As a healthy homes expert, some of the most common questions I am asked have to do with mold inside the home. Due to a variety of climate and construction factors, mold growth is a relatively common issue in Alaska homes, and it can be an expensive one.
While mold can cause direct damage to the home requiring expensive repairs, even small amounts of mold can be costly. Mold can detract from the resale value of a home because of unpleasant odors, discolored surfaces and the specter of health problems associated with airborne mold spores. In this column, I’d like to take some time to discuss the costs associated with mold and some of the most cost-effective ways to deal with mold problems.
Most of us have encountered mold growth in our homes at some point in our lives. This could be mildew in a wet bathroom, the speckled dark mold found along the bottom of window frames or even rotting wood under leaky pipes.
Fundamentally, mold problems are moisture problems; mold can take hold any place that is damp for long periods of time. Fortunately, the most important strategy to mitigate mold in a home is also generally pretty inexpensive: moisture control.
Controlling moisture can be more complicated than it sounds.
While moisture can come from defects such a leaky roofs and plumbing, it is also introduced to a home through the normal activities of living. Cooking, showering and breathing all introduce a great deal of moisture into the air.
When that moist air comes in contact with cold surfaces such as pipes, windows or toilet tanks, it condenses to form liquid water. Regardless of the source of moisture, mold growth can take hold on wet surfaces in as little as 24 to 48 hours.
Ironically, mold problems inside a home are often brought on by attempting to save money. Modern home construction focuses on energy efficiency by using superior insulation and air sealing.
Consequently, modern homes require active ventilation strategies. To save money on heating, many people ventilate their homes less than is optimal in the winter.
Unfortunately, this can lead to a buildup of moisture inside the home and mold problems.
Like most home maintenance issues, prevention is much cheaper than fixing damage once it has occurred. Here are some cheap ways to prevent mold growth in your home.
• Check for leaks. Leaking pipes, roofs or windows should be corrected and any water cleaned up. An important time to look for leaks is after renovating or new construction.
• Keep moist air out of the home. Ensure bathroom fans and range hoods function and are vented to the exterior of the home. Use them. If you have a clothes dryer inside your home, make sure it is vented to the exterior.
• When it is very cold, many homes will collect liquid water at the base of exterior windows. Upgrading to more efficient windows is an effective long-term solution, but it is very expensive. In the meantime, regularly wipe up any standing water that forms on your windows. Buy a hygrometer. This small device will tell you the relative humidity inside your home. This, in turn, will guide how much ventilation is required to avoid excess moisture and prevent condensation. They cost about $10.
• If you discover a mold problem, make a plan before spending money. Small areas of mold usually do not require expensive remediation. Before you tear a wall apart, purchase expensive chemicals or hire a professional, review home mold remediation guidance from the Environmental Protection Agency at www.epa.gov/mold.
• Finally, beware of commercially available mold-related products. Mold test kits, though widely available, are of dubious value for the homeowner. Likewise, fungicides such as mold sprays and mold-killing paint are a poor strategy for controlling or preventing a mold problem. Mold problems are fundamentally moisture problems so controlling moisture is by far the most economical way to address mold issues in the home.