Controlling Mold and Moisture

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All of the recent rain storms pouring down upon us here in Southeastern Pennsylvania, has lead me to think about excessive moisture build-up and mold issues in the home. Even though mold plays an important role outdoors (to break down dead, organic matter such as fallen leaves and trees), it can cause problems indoors. Mold spores are found indoors floating through the air and in dust, but will not grow if moisture is not present.  There are many types of mold, some of which can cause health problems.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, “Molds produce allergens (substances that can cause allergic reactions), irritants, and in some cases, potentially toxic substances (mycotoxins).  Inhaling or touching mold or mold spores may cause allergic reactions in sensitive individuals.  Allergic responses include hayfever-type symptoms, such as sneezing, runny nose, red eyes, and skin rash (dermatitis).  Molds can also cause asthma attacks in people with asthma who are allergic to mold. In addition, mold exposure can irritate the eyes, skin, nose, throat, and lungs of both mold-allergic and non-allergic people.”

Controlling moisture and preventing mold growth in the home:

  • Dry water-damaged areas and items, whether due to flooding, leaky plumbing or other sources, within 24-48 hours to prevent mold growth.  If mold is already present, wash it off hard surfaces with detergent and water, and dry completely.  If absorbent items, such as carpeting or ceiling tiles, become moldy, they’ll likely require replacement — a great opportunity to purchase more sustainable items.  Better flooring options include natural wool carpeting or hard surface flooring (tile, natural linoleum, hardwood, cork or bamboo).
  • Reduce indoor humidity to 30-60%.  Vent bathrooms, dryers and other moisture-generating sources to the outside (not the attic); use (Energy  efficient) air conditioners and de-humidifiers in hot, humid climates (be sure to clean or replace filters when necessary); increase ventilation and open windows to allow for fresh air; and use exhaust fans whenever cooking, dishwashing and cleaning.
  • Prevent condensation on cold surfaces (windows, piping, exterior walls, roof, or floors) by adding insulation (recycled cotton, cellulose, or soy-based spray foam).  Caulking around windows and using storm windows keeps the interior glass warmer and reduces condensation of moisture there.  It also makes your home more energy efficient.
  • Increase air circulation around the house by:  using ceiling fans and other fans, moving furniture away from walls; and by opening closet doors and doors between rooms.
  • Pay special attention to carpet on concrete floors. Carpet can absorb moisture and serve as a place for biological pollutants to grow. Stained concrete floors can serve as thermal mass to help keep temperatures comfortable year-round.  Use area rugs which can be taken up and washed often. In certain climates, if carpet is to be installed over a concrete floor, it may be necessary to use a vapor barrier (plastic sheeting) over the concrete and cover that with sub-flooring (insulation covered with plywood).

If you suspect hidden mold, it may be growing behind wallpaper, drywall or paneling; the top side of ceiling tiles; or the underside of carpets and pads.  Other possible locations include areas inside walls around pipes (with leaking or condensing pipes); the surface of walls behind furniture (where condensation forms); inside ductwork; and in roof materials above ceiling tiles (due to roof leaks or insufficient insulation).

Tag(s): Hazardous Products / Health Issues, Kitchens And Baths, Water

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