By Catherine Powell
|Image courtesy Pixabay|
There's a fungus among us. At least there is when it comes to household mold. A member of the fungi family, mold loves warm, moist environments, which make them particularly fond of my home state of Florida. Mold has been known to grow on everything from drywall and tile, to wood, fabric, glass, and even paper, sometimes digesting the material upon which it grows. Unlike the birds and the bees, fungus can reproduce either sexually or asexually by emitting spores that are so minute that the tiniest puff of air causes them to waft far and wide. While most forms of mold are benign, some can cause allergic reactions or even render a home uninhabitable. Last but not least, the cost to remediate mold infestation in a home can be expensive, and in many cases it isn't covered by homeowner's insurance. Before you wind up being menaced by mold, there are a few things you need to know.
What is mold?
It's unclear how many kinds of mold there are worldwide, but estimates are somewhere around 300,000. Some of them that take up residence in our homes have strange names like, Alternaria, Aspergillus, Cladosporium, and Penicillium. They can come in a variety of colors and textures. It's not uncommon for mold to be misidentified as a simple stain or discoloration. The spores they reproduce are so tiny that they aren't visible to the naked eye, and they're so light that they can get transported by everything from your home's HVAC system to the slipstream created by a body passing nearby.
Since these forms of fungi are living organisms, they can only flourish if their spores land in areas that have ideal growing conditions. That's why mold commonly occurs in areas where floods or leaks have occurred. Their spores can enter a home through open doors, windows, chimneys, and vents. Even if they don't initially find a suitable place to grow, some species can remain in suspended animation for hundreds of years. Unless you work in an industrial clean room, it's certain that your home and place of business are full of mold sports. All it takes to cause them to grow and propagate is one leaky roof, window, shingle, or pipe.
How can mold affect your health?
Depending on the type of mold being produced, there are a number of health risks associated with it. Some forms of mold can initiate a kind of biological warfare by triggering the production of bacteria and microbes that can cause an inflammatory response. The spores of Aspergillis can bring on an allergic reaction or breathing problems. Black mold can cause coughing, sneezing, rashes, nausea, vomiting, and bleeding in the lungs. Mycotoxins produced by mold can prove toxic if inhaled or ingested. If you or anyone in your family experience mold-related symptoms, do not delay seeking treatment. Prescription mold binders taken orally can help remove spores from the gastrointestinal tract. Nonprescription remedies such as modified citrus pectin has proven an effective mold detoxification agent as well.
How can you detect mold?
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While you can sometimes see the source of mold, if it grows out of sight or between walls it's sometimes easier to use your nose to detect it. That's because mold produces an earthy, pungent aroma reminiscent of sweaty socks or rotten meat. The problem is many times smelling a whiff of mold and tracking it to its source can prove difficult. When this is the case, a bit of deductive reasoning can help. In the bathroom or kitchen, check for leaks in anything connected to a pipe or drain. If near a door or a window, look closely to see if there are any cracks or gaps that can allow moisture in. In the attic, inspect rafters for any telltale signs of seepage. The trick is to not only determine where the source of moisture emanates, but to trace any leaks to their loci. If water has seeped inside a wall or ceiling, you could have a bigger problem that you may at first suspect.
How can you eliminate mold?
Depending on the degree of mold contamination, it can sometimes be eliminated by cleaning with a diluted bleach-based solution or anti-fungal product available at the local hardware store. If the problem persists, installing a dehumidifier can help make the environment less friendly to these moisture loving fungi, provided you can keep the humidity at or below 50%. The installation of vents and fans can also help make life difficult for mold to propagate, since they prefer still air. If you discover large mold infestation, better to call in the professionals. They have the equipment and training to deal with what could prove to be a smelly, toxic mess.
How much does it cost to remediate mold?
Mold can prove rather expensive to professionally remediate. A moldy attic can cost anywhere from $1,000-$10,000 to clean, depending on the amount of collateral damage. Mold in your home's HVAC system can run anywhere from $3,000-$10,000 to remediate. Whole-house remediation of mold, such as that can occur after flood damage, typically costs between $10,000-$30,000. The longer the mold in question is allowed to propagate, the higher to bill to eliminate it.
When does homeowner's insurance cover mold damage?
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Insurance is only meant to cover homeowners for sudden perils. That means if mold damage is caused by a firefighter putting out a blaze in your home, then any mold caused from the use of a fire hose would most likely be a covered peril. Likewise, if you have flood insurance and flood water produces mold, this should be covered, provided you can prove that the mold damage wasn't a previously existing condition. The problem with mold is it can develop over time because of neglect, whether intentional or not. Things like slow leaks, worn out weatherstripping, gaps, and cracks can allow moisture to slowly percolate into a home. In instances like these, insurance typically excludes coverage for events that take time to develop.
The bottom line is mold can prove to be a silent menace that can cost home and business owners a lot of money. If you hope to keep fungi from taking a bite out of your wallet, here are some helpful tips:
- Inspect your home regularly and correct any problems that can provide a breeding ground for mold.
- Monitor indoor humidity. (Many modern thermostats provide this data.)
- Invest in a dehumidifier if you live in a humid part of the country.
- Keep the air moving by installing ceiling fans.
- Buy some anti-fungal products.
- Direct rainwater away from your property.