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Mold Management

Here’s What to do When Mold Takes Hold

Source: by Noelle Lord, Old House Journal

Mold helps convert grapes to wine, milk curd to the blue cheese that goes well with wine, and has even contributed to life-saving medical breakthroughs like penicillin. For all the good some mold can do, however, just as many species can cause serious damage. Mold doesn’t discriminate based on the time of year, cleanliness of a house, or, for the most part, geographical location; it’s rare to find a home without any trace of mold. Mold spores-microscopic reproductive “seeds”-can travel inside on people and pets or through windows and doors. They live particularly well in damp or humid areas such as basements, kitchens and bathrooms, and spread easily throughout the rest of a building. Mold isn’t a subject to ignore-these organisms present not only health concerns, but also serious risks to vulnerable building materials. Mold can trap moisture and ruin all things wood, and some varieties can even eat through organic materials like paints and finishes.

Get the Water Out
Keeping moisture out of your house is the best way to stem the spread of mold. Start by targeting your home’s dampest (and most mold-prone) spots.

1. Ensure the roof is watertight and properly ventilated.

2. Clean cold-weather condensation off window sills immediately.

3. Check mechanical equipment for leaks, and insulate pipes.

4. Install proper foundation drainage, and use dehumidifiers.

5. Wipe kitchen surfaces dry, and check regularly for plumbing leaks.

6. Keep bathroom surfaces as dry as possible, and watch for condensation.

7. Seal showers with silicone caulk, and toss moldy shower curtains.

Since old houses tend to harbor the environments that help mold thrive, the more you know about this common household invader, the more able you’ll be to keep it at bay.

Mold Makeup
Molds are microscopic fungi that grow year-round and thrive in any damp, warm, or humid environment. Mildew, which is marked by its strong odor, is technically a species of mold. Mold you can see, usually as black, brown, or green spots, is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg-such visible areas are spore-producing colonies that release millions of airborne particles throughout your house. Some species even have “tentacles” that reach behind the scenes, stretching a dozen feet or more. From basements to bathrooms, kitchens to crawlspaces, it’s impossible to avoid mold completely.

Like any living organism, mold needs the proper environment and nutrients to survive. The most effective way to stem its spread is to eliminate (or limit) the conditions that foster its growth and create an inhospitable environment by removing water infiltration and getting rid of excess moisture in your home.

Discouraging Mold
Several basic precautions can discourage mold growth in your home. During moist, humid months, always run basement dehumidifiers. Empty dehumidifier basins regularly, or have them drain continuously to avoid creating additional hotspots for mold growth. In the wintertime, keep humidifiers free from growth by regularly cleaning removable reservoirs. Use a teaspoon to a tablespoon of bleach in the reservoir water and swish it around (or let it set if mold growth is present), then rinse well and fill with fresh water. Adequately ventilate your house, and quickly repair any plumbing leaks. Clean surfaces regularly-particularly those in high-moisture areas-with mold-killing products contatining fungicide. Additionally, it’s not a bad idea to have your furnace ductwork professionally cleaned periodically. Make sure any carpets in bathrooms and basements can be lifted out and aired (avoid large rugs or wall-to-wall carpeting altogether in those areas), and use vacuum cleaners and air conditioners with HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filters.

Fans strategically placed in basements, living areas, and attics encourage cross-ventilation and help release heat and humidity. I have small circulating fans permanently operating in my 228 year old basement to steadily stir the air, and run a dehumidifier year-round. All bathrooms with tubs or showers should have a working exhaust fan. Make sure the fans vent to teh outdoors. It’s common to find older exhaust fans blowing moisture out of bathrooms and into kitchens or other areas of the house (attics or basements) where the moisture gets trapped, thus contributing to mold growth.

Warm, dry summer days are a perfect time to give your basement and house a good airing out for the day (but close windows up again before overnight dew accumulates). Proper ventilation of a building is key to letting moisture move through and out so it doesn’t become trapped and begin its path of destruction.

Finally, whenever you’re completing a restoration project, repainting, or exposing older, bare wood, always give surfaces a good washing with a fungicide or a 1:1 to 1:3 bleach-and-water solution (followed by a clean water rinse) to kill any existing growth. This quick precaution is well worth it, even if you dont’ see any obvious mold growth-if you remove wallpaper and leave any mold growing on underlying plaster, or fail to properly wash woodwork or exterior siding before repainting, mold can eat through your finishing products from the underside and cause all of your hard work to fail.