Household Mold (Part 1): Presence and Prevention

Mold – it’s one of the worst four-letter words. Except for my Canadian friends who have mould, but I digress.

What’s the big deal about this little organism that (unfortunately) lives in every home? Well, it’s such a huge issue that I’m devoting my next three blogs to it!

I’ll be covering:

  • The basics about household mold
  • How mold can impact your health (including insomnia, anxiety, and depression)
  • How to properly manage this pesky problem

But first, a story.

When I was in my 20’s, I went home with a boyfriend to meet his family. We drove for hours, meandering through the back roads of Oklahoma. Once we arrived, everything seemed normal.  His parents were both happy to see him and anxious to check out his flavor of the moment (ahem, me). It was all pretty standard meet-the-parents stuff – until we sat down for dinner.

The dish was passed to me first, and I sat there staring at the serving spoon immersed in a globby goo of blue-green, fur-coated, orange mush. Gross! What the hell were these people thinking?

Apparently, the look of confusion and disgust on my face was exactly what they were hoping for. The entire table burst out in laughter. I was being hazed- with old, nasty, moldy glazed carrots. A weird family tradition for sure, but one that was apparently used for any new partner their children brought home.

Albeit disgusting, and despite common characteristics,  this is not the type of mold I want you to know about. Many molds are much worse than an awkward moment at a table full of strangers.

There is mold in your home.

Really? Yes. Every house has mold.

Mold spores are incredibly small, microscopic in fact. They float through the air and settle into nooks, crannies, and household dust. Remember the delight of picking a dandelion for a wish? All those little seeds gently floating through the air… This is what mold spores do, too. However, because they are so tiny, they can sneak into and settle in the most unexpected places.

Mold spores float inside through open doors and windows. They enter through HVAC systems. They also come in on your pets, clothes, and shoes. (Tip: consider making your home a shoe-free environment. Read more about this and other healthy home tips HERE).

Mold also arrives on the materials used to build the home. I was recently speaking with a contractor who shared with me almost every piece of lumber delivered for a project has mold already on it. Bummer.

You can see what some of the most common indoor molds look like HERE.

How mold survives and thrives

Like any living thing, mold needs 3 basic things – food, water, and shelter.

Without one of these factors present, the mold spores won’t flourish and grow.  They simply settle in for a nap and wait for conditions to align in their favor. This is why it is important to understand the quality and balance of your indoor environment because when one factor is out of check, mold spores will “wake up” and get their party started.

One of the most common places to see mold is in the bathroom. The tiny little openings in the grout and tile joints are perfect homes for mold – their shelter. The bathroom provides an obvious supply of water – mold LOVES a steamy hot shower as much as you do. It also loves leaky roofs and skylights, drippy pipes, humid air, and flooded basements, carpets and floors. Yay.

It’s food? Dust, cellulose fibers, and other molds. Mold adores eating things like paper products, cardboard, wood and wood fiber, ceiling tiles, drywall, etc.  Just add water and mold now has an all-you-can-eat buffet.

Just when you thought this was enough, like a bully on a playground, bigger, meaner molds will often come in and feast on the weaker molds already present. This can all happen very fast. Therefore, if you spot an issue in your home, you’ll want to address it as soon as possible. (We’ll talk more about how to do this safely in the third installment of this post.)

Why mold matters

Not all molds are dangerous. However, with over 100,000 different types of mold, it is important to understand which types are in your home. Some are extremely toxic and can cause serious health issues including insomnia, anxiety, and depression.

Next week, we’ll explore allergenic, pathogenic, and toxic molds, the health issues they cause, and resources for your healing journey.

What you can do now

Mold is complex, and I want you to be empowered with the health of your home. Here are 3 tips you can use to identify and manage mold-friendly conditions right now.

1) LOOK – Explore vulnerable areas of your home including:

  • Water pipes under sinks
  • Around refrigerators, freezers, and dishwashers
  • Ceilings
  • Exterior-facing walls
  • Bathrooms
  • Laundry rooms
  • Windows, skylights
  • Foundation

If you find discoloration or mold, do not touch or disturb it.

 2) SMELL – You’ve probably smelled that musty-basement or sour-laundry odor. If you smell a moldy smell, mold is probably present. Whatever you do, don’t cut open any walls to try to find it. We don’t want to disturb and further spread spores.

 3) Eliminate food and water sources. The best way to tackle mold is to disrupt its ecosystem. You can:

  • Vacuum and dust every week.
  • Identify and repair water leaks.
  • Use exhaust fans during showers and for a minimum of 15 minutes afterwards to reduce humidity.
  • Use a kitchen exhaust fan to reduce cooking and dishwashing steam.
  • Ensure your dryer vent is clean and properly vented outside.
  • Indoor relative humidity levels should be between 30% – 50%. If yours is above 50%, consider using a dehumidifier.
  • Clean gutters and downspouts

For an additional example of how to look for mold sources in your home, check out the EPA’s Interactive Mold House Tour.

Next week we’ll dive into the wild world of mold and your health. Between now and then, let me know how your mold hunt is going and what changes you decide to make by posting your comments underneath this blog or on social media.

Be sure to book complimentary time HERE to explore how I can further assist you in your home.

Until next time…