With heavy rainfall comes a tremendous amount of moisture. Leaks and condensation increase, temperatures and warm drying daylight decrease.
These are optimal conditions for mold growth, both interior and exterior. As exterior mold spores explode in number some of them are bound to settle in our indoor environments. Here’s an overview from the EPA on Mold growth in the home.
So what can you do to reduce to likelihood mold will take hold?
I have some tips to minimize the conditions conducive to mold growth and maximize you and your family’s health.
Mold needs 3 conditions for optimal growth:
The Right temperature. Some mold species can grow at low (below 50 degrees F) and other species at high (above 90 degrees F), but most common mold species that grow indoors grow ideally at 55-85 degrees F. Unfortunately this is the optimal temperature for human comfort. So it is unlikely you can keep your home at a temperature that is inhospitable for mold growth. So we will not concentrate on that.
An organic food source. Different species of mold like to eat different things, but they all need something organic to munch on. Many mold species love cellulose, i.e. wood and paper. These are the natural composters and when it rains these species start to eat up all the fallen branches and leaves in the forest, as well as our yards emitting millions of spores that make their way into our homes. Inside our homes molds like to eat wood. This is what “dry rot” is, fungi usually consisting of 2 species, Ascospores and Basidiospores. Other species like to eat paper, such as cardboard boxes, books, and paper backed wallboard, such as sheetrock. Pennicillium/Aspergillus and Stachybotrys (colloquially known as toxic black mold) are often found on wet or moist paper. Cladosporium, the species most often found growing on windowsills and in bathrooms, can eat a variety of Biofilms (household dust consisting of epithelial cells (dead skin cells) insect parts, pet dander, natural fibers such as cotton and linen, etc.). Some mold food sources we cannot easily remove from our home such as framing lumber and wallboard, but others we can, such as cardboard boxes.
This is the big one and the one I will be giving tips on below. Mold needs moisture. There is a common saying in our business: “Mold is the symptom, moisture is the problem”. Mold growth either needs liquid water or high humidity. Liquid water can come from condensation on windowsills and in bathrooms, or from leaks, either internal or external. Without liquid water mold will not become active unless the humidity is high, usually 60-80% RH depending on the species. When the humidity is high enough, mold can become active and grow by absorbing moisture directly from the air.
Here are some tips to reduce both food sources and moisture in your home and thus reduce the likelihood and amount of mold that may grow inside your home:
Let’s start outside. When it rains water can easily enter what we call the “Building Envelope”. It is very important to make sure your site drainage system is clear from debris and working properly to move rain water away from your home, foundation, and crawlspace.
Clean the roof of any leave or other debris.
Make sure downspouts are in good repair, not clogged, and properly attached any extensions or the site drainage system.
Make sure all property drains are clear of debris and flowing freely.
Check the “Building Envelope” for possible sites of water intrusion, i.e. leaks.
Window and doorframes are spots where water can intrude. Check all door and window frame caulking for cracks and gaps and repair where necessary.
Inspect the sealant around roof penetrations. Repair where necessary.
Check building siding for cracks, peeling paint, holes, etc. Anywhere water may be able to get in.
After a heavy rain walk around the entire house and look for standing water, and clogged drains. Look inside the crawlspace and make sure there is no hidden flooding. Carefully check the inside of the house, take a close look at the ceilings, around windows and doors, and walls for small leaks. Because all big leaks start out as small leaks! Check under sinks and around tubs and toilets to make sure there are no plumbing leaks adding moisture to the interior of your home.
Assuming there are no leaks and your drainage system is working well, what other sources of moisture can address?
Inside a home the occupants can produce a tremendous amount of moisture. On average each human occupant expires (breathes) and perspires (sweats) about 2 POUNDS of water into the air a day. Pets can also add to this moisture source. During the winter we often close out windows, as it is cold out, and most residential heating systems have no way of bringing in fresh air or ventilating out moist, stale interior air. Thus interior humidity can often increase to levels above 60%, which is ideal for mold growth.
So what can we do about Mold Growth?
Monitor interior humidity. Small, portable humidity monitors are available for around $10-15 and can be placed around the home. If RH (relative humidity) is consistently above 65%, action should be taken. Ideally, interior RH should be between 45-55% RH. Below 40% RH mucous membranes start to dry out and can cause occupant discomfort.
