrive in dry environments where relative humidity is 35% or lower. Mold spores and active mold growth, conversely, as well as certain bacteria types, are activated when humidity rises above 50%.  When humidity is maintained within the 35% to 50% target range, allergic symptoms, respiratory illness and other heath issues may be reduced.
  • Indoor humidity is also linked to increased levels of gases known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs). These substances—formaldehyde is the best-known example—are ingredients in many building materials as well as carpeting, paint and furniture. When exposed to indoor humidity above 50% for extended time periods, many of these products emit higher levels of VOCs into the air you breathe. Long-term exposure to volatile organic compounds is a known health risk.  

When Humidity Is Too Low …

Low indoor humidity often occurs in dry winter conditions. Gas-fired heating dries indoor air further, causing humidity levels to drop into the unhealthy range. Use of individual room humidifiers—or installing a whole-house humidifier that adds water vapor to the HVAC airflow to maintain precise indoor humidity levels—are the best recourse to keep the indoor environment healthy.

When Humidity Is Too High …

Indoor humidity above 50% is often related to a naturally humid outdoor climate. To keep the indoor environment drier and healthier, these methods are helpful.

  • Air-sealing the home to reduce infiltration of moist outdoor air.
  • Installing a whole-house dehumidifier in the HVAC system to control humidity.
  • Annual maintenance check-up of the central air conditioner to ensure that the unit’s humidity extraction function is operating up to specs.
  • Installing exhaust fans in kitchens and bathrooms where water vapor originates.

Why a Damp Home Needs Immediate Action

Thursday, August 22nd, 2019

Chronic dampness inside a house seldom gets better by itself. Almost always, the status quo steadily worsens as secondary factors that accompany damp conditions escalate damage. Moreover, as time passes, the prospects for a quick, uncomplicated solution become increasingly unlikely.  The time frame to identify causes of dampness and intervene is now, as soon as possible after the first signs are noted. Here are some reasons why a damp home requires a prompt response.  

  • Mold growth. In a damp indoor environment, mold growth is a ticking time bomb. Once exposure to moisture exceeds 48 hours, dormant mold spores contacted by wet conditions are triggered into active growth mold. Growing mold inside a home begins releasing millions of airborne reproductive spores,  spreading contamination throughout the house and becoming a source of allergic reactions and chronic illness for the residents. Professional mold remediation should be a priority when substantial dampness from any source persists beyond a few days.  In a home with chronic, long-term dampness, mold contamination is presumptive.
  • Moisture keeps moving. Dampness tends to spread in an enclosed environment, extending far beyond its original point of origin. This happens in two ways. As time passes, moisture continuously migrates through tiny cracks and openings into previously dry areas, enlarging the zone of damage and contamination. Also, a damp indoor environment is a humid environment. High levels of water vapor in the air spread throughout the house, causing condensation on building materials and other surfaces.
  • Structural deterioration.  Bare wooden building materials exposed to continuous dampness rots and loses structural integrity. Because most structural components in the house are enclosed inside walls or in seldom-visited locations like the attic or crawl space, this deterioration continues out of sight and unbeknownst to homeowners.  
  • Insurance matters. If dampness is due to conditions such as an ongoing plumbing leak in the crawl space or a leaky roof, to ensure your homeowner’s policy provides coverage you need to report the condition without delay. Many homeowner’s policies enforce time limits to report claims.  Simply “living with” continuous dampness without filing a claim may jeopardize coverage and compensation.

How to Effectively Deal With Mold Damage in Your Home

Tuesday, July 16th, 2019

Many of the effects of mold contamination inside a house require the services of a mold remediation specialist to resolve. In most cases, homeowner’s insurance will stipulate a qualified professional with the credentials and technology to do the job. However, do-it-yourself efforts may be useful in dealing with both causes and effects of mold contamination in certain limited circumstances. Here are some suggestions:

  • Eliminate contributing factors. Homeowners can help resolve conditions which trigger contamination in the first place and then spread mold damage. Track down and resolve chronic moisture issues such as leaky plumbing, roof leaks and excessive indoor humidity. Ventilate damp spaces like the basement and attic that tend to spawn mold. Immediately dry any areas that accidentally become wet.
  • Protect air quality. Make sure your HVAC air filter traps airborne mold spores that spread contamination. Filters with a MERV (Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value) rating of at least 11 will remove about 80% of airborne spores. In homes where mold damage is a concern the filter should be changed every month.
  • Increase circulation. Mold prospers in stagnant, dark environments, so keeping air circulation optimal also helps inhibit contamination. Regularly open doors and air out closed, unused rooms and closets. Make sure all HVAC supply and return vents in the house are open and unobstructed. Open curtains and shades to let in sunlight.
  • Tackle the small stuff. Though significant, advanced mold contamination doesn’t respond well to DIY methods, there’s no reason not to attack minor, limited outbreaks before they become major issues. Over the counter mold cleaners can be used to knock down mold growth on tile grout in damp bathrooms or kitchens, for example. Where caulking around windows or elsewhere is contaminated, it can be extracted and replaced with new caulking. If only a small area in a room—such as just one corner of a sheet of drywall—shows signs of mold, you can hire a inexpensive handyman to cut out that limited portion and replace it. Then, use mold cleaner as a preventive measure on all other surfaces in the affected room to inhibit recurrence.

When mold is present due to water damage, or if the mold contamination is significant, it’s time for a professional to be called to deal with the situation effectively.

When Mold is Hiding in Your A/C Ducts…

Tuesday, June 11th, 2019

Under certain conditions, your HVAC ductwork may be the perfect habitat for mold. Active mold growth thriving inside ducts can serve as a focal point of contamination as the system airflow disperses toxic spores throughout the house. This may trigger allergic symptoms as well as chronic illness in persons with a sensitivity to these pathogens.

