Whether homeowner, purchaser, or rental property owner, the word mold is one you never want to hear. Mold can wreak havoc on a property, not only requiring costly repairs but potentially creating an unhealthy environment for occupants.
If mold is caught early on, the result is often merely a nuisance. When mold has had some time to grow but has only compromised a small area, it can be cleaned up without much cost or work. Once mold has spread to an area roughly 10 square feet in size, however, it’s time to get professionals involved. That’s when things get costlier.
Mold remediation professionals utilize several expensive pieces of equipment to get things under control. If present, standing water must first be removed with pumps and wet/dry vacuums. Commercial dehumidifiers remove ambient moisture, air scrubbers create negative pressure and capture airborne mold spores, and HEPA vacuums clean up the mold itself.
Air barriers seal the affected areas to stop dangerous mold from spreading. The cleanup crews dawn Tyvek suits, N95 respirators, and protective eyewear all times. Expensive filters used by the equipment must be changed regularly. And the costs add up quickly.
The best way to avoid the costs of professional mold removal is to prevent mold from growing in the first place. Of course, a homeowner, landlord, or investor cannot take responsibility for floods, hurricanes, or other acts of God. But, knowing how mold grows is an excellent way to help to avoid it.
How does mold grow, anyway?
There are but a few requirements for mold to grow indoors. Most homes or businesses already have more than half of the requirements for mold to grow present most of or all of the time.
First, mold spores need to be present. Mold being present indoors is more common than you’d think. That’s because tiny mold spores are very common outdoors and readily become airborne. Yet, mold spores don’t spread on their own. There’s more to the equation for mold to become actively spreading.
Second, there needs to be dampness or moisture present. Mold cannot grow without it. Dampness or moisture can come from a variety of sources. Common origins include water from flooding, broken or compromised pipes and leaky roofs.
Third, mold needs a food source. Fortunately for mold, but unfortunately for homeowners, building materials provide a variety of options for food. Some non-porous and many porous materials are mold-friendly including:
Fourth, mold needs warmth. You don’t hear many stories about mold growing in outdoor buildings in Alaska or Canada in the wintertime. That’s because when temperatures duck beneath freezing mold cannot grow.
Mold needs warmth, and there’s no shortage of it in the southeastern United States. The sunshine state and its neighbors are also more prone to experiencing hurricanes, coastal flooding, and tropical storms. That’s simply the weather in that part of the country.
Make no mistake places like Seagrove Beach Florida is a beautiful area with beautiful land-bound as well as waterfront homes and condominiums that have stood through repeated tropical storms and even hurricanes. The homeowners there understand the demands of living in a humid, tropical (and beautiful) environment.
The final condition needed for mold to grow in darkness. Mold is no friend of ultraviolet (UV) light. UV light has the ability to not only stop mold from growing but can kill it.
In, and out of, one’s control
So, by merely knowing how mold grows indoors, it is clear how to prevent it in the first place. Reviewing the conditions that must be present for mold to grow, there’s more that is beyond our control than within it.
It’s possible to reduce the possibility of mold spores from making their way indoors. Ensuring a home is well sealed at the doors, windows and soffits will help. But, doors open as do windows. People come and go, and as they do, air and particulates move freely. So, while, of course, having a well-sealed home is essential, it’s not the key to preventing mold indoors.
All but impossible would be limiting the use of food sources molds enjoy. Houses will continue to be built with some combination of wood, drywall, carpet, tile, insulation, and other materials that mold enjoys.
Next, let’s consider warmth. Let’s just say this. We hope everyone sets their thermostat somewhere well above 32 degrees Fahrenheit or lives where warm temperatures don’t require setting a thermostat at all.
Then, there’s darkness. Even a home that had lights turned on in every room 24 hours a day has plenty of dark spaces where mold could grow. Also, if a home’s attic and basement were brightly lit, there’s still a place that will always be dark. That place is the inside of the walls.
So, we’re down to one thing: moisture and dampness. Moisture and dampness are the one ingredient in mold’s recipe that we can control. Incredibly, after a flood or water breach, when the other conditions for mold are met, the addition of water sets a 24-to-48-hour time clock before mold will begin growing.
Water, moisture and dampness in a home
Water and moisture that leads to mold can come from a variety of sources. Without question, any home, room, or structure where there has been a flood or standing water that has made its way into walls or even indoors needs to be taken care of without question. Beyond the obvious, there’s also plenty of areas where water can become problematic. While we cannot compile them all, among the most prevalent culprits are:
Indoor and Outdoor Pipes
Indoor and Outdoor Pipes, whether made from PVC plastic or metal, are subject to leaks and breakage. Because many pipes are beneath foundations and inside walls, slower leaks or seepage is often a bigger problem than an obvious break. Compounding the issue is that the space within walls and beneath foundations are both dark.
Telltale signs of a leak
Beyond pipes which are visually compromised, there are clues that you may need to inspect the pipes in your home. Those clues include inordinately high water bills, the presence of mold or mildew on walls, and stained or sagging ceilings.
Cracks in basement walls or a home’s slab foundation can allow water to enter a home. Like we covered regarding pipes, smaller leaks often go unnoticed, ultimately causing more damage. The signs of an issue with basement walls are straightforward. If there are visible cracks, water stains, or water is gathering where basement walls meet the floor, there’s an issue.
Clues that there is a crack in a home’s foundation aren’t as clear. The most obvious sign beyond water breaching the house is a slab that is not level throughout.
Exterior points for water intrusion
Leaking roofs, exterior walls, doors, and windows all provide another common entry point for water. If, during rainstorms, water stains the interior walls or even gathers indoors, inspect the most likely sources. Whether a home is new or old, look for structural problems that develope over time, presenting weak points where moisture may enter a home.
Keep an eye on bathrooms and kitchens
Bathrooms, kitchens, and other areas where piped water can get inside a home is a place where water is often found. Beneath vanities and sinks, around dishwashers, and the area surrounding shower enclosures and toilets are all areas where water leaks occur.
The best advice
First, be sure that you have a comprehensive home warranty, flood insurance, and any other protections warranted by your home’s location.
Second, if you find water in your home, clean it up as soon as possible. Hopefully, you can avoid mold growth altogether.
Third, if you suspect your home has a weak pipe or other plumbing connection, have it looked into. The same goes for the structure of one’s home. If roof tiles are missing, or if there is a draft near a window, have it investigated. If something is wrong, get it fixed.
A little bit more
Finally, if you do find mold in your home, take caution, and have it taken care of immediately. If you have any reservations about treating a small area, or if there is a large area of mold growth, consider enlisting a professional remediation service
Additional real estate resources
Like it’s not difficult enough trying to sell a perfectly staged home. Have you ever wondered what it takes to sell a home with mold? Bill Gassett explains the ins and outs of selling a house with mold. Pro-tip… Where your HEPA mask.
If you are a buyer and thinking about purchasing a home with mold using an FHA loan you may want to think twice. Lender Eric Jeanette goes over everything you could imagine in his article from FHA loan benefits to FHA loan requirements.
Joe Boylan walks buyers and sellers through mold issues in homes. H e has written a thorough yet practical guide explaining everything from mold exposure symptoms to how to test for black mold.
Selling a home with mold can be a difficult venture. Paul Sian gives his thoughts about mold issues in homes and what can be done.