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Tue, Oct. 22

Ask the Contractor: Mold has its place, but not in our homes

Mold is a popular question when considering a real estate purchase, and it is one that sends my phone ringing off the hook.

What is mold? Can it be cleaned with household cleaners? Can we test for mold? The questions go on and on.

To find out the answers to these questions and more, if you are a Realtor, please plan to attend a three-hour disclosure credit class on mold! From 1 to 4 p.m. Monday, Oct. 21, at Winn School of Real Estate. Join me as I lead a panel of specialists in discussions surrounding the complex world of mold. The cost is $20. The public is welcome as well as the $20 cost, and there are limited seats for non-Realtors.

We all know that mold is everywhere and, as the Center for Disease, Control and Prevention (CDC) also advocates, testing for visible mold is not necessarily helpful. If mold is growing inside structures, regardless of the type of mold, the focus should be on determining why it is present and what can be done to resolve it.

Mold does not need to be panic-causing. But understanding what it is, what causes it, how to address it and how to prevent it can provide the solution to fixing or avoiding the problem. So, let’s take a look at those questions instead.

It does seem like mold is more prevalent these days; but, perhaps we are just more aware of it. Of course, newer “green” building techniques may not be helping since energy-efficient structures tend to be more airtight, restricting air exchange and structure breathability.

Mold, or technically fungi, are microorganisms that are distinct from plants and animals. They are an essential decomposer that have recycling down to a fine art and they include mushrooms, yeasts and rusts in their over 144,000-species kingdom. Most grow and spread by hyphae (similar to plant roots) on organic material, including building materials, and they produce spores to spread their seed. These spores are not only a source of allergic irritation and potential infection, they are amazingly resilient and can wait out harsh inhospitable environments. We all know that their favorite environments are commonly moist, warm, dark and organic, so that is where we should start if we want to discourage their establishment.

It is those roof leaks, drainage issues and plumbing breaks that make mold feel welcome. Drying up the wet materials or ponded water is your first line of defense, but sometimes it is discovered after it has already made itself at home. Then addressing or remediating mold-impacted building materials is the obvious focus. Any building materials that have established mold growth, and cannot be reliably cleaned, should be disposed. Other considerations for tackling the cleanup include direct surfaces where mold is visible, inaccessible wall or floor cavity spaces and exterior walls with poor air barriers and penetrations. Commonly, what is visible on a wall surface is only a fraction of the problem so surface cleaning (with the exception of non-absorptive surfaces such as health care facilities) may not get to the big beast hiding in the walls.

Most professional guidelines, including EPA, the CDC and the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) advocate isolation to prevent the spread of mold spores outside the clean-up area. Also advocated is the use of scrubbing and sanding to dislodge those mold hyphae that have penetrated into wood framing. Biocides have their place as a top coat but if the surfaces have not been adequately cleaned, the disinfecting agent can only do so much, and will not, as a stand-alone, resolve the problem.

If you are facing a significant microbial clean-up effort, I cannot over emphasize the importance of using professionals who are trained for this type of work, have worker and site protection practices in place and have third-party clearance testing to document the resolution. When you sell your building, that paper trail can make or break the best sale of your investment.

If all of this strikes you as not much fun, being attentive and proactive could save you the mold clean-up experience. To help ensure that mold does not feel welcome in your building:

• Clean and repair roof gutters regularly;

• Make sure the ground slopes away from the building foundation;

• Keep air-conditioning drip pans clean and drain lines unobstructed and flowing properly;

• Keep indoor humidity below 60% (ideally between 30% and 50%) relative humidity;

• Dry condensation or moisture collecting on windows, walls or pipes;

• Increase ventilation or air movement by opening doors and windows when practical, and turn the heat or cooling off and just run the fan in the HVAC system;

• Cover cold surfaces, such as cold water pipes, with insulation;

• Keep up on roof and building envelope maintenance;

• Increase ventilation by running a fan or opening a window (and cleaning frequently) in rooms that are often damp, such as bathrooms; and,

• Check those washing machine and refrigerator hoses and connections regularly (especially if you are leaving town).

There are many situations where mold is a welcome and vital part of our world, but let’s reduce the opportunity for it to move in to our structures and just appreciate the cheese, beer, composting, antibiotics and mushroom delicacies that they can provide.

Hope to see many of you on Oct. 21. Call me with questions.

Remember to tune in to YCCA’s Hammer Time every Saturday and Sunday mornings at 7 on KQNA 1130AM/99.9FM or 95.5FM or on the web at Listen to Sandy and Mike talk about the construction industry, meet your local community partners and so much more.

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