In the natural world, mold plays an important and beneficial function. It helps break down organic materials, such as fallen trees, leaves, and even dead animals. However, homeowners don’t want mold destroying the structural components of their houses, leaving unsightly stains, fouling the air inside with noxious smells, and possibly causing allergic reactions to family members.
Homeowners must be vigilant for mold. Their most important allies are their eyes and noses. Occasionally, mold is easy to detect on surfaces. It can be green, black, red, brown, or white in color. However, sometimes it hides under wallpaper and carpeting, or within a wall, where it cannot be seen. In such cases, it is often detected by the smell it releases.
Four conditions are necessary for mold growth. First, there has to be mold spores. Unfortunately, mold spores are carried on the air and are everywhere, inside and out, and some molds can lie dormant for years. Spores are in every room of your home and even in your underwear drawer, refrigerator, and kitchen cabinets. No recess is out of reach. Second, mold needs food. Mold can draw nutrients from almost anything -- wood, paper, paint (making homes a prime target), and even dirt. Third, mold has to have the right temperature and humidity to grow. The problem is mold thrives in the same conditions we humans enjoy. Fourth, and most important, mold needs moisture. Without moisture, mold will not grow, even if the other three conditions are present in abundance.
If you have a mold problem in your home, you have a moisture problem. Fix the moisture source, and you will eliminate the mold. However, finding that moisture problem might not always be simple. If you suspect a mold problem in your home, either with apparent mold you see or odors you smell, contact a licensed home inspector who is certified to test for mold.
Basically, there are two types of mold inspections – complete and limited inspections.
When mold is suspected because it is smelled but not seen, usually a full inspection is in order. It includes air sampling for spore counts outside and inside the home. If no mold is present in the home the number of mold spores inside the home should be equal to or less than the spore count outside. If the spore count inside is higher than the count outside, it could mean mold is growing inside, releasing more spores as time passes. Spore counts vary by location. An outdoor spore count in the city, where there are fewer trees and grass plots, will be lower than an outdoor spore count in the country. Included in this full inspection is a complete visual inspection of the home and grounds, to determine whether there is a moisture problem. Sometimes the inspector will want to “look” inside walls using specialized cameras or air pumps to test the air in wall cavities. These tests should cause no damage to the home.
In the limited inspection, apparent mold is visible within the home, perhaps in a specific room such as a bathroom, kitchen, or basement. Even though mold appears to be confined to one area, the inspector might want to conduct a full visual inspection of the home to identify the related moisture problem.
Samples collected, whether they are extracted from the air or directly from surfaces, are carefully identified and returned to a certified laboratory for identification. As mold grows it releases into the air a number of particles, including spores, to perpetuate mold growth, and other byproducts that include the tiny particles that “smell” and -- worst of all – the particles that cause allergic reactions.
After the moisture problem is fixed and its time to kill the existing mold inside, the rule of thumb is if there are ten square feet of mold or less, clean it yourself, with a good detergent and allow the area to dry. If the mold covers more than ten square feet, get a professional to remediate.
Remember, the real enemy may not be mold, but the moisture that allows mold to grow.