By Tim Oglesby, Home Check America
Media articles about "black mold," especially Stachybotrys, have terrified some people. Actually, it is fairly common to find black Stachybotrys Chartarum in very small amounts in houses where there has been leakage or water entry. It is a toxic mold and it should be removed professionally. But don't assume that anything black on the wall or ceiling is highly toxic mold. Other common species are also black but may be of low or no toxicity. For example, Chateomium glabosum is allergenic rather than toxic. Cladosporium csphaerospermum is often found growing indoors on bathroom tile or refrigerator gaskets. It's a member of the most common mold family, Cladosporium, the "universal fungus." Mold in your house might be only a cosmetic concern. "Bluestain" or Ceratocys Ophiostoma is common on framing lumber and we often find it in attics on the underside of roof sheathing. Unless one of these cosmetic molds is in a living space, no action is needed.
Air-borne spores may cause distress
People may react to mold spores alone. There does not always have to be a visible
growth to cause problems for sensitive people.
You can't tell by looking
You cannot tell what kind of mold you are dealing with by looking at it. Don't assume
that "black mold" is "bad" and that other mold is OK. Lots of black molds are
cosmetic concerns, not "toxic killers." Some light-colored molds, which are hard to see
in your house, can be a health concern. Some species of Penicillium and A.spergilli.s' are
often light-gray to green, and these are probably more common than their infamous
brother " Stachybotry.s' chartarum," and may be more toxic. Of course, other Penicillium
species are used as medicine. So competent identification is important. An expert, trained
in microscopic identification of mold, can usually determine the identity of mold from
a physical sample. We cannot rely on the naked eye, or on mold color to identify
The home test kits are also not reliable.
The swab, culture, settlement dish, or simple air sample methods these kits use are fundamentally inaccurate: for example, the spores collected and "grown" in culture using these methods could be dead, fail to grow on the culture medium, and still be toxic if inhaled. These methods are not a reliable way to determine or characterize a possible mold problem in a building.
Keeping mold in its place
Although mold is needed and always with us, we want to keep mold in its place,
preferably outdoors. Wolves are a key part of the food chain too, but we don't want them
inside our homes. While we will always have some spores in our homes, the goal is to
keep the spores from growing to problem levels. Prevention is the key.
Four things have to be present to have a mold growth:
1. Mold spores
2. Temperatures between 40 and 140 degrees F
3. A moisture source.
4. A food source. This is wood or gypsum board, or that old bread in your bread box.
So, how do we control mold growth?
I. We have said that mold spores are everywhere. So is their food. We can't control
2. People are not comfortable in their homes at temperatures below 40 degrees or
above 140 degrees, so this is no help.
3. The only thing left is moisture. The best way to prevent mold from growing is to
control moisture. This is lucky in a way because controlling moisture is
something we want to do in homes anyway.
Sources of moisture in homes include:
1. Leaks into or through roofs walls, door, windows, basements, etc. The leaks that
come through usually get corrected quickly. The leaks that stay in walls, for
example, often don't get corrected because they are not noticed.
2. Leaks from plumbing or heating systems.
3. High humidity from cooking, bathing etc., resulting in condensation.
4. Air conditioning systems, humidifiers, dehumidifiers, sump pits and other places
where moisture is commonly present.
Getting rid of a mold problem - Step One - remove the mold
Most molds can be cleaned up easily with soap and water, or bleach solution.
If the mold species is allergenic or toxic and present in large quantity, special procedures
are necessary to assure that cleanup is performed safely and to prevent contamination
of other building areas or contents.
A word of caution
*People who are allergic, asthmatic, infant, elderly(immune-impaired, etc.,) should not
disturb mold and should not be in the area where mold remediation is being
performed. Consult with your doctor, health department or other professional before
tackling this job yourself.
*Specialists with respirators, skin protection and eye protection should be called in to
clean up large amounts (more than 2 square feet) of toxic mold.
Getting rid of a mold problem - Step Two -
Remove the moisture. Once we get rid of the mold, the next step is to remove the moisture source that allowed the mold to grow. Curing leaks, improving drainage and drying things up are important
steps in controlling mold.
Maintenance is important
Don't forget to clean your refrigerator, including gaskets, coils, and evaporator tray.
Regular furnace and air conditioning service will help ensure that standing water or
chronic moisture is not an issue. Gutters and downspouts should be kept clear and leaks
should be corrected.
Mold can be significant problem, but in most homes, good maintenance and common
sense are the best weapons. As home inspectors have been saying for years, moisture is
the biggest enemy of homes. Mold is just one of the results of high moisture levels. Home Check America tests topically for mold whenever 2 square feet or more of staining is discovered. If you have any concerns about mold in your home, call our toll free number for advise or visit our website.
About the Author
In 1984 Tim Oglesby unknowingly bought a home with significant defects. In 1994 he began Home Check America to assist new homeowners in NE Illinois. With a degree in business and masters in management, Tim was trained as a home inspector with Carson & Dunlop Engineering, was a general contractor for eight years, and is a licensed home inspector and real estate broker. He is a sought after public speaker and author on issues important to property management and home inspections. Contact: www.homecheckamerica.com or call toll free 1-866-245-4663. Home Check America is responsible for the content of its articles and has no affiliation with the RE/MAX organization.