Although the Center for Disease Control says that a link between stachybotrys and more serious symptoms like memory loss or coughing up blood can't be confirmed, several juries across the country have awarded homeowners millions of dollars in connection with mold-contaminated homes and serious health problems, prompting concern among homeowners and homebuilders alike.
The source of concern centers on stachybotrys, a toxic mold that grows in moist environments and has been found in all 50 states.
While most varieties of mold aren't dangerous, too much exposure to stachybotrys can trigger asthma or hay fever -- at least in some people. When inhaled or ingested, stachybotrys can cause nasal and sinus congestion, coughing, wheezing, sore throat, skin and eye irritation, and upper respiratory infections.
If you identify problems with a house you are thinking about buying or renting, make sure the seller or landlord correct them before you move in. Or, you may want to consider starting from square one and revive your search efforts for a different house.
To stay on the safe side, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission offers these tips when shopping for an existing house.
- Hire a professional to check the heating and cooling system, including humidifiers and vents. Check duct lining and insulation for growth.
- Check for exhaust fans in the bathrooms and kitchen. If there are no vents, the kitchen and bathrooms should each have at least one window. The cooktop should have a hood vented outside. The clothes dryer vent should be outside. All vents should lead outdoors rather than to attics or crawlspaces.
- Look for obvious mold growth in attics, basements, and crawlspaces, and around the foundation. See if there are many plants close to the house, particularly if they are damp and rotting - they are a potential source of biological pollutants. Downspouts from roof gutters should route water away from the building.
- Look for stains on the walls, floor or carpet (including any carpet over concrete floors) as evidence of previous flooding or moisture problems. Is there moisture on windows and surfaces? Are there signs of leaks or seepage in the basement?
- Look for rotted building materials. They may suggest moisture or water damage.
Even if mold hasn't developed, moisture problems can lead to dry rot, which can potentially cause structural damage to your home. And most insurance companies don't cover mold damage, which is considered a home maintenance problem, according to Insure.com.
If you find mold in your home, the Insurance Information Institute says it can be cleaned before heavy damage sets in. The most effective way is to correct the underlying water damage and then clean the affected area.
A solution of household bleach and water (1 part bleach, 10 parts water), combined with a bit of dish soap usually does the trick. Be sure to wear a mask and rubber gloves and open windows. Apply the mix to the moldy area, scrub with a rag and then dispose of the rag. If the mold returns, you'll need to investigate whether you have a leak. If the contamination is extensive, you may need to consult a mold abatement specialist.