Learning About Mold in Your House

Reader Contribution by Tim Snyder

Mildew and mold both belong to the larger family of fungi that includes mushrooms and yeasts. Mold tends to grow on old food and building materials, while mildew favors fabrics, paper and shower curtains. Just as some mushrooms contain poisonous compounds, some types of mold contain “mycotoxins” that can cause health problems (more on this later).

It’s easier to understand household mold problems once you realize that mold is similar to a virus that can spread through the air when someone sneezes. Mold also spreads through the air by means of microscopic spores. These tiny organisms are expelled by an established mold colony and travel through the air in order to start new colonies where favorable conditions are present.

A virus seeks out a living host, but mold looks for dead cellulose. There’s plenty of dead cellulose in our houses: wood and wood products, cloth made from cotton and other organic material, and paper in just about any form. The reason we don’t see mold everywhere is that this organism won’t take hold on “host” materials unless moisture is present, and mold doesn’t like direct sunlight. That’s why mold is most likely to be found in dark, damp areas like basements and crawl spaces.

5 good reasons to wage war on mold

Just as we can’t hope to wipe out every virus, it’s not possible to eliminate mold. (Some mold has lifesaving capabilities -like penicillin, for example.) But it’s definitely smart to wage war on mold in your home. Here’s why:

1.Avoid a health hazard. According to the Center for Disease Control, it’s important to reduce exposure to mold in order to reduce the incidence of the allergic reactions and respiratory ailments that mold is known to cause.

2. Maximize useful space in your home. The basement can provide valuable extra space in a house, but a mold infestation can make this space unusable. Since it costs about twice as much to build an addition as it does to finish the basement, many homeowners find that it’s worthwhile to solve basement moisture problems and eliminate mold infestations.

3. Preserve property value. Homeowners and real estate agents are legally obligated to disclose mold problems when selling a property. Many prospective buyers will insist on expensive mold remediation or simply look for another property where mold isn’t an issue.

4. Avoid costly repairs. It’s expensive to tear out rotted lumber, mold-stained wallboard and other mold damage, then install new materials to complete these repairs. By waterproofing and dehumidifying your basement and/or crawlspace and eliminating leaks in other parts of the house, you can create the dry environment that will discourage mold development.

5. Take advantage of new materials. Manufacturers of building materials and innovative companies like Basement Systems have developed mold-resistant products like paperless drywall, waterproof plastic flooring tile, composite molding, and rigid foam insulation. Finishing your basement with these materials eliminates the food source that mold requires, which (in addition to reducing moisture levels) makes it extra difficult for mold to take hold. Mold-resistant materials are also recommended for use in moist areas like bathrooms, kitchens and laundry rooms.

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