Open windows when practicable to help flush out moisture and other interior contaminants. Even 1 hour a day can make a big difference, although 3-4 hours is recommended.
Run ventilation fans in bathrooms and kitchens to help exhaust excess humidity from cooking and bathing. Run fans in bathrooms for at least 20 minutes after bathing. Timer switches can be installed on most bathroom exhaust fans and are highly recommended.
Wipe excess condensation from windowsills. Inspect windowsills often. Do not keep curtains closed as this can trap moist, cool air and promote excessive condensation.
The above tips can help reduce moisture sources, what can do we do about reducing mold food sources?
Do not keep books, papers, or cardboard boxes in moist areas such as attics, garages, basements or crawlspaces. Attic and crawlspaces should not be used as storage areas, but if you must store items in a garage or basement, we recommend sealed plastic bins.
Keep areas mold likes to grow clean and dry. This means cleaning dust (biofilms) from windowsills, baseboards, and doorframes. Vacuum carpet regularly with a HEPA vacuum. The recommendation is to vacuum and sweep one day per week PER OCCUPANT, including pets!
Check behind drapes and furniture for hidden condensation and biofilms. Allow airflow to reach these areas by opening drapes often and moving furniture a few inches from walls, especially exterior walls that can become colder and promote condensation.
Also, trust your nose, that musty smell is a sure indication of active mold growth. That musty smell is caused by microbial VOC’s, airborne chemicals that are a metabolic by-product of mold digestion.
If you think you have a hidden source of mold, call a professional Certified Microbial Investigator for a full mold inspection. Excessive interior mold can cause structural damage to your home and its contents, as well as allergic and respiratory reactions in some occupants. Take heed and be diligent, and you can survive this hopefully wet winter relatively mold-free.
At the end of the day, after work or school, we always look forward to coming home again. Our minds and hearts are attached to our homes because of the sense of belonging, comfort, and safety that it provides. Feeling safe is the state of not being exposed to danger or risk, and that is how our homes should feel, right? So, let me ask you, are you sure you are safe within your home?
You may feel that there’s nothing lurking within the corners of the rooms of your home. However, if you are setting aside the fact that there could be molds in your house, then you are getting further away from the sense of safety that your home should provide. Molds are not something you should overlook.
Molds usually appear on damp building materials and may look like stains. They can come in various colors and sizes. You may have seen some sort of spot growing in the interior of your house, and that is not something that should be ignored.
Molds can create a lot of nuisance and danger for you and your loved ones. It can give your family nasal and sinus congestion, coughs, headaches, asthma, skin irritations, and much more.
If your home is attacked by molds, you have to do something about it. Here are some signs that your house may have been infected by molds:
Allergic reactions. If you notice that your allergies tend to react and even get worse while you’re at home, chances are there are molds growing in your house. Some allergic reactions to mold could be sore eyes, sneezing, and nasal congestion.
Mold odors. A musty or moldy smell can be a great indicator that there are molds in your home. If you can smell mold, then you probably have mold. You should thoroughly inspect your home before it gets worse.
Visible signs of molds. When you see greenish black spots of molds, then it’s obvious. Take action immediately.
Water issues. If you have experienced water leakages, condensation, or past floods in your house, mold growth is likely to have occurred. If there are water stains or discoloration of the walls due to a moisture problem, there is most likely mold growing behind the material.
Your home is where your family should feel safe. If you’ve noticed the above-mentioned signs of mold growth in your house, please do not ignore it. Ignoring it might cause you bigger problems in the future.
If you want to be sure of your homes safety, contact Fun Guy Inspection and Consulting Inc. They will provide a thorough inspection of your home and you can have peace of mind.
Anyone east of the Rockies will tell you this has been a wet year. It wasn’t just that Hurricanes Florence and Michael soaked parts of the South. It wasn’t just that this year’s drenching storms were numerous and tracked unusually far north (one, Alberto, made a historic appearance all the way up in Michigan).
