From the archives. Published in Allergic Living magazine, Summer 2007.
It’s a humid summer day. You descend the basement stairs and that damp, dusky smell hits you. Or you look under the kitchen sink and see a dark stain near a dripping pipe. Perhaps you peel back a piece of carpet in a damp area and spot the discoloration.
These are all tell-tale signs of household molds – fungi that thrive in a humid environment.
This microscopic fungus is not something you want to be living with. It produces allergens, irritants and, sometimes, mycotoxins (a toxic substance that you can inhale).
When it reproduces, mold releases spores that can trigger hay fever reactions and asthma attacks in the mold-allergic. Even those who aren’t allergic can find themselves rubbing their eyes, nursing a skin rash or suffering from a sore throat.
If mold is growing in your house, it’s time to identify the problem and eliminate it.
To determine whether you’ve got mold, there are clues to look for, says Frank Haverkate, an indoor environmental consultant and president of Haverkate and Associates Inc., a Toronto-based environmental testing and consulting company that does mold inspections.
Mold needs moisture to grow, so any source of water that is not contained – such as condensation on your walls or leaky pipes – combined with a lack of airflow, can create perfect conditions for the fungi.
Haverkate suggests looking for peeling and cracking paint, flaking and powdery plaster, and crystalline white formations on the basement foundation that indicate minerals are passing through the stone.
Mold can be furry, powdery, slimy and come in a variety of colours, from black to green to white. In fact, says Haverkate, despite rumours that black mold is the worst for your health, all molds can cause problems. You can’t judge toxicity by the colour.
Companies such as Haverkate’s specialize in mold inspection. For $1,000 to $1,500, he will come to your house with instruments including moisture meters and thermal imaging cameras to suss out the problem and also do lab analyses of air samples.
The firm is one of the few in Canada to use a mold-sniffing dog to help identify hard-to-see cases. (Mold Dogs Inc. in Alberta and MoldDOG Canada in Port Coquitlam, B.C. employ dogs on the job as well.)
The Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corp. suggests only small areas (no more than three patches of mold, each smaller than one square metre) should be tackled by an untrained individual.
If that’s your situation, protect yourself by purchasing an N-95 respirator that fits properly so you don’t inhale any spores. Wear gloves that come up your forearm as well as goggles without ventilation holes. Using detergent and water, scrub off the mold.
(Do not use bleach as it can react with surface materials and produce toxic gases.) Dry the area completely and make sure it stays arid.
For more serious mold infestations, you’ll need to call in a specialized mold removal contractor, with credentials from the Institution of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification (IICRC) and the Indoor Air Quality Association (IAQA).
Such contractors will set up a tent-like structure around the mold, which they pressurize before safely removing the fungi, so that isn’t spread around. Haverkate advises that mold inspectors who also do the removal have an inherent conflict of interest.
How To Avoid
There are simple steps to minimize your exposure to mold. Fix any leaks immediately; keep your eavestroughs clear of leaves, so that they drain properly; turn a fan on in the bathroom for 10 minutes after every shower or bath; make sure appliances, such as dryers, are vented properly; and cover cold surfaces, including cold water pipes, with insulation so that condensation doesn’t accumulate.
If you do have a flood or a leak, clean it up quickly. Chances are that if you remove the moisture within 24 to 48 hours, you will stop mold spores from setting up camp. While Haverkate stresses that a mold-free environment does not exist, an infestation in your home is unhealthy and should be eradicated.
Websites of Interest