Home checklist: Mold can be major indoor health hazard

Published: Saturday, Sep. 14, 2013 - 12:00 am

Mold does more than look bad. It’s smelly and dangerous to your health.

September is Mold Awareness Month, devoted to keeping this hazard out of our homes and stopping infestations quickly.

According to the experts at First Alert, mold produces toxins that can cause asthma, respiratory infections and chronic sinus problems. Recent studies linked mold to the tripling rate of reported asthma cases in the past 20 years.

It’s an expensive problem, too. According to the Insurance Information Institute, water and mold damage annually cost insurers about $2.5 billion.

Mold is a difficult problem to correct; the spores live all around us. These microscopic organisms help decompose leaves, wood and plant debris. Indoors, they feed on wood, paper and other organic materials.

Stopping mold indoors starts with understanding a few basics. First Alert and other experts offer these tips:

•  Wet beginnings: Mold starts its life cycle in wet or damp areas. Just 24 hours of moisture can prompt mold to grow. The longer an area remains wet, the more toxic the mold is likely to become, say the experts.

•  Don’t let mold get a foothold: According to the Environmental Protection Agency, controlling indoor mold starts with controlling moisture levels in the home. Use exhaust fans to remove excess moisture in bathrooms, kitchens or laundry rooms. Identify and fix any leaks in roofs or around doors and windows.

•  Prevent mold hot spots: When cleaning carpets, make sure they’re dried thoroughly (including the pads). If an area of your home has been flooded (such as a laundry room or garage), clean hard surfaces (floors, walls, etc.) with water and detergent. Dry completely. Use fans if needed.

•  Look for problem areas: Prevent condensation on cold surfaces such as walls, pipes, roof or floors by adding fiberglass insulation. Pay special attention to any carpet on concrete floors. Carpet can absorb moisture and serve as a place for mold to grow. Do not install carpeting in areas where there may be a perpetual moisture problem in a home, such as a basement.

•  Signs of mold exposure: Respiratory issues — coughing, wheezing, sneezing, sinus headaches, etc. — are most common. Other symptoms of toxic mold exposure may include irritated eyes, memory loss, flulike symptoms, bleeding in the lungs and difficulty speaking.

•  Look for hidden wet spots: Mold can grow behind walls and under floors, above ceiling tiles or behind shower walls. Mold can feed on damp or wet wood, ceiling tiles or plasterboard almost anywhere. If you suspect mold, look below surfaces if possible.

•  Test for mold: Simple home kits let you test for common molds and determine their type with the help of a professional lab. For example, the First Alert Mold Test Kit (about $13) provides test strips that are mailed by consumers to a lab for evaluation.

•  Get rid of it: Once a mold issue is identified, professional remediation is highly recommended, said the experts. If not completely removed, mold can regrow. Professionals use thermo-imaging, dry-ice blasting and other techniques to determine the extent of the mold’s growth and to wipe out spores. Several professionals work in the greater Sacramento area.

For more tips and information on mold, click on www.firstalert.com.

Debbie Arrington

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