State of Florida Licensed Home Inspector # 103

Mold Facts

Molds are simple, microscopic organisms whose purpose in the ecosystem is to break down dead materials. Molds can be found on plants, dry leaves, and on just about every other organic material.
 
Some molds are useful, such as those used to make antibiotics and cheese. Some molds are known to be highly toxic when ingested, such as the types that invade grains and peanuts. Most of the mold found indoors comes from outdoors.
 
Molds reproduce by very tiny particles called spores. The spores float in on the air currents and find a suitable spot to grow. Spores are very light and can travel on air currents. If mold spores land on a suitable surface, they will begin to grow.
 
Molds need three things to thrive- moisture, food and a surface to grow on. Molds can be seen throughout the house, and can be found in most bathrooms. Mold growth can often be seen in the form of discoloration, and can apear in many colors-white, orange, pink, blue, green, black or brown. When molds are present in large quantities (called colonies) they can cause health problems in some people.
 
Who does mold affect?
Mold spores can cause adverse reactions, much like pollen from plants. Mold spores cause health problems when they become airborne and are inhaled in large quantities. Everyone is exposed to mold in some concentration in the outdoor air. Indoor exposure to molds is not healthy for anyone. In particular, people with allergies, existing respiratory conditions or suppressed immune systems are especially susceptible to health problems from mold exposure. Additionally, infants and children, pregnant women and the elderly can be sensitive to the effects of mold exposure. Some molds are more hazardous than others. For some people, a small number of mold spores can cause health problems. For others, it may take many more.
 
What are Symptoms of mold exposure?
There are many symptoms of mold exposure. The extent of symptoms depends on the sensitivity of the exposed person. Allergic reactions are the most common and typically include: respiratory problems such as wheezing and difficulty breathing; nasal and sinus congestion; burning, watery, reddened eyes or blurry vision; sore throat; dry cough; nose and throat irritation; shortness of breath; and skin irritation.
 
Other less common effects are: nervous system problems (headaches, memory loss, moodiness); aches and pains; and fever. If you have any of these symptoms, and they are reduced or completely gone when you leave the suspect area, chances are you have been exposed to some sort of allergen, quite possibly mold.
 
How can I tell if I have mold in my home?
Some mold problems are obvious - you can see it growing. Others are not so obvious. If you can see mold, or if there is a musty odor in your home, you probably have a mold problem. Areas that are wet, or have been wet due to flooding, leaky plumbing, leaky roofing, or areas that are humid (such as bathrooms and laundry rooms) are most likely to have mold growth. Look for previous water damage.
 
Visible mold growth may be found underneath wallpaper and baseboards, behind walls, or may be evident by discolored plaster or drywall. If you don't have any observable mold, but are experiencing symptoms likely to be mold-induced, the mold could be growing in areas you can't see, such as the ducts of a heating/cooling system. In this case, the only way to know if you have mold spores is to test.
 
Many home inspectors or Industrial Hygienists can conduct air sampling to detect the presence of these spores in your home. If you have obvious mold, you can conduct a swab test that can be analyzed to determine the molds that are present. Testing is the only way to determine if you have a mold problem and what type it is. Take a copy of the laboratory report along with you when you visit your doctor or allergist. This will aid in determining a method of treatment.
 
If I have mold in my home, what should I do?
The first course of action is to determine why the mold is growing. Investigate any areas that are moist, and repair the source of the moisture. There could be a roof or plumbing leak, or groundwater leaking into your basement. Your air conditioning drip pan could have mold growing in it. Your air duct system could be contaminated with mold. If you see mold in your laundry room, chances are that your dryer is not properly vented to the outside.
 
Clothes dryers generate humidity and should never be vented inside the house. Mold will grow on any surface that provides moisture and food. Substances that are porous and can trap molds, such as paper, rags, wallboard and wood, should be thrown out. After you have made all the repairs, it is time to clean. Use the following pointers:

Mix a household cleaner without ammonia with hot water and scrub affected areas before sanitizing with the bleach solution that is 10% bleach and 90% water.
 
Wear gloves when handling moldy materials. If you are sensitive to mold, you may wish to wear a particulate-removing respirator or facemask. Also wear protective clothing that is easily cleaned or may be discarded.
 
Hard, non-porous materials can be cleaned with a solution of bleach and water, 10% bleach to 90% water. Use a sponge or cloth to wipe the area clean. Never mix bleach with other cleaning products; it can produce a toxic gas! It is important to clean thoroughly. If you leave some mold behind, the spores will be easily released back into the air when the material dries out.
 
Remove porous materials such as ceiling tiles, carpeting and sheetrock (drywall) and dispose of them. They are nearly impossible to clean and will surely produce more spores when dry.
If mold is the result of flooding, remove all drywall to at least 12 inches above the high water mark.
 
Visually inspect the interior of the walls to ensure that you removed all contaminated drywall.
 
Allow the area to dry for 2-3 days after cleaning and sanitizing with the bleach solution.
 
Use a stiff brush to remove mold from block walls or uneven surfaces.
 
Have family members or bystanders leave the area while cleaning or abatement is being done.
 
How can I keep mold from damaging my home?

Repair water damage as soon as it is noticed.
 
Watch for signs of moisture, such as condensation on windows, cracking of walls, loosening of drywall tape, warped wood or musty odors.
 
Install bathroom fans that vent humidity to the outside.
 
Vent your clothes dryer to the outside.
Clean any moldy surfaces as soon as they are noticed.