It was also that the rest of the Eastern Seaboard just simply got wetter. In Wilmington, N.C., 60 inches of rain broke an annual record set in 1966. Around Scranton, Pa., rainfall broke a 1945 record. Wisconsin, Colorado and Maryland all saw 1-in-1,000-year rainfall events. And dozens of locations, like Baltimore, Pittsburgh and Charleston, W.Va., had their second- or third-wettest summers on record.
In some houses, mold spores are nothing more than a nuisance—staining furniture or making the basement smell funny. But in other homes they can put people in the hospital or even kill them. Many molds are associated with allergy or asthma attacks; some have been linked to serious complications in immune-compromised populations, and cancer. It is hard to say just yet how much the latest wet year has affected people’s respiratory systems, but it is certainly already hitting their pocketbooks.
“This year there’s just a lot of mold tests being done,” says Michael Berg, the laboratory director for EMLab P&K, one of the biggest U.S. mold-testing companies. He says staffing has become a challenge after two hurricanes and relentless storms along the Eastern Seaboard: “We are struggling, as far as having enough hands on deck in a year like this.”
As climate change and CO2 emissions continue to shape life on Earth, we may be seeing a lot more flooding—with higher sea levels and more powerful storms. In some ways this year might be a glimpse into a wet and moldy future. But what will that mean in practical terms?
Modelling the effects of climate change and rising CO2 levels is notoriously difficult, and even more so when it comes to the diverse world of fungi. It is a little like asking, “How will climate change affect animals?”—some may benefit while others suffer. In some cases the heat will make for fertile breeding grounds for fungi. In others the additional CO2 might irritate them, thereby prompting them to release more spores. “It’s a stress response. The fungus wants to survive, and the way it tries to survive is to produce more offspring—and that means more spores,” says Naresh Magan, a mycologist at England’s Cranfield University. Aspergillus fumigatus, a member of what is perhaps the most common genus of mold to irritate humans, seems to release far more spores when scientists raise it in warmer, CO2-rich enclosures. Other researchers have suggested that increased CO2 might create more leaf litter—where a lot of mold grows when it is not in your house—adding much-needed nitrogen for fungi.
And the spores they produce might be more harmful. In addition to the number of spores a mold puts out, evidence suggests higher CO2 might change the spores themselves. Some mold spores are more than eight times more allergenic today than in pre-industrial times (though it is not clear this trend will be maintained as CO2 levels continue to rise).
Scientists are not completely certain as to how this works. Unlike plants—which breathe in CO2 and can benefit from its increase—fungi take in oxygen, so changes in the chemistry of their spores may be due to some kind of secondary effect. Experts have suggested that more CO2 can lead to more acidic soil or indirectly change fungi respiration. Or there might be some unknown mechanism that causes different responses in different molds. Whatever that mechanism might be, higher CO2 somehow triggers the more allergenic proteins in many molds—which may be why so many more people are allergic to mold today than in generations past.
But not all fungi react the same way to environmental changes. Experiments suggest Alternaria—a genus of mold that causes respiratory problems and is often found in spoiled crops and houses—may actually decrease the allergens in its spores in a warmer, higher-CO2 world. In many cases, it is not clear what chemicals cause adverse health effects from mold spores, let alone how they will respond to a changing climate and atmosphere.
Magan has exposed many types of mold to different levels of CO2, heat and moisture. He says molds such as Stachybotrys—a dangerous group often referred to as “black mold”—might become less allergenic as CO2 increases. But when Aspergillus species are put in a higher CO2 environment, they increase production of aflatoxin B1, a potent cancer-causing chemical that the mold can deposit on some types of produce and livestock feed.
Some of these effects will change, Magan says, as molds adapt and mutate. This might mean the molds will adjust to the stress of climate change—but it could also mean they will adjust to how we treat them. The human body is an excellent place for molds to grow, but most people’s bodies are able to fight them off (though we might start coughing or get runny noses in the process). But in people with compromised immune systems—after stem cell therapy or an organ transplant, for example—Aspergillus can be lethal. Studies have documented an increasing ability among such molds to resist medical treatments including triazole, the most potent anti-fungal in such cases, even in patients who have never taken the drug.
