Today we are discussing how to protect your family from toxic mold growth in the home.

Wholesome Houses How to Prevent Toxic Mold at Home

This is part 2 in a series.  If you haven’t already done so, check out part 1, which provides a great overview about what mold is, why our houses are so prone to it, and why it can be detrimental to human health.

 

How Does Mold Take Over a Home?

To recap, the formula for mold is:

Spores + Food Source + Moisture = Mold Proliferation

Spores – Mold spores are unavoidable, and are present even in wholesome houses from the outdoor environment (every time you open your doors, you’re introducing new spores).

Food Source – From drywall to insulation, our modern homes are basically an all-you-can-eat buffet of ideal mold food, so there is little you can do there.

Moisture – Add a bit of moisture to the mix in the form of high humidity or water damage, and you’ve essentially got a dumpster fire for human health.

Because the first two variables are hard to control, we need to focus on moisture. Essentially, a mold problem is a moisture problem. So what’s the solution?

Water Damaged Cottage Roofs

Let’s start by exploring where you are most likely to find mold and moisture problems inside your home…

 

Top 10 Places Mold is Hiding in Your Home

It is estimated that at least 50% of the time, a mold problem is a hidden mold problem.  Here is a list of the top 10 places to start your search.

People get all bent out of shape from a patch of mold here or there, but the stuff that’s killing us is the stuff you usually can’t see, in the air conditioning system or carpets.

JEFFREY C. MAY
10. Carpets and Carpet Pads

Carpets are loaded with organic matter, and when you introduce moisture to the equation – either from high humidity, tracking rainwater indoors, or leaking – you have a perfect storm for mold growth.

9. Ceiling Tiles

Though not terribly common in residential settings, these porous tiles accumulate a lot of humidity and dust, making them a perfect medium for mold and bacterial growth.

8. Chimney

Your chimney collects soot, water, dust, and organic debris making it a safe haven for hidden mold. To correct, have chimney cleaned professionally on an annual basis.

7. Inside Kids’ Toys

Last year, mom bloggers were in an uproar about the popular Sophie the Giraffe toy being filled with mold. Unfortunately, this is no isolated incident, nor is it limited to overpriced African animals.

6. Windows

Moldy Window Sill

Leaking windows introduce more than enough moisture to cause mold growth. Additionally, if windows are not well-insulated, condensation can occur making them a prime breeding ground for indoor mold growth.

5. Vacuum Cleaner

Vacuum cleaner bags and bins are full of all types of contaminants, including mold. Many vacuums (especially those without sealed HEPA filtration) can blow these microorganisms back into the air.

4. Inside Wall Cavities

The space inside wall cavities can easily trap moisture from the air and/or from leaks. When mold takes root between walls, it can go unnoticed for decades! Mold is also commonly found behind wood panels and wallpaper.

3. Front-Loading Washing Machine

Because of the design of these washing machines, it is critical that the door be air and water tight. Between this moisture trapping and the many nooks and crannies for mold to hide, it’s no wonder these machines have a moldy reputation.

2. Refrigerator Drip Pan

Refrigerator drip what? If you’re anything like me, you had no idea these bad boys even existed. This pan typically found below your fridge is meant to collect excess water and food debris, making it a prime breeding ground for molds and other nasties.

1. Air Conditioner Unit and Ductwork

Many air quality professionals believe that the biggest predictor of mold problems in a home is the presence of a forced air or forced heat system. AC drain pans collect dirt and moisture while ducts are difficult to clean and are a prime collection location for organic material and mold (this is especially true if you have duct board or flex-duct). Routine cleaning and maintenance on these systems is critical to maintaining a mold-free home!

 

Preventing Mold in the Home

Pregnant Couple

The devastating health effects of mold contamination in the home can last long after the problem is gone. Even people who leave their homes for good with only the clothes on their backs may suffer for years to come.

 

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The absolute best thing that you can do to protect your family is to take preventative measures to keep mold at bay. The following are my suggestions for preventing mold and moisture in your home:

Occupant Behavior
  • Always use an exhaust fan to remove water vapors from cooking and showering (be sure they vent outdoors). If you enjoy ridiculously long and hot showers (hey, babe!) open your bathroom windows as well since mechanical ventilation is likely not enough to handle the extreme condensation.
  • Avoid turning off air conditioner during summer months. If you will be away for a prolonged period, set thermostat for a higher temperature.
  • Avoid the use of humidifiers except during cold temperatures in extremely arid climates. Change water and disinfect reservoir regularly.
  • If you have a small bathroom, consider storing used (wet) towels in another location.
  • Do not overwater indoor plants, do not place indoor plants on carpet, and monitor soil surface for mold growth.
Cleaning and Maintenance
  • Have HVAC systems cleaned, inspected, and maintained by a professional. This should include cleaning coils and ducts.
  • Clean air conditioner drip pan and drain lines regularly.
  • Install pleated air filters with a MERV rating of 8 or more, change regularly.
  • Vacuum home with a cleaner that has a sealed HEPA filter and dust home (especially electronics) with microfiber cloth once per week.
  • Clean refrigerator drip pan seasonally and coat bottom with salt to prevent microbial growth.
  • Visually inspect your entire home for water damage at least twice per year. Check ceilings, attics, crawl spaces, and under sinks. Have plumbing leaks repaired immediately.
  • If you live in a humid climate zone, try to avoid steam cleaning carpets during the summer months. Ideally run air conditioner and ceiling fans while carpet dries.
  • Regularly clean bathroom exhaust fans and grills with a microfiber cloth.
  • Regularly air mattresses, rugs, and upholstered furniture in the sun.
Outdoors
  • Soil should slope slightly away from the house.
  • Keep roof and siding maintained and water-proof. Replace shingles and flashing at the first sign of damage.
  • Gutters should be functional and remain free of debris. They should expel water at least 4 feet from home.
  • Be sure that sprinkler systems do not hit side of house.
  • Keep compost bins, firewood, and leaves away from your home.
Other Tips

Towel Line Drying Outdoors

  • Use a hygrometer and maintain relative humidity levels between 30-50% using dehumidification strategies as needed. If you live in an especially humid area, as I do, dedicated dehumidifiers should be employed.
  • Clothes dryers create a lot of humidity. Ideally line dry your clothes outdoors, the next best option is to use a system that vents dryer exhaust outside, if neither of these are possible, open a window in your laundry room when drying.
  • Never buy second-hand upholstered furniture and visually inspect antique wood furniture for signs of mold. Underneath tables is a common place to find mold. If the furniture smells musty, stay away!
  • Where possible, keep furniture away from walls to promote air circulation.
  • If you have a basement, store belongings on plastic or metal shelving off of the floor and at least 18 inches from walls.
  • Avoid dirt floors in unfinished basements. Cover with crushed stone, a vapor barrier, and concrete.

 

What to do if…

Carpets get saturated with water

It’s an unfortunate, but common occurrence: the toilet overflows into the bedroom (eek!) or your washing machine water doesn’t turn off and soaks the hallway carpet. What should you do?

If carpet and carpet pad do not COMPLETELY dry within 24 hours, remove the saturated carpet. Yes, I am aware of how extreme this seems. Do it anyway. No joke, if your family’s health is a priority to you, get a box cutter and get that ish out of there! Then put every fan you have on the subfloor to dry it out.

If the carpet was saturated with sewage, remove immediately, disinfect subfloor, and dry it out. Ideally, replace carpet with hardwood or tile, which is a better solution in a healthy home anyway.

I notice a musty smell inside my home

That musty smell that is synonymous with old basements and long-forgotten clothes in the washer is a tell-tale sign of mold growth. If you cannot locate visible mold, I suggest hiring a qualified licensed mold inspector. 9 times out of 10, the hidden mold is a result of a building failure, so it is important to hire an inspector who understands building science and/or building forensics.

Home is flooded in a natural disaster

I own property in the Houston area and saw first-hand the wrath of Mother Nature with Hurricane Harvey. Almost 8 months later, Houston has still not fully recovered, and many homeowners still live in hotels as they try to rebuild their lives. The devastation truly cannot be captured in a 3-minute news segment (or a blog post about mold prevention), so let’s move on to practical tips.

While the details of flood cleanup are best left to a detailed post, let me at least give you a place to start.  Before entering a home that has been flooded, I urge you to review information found here:

Flood Cleanup Guide from NCHH

Injury is by far the biggest threat to those returning to homes that have been flooded. Cuts and punctures, electrocution, gas leaks, and total or partial structural collapse are all hazards to be aware of. If you have any concerns, please wait for a professional to clear you to enter.

People with asthma or other respiratory illness, weakened immune systems, or mold sensitivities, as well as pregnant women and children should avoid the home until cleanup is complete as they are especially vulnerable to the risks of water damaged homes.

Please take extreme precaution when mucking out your home. “Mucking” a home involves removing waterlogged and porous materials (such as drywall, insulation, carpet, and furniture) to prepare the home for drying. It is grueling backbreaking work, and easy to want to “take a breather,” but please do not remove personal protective equipment (including facemask) without proper precautions.

 

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How Do I Test My Home for Mold Accurately?

In part 3 of this mold 101 series, we’ll discuss the best methods for detecting and uncovering mold problems at home.

Which of these mold prevention tips will be easiest for you to implement?  Which will be the hardest?  Comment below!

How to Prevent Mold at Home by WholesomeHouses.com