Molds are microscopic organisms found virtually everywhere in our environment. It is a type of fungus and part of a group of living organisms that are very common and serve an important role in the environment. Penicillin is a type of mold that has saved many lives.
Some molds can cause problems for humans. Mold can grow on bread and other types of food, making it unfit to eat. Mold can grow on the walls, floors and ceilings of your home as well as on your personal possessions. People often refer to some household molds as mildew, although the term also can apply to molds found outdoors.
Mold or Fungi have defined cell walls, lack chlorophyll and reproduce by means of spores. The study of fungi (mycology) is by no means complete. Mycologists have described an estimated 100,000 species of fungi and many believe that this is only a fraction of what remains to be discovered.
What do molds need to grow?
Mold requires moisture, oxygen and a food source to develop and multiply. Most molds absorb nutrients by attacking dead organic matter or in some cases by functioning as a parasite on living organisms.
Outdoor airborne levels of mold are subject to many environmental conditions. With proper structural maintenance and good housekeeping, indoor airborne mold levels will typically be less than outdoor levels.
Indoors, molds can grow on wallboard, wallpaper, ceiling tiles, carpeting, leather, dust/debris. The inside of air conditioning systems, etc. are often more than sufficient to support mold growth.
When these materials become moist due to floods, structural water leaks, plumbing leaks, condensation or excess humidity, the ever present fungi initiate their reproductive cycles and explosive colony growth can occur.
How do you come in contact with mold?
Mold spores are found in all offices, homes and buildings and will grow rapidly in excess humidity. Some of the sources of indoor moisture that can cause a mold problem are:
- flooding, leaky roofs
- damp basements
- damp crawl spaces
- plumbing leaks
- house plants
- steam from cooking
- shower/bath steam and leaks
- wet clothes
- damp or wet bathroom towels
- standing water
- sweaty sneakrs indoors
- dirty HVAC systems
- spilled liquids on carpetedsurfaces
- clothes dryers that are vented indoors
- condensation on piping, water tanks, or concrete walls
What causes indoor mold growth?
High moisture is a major contributor to indoor growth of mold. Indoors, nutrients are readily available for spore germination. These nutrients are found in household items such as dirt, dust, wood, paper, adhesives, acoustical fiber, paint, textiles, stored material, carpets, floors, and much more. Also, the following factors greatly influence the actual germination of fungal spores and mold growth:
- The longer materials stay wet or damp, the higher probability of bio-pollution.
- The greater the water sources, the greater the microbiological activity.
- Molds thrive in dark places (basements, attics, inside walls, behind wallpaper, behind refrigerators)
- Warmer temperatures and humidity encourage mold growth
- Stagnant areas are ideal places for mold growth
- Anything above 50% relative humidity is desirable for mold growth
- Organic material such as drywall, wood, ceilings adhesives, paper, plasters, leather and cloth are ideal for growth.
- Moisture content can cause mold growth.
How do I know if my home has a mold problem?
If mold is growing in your home, you MAY be able to smell it. Have you ever walked into a room that has a musty or earthy odor? You probably are smelling mold. Sometimes, you can see the mold on the surface of an object. In such cases, the item may be discolored or look as if it has smudges or blotches.
Often, you will not be able to see mold that is causing an odor. The mold could be growing behind walls, underneath carpets, or in other hidden areas. Mold growth is common in areas of a home that are damp or have suffered water damage. You should be especially concerned about the growth of mold if your home has had:
- a flood
- a sewer back-up
- an overflowing toilet
- leaking pipes
- a leaking roof
- leaking windows
- any other serious water-related problems.
Some of these situations can result in the growth of bacteria, which also can cause musty odors and health problems.
Once materials become wet, mold can begin to grow within 24 to 48 hours. If your home experiences a water-related problem, clean and dry any wet or damp areas as soon as you find them. If you live in a rental property, immediately report water problems to your landlord.
