House of Horrors – The Day The Mold Spores Appeared

I recently toured a home wherein the listing agent referred to the basement as having “slight discoloration” from water damage. Of course, this is a bank-owned property so I took it with a grain of salt, expecting more than just some discoloration. Particularly after learning the house had been empty all winter and the pipes had burst in the first-floor kitchen, I knew there had to be more than just “discoloration.” I informed my buyer, who’s looking for a “good-deal fixer-upper,” and off we went to view the property.

Let’s start by saying this listing agent should have her license revoked – there wasn’t just “discoloration,” there was mold EVERYWHERE in the basement! It was like entering a house of horrors and all the walls were fuzzy with living organisms. This wasn’t just white or green mold either – this was thick, black mold on the doors, walls, windows, furnace, water heater, everywhere. It kinda looked toxic and I thought, “Man, they should be handing out gas masks to people before coming down here.” And I don’t think it was just a coincidence that my eyes were itchy and watery the rest of the evening.

I tell this story not to gross people out (though that’s always fun to do, too!), but to bring up the topic of mold and how every house actually has mold in it – but it’s a matter of keeping moisture under control and not allowing the mold spores a chance to land in a moist spot and grow. There are many types of mold, but none will grow without moisture present.

Some mold basics:

  • Every house has mold; it’s a matter of controlling the moisture level in your home.
  • Molds have the potential to cause health problems – allergic reactions are common.
  • Molds produce allergens, irritants, and in some cases toxic substances (mycotoxins).
  • You can never totally eliminate mold spores from your home, but you can keep them from growing by controlling the source of their growth – moisture.

How to get rid of mold:

  • First and foremost, you must address the moisture problem; if you don’t, the mold will return.
  • If the area with mold is less than a 10×10 foot space, you can usually clean the mold up yourself.
  • If the area with mold is larger than a 10×10 foot area (such as in the house referenced above), you should hire a professional contractor with experience in mold remediation to perform the job.
  • If you also suspect mold may be contaminating the ventilation system, you should also have an HVAC professional investigate. In the meantime, do NOT turn on the ventilation system as that will cause more mold spores to be spread throughout the home.
  • If carpeting, ceiling tiles or other porous types of material have mold growing on them, they may need to be thrown away, as mold fills in crevices and empty spaces and you’ll never be able to get rid of all of it.
  • Avoid exposing yourself and others to mold
  • Do not just paint over moldy surfaces – the paint will eventually crack and peel

If you decide to do the cleanup yourself, be sure to wear a mask, gloves, and eye protection, preferably without ventilation holes. Scrape the mold off any hard surfaces, then clean and dry the area thoroughly. As mentioned above, porous materials may need to be tossed (unfortunately, no reuse or recycle here!). If you have furniture, sentimental or valuable items that have been affected by mold, consult a local furniture or other type of restoration professional who is familiar in restoring items damaged by mold or water.

For more information, refer to the Environmental Protection Agency’s pamphlet on mold, which can be found at the EPA’s web site. You may also call the toll-free EPA hotline at (800) 438-4318 for a free copy of the pamphlet. If you live in the Massachusetts area, feel free to check my CyberGreenRealty.com web site for some local eco-friendly partners who may also be able to help you.

Until next time, Peace!

-TMC

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4 responses to this post.

  1. An important point to note about mold. I can’t stress enough the importance of sending a sample of the mold away to be tested prior to making any decisions concerning clean-up. There are certain types of Black mold that ARE toxic to be around, and for extreme cases the home may need to be demolished. In fact, Black mold is one of the things that NYSERDA energy auditors will stop an audit and evacuate the home for, pending a test of the mold.

    Reply

    • Thanks for making that great point, Jonathan! I’m thinking I should maybe call the city’s board of health, just to make sure they’re aware of that house and that the gutting of the basement is done properly. I think this house might almost be a candidate for demolition, though I would need to let an expert make that decision.

      Reply

  2. Good summary of information, especially the mold basics!

    I wish to dispel the notion of “toxic black mold.” All molds have the potential to cause adverse health effects in humans. The variable is the susceptibility of the human involved. Therefore, all molds should be treated as if they will cause adverse health effects. Sending a sample to a laboratory is not necessary. It is better to spend that money on a proper remediation. The EPA has excellent guidelines in it’s book “Mold Remediation in Schools and Commercial Buildings” which can be downloaded from their website.

    Reply

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