You’re getting your house ready to sell, and you notice a small patch of black or green creeping up your drywall in the basement. Your thoughts go right to potential respiratory problems and expensive renovations that a toxic mold problem could bring. But is it the time to panic?
Experts say several things should be noted immediately — mold occurs almost everywhere, and not all molds are toxic. The severity of a problem depends on the comparative air quality of the indoor space to the surrounding area, and the severity of a leak or other source of moisture that could be causing the mold.
What do I do if I suspect mold in the house?
If you suspect you have a mold issue on your rented property, either through sight, smell or the presence of water in your home, you should alert your landlord. If you own the home, contact a mold assessment professional to inspect the area or take air samples to determine the potential presence of mold in your living space.
Home inspectors typically can’t address a mold issue.
How do you determine the severity of a mold problem?
A mold problem isn’t quantifiable in the way you might think.
“Mold is a living organism,” said Steven Nardozzi of Rochester Environmental and Construction Group, which handles remediation of mold, asbestos, lead paint and other unwanted household issues.
“When we deal with lead paint and asbestos, those are fibers — particulates that can be measured. Mold can’t be measured. It’s always growing,” he said.
Spore count numbers are evaluated using air quality testing equipment based on what the outside numbers are in any particular area, said Wes Kimble of Turn Key Home and Mold Inspections.
For example, if the spore count is 13,000 in a garage, 2,000 in an adjacent living environment and 1,000 outside, then you could deduce that the garage likely has a mold issue, said Nardozzi.
Not all molds are toxic, and often a number of types are present in an area at one time.
Other tools to determine the extent of a mold problem include visual inspection, and moisture meters that determine the level of moisture in building materials, said Nardozzi.
Where does mold originate?
Mold growth often begins in a high moisture area, such as standing water outside the shower or leaky windows. Once a source is identified, it should be fixed promptly and all the excess moisture removed, said Kimble. While many say bleach can handle a mold cleanup, it destroys the plant life itself — but it “waters” the spore, or the seed, with moisture, which allows it to survive, he said.
How much could professional remediation cost?
Mold assessment and remediation could cost anywhere from several hundred to dozens of thousands of dollars, based on the location and extent of the problem.
What are potential symptoms of mold?
Most molds will not produce significant symptoms in most people. However, certain types of mold can bring on issues ranging from typical allergenic reactions to more severe problems, based on whether the mold produces mycotoxins, or toxic substances produced by fungi.
When symptoms are present, they vary from person to person, said Kimble of Turn Key Home and Mold Inspections. Symptoms could include nausea, dizziness, vomiting, respiratory issues, burning eyes, burning lungs and rashes. Severe cases are very rare.
What can I do to prevent mold growth in my house?
Using dehumidifiers, insulating living spaces to prevent condensation and plugging any leaks in the house will reduce the possibility of indoor mold. Here are a few other tips from Rochester Environmental and Construction Group:
- Continuously monitor for water leaks, water stains and water activity, upon discovery act immediately.
- Monitor ventilation and blockage of ventilation periodically.
- Monitor water drainage/gutters and blockage of water drainage/gutters periodically.
- Maintain relative humidity at or below 55 percent, using proper ventilation or dehumidification where necessary.
- Maintain proper housekeeping and areas free of clutter to promote proper air circulation.
- Periodically change your furnace or whole-house filtration system and maintain/clean HVAC ductwork.
What are the laws regarding mold remediation, and who’s responsible to pay for it?
None in California.
6 common household molds you should know about
These are typical molds you may notice indoors. Some of them may produce various levels of health issues, from allergic symptoms to more significant problems.
Alternaria: Most common type of mold in the world. Velvet-textured with dark green/brown hairs. Typically found in showers, bathtubs, below leaking sinks or as a result of general water damage. Can cause allergenic symptoms in the respiratory tract, nose and mouth.
Aspergillus: Common mold in U.S. households. Creates long chains of mold on surfaces and can appear in many different colors. Can produce allergenic symptoms such as respiratory problems.
Chaetomium: Commonly found in water-damaged homes and buildings. Has a cotton-like texture and changes colors from white to grey to brown to black over time. Recognizable by its musty odor. Can cause skin/nail infections, and capable of producing mycotoxins.
Penicillium: Found in water-damaged homes/buildings, carpets, wallpapers and ducting. Typically blue/green with a velvety texture. Can cause pulmonary inflammation/asthma, can lead to chronic sinusitis after long exposure.
Stachybotrys: Also known as “black mold.” Dark green/black in color with a slimy texture. Thrives in damp areas where wet conditions continue for weeks. Produces mycotoxins that can cause severe health problems, including difficulty breathing, sinusitis and fatigue.
Ulocladium: Usually black and easily confused with other molds. Typically found in kitchens, basements, bathrooms and buildings with extreme water damage. Divided into two subspecies, and people prone to allergies can experience severe reactions. General asthma-like symptoms are most common.