Please Don’t Feed the Mold

Mold is everywhere.  Whether your house is brand new or 100 years old, whether you live in Florida or Arizona, or whether you clean every day or just once a month, you have mold.  Our goal is not to totally eradicate mold but rather to make our indoor environments as inhospitable to mold as possible.  We don’t want the mold to take up residence and begin growing in our homes or other buildings.  So what exactly makes mold grow?

  • To begin with, mold needs a food source.  There is no shortage of available food sources for mold to find in our homes.  Paper, wood, fabric, and food are all great food sources.  This means that everything from the paper on our drywall and insulation, our wall-to-wall carpeting, our draperies and furniture, and the paste on the back of our wallpaper to our books and important documents is fair game.  Although certain building practices and construction techniques as well as building materials and the way we decorate our houses can reduce the available food sources for mold, it is virtually impossible to entirely eliminate them.
  • Secondly, mold needs the correct temperature in order to thrive.  Although molds can grow in a wide variety of temperatures, they grow very well at the same temperatures that we prefer.  Therefore it is not practical to control mold growth in our homes through temperature control.
  • The third requirement that mold needs to grow is moisture.  This is the key to preventing or inhibiting mold growth in your home.

Water intrusion either through a leaky roof, windows, doors, or other openings or damage to the structure must be repaired before dealing with any mold problem you may have.  Another potential source of indoor moisture is leaky pipes.  It is important to regularly check under sinks and behind appliances for any signs of leaks and to deal with them promptly.  It takes as little as 48 hours for mold to begin to grow when the conditions are favorable.

Condensation is another source of moisture in your home.  This occurs when a cold surface comes in contact with warm air.  This is most frequently seen on windows but can also occur on exterior walls if they are not properly insulated and do not have appropriate vapor barriers in place.  You must either increase the temperature of the surface or reduce the amount of humidity to prevent condensation from forming.  Good air circulation is also important in helping to prevent mold growth.  If necessary, move furniture or other objects away from walls to increase the amount of air circulation they receive.  Open closets and other enclosed places to increase the amount of light and air circulation.  Vinyl wallpaper, particularly on an exterior wall, can trap moisture and become a perfect breeding ground for mold.  Condensation that forms inside of walls and the mold growth that ensues due to defective construction techniques can be difficult to detect.  In such cases, an ERMI test can help you identify what types of mold are present in your indoor environment and whether or not there is a high likelihood that you have a mold problem.

Cooking, bathing, laundry, and breathing also introduce abundant moisture into the air.  It is important to get a quality bathroom exhaust fan that is appropriately sized for your bathroom and that vents directly to the outside and not into the attic.  Your dryer should also be vented directly outside.  If you prefer to line dry your clothes, do so outdoors and not in the house.  A range hood that vents outside and that you use regularly while cooking will also help keep the humidity in your house from rising.  Keep in mind that warm air can hold more moisture than cooler air.  Therefore if your house temperature is 80 degrees and the humidity is 50%, you have much more water in the air than if the temperature is 70 degrees with a humidity of 50%.  The highest humidity level in a room is near the coldest surface, so keep this in mind when choosing a location for your humidity monitor.  The humidity in your home should be 50% or less to inhibit the growth of mold.  This can be accomplished with the steps above but also by using a properly sized air conditioning system or a dehumidifier.  It is also possible to have a whole-house dehumidifier installed as part of your air conditioning system.  While this might be a convenient option for some, it is relatively expensive and does not give you the option of moving the dehumidifier to areas that most need it.  During cooler times when the air condition is not running very often but the humidity is still high, extra dehumidification may be necessary.

It is also important to keep your home clean and free of dust and debris that can contribute to mold growth.  The use of a HEPA vacuum and HEPA air filter are highly recommended in your fight against mold.  Reducing unnecessary clutter and knickknacks as well as removing carpeting and draperies can be a big help in making it easier to keep your home as clean as possible.  A beautiful home is one in which we can achieve our optimal level of health and well-being, not one that makes the cover of Better Homes and Gardens!  Have you ever walked into a used bookstore or antique store and smelled that familiar smell?  That smell is the result of mold and for those of us with mold illness should be a red flag.  As paper is a prime food source for mold and since it is a porous material that cannot be cleaned of it, you may want to consider switching from buying paper books to those in electronic format.  While for some people this may be quite an adjustment, there are many benefits to e-books. You can easily highlight important sections, make notes, increase the font size, and most importantly search for words or phrases.  I found this a particularly useful feature while reading Surviving Mold :Life in the Era of Dangerous Buildings and during my treatment as I was able to easily re-read the sections that pertained to my particular issues. By having an electronic version, I am assured   that my Surviving Mold book and all future books I purchase will never become moldy and adversely affect my health. It also makes cleaning a whole lot easier as you can store hundreds or thousands of books on an e-book reader or tablet rather than having to dust each one! For a simple e-reader, check out the Kindle Paperwhite. If you are interested in reading your e-books as well as connecting to the internet, watching videos, listening to music, and even chatting with far-off friends and family, why not consider an Apple iPad Mini? It is a truly versatile option for all your needs.

Surviving mold illness and learning how to avoid re-exposure is a journey that will truly change your life, but it is most definitely worth it.