Richard Tan of Orlando, Florida, knows the health risks of black mold firsthand. He lost two family members and his mother was badly sickened before black mold was found behind their home’s air conditioning unit. A certified mold assessor and building inspector who frequently testifies in the courtroom, Tan admits that when it comes to mold, he’s not objective: “Mold kills—people don’t realize it’s a very serious problem,” he says.
Mold grows everywhere in the U.S. but is most prevalent during the summer in the Southeast and in Northern states (even Alaska!) during the winter. Mold grows outside on wood and plants and enters our homes, offices, and commercial buildings when we open windows and doors. Most molds need moisture and grow in damp, dark places like under a leaking pipe.
But with some molds, moisture is not necessary. “Molds can grow in perfectly dry basements, especially when it’s humid or rains frequently,” notes Rick Brownlee, owner of Floodmasters in Rockville, Maryland.
When it comes to detecting mold, let your nose lead the way.
Tour your home, especially closed off areas (like closets and basements) and take a deep breath. Molds give off a musky odor that you’ll detect (depending on the type of mold) and will look like spots climbing up a wall or running through carpeting.
Another approach uses your memory. How do you feel in certain areas of your home or office? Do you get headaches? Have an allergic reaction? “Those can be signs that you’re encountering mold, even if you can’t see it,” Tan explains. In a large office building, for example, the air conditioning could circulate mold from a basement to every floor.
If mold is found in a small area, Brownlee recommends cleaning with a bleach solution of no more than 1 cup of bleach in 1 gallon of water. But if you suspect black mold (which is highly toxic) or the mold has spread into the sheetrock, bring in a professional.
Brownlee recommends using a licensed, certified, and insured mold inspector who will perform indoor air quality assessments and provide you with detailed written reports, including certified laboratory results on the type of mold found. And to control future mold growth inside your home:
If you are evaluating a property, be aware of musty odors and look for signs of water damage. Check carpeting, baseboards, and other surfaces carefully. If you see mold, carefully consider the health and financial risks you could be taking. “We’ve had instances where someone buys a foreclosure property only to find it’s full of mold and has to spend a lot of money tearing out walls and floors,” says Tan. “That’s something you really want to avoid.”
What’s most important, experts say, is to take action immediately when you see or smell mold.