Moisture Control for the Home: How to Prevent Mold and Mildew
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Posted June 1, 2017
Mold, mildew, and moisture problems are especially prevalent in states with hot, humid summers, such as Tennessee, Alabama, and Kentucky. Mold also presents a problem in the winter months under just-right conditions.
According to the EPA, our indoor environment is two to five times more toxic than our outdoor environment. In fact, in some cases the air measurements indoors have been found to be 100 times more polluted. One of the most insidious problems that can affect your home’s indoor air quality is mold.
Mold can grow undetected for months, even years, in areas high in moisture including:
Leaks in ceilings, walls, and plumbing systems are ideal areas for mold to grow and proliferate. Mold can also develop in your HVAC system, which is one of the worst places for it to appear.
Mold and mold spores in the air can cause serious respiratory health effects including asthma exacerbation as well as coughing, wheezing, and upper respiratory symptoms in healthy individuals. The health effects of mold exposure are highly dependent on the type and amount of mold present in the home.
Mold & Mildew in the Home
What is mold? Mold is a fungus and a common component of household dust. In large quantities, it can present a significant health hazard, causing asthma and allergy attics, respiratory problems, and in some cases neurological problems and even death.
What does mold look like? Mold can be distinguished from mildew by its appearance. Mold color varies in shades of black, blue, red, and green. The texture is most often slimy or fuzzy.
What is mildew? Mildew is also a type of fungus. It usually grows flat on surfaces. The term is often used to refer to any type of mold growth.
What does mildew look like? Mildew starts off as a downy or powdery white and often appears on organic materials, such as wood, paper, leather, textiles, walls and ceilings. It can turn to shades of yellow, brown, and black in its later stages.
Both mold and mildew produce distinct offensive odors, and both have been identified as the cause of certain human ailments.
Ideal Conditions for Mold & Mildew
High heat (between 77 and 87 degrees), humidity (between 62 and 93 percent), and a food source (organic material) create the ideal environment for mold and mildew to thrive. That’s why June-August promote mold growth more than any other months. Warm temperatures and high humidity set the stage for mold and mildew.
There are a variety of molds found in the home including Alternaria, Aspergillus, Chaetomium, Cladosporium, Fusarium and many more. The toxic black mold associated with “sick house syndrome” is probably Stachybortrys chartarum. Click here for a list of common household mold types. Regardless of the mold type you have, it is important to remove it from any living spaces, including offices, and garages.
The good news is that there are a variety of ways to fight mold – or to keep it from developing in your home entirely. We’ve compiled a list of easy, proactive methods for keeping your home dry and your air free of mold and other airborne toxins.
Common Sources of Mold & Mildew
- HVAC ductwork
- under sinks and around tubs and faucets in bathroom and kitchen
- in or around HVAC systems, dishwashers, clothes washers, and refrigerators
- any area high in moisture
How to Prevent Mold and Mildew
1. Keep Healthy Humidity Levels
Mold and mildew thrive in a humid environment, so it is important to keep your humidity levels down. In areas that are prone to excessive moisture, make sure you ventilate. When using the kitchen, bathroom or basement, turn on the vent fans. If there are no vent fans in these rooms, have them repaired or installed by an electrician. Also, consider installing whole-home humidification or plug-in dehumidifiers.
Attics fans can also help manage moisture and provide ventilation in the home. Ask your HVAC professional if attic fans are right for your home.
You can also take measures to control the humidity levels in your home with your HVAC system, which may or may not have a humidification system built in. Regardless, running the air conditioner will help dry and circulate the air. A closed up home in the summer without air conditioning and little air movement will create the humid, warm and dark conditions necessary for mold growth.
When shopping for a new air conditioning system, look for models that have enhanced moisture removal and a minimum SEER rating of 14. Learn everything you need to know before buying a new A/C here.
