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Mold: There’s Something Rotten in the State of my Basement

You’ve been there, right? Open the pantry, untie the bread bag, drop a slice on the counter, slather liberally with Nutella, commence to munch, and then…upon closer observation…realize that the treasured white slice has various shades of green and gray!  Suppressing the urge to vomit, you wonder what fatal fungi you just consumed.

(OK, that’s not really the mold to which we refer, but we like visceral imagery and we adore Nutella, so we use both when possible.)

The mold to which we are referring is the creepy stuff that lurks and grows and generally hangs out in basements and other wet places. Mold is a plant-like growth that manifests on damp or decaying organic matter or on living organisms by any of a number of fungi.

Old Mold, Good Mold, Bad Mold

Mold is old.  It’s been part of nature’s fabric since the beginning of creation and primarily exists to break down organic matter in our environment.

Good mold – hooray! Some mold species are beneficial and give us products such as yummy cheese, delicious wine, and life-saving medications.

Bad mold – boo, hiss! Sadly, other molds can be harmful, especially when concentrated in a building’s enclosed environment.

Unwanted molds in property are generally referred to as allergenic molds, which thrive on warm, wet conditions commonly caused by water intrusion into your home and exacerbated by poor ventilation. Some common allergenic molds which reside and thrive indoors sound like they’ve been derived from Greek mythology: Cladosporium, Penicillium, Alternaria, Aspergillus, Stachybotrys.

Mold By Any Other Name Would Be Just as Sweet (or Not)

Like any plant, mold will thrive if it has three inputs: food, moisture, and warm temperatures.

Food?  You may not enjoy eating wallpaper, but mold loves wallpaper.  In fact, your entire house is pretty much food for mold, which consumes any organic material (wood, walls, floors, paper).

Moisture?  It’s everywhere in your house, whether you can see it or (most often) not.  Sources of water penetration include roofing leaks, foundation leaks, elevated humidity, flashing leaks, window leaks, plumbing leaks, and ventilation problems.

When proper conditions are present, mold will grow and spread very quickly.

But the mold plant itself isn’t the real issue. The problem occurs when the mold plant releases spores, which carry what are known as mycotoxins.  Spores are the dormant reproductive agents released by molds.  Spores are everywhere and are dormant only until proper conditions have been established to encourage new growth.

Unfortunately, spores generally make contact with a building’s occupants – you.

Mycotoxins can be ingested via nose, mouth, eyes, and even via skin pores.

Whereto Our Health Is Bound, We Are Not Ourselves

Too much bad mold in the basement is bad.  Too much bad mold in the walls is bad.  Too much bad mold in the air?  Oh my, very bad.

Common health problems associated with molds include respiratory and gastrointestinal infections, skin rashes, muscle pain, memory loss; in some extreme cases, the effects of mold may result in death.

Negative health effects depend on the type of mold, level of exposure, and susceptibility of the occupant, which varies from person to person.  The most susceptible individuals are children, elderly and people with compromised immune systems.

When to Test for Infernal Mold

Most homeowners test for mold when they smell an unusual odor, see discolored spots, or become sick for no apparent reason.  Because mold growth often is caused or accelerated by moisture, many people test for mold after a significant water-related property issue, e.g., heavy rains cause water penetration in the basement, dishwasher floods the kitchen, washing machine floods the laundry room, etc.

How to Test for Infernal Mold

Mold testing, combined with infrared scans and visual inspection methods, is the best non-invasive method to assess the extent and types of mold in your home.

Our Mold Assessment provides you with specific guidance for addressing potential mold-related issues in your home. Our assessment includes interior/exterior inspection of the home for mold and conditions conducive for growth, interior infrared scans, air sampling for airborne spore levels, and laboratory testing.  Our comprehensive report includes laboratory data and analysis on the types and quantity of mold spores in your home.

Testing before remediation helps to establish baseline conditions and the scope of any possible remediation; testing after remediation ensures that spore levels have been lowered sufficiently.

Speaking of remediation, see Mold Remediation: All’s Well if All Ends Well.