Household Mold Can Be More Costly Than You Think
Nov 2, 2015
Melissa Curry, 46, moved into a two-bedroom townhouse in nearby Crofton, MD, in June 2014. She noticed some dampness in the basement and purchased a humidifier. The problem seemed solved.
Over the July 4 weekend, she developed a deep chest cough and sore throat.
Those conditions would come and go, but as time passed, she had difficulty breathing and started to wheeze.
She saw a doctor who ruled out common allergens. “But we didn’t know what was making me sick.”
However, a pattern emerged: “I’d be sick all weekend, then feel better Monday and Tuesday, and then it would start again.” That synced up with working in nearby Washington, DC, Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays, and from home Wednesdays and Fridays.
“Being home was making me sick.”
Upon investigating her basement more closely, Curry discovered the sump pump was not working and water was trapped inside, allowing mold to grow. Mold was also growing in two corners of the basement after rainwater entered through cracks in the wall.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, mold can be linked to allergy and respiratory infections in otherwise healthy people or worsen certain illnesses in some people who have asthma or other lung diseases.
Curry contacted the landlord numerous times but got no response.
On the night of Aug. 18, while in the townhome she had an anaphylactic reaction, a potentially life‑threatening condition that can be triggered in certain people by allergens like bee stings or peanuts. “My extremities were numb, I couldn’t breathe, and my throat was closing off.
Benadryl controlled her symptoms for that night. But heeding the advice of her doctor, she moved out the same week.
Mold Is Everywhere
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, generally breaking down those materials, and enters our homes, offices, and commercial buildings when we open windows and walk indoors.
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, MD.
The most common types of mold include aspergillus, Cladosporium, and Stachybotrys atra (also known as black mold).
Richard Tan of Orlando, FL, knows the health risks of black mold firsthand. He lost two family members and his mother was badly sickened when he was young before black mold was found behind their home’s air conditioning unit.
Now 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.
And it’s not just leaking pipes or damaged sump pumps you’ll need to watch out for. Moisture and mold problems stem from building designs, construction and maintenance practices, and building materials in which wetness lingers, according to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies.
While you may not be able to avoid mold, you can often detect it easily: Let your nose lead the way, say the experts.
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, Tan says.
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, less than 10 square feet, 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 to inspect ductwork, attic spaces, walls, and even crawl spaces. You should receive detailed written reports from the inspector, including certified laboratory results on the type of mold found.
The cost to remove mold can average anywhere from $500 to $6,000 or more, depending on the mold type and spread of the infestation, he says.
To control future mold growth, the EPA suggests:
- Keep humidity levels between 40 percent and 60 percent
- Promptly fix leaky roofs, windows, and pipes
- Thoroughly clean and dry your home after flooding
- Properly ventilate your shower, laundry, and cooking areas
- Do not run an HVAC system if you know or suspect that it is contaminated with mold as it could spread mold throughout the home or building.
If you feel your property owner, landlord, or builder has not been responsive to concerns you’ve expressed regarding mold exposure, you can contact your local board of health or housing authority, says the CDC.
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.