The earlier you can detect the growth of mold in your home, the better a chance you have to control it. Early detection and treatment are very important. If you smell a musty odor in your house, start looking for the source immediately and remove it as soon as you find it. Prevention and early detection may save you from paying much greater cleanup and repair expenses later on.
If you own your home, damage from mold and the cost of removing mold might not be covered by your homeowner insurance. (Read your policy or call your insurance agent to find out.)
If my home has not had a flood or other serious water problem, does that mean it is unlikely to have excessive moisture?
Many sources can add moisture to the air in your home. When you go outside on a cold day and can see your breath, you really are seeing moisture coming from your lungs as a normal part of breathing. Breathing and perspiring send moisture from your body into the air of your home. Other sources are:
- Taking a shower or bath
- Boiling water or cooking
- Washing dishes and letting them dry on a drainboard
- Hand washing clothing and hanging it to dry indoors
- Operating certain types of appliances, such as a clothes dryer that is not vented to the outdoors
- Having house plants
Just because the activities listed above can increase moisture in your home does not mean you should stop doing them. You still can cook food, hand wash clothing, take showers and keep house plants. Simply make sure your normal living patterns do not result in an excessive amount of moisture build-up in your home.
Is it possible to have a home tested for mold?
If you have your home tested, the tester will have to take an outdoor air sample at the same time as the indoor sample. This will indicate whether the number of spores inside your home is significantly higher than the number outside your home. A higher indoor level could mean that mold is growing indoors.
Why test for mold, since there are no set EPA or other Federal acceptable levels for mold?
While no EPA or other federal limits have been set for mold or mold spores, the EPA does acknowledge that allergenic, toxic and pathogenic molds can cause health problems. See EPA web site pages:
Home Buyers and Home Owners may be concerned about mold because
- They smell mold or “mildew” in the home
- They know that they or a family member is allergic to mold, or
- They know that there have been plumbing leaks, water penetration, or moisture problems within the home, which could cause mold growth.
- They have seen what appears to be “suspicious microbial growth.”
Physical samples can reveal “unusual mold conditions.” Air samples which are compared to local outdoor air, can reveal “elevated mold conditions” in the home, which could increase the risk of mold related health problems.
While no EPA or other federal limits have been set for mold or mold spores, sampling may help locate the source of mold contamination, identify some of the kinds of molds present, and differentiate between mold and soot or dirt.
Pre- and post-remediation sampling may also be useful in determining whether remediation efforts have been effective.
After remediation, the types and concentrations of mold in indoor air samples should be similar to what is found in the local outdoor air.
Maida Services, Inc. does not perform mold removal, cleaning or remediation. While we may point out obvious problem areas during testing, which could contribute to mold growth, this should not be misconstrued as a resolution, solution, or full remediation advice. We only perform initial testing/screening services for “decision making” purposes (similar to radon testing services). We do not assist whatsoever in the mold remediation process. After a client receives their laboratory reports, they may wish to seek additional advice or further consultation from a Certified Industrial Hygienist or a mold remediation specialist. Maida Services cannot refer clients to specific professionals, individuals, or companies providing these services, as that would be a conflict of interest.
Are there risks associated with having mold in a home?
The growth of any type of mold in a home is never acceptable. Your safest and most prudent course of action is to treat all molds with caution and to remove them from your home as soon as possible.
In the spring, some people experience no health effects from the increased amount of pollen in the air, while other people have serious allergic reactions. The same is true with mold spores, both inside and outside a home. Some people experience little or no reaction from high levels of exposure to mold spores. Other people exposed to low levels can have allergic responses, including asthma, stuffy or runny noses, eye irritation, fever, wheezing, inflammation in the lungs, and skin rashes.
These same symptoms can be caused by a variety of allergens. If you experience the symptoms, you should not automatically assume that your home has a mold problem.
Healthy individuals usually are not vulnerable to severe health problems from airborne mold exposure. If you have concerns about possible health and safety issues regarding mold, immediately contact a medical professional and/or your local government health authority for guidance.