Mold is a common term for a large family of fungi that have a cottony or wooly appearance. There are nearly a million species of mold. Mold is a naturally occurring organism that has been around far longer than us. Mold grows in buildings where there is moisture, air, a food source, and when the temperature is between 40 and 140 degrees F. When conditions for growth are not met, mold becomes dormant; it does not die. Mold spreads by dispersing spores through the air as well as by growth on or within building materials.
People sometimes tell us that they don't have mold in their homes. We ask what happens if they leave bread in a drawer for a month or don't take out the garbage for two weeks. This helps them understand that no matter how clean they keep their home, mold spores are always there ready to grow on any favorable host. There are always mold spores in the air and there is always some mold in buildings, so having an objective of a "mold-free home" is not realistic.
Since it is normal for mold to be present in the air and thus to be found in buildings, it's mere existence is not necessarily a reason for alarm. But if mold is present in indoor levels higher than would be found in outdoor air, or if a significant mold colony is growing on building surfaces or in building walls or ceilings, it could be a cause for concern.
Media articles about "black mold," especially Stachybotrys, have terrified some people. Actually, it is common to find black Stachybotrys chartarum in small amounts in houses where there has been leakage or water entry. It is a toxic mold and it should be removed. But don't assume that anything black on the wall or ceiling is highly toxic mold. Other common black species may be of low or no toxicity. People may react to mold spores alone. There does not always have to be a visible growth to cause problems for sensitive people.
You cannot tell what kind of mold you are dealing with by looking at it. Competent identification is important. An expert, trained in microscopic identification of a cultured sample of mold, can usually determine it's identity. It is not reliable to judge with the naked eye, or on mold color.
Although mold is needed and always with us, we want to keep mold in it's place, preferably outdoors. While we will always have some spores in our homes, the goal is to keep the spores from growing to problem levels.
Sources of moisture in homes include:
The first step in dealing with a mold problem is identification. If the mold is determined to be harmless, it's time to get out the soap and water. If you or any other member of the household is sensitive to mold, or if the mold is determined to be harmful, a specialist should be engaged to properly clean up the mold. Once we get rid of the mold, the next step is to remove the moisture source that allowed the mold to grow.
Mold comes in many colors and may be visible and distinct. It can also be very subtle. Mold on a surface may be the tip of an iceberg, with considerable mold concealed behind the wall, for example. In other cases, the mold is only on the surface. The toughest situation is when the mold is entirely out of sight. The best clues to look for are areas susceptible to mold, such as high moisture areas.
Don't forget to clean your refrigerator, including gaskets, coils, and evaporator tray. Regular furnace and air conditioning service will help ensure that standing water or chronic moisture is not an issue. Gutters and downspouts should be kept clear and leaks should be corrected.
As with other environmental issues, finding and identifying mold is outside the scope of a typical home inspection.
If you have questions about mold before you take delivery on your new home, have it screened by a certified mold inspector - Call us now at (717) 503-7086