Mold 101: Everything you always wanted to know about the fungus but were afraid to ask
What it is and How it grows
Mold…it’s everywhere. It’s present inside and outside and while you will never completely eradicate mold spores from your life, there are situations when it can do significant damage. From compromising the integrity of your structure, (yes, it can do serious damage to sheetrock and other porous materials) to causing health issues, mold in the home is nothing to sneeze at. The first question that comes to most people’s minds is how does mold suddenly appear in a home. The answer is rather simple: it doesn’t suddenly appear… with the proper environment,which is water, and a food source, which come in many forms such as simple everyday items like sheetrock, wood molding, paint, cardboard and even leather mold spores grow over a period of time.
Mold is more than just unsightly…there is an odor to it and exposure to high levels of household mold can cause health effects. Though you might be tempted to spray bleach on the affected areas, I wouldn’t recommend doing so, since that can actually increase the damage. Even if you are successful at covering up the unsightly stain, the mold spores spread and continue to grow and travel.
Mold feeds on moisture. You are most likely to find it in areas like the bathroom, where hot, steamy showers create the perfect environment for the fungus to settle in and grow. That’s why it is important to properly ventilate the bathroom and to install a good exhaust fan.
But moisture can and does appear in other areas of the home as well. The kitchen is also a popular spot for the mold spores to show up. When you boil a pan of water, that steam has to go somewhere, right? Look at the ceiling above the stove and over the sink. Chances are you are going to see a few dark spots there. The stove’s exhaust fan isn’t just for airing out the kitchen when you’ve burnt something beyond recognition. Using the fan will help keep the area dry when you are cooking.
We also find moisture in basements and attics. The key to combating the issue in these areas is to use a good dehumidifier. Homes with central air conditioning systems have the best chance of maintaining a dry environment, even on the most humid days here on Cape Cod, Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard.
But it’s not just summer’s humidity that can invite dampness or moisture into a home. Despite winter’s dry air, moisture can find its way into homes through ice dams and other means, creating the perfect environment for mold spores to form and take root. It’s a good idea to check interior and exterior walls at the end of the winter season. Any dark spots or water stains can be an indication that water infiltrated the home and it needs to be assessed.
Signs and Symptoms
- A stale, musty odor pervading the inside of your home or business. This odor will cling to fabrics, drapes even carpeting, including linens, window treatments, clothes, sometimes even after they have been washed.
- There are speckles of black and white appearing on surfaces in your home, such as on the walls.
- The black marks reappear even after you have cleaned them.
- Cardboard items in your basement, attic, or garage feel damp.
- The wooden parts of the structure of your house are soggy and or are rottening.
Mold Inspection versus Mold Testing
At SERVPRO of Upper Cape Cod and the Islands, inspecting for mold is a standard part of what we do. We know the signs to look for and how to identify a problem. Once we detect signs of mold, we search for the cause. After determining the source of the moisture, we begin the process of fixing the problem.
If there are no visible signs of mold, but there are some symptoms, allergens for example, the homeowner can choose to have their house tested for mold. In this case, we recommend that they call in an unbiased, third party to do the testing. This eliminates any doubt or questions about the test results and makes for a good system of checks and balances. At SERVPRO of Upper Cape Cod and the Islands, we sell our services based on information and not scare tactics.
The Clean Up Process
Mold remediation begins with an assessment of the damage, followed by containing the damage, limiting air movement in the space and a thorough cleaning. The last step in the process is restoration, which can involve any thing from minor repairs to major reconstruction to make it like it never even happened.
At SERVPRO of Upper Cape Cod and the Islands, we use various containment procedures to prevent mold spore spreading and we have specialized filtration equipment that allows our professionals to capture microscopic mold spores out of the air. The mold remediation process depends on the amount of mold growth and types of surfaces on which the fungus appears. We use antifungal and antimicrobial treatments to eliminate mold colonies and to help prevent new colonies from forming. We also clean any furniture, decorative items, curtains and other restorable items affected by the mold. Depending on the level of the mold damage, we also provide reconstruction services, from minor repairs to major projects. Any further details on the process we employ or the products we use to properly clean a mold damage are a trade secret, kept locked in a vault along with the recipe for KFC’s fried chicken and McDonald’s special sauce.
For the record, however, I will say this: the first step in any mold remediation project is to identify the source or cause of the moisture. In some cases, this is easy and in others, it can require a bit of detective work. Believe it or not, sometimes a flood in the house can potentially cause less water damage than an ice dam. When you come home and find two inches of water in your basement because of a burst pipe or failed water heater, you immediately jump into action to get the water damage repaired. However, when you don't see actual water damage from a slow leak from behind a wall it can be a greater problem found as the inspection turns into demo that discovers both the root of the water damage and growing mold colonies.
