Straight talk about Mold.
Mold, mold prevention, mold mitigation and mold inspections are very complicated subjects. Even defining the word mold is subject to much controversy, although nothing compared to the controversy concerning the health effects of mold. There are very few simple answers or solutions to mold issues. With that, the only way to adequately address the subject to give it its due – short answers to mold questions or concerns do not serve any of us well – especially those concerned.
Reasonable people are naturally concerned about mold. The following discussion is my thoughts and opinions based on my experience as a home inspector and licensed mold inspector. These are my opinions only and in no way should be interpreted as advising against a mold inspection.
Objective data is hard to come by, and when it is available, it is difficult to analyze in context of residential property real estate transactions, home ownership or most importantly, health. Consumer and real estate professional education and knowledge on this topic is very weak. Decision making is often driven by strong emotion based on sensational anecdotal evidence that is wildly out of proportion to reasonable concerns. I believe that much of the mold inspection business industry is based on fear (I make no apologies for this to my colleagues). The consequences of mold, whether real or perceived, can quickly spiral out of control, even when the root issue and resolution is, or may have been, simple. I am embarrassed to say that I’ve heard the phrase ‘mold is gold’ from my otherwise professional colleagues.
Education and knowledge is paramount. An hour spent reading the latest guidance on the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) website will pay dividends in good decision making. For a great starting point, click this link: http://www.epa.gov/mold/brief-guide-mold-moisture-and-your-home . There is good news in the latest guidelines, even the EPA is learning (and admitting), that it’s not as bad as we once thought. The correlation between health issues and mold is not cut and dry (no pun intended – however cut and dry may be a good idea – read on).
- Mold is a Health Issue
Mold sensitivity is a health issue that should be discussed with medical professionals. Your local home or mold inspector is very, very rarely such a professional. Personal health issues concerning exposure to mold and many other common household chemicals and products should be assessed in light of a professional evaluation of the sensitivity. Mold may not be the problem, if there is one. Self-diagnosis of mold sensitivity is never a good idea.
- Mold Inspections are not Simple
Mold inspections must follow strict and rigorous industry standards and protocols. When mold inspections are not rigorous they can cause unnecessary confusion which makes decision making even more difficult. An accurate mold inspection depends on proper preparation of the property. A viable mold inspection can NOT be done during the turmoil of a home inspection – beware of combo home and mold inspections. Done properly a mold inspection must be a separate inspection conducted during a dedicated time period when the conditions at the property can be controlled. Because of the above, if done properly, a mold inspection can be a fairly expensive proposition. Be very wary of cut rate mold inspections. Buyer beware, you get what you pay for – especially when it comes to mold inspections – and home inspections!
- All the above sounds great – but what do I do?
I recommend establishing a valid reason to conduct a follow on mold inspection after the general home inspection, but only if the situation warrants. During my general home inspection I look for any indication of possible mold growth and conditions that might promote its growth (note that mold or mold type cannot be identified or specified within home inspection standards). I will make a recommendation, based on the condition of the property, on whether the expense of a mold inspection may be warranted. I handle the possible presence of mold just like any other system. In the same way roof covering repairs are recommended, a recommendation for follow on mold inspection by an independent, professional mold inspector or hygienist (not your home inspector) can be based on actual conditions vice emotion. I have had good success with this approach and have saved my clients a lot of unnecessary anguish.
- There is mold in every house.
- All one can do is reduce the risk of exposure. Preventive measures are the best defense against mold.
- Tips for preventive measures and reducing the risk of mold exposure:
- Mold growth depends on moisture, mold will not grow in the absence of moisture. Stop the moisture, stop the mold. A dry environment is likely a mold free environment. If you see it or think it – stop the moisture, dry it, clean it or remove it until any indication of mold no longer exists –all within the EPA guidelines.
- Immediately fix any water leak regardless of the source. Leak repairs must include complete drying of all affected material. Never enclose wet material. Unventilated wet material will support mold growth.
- Properly operating air conditioners are also de-humidifiers. Use them to your advantage to reduce humidity within your home. Large homes may benefit from additional humidity control in addition to the air conditioner system.
- Air conditioner systems also, however, create natural environments supportive of mold growth within the internal components that can affect the living space air. Keep them well serviced, clean and dry. Replace filters regularly. Keep condensate drain systems and overflow pans in good repair and free flowing. Routine professional servicing and cleaning is a sound investment.
- Keep plumbing drains clean and clear.
- Keep toilet rims clean (don’t look – just clean) and lids down.
- Indoor plants support an environment conducive to mold growth. Keep the humidity down!