Mold control is an on-going battle in many households. Mold can be found wherever it gets moist or damp. From the top floor bathroom to the
below-ground basement, these fungi can be found growing in isolated spots or in widespread, rampant infestations. In addition to being a cosmetic blemish and an odorous nuisance, mold can pose health and respiratory risks, and can greatly reduce the home’s overall indoor air quality. While the best way to combat mold infestation is to control the moisture in the home, a new generation of mold-fighting products are making their way onto the scene and promising remediation and prevention benefits that exceed the commonly used bleach solution.
Bleach’s limitations in mold remediation are slowly becoming common knowledge. Once the method of choice, government agencies like the Occupational Safety and Health Association (OSHA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and certified mold inspection and testing companies like SporeTech Mold Investigations, LLC are educating the general public on the matter. OSHA’s site states, “The use of biocides, such as chlorine bleach, is not recommended as a routine practice during mold remediation.” SporeTech takes it one step further, stating on their site, “Laundry bleach is not an effective mold-killing agent for wood-based building materials and NOT effective in the mold remediation process.”
A Closer Look at Mold
Molds are fungi that make spores to reproduce and spread. There are thousands of species of mold, and those that are commonly found in the home thrive in warm, humid conditions. Mold growth is kept to a minimum when the relative humidity is under 60 percent. When conditions creep above that level, homeowners can expect mold growth. Controlling moisture in the home, then, is the best way to prevent mold growth.
“Mold” and “mildew” are often used synonymously, but mildew in fact is a fungus that attacks—and grows on—the surface of plants. Although both molds and mildews are fungi, not all fungi are molds and mildews. Molds in the home can be a number of colors, including black, white, green, grey and blue.
The many various species of molds can have different effects on people. Not only will this vary by species of mold, it will also vary from person to person as individual’s sensitivity to mold exposure varies. Respiratory ailments and illnesses are the most commonly cited effects of exposure to mold, including cold-like symptoms, nasal stuffiness, wheezing and asthma attacks. Long-term exposure can lead to mold allergy, and those with chronic lung illnesses can actually develop mold infections in the lungs. Exposure to mold can occur from breathing in the tiny spores, coming into direct physical contact with the fungus or eating food on which mold is growing.
Where to Find Mold
As stated, mold thrives in environments where the relative humidity rises over 60 percent. Within the home, the most common places to find mold are bathrooms and basements. Poorly ventilated rooms and areas exposed to water from a leaking pipe can also present safe havens for rampant mold growth. Activity in the kitchen can produce excessive moisture and can result in mold growth on or around the range. Check the fridge, too, as defrosting cycles can leave water and moisture on surfaces and encourage mold growth. Poorly vented dryers will cause humidity buildup, so it is a good idea to check the laundry area frequently for mold growth.
Mold can also grow behind walls and in the vents and ductwork of a home’s HVAC system. Growth in these areas can be widespread and/or difficult to access and remediate. If mold is discovered in these areas, it is often best to hire a professional.
Just about any damp surface can attract and harbor mold. The tiny, microscopic mold spores that float through the air tend to bounce off dry surfaces (like walls) and stick to wet ones. The spore is essentially an egg—when it lands on a wet surface the egg “breaks” and a “hypha,” or arm, emerges, obtains nourishment and multiplies. The nourishment found to sustain mold growth can vary from specie to specie, but just about any organic surface that has been wet for over 24 hours can show signs of mold growth. Both porous and non-porous surfaces alike can support mold growth.
Bleach and Its Limitations
Bleach has long been used as a remediation solution for mold problems. Depending on the surface, a mix of bleach and water—and sometimes detergent—is frequently the advised approach. Bleach and bleach-based mold control products make up a large portion of the mold-fighting product market. Other products can contain ammonia or other chemicals that essentially act as poisons to kill the mold.
One problem with many of these products is that they release toxic fumes and can be very harmful to humans when inhaled, ingested or brought into contact with bare skin. Homeowners end up treating one indoor air pollutant with another.
Also, “wet-kill” products like bleach and ammonia-based sprays and liquids have their limitations when used to treat mold infestation. These limitations are being addressed by a new generation of mold control products [see below]. These products work best on nonporous surfaces, such as tile. However, for mold or mildew that is growing on a porous surface, such as a ceiling, bleach only attacks the outermost layer of the spore—and never gets to the root of the problem.
The Next Generation of Mold Control Products
A new generation of fungicides is emerging, adding a serious weapon to the homeowner’s arsenal in the fight against mold. These bleach alternatives are intended to address the drawbacks of using bleach as a mold combatant: toxicity and effectiveness. One alternative is Concrobium Mold Control manufactured by Siamons International in Toronto, Canada. Concrobium does
not contain bleach, ammonia, alcohols or any volatile organic compounds (VOCs), so it appeals to green-minded consumers and professionals. Additionally, Concrobium Mold Control does not act as a poison or “wet-kill,” as bleach or ammonia-based products do. Instead, Concrobium works as it dries, encapsulating and physically surrounding the mold, crushing it to death. While bleach and ammonia-based products effectively kill surface mold and remove visible signs of the fungus, Brad Elders of Siamons compares it to “killing weeds with a lawnmower. You never get to the roots, and so you get into a ‘bleach and repeat’ trap.” Concrobium not only destroys the molds burrowed into porous surfaces (like drywall), it creates a barrier that inhibits future mold growth.
First made available to the public in 2007, Concrobium is now distributed nationally through The Home Depot and select Lowe’s, Ace Hardware and other hardware stores. Concrobium comes in 32-oz. spray bottles ($9 to $10), gallon jugs (about $35) or 5-gallon pails (about $150). It can be sprayed, mopped, painted or rolled onto an affected surface and must be allowed to dry completely for the compound to work. For whole room application, Concrobium Mold Control can be “misted” using a fogger, which can be rented at Home Depot. These machines atomize the product and distribute it throughout an entire room, effectively killing widespread mold or treating a room against potential future growth.
