Q: How dangerous is mold?
A: Unfortunately, the answer is not easy. There are some molds that are very toxic to people, but it is more common for people with conditions like asthma and allergies to react to molds, which can make them sick. The first thing to do is ask whether anyone in your house has symptoms that might be caused by the mold exposure. If you think they might, go to a doctor to try to determine if the symptoms are actually related to the mold in your house.
In the meantime, there are two things to do regardless of whether the mold is definitely making someone sick. First, figure out the source of excess moisture in the house. The presence of mold always indicates the presence of excessive moisture. No matter the species of mold, the solution will include stopping the moisture. The source of the water may be easy to find: a plumbing leak, a family member taking long showers without using the exhaust fan, an exhaust fan that doesn’t work well, an unvented heater or fireplace. But it may also be less obvious: a combination of factors that created ideal conditions for mold to vacation in your bathroom. You may need to hire someone who knows what to look for. In certain communities, the home energy raters have had extensive training in building science, including moisture diagnostics. HVAC contractors, general contractors, home inspectors and even mold remediation specialists may also understand these issues.
The second thing to do is clean up the mold. If it’s fairly recent, it may just be on the surface, and you can wash it off with water, a little detergent and some elbow grease. Most public health agencies no longer recommend using bleach, as exposure to the chlorine may be worse than exposure to the mold. If it is extensive and has “rooted” into the drywall, you may have to replace some. Consider replacing it with a fiberglass-covered drywall rather than the traditional paper-covered drywall. It is more expensive but less likely to support mold growth in the future.
The key, though, is always to figure out how to control the moisture in your home. Making sure bathroom and kitchen exhaust fans are working, ducted to the outside and being used will help a lot, as will managing the water around the foundation of your home—proper gutters, downspouts and drains, and sloping the ground away from the house. Cover the ground in the crawl space with thick plastic, and consider installing a closed crawl space system. Before your air conditioner dies, have someone do a proper load calculation to determine the right size unit for your house. Oversized air conditioners that do not run enough to remove the moisture are very common, and knowing what you’ll need before the unit dies will enable you to get it right.
Don’t panic into spending a lot of money right away. First, consider these other steps to addressing mold.
This article was originally featured in Carolina Country magazine.