Sometimes you can tell as soon as you enter a house. There’s that unmistakable musty smell that can only mean one thing – mold.
As long as we have water in our homes, we’re going to encounter mold eventually. “We see from our clients that even the best-built homes can be susceptible to mold infestations,” says Ben Srigley, Touchstone owner. “Homeowners are often looking for guidance on how to treat the problem.”
For answers, we turned to Scott King of ACM Services. ACM is an environmental abatement and demolition company in Rockville. They handle projects of all sizes, from multi-million-dollar government contracts to residential jobs.
In Part 1 of this series, Scott educated us on asbestos abatement. Now, he shares advice on identifying and remediating mold.
What is mold?
Scientifically speaking, mold is a fungus made of spores. You can’t see them, but mold spores are everywhere around us. They enter our houses through doors, windows, and HVAC systems. We and our pets unwittingly carry them inside.
Those trace amounts of mold aren’t a problem. The trouble begins when mold spores land on a wet surface. Pipes are a common trouble spot, as are any areas with a water leak. If the surface stays moist, the mold will grow. And grow. And grow.
Figure 1: Mold beginning to grow on a shower ceiling.
Mold can thrive on countless places in your home: paper, cardboard, ceiling tiles, wood, dust, paint, wallpaper, insulations, drywall, carpets, or fabric.
Black mold is an eyesore, and mold eats away at wood and drywall. But besides the damage to your home, mold exposure has significant health risks.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), mold can cause:
- skin, eye, nose, or throat irritation
- mucous membrane irritation
- fungal infections
That’s quite a list, and although reactions are usually mild, they can become severe. Prolonged exposure to large amounts of mold can cause serious illness. And people with allergies, asthma, or immunosuppression are also more likely to have dangerous reactions.
About 40% of asthma episodes are triggered by the household presence of mold or other allergens.
Different molds have different levels of toxicity. However, the CDC’s position is that all mold is dangerous and needs to be abated.
Do you have a mold problem?
If you have mold growth, you may see telltale black splotches spreading; those are mold colonies. The spread itself indicates that it’s mold because dirt and old stains don’t grow.
But sometimes the mold is hidden inside walls, wood, or pipes. In that case, Scott explains, your first indicator of mold might be a musty, dank odor. “When you come into a house for the first time, the smell is often your warning sign because people paint over the mold to hide it.”
There are other signs, too, of hidden mold:
- Discoloration or stains on walls or molding
- Walls seem constantly wet
- Peeling, cracking, or bubbling paint and wallpaper
- You have a constant itchy nose, red eyes, or sneezing at home
If you suspect a mold infestation, you’ll want to call in a professional to test the area. Air quality tests show elevated mold levels even if you can’t see the growth.
Figure 2: Peeling paint may be hiding mold growth in the wall.
If you have mold, it’s crucial to remove it before it gets out of control. The longer you wait, the worse it will get and the more difficult and expensive it will be to abate it.
Mold is a living organism. Therefore, the first step is to kill it at its root with antimicrobial chemicals. The second step is to remove all traces of it since even dead spores can cause allergic reactions.
For a very small patch of mold, you can take care of it yourself. Using vinegar, a diluted bleach solution, or a commercial mold cleaner, scrub the mold until it’s gone. But if the mold is more widespread, you’ll need help. “If you’re wondering if you need a professional, you probably do,” says Scott.
Mold specialists will come with full PPE to prevent any ill effects from mold exposure. They’ll do their best to remediate the mold with the least disturbance to your home. From least to most disruptive, they’ll:
- Spray down the affected area with antimicrobial cleaners
- Spray it a second time
- Soak the item in the cleaner
- Remove and replace drywall, carpet, or wooden beams.
“We also need to set up containment when we work on porous surfaces,” adds Scott, “because if you disrupt it, it releases mold spores into the air.”
At least 45 million buildings in the United States have unhealthy levels of mold.
Even with the need for higher-level steps, abatement is usually quick. ACM crews come in and out in one day. When they’re done, they bring in a third-party industrial hygienist to test the air. That’s the only way to be sure all the mold spores are gone.
Is mold preventable? Maybe not completely, but there are steps you can take to minimize your risk:
-Keeping your home well-ventilated and dry. This is especially important in kitchens, bathrooms, and laundry rooms which naturally get wet often. Poorly sealed windows can also accumulate moisture around the edges.
Figure 3: Poorly sealed windows can collect moisture, leading to mold.
-Fix leaks immediately. Even a tiny drip will lead to mold if you leave it untreated.
-Call in professionals if you’ve had a flood or burst pipe. In cases of extensive water damage, “a bucket and mop just won’t do it,” says Scott. Professionals know how to completely dry the area so that mold can’t get started.
It only takes 24-48 hours for mold to form following water damage.
And if, despite all your precautions, you do see mold, don’t panic. With prompt, professional abatement you can eliminate the growth before it causes harm.
“Be proactive about mold prevention and abatement,” says Ben. “Nip it in the bud to prevent costly remediation down the line.”
And if you do need repairs, contact us so we can get started renovating your beautiful home.