Why worry about mold?
Mold can cause several problems. It can be an allergen. This causes symptoms similar to hay fever- red, itchy eyes, sneezing, and runny nose. Or it may be an irritant- the symptoms of this are irritation of the eyes and or skin. This is similar to allergy, but is not an allergic reaction. Finally and less commonly, there are mycotoxins- toxic substances released by the molds. Here in Iowa, the one you may have heard of is aflotoxin, a mold that sometimes grows on grain that is stored too wet. Aflotoxin can be up to and including fatal by causing liver cancer.
Mold is everywhere and you can’t eliminate it. Mold becomes a problem when it establishes and begins colonizing. What allows it to do that? Water. While it is everywhere, there are some things it needs for colonizing and the leading ingredient is a high moisture level. This is not only as in a flood, though you can be almost certain that a flood will create significant problems. Some of the most insidious infestations are due to water we provide in our buildings. High moisture areas in a home such as poorly ventilated bathrooms, laundry rooms, kitchens and attics are leaders on the list.
The problem generally starts with a water incursion- a leaking roof, pipe, window or basement wall/floor. If you have a water incursion, you should get it dried up in 48 hours or less. In that length of time the mold can get established. It is more likely to be a problem if humidity levels in excess of 60re maintained after the incursion. Do your windows “sweat” or frost? Is your bathroom/laundry/kitchen vented properly? Can you see any discoloration on ceilings or walls? Today’s tight construction, while it may reduce heating/cooling costs, can also contain moisture. Moisture needs to be vented somehow. If you don’t provide means for this, it is likely to collect where it can, which in winter is a cooler surface.
Heating, ventilation and cooling systems are another potential area of concern. If you have a reason to question your furnace, have it inspected by a professional- this is a good idea to have done annually to keep it maintained and safe anyhow. There are companies that offer to clean your furnace ducts- this may help, but is not always necessary. (The EPA has information on this- see below.) Change your filters at recommended intervals and consider the high quality filters available today.
Generally, the specific type of mold is less important than it being present at all. If you can see it, you should do something about it. If it covers less than 10 square feet (roughly 3 foot x 3 foot area), you may be able to remedy it yourself. If it is larger than that or requires you to do work you need training for (furnaces, etc.) you should hire it done. Seek assistance of someone with professional experience with mold. If you do it yourself, you MUST be careful of your exposure to mold. If you have symptoms that you feel are mold related, you should not do the work. Either way, it is recommended that you wear gloves, goggles, and a respiratory mask.
First stop any direct water leaks. Then dry the area completely. Hard, nonporous surfaces such as plastic, concrete and metal can be washed with soap and water or even stronger chemicals such as Lysol or fungicides (again, caution with these chemicals). Porous surfaces are a bigger problem. Wood, plasterboard, ceiling tiles, and carpets with significant growth are generally removed and disposed of at the landfill.
If you choose to seek further information on this, the EPA has some references to it on the Web. (http://www.epa.gov/iaq/molds/preventionandcontrol.html) If you do not have Internet access, you can call the EPA Indoor Air Quality Information Clearinghouse at 1-800-438-4318, or go to your library and ask them for assistance.