2. Fresh Air
Open windows help increase the ventilation in your home – and are a good way to lower indoor carbon dioxide levels. High carbon dioxide levels can cause decreasing oxygen levels in the body, hampering the flow of oxygen to the brain. If your home has been closed up for several months, carbon dioxide can build up, especially in rooms where people spend the most time. Fresh air will also help dry out damp, musty areas and reduce odors and stuffiness. Every day, open up a window or two for 5-15 minutes to provide some free, natural ventilation to your home.
3. Use Green Cleaning Products
Cleaning products with an overwhelming odor are ironically the biggest sources of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the home. This is especially true of artificial pine and lemon products. When using these cleaners to rid areas of mold and other pollutants, you are essentially trading one contaminant for another. When dealing with mold (and cleaning your home in general), try to stick with cleaners that are water-based, non-toxic and non-aerosol.
4. Dry Wet Areas
Although you should avoid toxic cleaners, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t regularly clean the surfaces in your home. Getting into the habit of cleaning and drying the surfaces in your bathroom and other moist areas is a great way to keep your bathroom clean and free of mold and mildew.
Mold can’t grow and thrive without moisture, so it’s important to dry wet areas in your home immediately. A leaky pipe, a damp basement and even a spill on your carpet needs to be dried thoroughly and as quickly as possible (within 24 hours). Also make sure you don’t leave wet clothing or bath towels out for too long. It is very difficult to completely clean material that has been compromised by mold.
Fix any plumbing leaks or water issues to remove the sources of moisture in your home. Some waterproofing solutions include:
- Cleaning and repairing gutter and downspout systems
- Installing and maintaining basement sump pump
- Sealing window and foundation leaks
- Improving drainage by repairing lots, unblocking sewers, and installing new drainage systems
- Repairing leaks as soon as you find them
5. Keep Indoor Plants
Introducing some houseplants into your home is a great way to improve your indoor air quality (IAQ). Live plants can help remove VOCs including formaldehyde, paint, and benzene (a byproduct of chemical based-cleaners). Click here for 5 houseplants to improve indoor air quality.
Additional Mold Prevention Tips
Vacuum with a HEPA Filter – HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air) filters help to eliminate mold spore concentrations in carpets and on the floor. You can also use HEPA vacuum cleaners to clean air vents and musty areas in the home that might contribute to mold growth. HEPA air purifiers are also an option in rooms prone to dampness without a fan vent – such as the basement and bathroom. Consider your air filtration options here.
Ultraviolet Lights – Ultraviolet light can be used to deal with particularly bad mold problems. Homes in high humidity areas can especially benefit from them. Lamps placed in locations of the home where mold and mildew is a problem can help to significantly reduce contamination levels. UV lights placed in HVAC systems have also proven to be very effective in reducing mold. Exposure to sunlight has been a mildew remedy since pre-air conditioning days. Contact an HVAC service professional for more information on your UV germicidal air irradiation options.
- Avoid stacking organic material such as paper, cardboard, and fabrics in high-moisture areas of the home.
- Throw out clothing and other items that have a moldy or musty smell and aren’t salvageable.
- Locate leaks at your water meter and fix them immediately
- Buying a moisture detector
- Avoid certain materials when renovating your home
- Schedule HVAC maintenance twice a year to prevent mold and mildew from developing
- Schedule plumbing maintenance once a year to detect plumbing and moisture problems early
How to Clean Mold & Mildew
If you have a serious mold infestation, you should contact a professional mold remediation specialist immediately. Small amounts of mold, however, are possible to remove with some simple materials, including:
- hydrogen peroxide
- tea tree oil
- spray bottle
Although bleach, vinegar, and hydrogen peroxide can remove small amounts of mold and mildew, tea tree oil is more natural and effective. Learn how to naturally remove small amounts of mold and mildew from your home here.
Watch this video to learn how to clean up mold.
If you are dealing with a mold problem in your home, it is imperative that you take steps to stop it immediately. Mold will only grow and spread – not only causing health problems in your household but also damaging your home’s foundation.
If you feel that you might have a mold or airborne toxin problem, Hiller has extensive experience working with an array of waterproofing and indoor air quality systems. Give us a call today and we’ll help determine which system would be best for your home and household.