Homeowners who may hire a professional remediator [see below] should inquire into the products that the contractor intends to use. Some professionals are still using bleach products and “encapsulates”—a type of product that covers mold on surfaces like wall studs to prevent the spreading of the mold. Some of these encapsulates have come under recent scrutiny as the same sealing properties that contain the mold have been found to trap moisture within the wood, causing dry-rot down the road. Newer products are being used by professionals that coat the surface to trap and kill the mold but also allow water vapor from the wood to escape.
Professional Remediation vs. DIY Project
Early detection of mold growth may present an easy do-it-yourself removal project. Manufacturers of mold removal products are pretty consistent in their removal advice and tend to cite the EPA’s guidelines for mold removal, which state that a mold infestation of 10 square feet or less can be effectively
addressed by the homeowner. A mold problem greater than 10 square feet should be handled by a professional who specializes in mold remediation. “If a homeowner is suffering health issues and suspects mold, or sees and smells
mold, a mold inspector can be hired to come and assess the situation,” says Elder. Although a mold inspection will cost money, homeowners can get an evaluation on spore count in the air, a determination on the species of mold that has infested the home and a risk assessment that will help the homeowner decide of professional remediation or a do-it-yourself approach is best. “Certified mold remediators will often require a third-party assessment of a potential mold remediation job,” says Doug Hoffman, executive director of the National Organization of Remediators and Mold Inspectors (NORMI). “An assessment may cost anywhere from $500 to $1,500, but some certified remediators won’t do a job unless this step is taken.” NORMI also offers DIY assessment kits for homeowners. For $100 homeowners receive an instruction packet for conducting their own assessment of a potential mold problem.
In DIY remediation jobs, homeowners should wear gloves, eye protection, an N-95 respirator (which can be purchased at a hardware store) and a long-sleeved shirt and pants. Exposure to mold and airborne mold spores should be limited. The protective clothing worn to prevent contact and exposure to the mold will also help to protect against contact with—or inhalation of—bleach and its fumes, if such a solution is used. Some of the newer fungicides will have specific application instructions, and these should always be followed. When using a detergent or biocide like bleach, the area should be sufficiently cleaned so that there is no visible sign of mold and no odor associated with the fungus. The area should be cleaned, dried and revisited frequently to check for signs of new growth.
In the event that a professional needs to be hired, homeowners should look for a mold remediating expert, especially one who has received certification from a legitimate organization or association. NORMI trains and certifies professionals in a number of designations, from Certified Mold Assessor (CMA) to Certified Mold Remediator (CMR). Its Web sitefeatures a search engine to locate NORMI-certified experts by state. The National Association of Mold Professionals (NAMP) is another organization that trains and certifies professionals in the mold remediation field. The Indoor Air Quality Association (IAQA) also educates and certifies professionals in the indoor hygiene and microbial assessment and remediation fields.
Currently only two states in the U.S. have licensing requirements for mold remediation professionals: Texas and Louisiana. In states that do not have requirements, consumers should be wary of uncertified contractors as the risks of hiring an unqualified or uneducated professional to do a mold remediation job are great. “Certified professionals will know how to contain the job site, how to properly prevent future growth, and what current products are best-used for the job,” says Hoffman. As previously mentioned, inquiring into the products the professional will use is an important question for the homeowner to ask.
As far as the cost of the professional remediation goes, Hoffman says it is too difficult to suggest a price range, but he insists that a certified professional will know the most effective and least expensive method for any given job.
The best way to control mold in the home is to control moisture. Properly ventilating the home, particularly in the bathrooms and kitchens, can make a significant difference in keeping the relative humidity below that 60 percent threshold. An efficient and effective fan (for the bathroom) or hood (for the kitchen) are wise investments for the homeowner.
A product like Concrobium Mold Control can be used by homeowners as a preventative measure. “Professionals like builders, remodelers and property managers are using Concrobium to pre-treat areas to prevent mold growth,” says Elder. Spraying Concrobium on surfaces or in areas that might be prone to future moisture issues is a good way to eliminate a mold problem before it begins.
For homeowners who are building, remodeling or replacing previously mold-infested areas and materials of the home, there are mold and moisture-resistant construction products available on the market. Georgia-Pacific’s line of Dens products includes DensArmor Plus® Paperless Fiberglass Mat Drywall, a GREENGUARD-certified interior gypsum panel that touts moisture and mold-resistant qualities. DensArmor Plus® eliminates the
paper found in typical wallboard and instead uses fiberglass mats on the front and back of the panel. Eliminating the paper removes the food source for the mold and creates a moisture-resistant product suitable for many indoor applications. “DensArmor Plus® is great for basements, converted attics, bathrooms, laundry rooms, and anywhere with thermal or moisture vulnerabilities,” says Barry Reid, product developer and marketing manager for Georgia Pacific. Although the product cost more than the common drywall, using a moisture and mold-resistant wallboard can bring peace of mind to the consumer looking for long-term safeguarding. Other types of mold-resistant building materials found on the market include pre-treated drywall, which essentially coats common drywall with a mold-resistant treatment.
Moisture issues—like leaks or foundation cracks—should be addressed immediately. If a leak has occurred, affected surfaces, fabrics, clothes, etc. should be dried out within 24 hours to prevent mold infestation. Using a fan or natural sunlight to dry items is helpful in this regard.
The war against mold in the home is an ongoing one, but through moisture control practices, thorough and frequent inspections, new mold control and prevention products, and certified remediation experts, homeowners can feel confident that any outbreak of mold growth can effectively and permanently eradicated.
Credit: Renovate Your World