The prospect of mold in your home is hardly appealing. A type of fungus that thrives in damp, humid areas, mold is not only an eyesore but — if left unchecked — may cause property damage. Whether you’re buying a house that suffers from excessive dampness, or you’d like to prevent mold from taking hold in the first place, here’s what you need to know about mold in your home.
What causes mold in your home?
Mold is caused when fungal spores grow in areas of high moisture. Whether it’s your bathroom, kitchen or basement, wherever moisture is likely to collect is at risk of mold.
Most of what typically causes mold is simply part of everyday life. You turn on the shower, and condensation starts to form behind the windowpane. You run the washing machine and moisture builds around the rubber seal that otherwise keeps your laundry area dry. You finally fix the leaky bathroom faucet but forget about the cold-water pipe in the basement that condensates overnight.
Then, in the case of extreme weather events, the risk may come from outside your home. Even after the flood water has gone or the storm damage is patched up, any moisture left behind — possibly lurking in cracks and crevices — may eventually cause mold in your home.
What are some symptoms of mold around the home?
It’s usually not difficult to identify mold, from its signature musty odor to its discoloring effect on surfaces. But it’s not only about the mold-stained section of drywall in your hallway, although that may be a prominent example. Mold can grow on a variety of materials, including wood, paper and other porous surfaces that retain moisture — including, of course, pantry items and other foods.
For these reasons, it’s helpful to keep an eye out for early signs of mold. Perhaps it’s discoloration around the corner of a ceiling tile in your basement. Is there a slow leak from the pipework that sits hidden above? Maybe it’s a lingering, musty smell coming from the bookshelf in your living room. Is moisture getting trapped between your book collection and the patch of wall it covers?
Signs of mold when buying a home
For homebuyers shopping for properties, it’s best to keep your eyes peeled and your nostrils ready when viewing a house that you like.
While mold can grow anywhere if it’s given a chance, you may want to keep a particularly close eye on those areas in a house where mold is most typically found, such as:
- Bathrooms and kitchens
- Basements and crawl spaces
- Cracked or damaged fixtures
- Appliances like dishwashers and washing machines
Remember that not all mold is immediately visible. Trust your nose, and if you think you can smell a musty odor, inspect further where it is safe to do so.
If you notice signs of mold, it may be tempting to ignore what’s in front of you — what's a little mold to get in-between you and a possible offer? Evidence of mold, however, may be an indication of wider problems with dampness in the house.
Even if you do choose to overlook it, signs of mold probably won’t get past your home inspection if you proceed with a sale. In this event, you should carefully consider your inspector’s observations and perhaps further investigate the extent of the problem and available treatment options. It may be possible to make mold removal a condition of the purchase.
What are the effects of mold in your home?
Examples of the cosmetic effects of mold include stained wallpaper and discolored tiles, as well as that distinct musty odor.
As for structural impacts, the growth of mold over time can cause damage to house fixtures such as roof joists and drywall, which may consequently need replacing. Your paperwork and fabric possessions may also succumb to the insidious spread of mold. Are the deeds to your home kept in a secure, airtight and sufficiently dry place?
Not only can mold cause cosmetic and structural damage, but it produces allergens that may trigger allergies and respiratory problems. Additionally, some forms of mold contain toxins that must be treated with care.
Mold and health impacts
From a health perspective, the link between certain molds and diseases is well established. The allergens that mold produces can affect the upper respiratory system and cause additional negative health effects.
If you already suffer from asthma or other allergic and respiratory conditions, spending time in the presence of mold is likely something to avoid. Regardless of any pre-existing conditions you or your family may have, it’s best to keep a house as free from mold as possible for the sake of your comfort and overall well-being.
How do you prevent mold in your home?
Controlling moisture is key to preventing mold in your home. That means keeping your home well-ventilated, particularly in areas such as the bathroom and kitchen that are prone to moisture buildup. You may want to turn the exhaust fan on while showering and keep the window ajar, if you have that option and the weather allows it. The exhaust fan you may have in your kitchen is another friend. Consider keeping it on while cooking.
Basements are an additional place where mold spores love to settle. The natural dampness of a subterranean space can prove an ideal environment for mold. One option is to run a dehumidifier in those areas of the basement most prone to moisture. You may be surprised by how much moisture a dehumidifier can remove from the air.
Other possible tips to prevent mold in your home include:
- Checking any air ducts in your HVAC system for mold, so they’re not inadvertently pumping fungal spores around your house
- Installing high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters
- Fixing any water leaks and potentially wrapping a layer of insulation around cold-water pipes
- Staying on top of home maintenance, including fixing faulty appliances
Taking steps such as these may help keep mold at bay.
What are different types of mold?
Mold comes in many forms. Different types of mold include:
- Stachybotrys chartarum: commonly known as black mold, it has a slimy texture and fondness for damp surfaces.
- Cladosporium: a common indoor mold (also with a blackish appearance) that is widely linked to asthma and other allergies.
- Alternaria: typically found outdoors, although it possesses a particular liking for humid spots indoors, such as your bathroom.
- Aspergillus: recognized as a prime driver of allergies, it comprises a family of more than 250 species of mold.
- Penicillium: discovered by Alexander Fleming in 1928 and typically blue-green in color, it’s probably best kept in the petri dish and out of your home.
For advice on the potential effects of different types of molds, you may want to speak with a mold remediation professional.
How to test for mold in your home
To determine the exact type of mold in your home, a visual inspection may suffice. However, for definitive results, you might be required to take a sample of the affected area and send it off for laboratory analysis.
This sample can take several forms, depending on the nature of the mold in your home and the test you’re requesting. Certain tests require a sample of indoor air, others ask for a swab of the mold, while some may call for an actual sample of the affected material, such as a small piece of dry wall.
Regardless of the situation, the sample must be collected with care and in line with safety protocols. Again, a professional mold expert may be helpful in guiding you through the available options and even conducting the test on your behalf.
How do you get rid of mold?
Getting rid of mold may take a few forms, from scrubbing with detergent and water (then drying the surface thoroughly) to the use of specialized mold removal products. While tempting, it’s almost never a good idea to simply paint over a patch of moldy wall. The paint will not remove the mold, and your problem will almost certainly return.
For more severe instances of mold, or simply for advice on mold prevention, you may wish to contact a mold remediation specialist. Remember that some molds produce toxins and should therefore be handled with protective gear.
When it comes to mold in your home, it’s best to take it seriously. Small outbreaks may lead to bigger problems over time. Taking steps to reduce the growth of mold is almost always a smart move. At the same time, as with so many things in life, prevention is almost always the best cure.