A handful of US homeowners have burned down their homes, and everything in them, because they felt it was the only way to eradicate toxic mold from their surroundings. Juries have awarded huge sums of money to homeowners who initiated lawsuits against their insurance companies (for not paying for moisture-related repairs in time to prevent severe problems) and Main Line home builders (for shoddy workmanship that resulted in house-wide mold).
While toxic mold can definitely be a problem, in most instances its growth can be prevented or stopped before such drastic actions are necessary. What is Mold? Molds are fungi that reproduce by releasing tiny spores into the air. Spores lucky enough to land on moist objects may begin to grow. There are thousands of different types of mold and we encounter many of them every day, inside and out. What is Toxic Mold? Toxic mold is a type of mold that produces hazardous byproducts, called mycotoxins. While individuals with asthma and other respiratory problems may have reactions to many types of mold, it’s thought that mycotoxins are more likely to trigger health problems in even healthy individuals. These toxins are believed to be linked to memory loss and to severe lung problems in infants and the elderly. Floating particles of mold are invisible to the naked eye, so it’s impossible to see where they might have landed unless they begin to grow. Loose mold particles that accumulate on items within a house are easily inhaled and can be a constant irritation to the people and pets who live there.
The toxic mold we hear most about is Stachybotrys chartarum (or Stachybotrys atra). This slimy, greenish-black mold grows on moisture-laden materials that contain cellulose, such as wood, paper, drywall, and other similar products. It does not grow on tile or cement. Even if the mold in your Main Line home is not toxic mold, it can still be a problem, because mold growing on organic materials will in time destroy them. Too much mold of any type smells bad and degrades air quality. Be on the lookout for the damp, humid conditions where mold thrives: Bathrooms with poor ventilation. Install an exhaust fan if possible. Leaky water pipes. Repair them immediately. Roof leaks. Repair them right away. Flood cleanup should be handled as soon as possible. The EPA offers a handbook to help. Clothes dryers and exhaust fans should always vent to the outside, never under the house or back into a room. Other solutions: Consider installing a dehumidifier in chronically moist rooms. Don’t carpet damp areas. It’s the perfect breeding ground for mold. Insulate pipes and other cold surfaces to discourage condensation. Install storm windows to eliminate condensation on glass. Make sure the crawlspace under your house is well ventilated. Cover crawlspace dirt with plastic. Porous materials, such as ceiling tiles, may have to be replaced, but replacing them won’t solve the problem if the source of moisture is not eliminated. Cleanup Clean visible mold with detergent and water. Allow to dry then apply a solution of 1/2 cup bleach per gallon of water to help kill the remaining spores. Make sure the room is well ventilated before you begin. Never combine bleach and ammonia because the mixture produces a toxic gas.
Before You Buy
Some Main Line home buyers test air quality before closing on a home. In the past air quality testing was ordered primarily to detect radon gas, but mold tests are becoming more common. Your Main Line home inspector may not perform mold tests, but can probably help you find someone who does. In my area that type of test costs between $300-$500 dollars. If you are concerned about toxic mold an air test might help you feel better about your new home. Talk to your Main Line real estate experienced Main Line real estate agent or your attorney to determine if a special contingency should be inserted in the contract that will allow you to back out of the deal if toxic mold is detected and cannot be thoroughly eliminated.