Fact: Penicillium is a common mold that is found in dust, has a greenish color and a powdery texture. It is characterized by its heavy and musty odor.
Truth can be stranger than fiction
We once received a call from a homeowner whose cat flooded the house. The homeowner had gone away on vacation but had made arrangements for a relative to come in once a week to check on the cat. The owners decided to leave the bathroom faucet turned on just enough for it to trickle a bit of water so the cat could get a drink any time it wanted between the weekly visits. One day, while drinking from the faucet, the cat happened to step on the stopper in the sink, its paw pushing it down so that the sink began to fill with water. A trickling faucet can rack up significant gallons of water over the course of a week. Six days later when the caretaker opened the front door to check on kitty, she found water pouring down the stairs. It wasn’t enough just to dry out the home, we had to ensure that anything that was irreparably damaged, was removed and replaced to eliminate the possibility of any mold issues arising from this feline flooding incident. In this particular case, the cause of the water problem was rather evident and easy to spot.
On another job…this one on Nantucket…the source of the water damage was also fairly obvious. A family had arrived at the house they were renting for their summer vacation, ready and eager to get started on all the fun. One of the children noticed the oversized Jacuzzi in the master bedroom and decided he wanted to take a bath in the luxurious tub. He turned on the water but before he could turn it off, his parents announced that the family was headed to the beach for the day. Filled with excitement and anticipation about going to the shore, the young boy completely forgot about his plans to take a bath and the running water. After a full day at the beach, the family arrived home only to be surprised by the wave of water flowing down the stairs to greet them as they opened the front door.
Pipe breaks, toilets overflowing—those are easy sources of water problems to detect. On other jobs, however, the source of the water damage was not quite so evident. Last year’s series of never-ending snowstorms caused the formation of ice dams and these dams often caused water to back up into homes and buildings…in some cases the owners either didn't notice any signs of water damage or didn't think the water that had seeped in was that bad. When an ice dam causes water to back up into your home, it does so very quietly and discretely…behind a wall, where you can’t see it. By the time it makes its presence known, in the form of peeling paint, soaked carpets, buckled floors, or moldy black marks on the wall under a window or an interior wall, the damage is extensive. But since it is not interfering with your daily living, you shrug and promise to take care of it…one of these days. The danger with this type of damage is that most people…myself included…underestimate the severity of the problem. And the longer you wait to fix it, the more damage it does, eventually compromising the integrity of the structure.
We recently received a call from a customer asking us to clean up what he thought was just a minor and benign water stain issue on his wall in his South Yarmouth home. But when we got there and looked at the problem, we realized the moisture spot was from an ice dam that had occurred the previous winter and the damage done over the course of a year was significant. Mold spores had already formed and the fungus had established itself. The mold damage affected an interior wall in the kitchen and the mold spores spread to a point that the entire kitchen had to be replaced.
In each of these cases, SERVPRO of Upper Cape Cod and the Islands not only cleaned up the damages and did any necessary reconstruction work, we also helped out customers navigate the complexities of the insurance industry.
What to do if you suspect you have a mold problem
- Do not touch or disturb the mold
- Do not blow air across any surfaces with visible or suspected mold growth
- Do not spray bleach or other disinfectants on the mold
- Stay out of affected areas if you have a compromised immune system or allergies as this will heighten these conditions or may create a reaction.
What to consider when choosing a company to remove mold from your home
Choosing a reputable company to treat a mold issue is as important as using the right process to eradicate the mold spores. Look for a company that is experienced and trained in mold remediation. Is the company certified and do they require their employees to receive on-going training to stay on top of the most updated techniques for mold remediation?
At SERVPRO of Upper Cape Cod and the Islands, our professionals are trained and certified and are equipped with the knowledge to restore your property.
- It’s important that the company have insurance and not just worker’s compensation. Any reputable company will hold pollution insurance, since mold can be an environmental issue. Can the company do more than just treat your mold problem? Do they have the resources and licensures to do the necessary reconstruction work or will you have to hire a separate contractor for the part of the project?
- Mold and water damage are often covered under homeowner’s insurance policies. Is the company willing to help you navigate the complexities of the insurance industry?
- Finally, don’t let price drive your decision. The cheapest isn't always the best choice and neither is the most expensive.
We know that there are choices in restoration companies, that’s why we, at SERVPRO of Upper Cape Cod and the Islands, believe that delivering a full complement of services, from the initial assessment of mold spores to the final reconstruction services and everything in between, along with outstanding customer service should be a standard part of every project, no matter the size.