Don't be lulled into a false sense of security by recent reports that mold isn't as bad on your physical health as previously thought.

Mold can still cut deeply into your home's financial and structural health.

"Damp Indoor Spaces and Health" is the latest treatise on mold by the National Academy of Sciences, under the auspices of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The book-sized study dispels some of the fears about mold's health effects and says exposure to mold and mold-friendly conditions (moisture, humidity, low light) may trigger minor respiratory health distress symptoms, including coughing, wheezing, and increased incidence of asthma in sensitized persons.

Limited evidence was found for an association between moldy conditions and more serious respiratory illness.

And, the report says, there's even less evidence that there's a relationship between mold or mold conditions and severe health conditions including fatigue, cancer, pulmonary disease and neurological disorders.

The report advises the combination of excessive indoor dampness and subsequent exposure to mold remains a public health concern and that additional research is necessary regarding serious health-related conditions, the interaction of other exposure factors indoors and the effectiveness of certain remediation methods.

But there's nothing like preventative medicine for both you and your home's health.

Along with health concerns, however limited they may or may not be, higher insurance costs and the difficulty in obtaining insurance for properties with moisture and mold problems or mold- and moisture-related disclosures that could reduce the value of your home can all cause financial suffering as well.

Mold, which can appear as a black and furry growth or as a wet and slimy, reddish or orange build up, is produced by several types of fungi as it feeds on and destroys organic, nitrogen-poor, cellulose-rich materials, including ceiling tiles, wall paper, paper covering on gypsum wallboard, wood and other materials.

Mold feeds and breeds best when moisture, temperature and low lighting levels combine to create favorable spawning conditions.

The fungus that has always been among us, but paid little attention, has become Public Enemy No. 1 for numerous reasons.

Tighter, energy-efficient building designs and systems that don't include adequate ventilation compensation, the use of more and more building materials that are more appetizing to mold, assembly-line building practices and shoddy material handling practices and, once the building is up, poor maintenance of structural and mechanical systems can contribute to mold growth.

Mold, of course, is not the real problem, but symptomatic of water or excessive moisture conditions allowed to fester for 24 to 48 hours or more, after which mold begins to dine.

Along with the health and financial problems mold can trigger, it can also undermine the structural integrity of a home and make it more prone to damage in a wind storm, earthquake or other natural calamity.

Manage mold and the conditions that cause it with the following tips -- with mold prevention in mind -- provided by experts who know:

  • Keep moisture away from your home by maintaining a slope of 1/2-inch per foot for 3 to 5 feet (like an apron) around the perimeter. Concrete walks and patios should have a similar drainage pitch away from the home.
  • Fix dripping faucets and plumbing leaks, plug holes in the roof, caulk, weatherstrip and otherwise seal your home from moisture intrusion.
  • If there has been a flood, major pipe break or other source of excessive water, remove any saturated carpet or furniture from your home, but don't discard it until an insurance adjuster can assess the loss. As soon as possible pump any standing water into a sewer system or natural drainage systems.
  • Replace aging washing machine and ice maker hoses. Replace washing machine hoses with sturdier flexible metal hoses instead of rubber hoses.
  • Properly maintain heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems with clean filters, sealed duct joints and cleaned, well-drained condensation or drip pans.
  • Don't install carpeting in areas with a perpetual moisture problem.
  • Reduce indoor humidity to 30 to 50 percent. The lower the better.
  • Vent bathrooms, clothes dryers, and other moisture generating sources to the outside and use exhaust fans whenever cooking, dish washing, and cleaning.
  • Add insulation to reduce the potential for condensation creating moisture on cold surfaces, such as windows, piping, exterior walls, roof, or floors.
  • Hire an inspector to give your property the once over for water leaks and pay special attention to dishwashers, refrigerators, water heaters, kitchen sinks, attics, roofs and areas around windows. Hiring an inspector is especially wise if you live in a high humidity climate, are about to buy a home or otherwise suspect there may be a moisture problem.
  • To remove mold, the National Centers for Disease Control says working with rubber safety gloves and a tight fitting face mask, clean mold off hard surfaces with water and diluted bleach (1 cup of bleach in 1 gallon of water), and dry completely. Absorbent materials such as ceiling tiles, exterior walls, roofing, or flooring may need to be replaced.
  • Use a vacuum cleaner with a High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) rated filter. These filters filter out mold spores from the air as you vacuum.
  • To help prevent mold's return clean and dry any damp or wet building materials within 24 to 48 hours.
  • Even with precautions, experts say 70 to 80 percent of all structures experience moisture problems. If mold persists contact your local health department for referrals to professionals with the proper credentials.
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