By Mitch Kuffa
Let’s talk about mold.
For years, we in the construction industry had encountered this persistent microbe and have simply attacked it with some bleach and water. Today, however, mold has come to the forefront basically due to the fact that construction standards have changed dramatically due to energy concerns.
Buildings do not “breathe” as freely and therefore trap moisture vapors inside more readily. The newer the house, the tighter the environment within. Mold and mildew are everywhere in the environment and perform the very important function of breaking down organic matter.
These microorganisms need very little to survive and only need air, moisture (most can exist with only 40%-60% relative humidity), and food. And what is their favorite food? They are especially fond of building type materials. They savor wood, drywall and carpeting. In addition, they enjoy such things as furniture, clothes, drapery, etc.. All houses are an “all you can eat” buffet for these little rascals. New houses are even more sensitive because it typically takes years for many of the new, porous, construction materials to dry out (wood framing, concrete, etc.) and the new construction standards require that the building envelope be very tight.
Active households taking showers daily, breathing (I hope so), sweating, cooking, etc. can also add to a mold or mildew problem. Add to this a power humidifier on the furnace, a large aquarium, possibly a leaky roof or a plumbing leak, condensation on the windows, damp crawl space, water in the basement or other moisture problems caused by poor past construction, age or lack of timely repairs and the result is an area that encourages the colonization of these spores.
The mold spores can become airborne and then spread into wall cavities, behind furniture, into closets, into ventilation systems or into non-frequented areas that are protected and favorable to growth. Unfortunately, some people (typically children, those who have some illness or are weak, the elderly, etc.) may exhibit more adverse reactions; such as lung damage, memory loss and even death when exposed to toxic mold.
So, what is one to do? First of all, be aware! If you see any mold/mildew type stains address them as soon as possible. Due to consumer awareness today there are sophisticated mold control products readily available. These are easy to use, fragrance-free (instead of the bleach smell), are invisible, discourages future growth and some can even be “fogged” to treat large and inaccessible areas (such as attics or crawl spaces). This fogging concept might even be a good idea strictly as preventative maintenance.
Next, when the weather permits provide ventilation, ventilation, ventilation. Open windows and doors (even interior doors from one room to another), utilize fans (ceiling, portable, range or bath), open any vents accessible and make sure that none of the vents provided are plugged or sealed up. Of course, take care of any leaks, seepage or moisture infiltration encountered. Look in your crawl space with a strong flashlight (moisture is not acceptable in this area). Check the hidden areas of your basement (paint the interior perimeter of the foundation with a masonry waterproof product), open your attic hatch and look for dark “foggy” looking stains on the bottom of the roof sheathing (especially near the roof overhang areas). Make sure that the roof overhang vents are not plugged with insulation.
Finally, walk around the outside of your house and do whatever you can to allow air, wind and sunlight to infiltrate. A house that lives in the forest always has more moisture/mold/mildew concerns than a house that lives on a beach or open plain. Make sure all gutters are clean, downspouts should have extensions away from the foundation, shrubs and trees need to be cut back when the seasons change, no water or moisture should be trapped near the house (settling patio’s or driveways, raised flowerbeds, irregular grade pattern, etc.), all decks should have some type of plastic vapor barrier beneath (to discourage soil saturation in these protected areas next to the house) and patch any cracks or openings in the perimeter foundation walls. Do whatever is necessary to minimize moisture and increase air movement.
Remember, mold was here before mankind, but understanding these tiny entities can help us cohabit the earth safely.