If a basement is musty, if there are black, green or purple blotches on or behind the walls and ceiling tile, or if there is any kind of growth thriving under the carpets or rugs, then the home is probably living side-by-side with a colony of mold.
This is a potential health danger for any family and also a legal liability for you and your clients.
Because of the fear over mold contamination there are so many lawsuits flying around today that sales of resale homes are in jeopardy -- and insurance companies are scrambling to avoid liability, with some U.S. insurers refusing to write any new homeowner policies.
So what do you need to know about mold to best serve your clients and keep yourself out of trouble?
- Molds are everywhere and have been around forever.
Many people have the impression that this is a new problem -- think, "Attack of the killer molds!" -- and that we now must arm ourselves against the impending invasion. Nothing has changed, however, but the awareness of the presence of mold. Instead of fear -- we need to focus on total elimination, prevention and control. This is easy: Sunlight and ventilation are key.
- Use common sense in your approach to mold.
Examples of common sense? Reduce indoor humidity 30 to 60 percent by venting bathrooms, dryers and other moisture-generating sources to the outside; use air conditioners and de-humidifiers; increase ventilation; use exhaust fans for cooking, dishwashing, cleaning. Also, reduce condensation on cold surfaces by adding insulation (windows, piping, exterior walls, roof, floors, etc.).
Excessive exposure can cause symptoms in anyone. Asthmatics and other people with sensitivities (such as infants and the elderly) will be particularly prone to increased asthma attacks, even with moderate exposure to molds. In particular, people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disorders should be particularly wary of molds. Be aware of their conditions and take the necessary precautions.
- You cannot spot the feared "Toxic" or "Black" mold simply by looking at it.
Most molds are black or dark green in color and the only way to determine its type is through laboratory testing. This type of mold is also known by its technical names of Stachybotrys Chartarum, or Stachybotrys atra.
- Most of the media attention surrounding Stachybotrys is overblown.
In statements surrounding mold in residential construction, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) does not believe that there is not any difference between Stachybotrys and any other mold. It just so happens that since this mold may grow more commonly on building materials, it is the one that happens to be most present in most homes. It's not any more toxic than other molds and the steps taken to remediate Stachybotrys should be the same as that for any other mold presence.
- Mold can be cleaned and corrected.
If you find mold on a hard, non-porous surface, it can be cleaned with a 1:16 bleach to water solution (only after first opening a window and wearing non-porous gloves and protective eyewear) as long as the area is less than 10 ft 2 in.
If more than 10 ft 2 in needs to be cleaned, consult the EPA's guide titled, "Mold Remediation in Schools and Commercial Buildings" (You can also get it free by calling the EPA Indoor Air Quality Information Clearinghouse at (800) 438-4318). If the affected material is porous, it should be removed and thrown away. If the porous material mold is extensive, you should contact professionals to gather and remove.
Lastly, NEVER and I mean NEVER mix household cleaners. Mixed chemicals can make toxic combinations.
- Always get the home professionally inspected.
While the information in this article is good and it's always smart to arm yourself with enough information to properly handle any situation, you are not to be mistaken as the mold expert. A professional home inspector will bear the responsibility of the mechanical, structural, and in most cases the environmental conditions of the home once they are hired by the client, releasing you from that burden. The inspector will assess the situation and put it into the proper prospective (believe it or not, I have seen a big deal made from some mold on a wall because some water was spilled from a fish tank when the home was vacated) for both you and your clients and make the call to refer it to the professionals if a "Red Flag" is discovered.
So there you have it … the nuts & bolts to mold within our homes. Further information on mold can be found on the EPA website by clicking here or at the CDC website, by clicking here.
Steve Rodriguez is the owner of Bulldog® Professional Inspection Services, a professional home inspection company in the Kansas City area.