How does this happen?

Ductwork is dark and dusty. Mold avoids sunlight and household dust usually contains the sort of microscopic food that mold feeds on. In this fungus-friendly environment, the only missing ingredient is moisture. Ductwork conveying cooled or heated air ought to be dry. In some cases, however, moisture can form:

  • If the air conditioner evaporator coil that extracts water vapor from the airflow isn’t performing up to specs, condensation may form on surfaces inside ductwork.
  • If ductwork is leaky, it may pull in humid outdoor air from the attic, crawl space or other unconditioned zone. Ducts become dank and mold growth may be activated.

How Will I Know?

If you suspect ductwork mold contamination—unexplained musty odors when the HVAC system is running are just one giveaway—an inspection should be performed. Most segments of the system are inaccessible to the average homeowner. A mold-remediation professional with specialized equipment is required to check all spans of ductwork.

Not everything that looks like mold is mold. If suspicious growth is discovered, it must be lab-tested to confirm active mold growth and to determine the type of mold.

What’s The Next Step?

  • A thorough duct cleaning procedure is required to remove active mold. This includes physical removal of growing mold as well as vacuuming the entire span to remove accumulated spore residue.
  • Affected duct surfaces must be sterilized with EPA-approved fungicides, as well as the system components like the evaporator coil and the condensate drain pan in the indoor air handler. A new air filter is also installed.
  • Conditions that promote mold contamination inside ducts must be addressed. Evaporator coil issues that allow excess humidity into the airflow, as well as leaks that pulled humid, unconditioned air into ductwork should be resolved to prevent a recurrence.

3 Hidden Places Mold Spores Can Thrive In Your Home

Thursday, April 25th, 2019

A typical individual mold spore is as small as 3 microns. By comparison, a human hair is over 100 microns wide. Mold is ubiquitous in nature and dormant mold spores pervade the environment, both outdoors and indoors. Once specific conditions of moisture, temperature and food supply are met, dormant spores can quickly become active and start to multiply. Live reproductive spores are released into indoor air, spreading contamination. Inhaling these living spores is a known cause of allergic reactions and even chronic illness in certain individuals.  

Here are three hidden locations where conditions are favorable for mold growth inside your house:

Down in the Basement

Damp basements are common due to lack of ventilation. Persistent dampness provides moisture for growing mold. Also, since household plumbing is often routed through the basement, small leaks and condensation on pipes contribute to the dampness. Mold dislikes natural sunlight and grows best in cool temperatures, so a darkened basement is a preferred location. The pungent musty odor often associated with basements is usually a giveaway that mold is growing there.

Up in the Attic

Mold spores lying dormant in a dark attic are waiting to be activated by contact with water. In enclosed attics, humidity often accumulates to high levels, providing sufficient water vapor to activate dormant spores. These spores grow well in porous material such as beds of insulation.  Minor roof leaks which may not be evident in living spaces below are another water source in the attic. Insulation material itself doesn’t provide mold food. However, the dust that accumulates within insulation fibers often contains nourishment and the paper backing attached to roll-out insulation batts provides cellulose, as well.

Inside the HVAC System

The condensate drip pan beneath the indoor air handler diverts condensation from the A/C evaporator coil into a household drain. If the pan drains sluggishly due to a clog, however, the continuous presence of warm stagnant water in the pan provides a perfect environment for mold. Spores pulled through the system airflow infect the water. Active mold growth may thrive in the drip pan and/or the system evaporator coil above.

How to Stop Mold Growth in its Tracks

Thursday, April 18th, 2019

Mold growth inside a home is a dynamic process that requires very specific conditions to thrive. Dormant mold spores exist everywhere in nature, including inside your house. However, if the spores are deprived of mold-friendly conditions, mold growth will not activate and gain a foothold. Taking early measures to inhibit active mold growth may prevent contamination from reaching an advanced state.

Eliminate Moisture Sources

  • Repair any plumbing leaks and roof leaks and stop any infiltration of water through structural cracks such as the basement walls or foundation.
  • Dry out a wet crawl space, including installing a vapor barrier to prevent moisture rising up through the soil.
  • If incidental leakage or water spillage occurs anywhere in the house, dry out the area quickly and completely—mold growth can be triggered in only 48 hours after exposure to water.
  • Use mold-killing products to clean bathroom surfaces that are wet repeatedly.  
  • Make sure the central air conditioner drip pan in the air handler drains properly and does not retain water.

Lower Humidity

Water vapor in the air can trigger dormant mold spores into active growth mode. The Environmental Protection Agency recommends keeping indoor relative humidity between 30% to 50% to inhibit mold growth.

  • A basic moisture meter that displays humidity is an inexpensive investment and helps you keep indoor humidity levels in the mold-free zone.
  • Run exhaust fans in the kitchen and bathrooms to vent humid air.
  • Make sure the clothes dryer is properly vented and the vent pipe is cleaned regularly.
  • In humid climates where indoor levels are difficult to control, consider installing a whole-house dehumidifier in your HVAC system.

Remove Contaminated Items

Signs of incipient mold contamination may be discovered in absorbent materials including building materials like ceiling tiles, as well as fabrics such as carpeting and carpet pads. These points of origin can become sources of spreading mold. Often, the simplest, most straightforward option is to immediately remove them from the house and dispose of them. Porous materials are extremely difficult to decontaminate even with fungicides. Eliminating contaminated items from the home environment permanently is the best mold-preventive course of action.