Another problem with mold today is that many energy-efficient homes are designed to capture and conserve heat—which means they can also trap moisture and prevent ventilation, Magan adds. Heat and moisture create a perfect environment for mold. In a bitter irony, architects battling the very things that encourage molds globally may be making them more comfortable in your basement.
But people living in modern, energy-efficient homes are not the ones likely to suffer most from the long-term effects of mold. As is often the case with climate change and rising CO2 levels, the repercussions will likely be worst among the poor, especially in underdeveloped economies where many people cannot purge moisture and mold from their houses.
“With asthma and chronic pulmonary disease, it’s a vicious cycle. [Patients] go and get medication and they feel a little bit better, but they come back into the same home environment,” says Maureen Lichtveld, a global health professor at Tulane University who works with marginalized communities in the Caribbean region as well as the U.S. Southeast.
Lichtveld studies many forms of disease that follow disaster and climate change, but she finds mold especially frustrating because it is highly preventable and relatively easy to control in the home. And if it is not removed, mold can exacerbate chronic asthma and other diseases and stunt a child’s learning and growth. In Puerto Rico asthma was already 23 percent higher than on the mainland—with twice as many asthma-related deaths—before Hurricanes Irma and Maria battered the island in 2017. Many reports suggest it has spiked since then, though objective numbers are not yet available.
In places such as South Florida, where seasonal flooding is common, the mold remediation business has become especially competitive, according to Berg. In other places hit by hurricanes or heavy rains, residents might be facing mold problems for the first time. But whether from flooding, increased spore output or changes in how it functions, mold is likely to become a bigger part of our lives.
Tips* for avoiding the effects of airborne mold spores:
Toxic mold exposure is on the rise, and most people aren’t even aware they’re at risk, according to experts.
“There are millions of people suffering from mold toxicity that don’t know it because it’s going majorly undiagnosed,” said Dr. Neil
Nathan, a Board Certified Family Physician and author of the book “Toxic” (Victory Belt Publishing).
Mold, which releases mycotoxins in the air due to water damage, is often invisible with the naked eye, but dangerous to those with toxin sensitivities. Nathan said not everyone who is exposed to mold gets sick.
“We do believe that it’s somewhat genetic so certain people are more genetically predisposed to it than others,” Nathan said. “So you can have several people living in a moldy environment and only one of them will get sick.”
Doctors estimate 25 percent of the population (or 1 in 4 people) have the gene that makes them more susceptible to mold sensitivities. Some of the symptoms for mold toxicity include fatigue, headaches, nausea, anxiety, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, muscle aches, brain fog, weight gain, adrenal fatigue and sensitivities to light and sound. Nathan, who has a website for mold toxicity resources (www.neilnathanmd.com) said it’s never too late to get treatment, but curing it can only happen by clearing all toxic mold from your home, office, car and eventually the body.
“My symptoms got so bad that it affected everything,” said Chicago radio personality Kathy Hart, who discovered she’s one of the “susceptible 25 percent” after being misdiagnosed by several doctors and specialists.
Physical therapist Michelle Dwyer, who initially treated Hart for vestibular symptoms such as vertigo and dizziness, said many of her patients with chronic issues discover mold to be part of the reason they aren’t fully recovering.“One neurologist told me I was just ‘stressed’ and that I needed to see a psychiatrist, and I walked out of his office in tears,” said Hart, who was suffering from headaches, dizziness, adrenal fatigue, panic attacks and noise and light sensitivities. “I’d been to two different neurologists, an eye doctor, and they all said it was just stress. It was finally my physical therapist that suggested I look into mold.”
“We only have a few physicians in our area who know about mold and the reason they do is because they’ve been through it themselves,” said Dwyer, who was treated for mold toxicity after discovering her home had water damage. “If more medical professionals got educated about mold toxicity and its effects on the human body, there would be fewer cases of misdiagnosis. They came out with studies in 2017 that showed mold can be a direct link to Alzheimer’s and other kinds of dementia, and once these patients get treatment for mold, their symptoms improved. Cognitive impairment is a big factor with mold. So is muscle and joint pain and lethargy, which can be misdiagnosed as chronic fatigue, the list goes on.”
Nathan agreed and said many doctors need to consider a person’s environment when assessing their symptoms.
