What is mold?
Molds are microscopic organisms that are found virtually everywhere, indoors and outdoors. There are thousands of different kinds of mold. Their natural function is to help break down dead materials such as stumps and leaves so the nutrients can be used by the environment. For molds to grow, they need two things: an organic food source—such as leaves, wood, paper or dirt—and moisture.
Problems associated with mold
Mother Nature uses mold to decompose plant material. Unfortunately, when present indoors, it can be equally destructive. Mold growth can damage furnishings, such as carpets, sofas and cabinets. Left unchecked, it can also cause serious damage to walls and structural elements in your home.
Mold is present everywhere, and most people tolerate exposure with no adverse effects. If allowed to spread, however, it may cause problems. As molds grow, they release thousands of tiny spores that travel through the air. When inhaled in large enough amounts, these spores may increase the risk of adverse health effects in some people, particularly respiratory problems. A less-common strain of mold called “black mold” can be particularly troublesome to those who are especially sensitive.
Common causes of mold problems
Don’t think that just because you live in a hot, dry climate, your home is not vulnerable to mold. There are many sources of mold problems, from faulty air conditioners to poorly positioned sprinkler systems. Federal standards for energy-efficient home building have even contributed to the problems. By making homes more airtight, construction techniques in newer homes can trap moisture inside.
Here are the most common sources of mold inside the home:
- Leaky roofs or damaged gutters
- Heating or cooling system problems
- Poor drainage next to foundation
- Plumbing leaks from toilets, refrigerators and dishwashers
- Damp basement or crawl space
- Leaking windows or doors
- Steam from shower or cooking
- Indoor exhaust from clothes dryer
What to look for
If you can see or smell mold inside your home, it’s time to take measures. Any area that has sustained past or ongoing water damage should be thoroughly inspected—you may find hidden mold growth in water-damaged walls, floors or ceilings. Walls and floors that are warping or discolored can also indicated moisture problems, as can condensation on windows or walls.
Preventing mold in your home
Since mold is always present, there’ no way to eliminate it completely. You can control indoor mold growth, however, by controlling moisture.
- Remove the source of moisture by fixing any leaks or other water problems.
- Make sure bathroom fans and dryers are properly vented to the outside. Always use the exhaust fan when cooking or showering.
- Use a dehumidifier or air-conditioning system. Make sure your AC system is well maintained and is the correct size for your home. A faulty AC system can cool the air without removing the water vapor, creating high humidity.
- Insulate your home well to prevent indoor condensation.
- Have your heating, ventilation and cooling systems professionally cleaned annually. Air-duct systems can easily become contaminated with mold.
- Regularly clean moist area such as the bathroom with products that treat mildew.
- Dry-clean, rather than wet-clean, your carpets.
- Avoid carpeting bathrooms and basements.
- Clean any moldy surfaces as soon as you notice them.
Mold is a manageable problem. Unless it is dealt with correctly, however, it will continue to come back. If your mold problem is severe or if you have extensive water damage, it’s best to call an experienced, professional contractor who specializes in mold removal. If you have a mold problem that is isolated to a small area, less than a square yard or so, you can try to resolve it yourself.
Porous items that are hard to clean, such as carpet and drapes, should be discarded. Moldy sheetrock and ceiling tiles can be removed and replaced.
Hard, nonabsorbent surfaces such as glass, plastic and metal can be thoroughly cleaned with soap and water. Allow to dry completely.
For solid items that are semi-porous, such as floors, cabinets and wood furniture, scrub with an ammonia-free cleaner and hot water to remove all mold. Rinse with water and dry thoroughly. After cleaning, apply a mildewcide to kill mold and spores.
When cleaning mold, remember to wear gloves, a mask and eye protection, and work in a well-ventilated area. Never mix cleaner containing bleach and ammonia; this can result in the release of a toxic gas. And be sure to throw away any sponges or rags that you use for cleaning.
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