“These illnesses are increasing and if we do not grasp this, take it seriously and monitor our exposure, all of us are going to be sick,” Nathan said.
Here are tips to treat and diagnose mold toxicity/sensitivities.
Dwyer and Nathan recommend www.survivingmold.com or www.ISEAI.org as resources for testing and diagnosing mold toxicity.
“The single most useful way to find out is to do a urine mycotoxin test,” Nathan said. “This is simply collecting the urine, mailing it to the company and then they measure. If you get a positive test in the urine, this means there is an excess amount of toxin in you and you need to get to work on treating it.”
“After you test yourself, you need to have your home checked and there are tests you can do at home where you’re just taking a wipe and wiping the surfaces,” Dwyer said.
Do your research
“Consumers need to be careful because there are some companies who will always find mold and insist that they can remove it for six figures,” Nathan said. “Be discerning and only use people who come highly recommended by trusted sources.”
Don’t rule anything out
Nathan and Dwyer said mold can live anywhere, old or new construction. All it takes is 48 hours for it to develop.
“I lived in a condo that had been rehabbed and it looked fine but I found out the roof had leaked for years before I moved in there so I was slowly getting exposed,” Dwyer said. “And college dorm rooms now are under scrutiny. So many places go unchecked, it’s up to you to be your own advocate.”
“I know someone who had dogs who peed on the carpet so much that the wood underneath started growing mold and they were affected,” Hart said. “There are so many different sources.”
Dwyer said to get an air purifier in your home and bedrooms with a “good HEPA filter.”
“I also teach my patients to do lymphatic massage on themselves to help with the drainage,” Dwyer said. “And intense sweating from an infrared sauna or Epsom salt bath are great ways to clear toxins out.”
Get inspired to do something about it
“I felt like I was going crazy because no doctor could tell me what was wrong,” Hart said. “Sadly, it’s common for many people to feel that way because much of the medical community isn’t familiar with these mold illnesses. I hope that by sharing my story, it will bring much needed awareness to the condition and help those who are suffering finally get properly diagnosed.”
When most people think of “air quality,” they think of the outdoors; the smog, haze, even pollen.
But what many people don’t realize is that factors inside the home can also lead to poor air quality, causing potentially serious health risks.
10TV found out why indoor air quality tends to become more of an issue when the temperature drops.
What it really comes down to, according to Alisha Hopkins, a certified nurse practitioner with the Breathing Association, is the simple fact that when it gets colder outside, people tend to stay in their homes for longer periods at a time.
That means more exposure to all the particles, molds and bacteria inside the home.
“Your home is your safe harbor and then all of a sudden, now, it’s this area of just triggers everywhere,” Hopkins said. “So no matter where you go there’s a trigger. …We always think of the outside but we forget that our home is one of the places that we literally lay our heads down, we relax in, and if you’re relaxing in a bunch of dirt, relaxing in pet dander, the fur, that too will make our breathing that much worse.
One woman told 10TV she notices a difference in her breathing as soon as the holiday decorations come out.
“I just start to get the stuffy nose, the watery eyes and then my asthma really kicks up,” said Cindy Groeniger, vice chair for the American Lung Association local leadership board.
Groeniger has suffered from asthma since she was just 10 months old, she said.
“Every fall season it’s bad because I decorate and then you have, you know, mold or dust maybe on your decorations so I have to watch that,” Groeniger said. “Sometimes I have to increase my medicine for the holidays.”
Tips for improving indoor air quality can be simple, Hopkins said.
Vacuum your mattresses, carpet, couches and chairs inside to get ride of dirt, particles and pet dander that could build up over the year.
Groom pets heading into the colder months. Many pets tend to shed more in the fall but grooming them can decrease the amount of pet dander in the air.
Use air filters and humidifiers, making sure to clean them out regularly to avoid mildew and mold buildup.
Wipe down handles, door knobs and surfaces, keeping them free of germs. Because people tend to stay inside more through the winter, illnesses can spread easier from person to person.
Replace furnace filters before cranking up the heat.
Fall is also a good time to make sure that furnaces are carbon monoxide-free, Hopkins said that. Double check carbon monoxide detectors in the home to make sure they are working properly.
For more information on indoor air quality, click here.