Damp homes breed nasty mold
If mold were a cash crop, Fargo-Moorhead's recent wet weather would have meant big bucks for people with basements. As it is, it just puts folks at risk of an allergic reaction. MeritCare allergist Dr. Patrick Stoy says nobody's developed a test ...
If mold were a cash crop, Fargo-Moorhead's recent wet weather would have meant big bucks for people with basements.
As it is, it just puts folks at risk of an allergic reaction.
MeritCare allergist Dr. Patrick Stoy says nobody's developed a test specifically for mold allergy; if you're sneezing or your eyes are watering, it could just as well be pollen or your pet.
But with a long seasonal exposure, lasting over spring, summer and fall, mold could be the culprit.
Stoy says the thousands of types of mold that exist on the planet serve a useful function, at least in the natural world. They break down vegetable matter so its components can return to the soil.
But especially for people with basements, it's nothing more than an unwelcome visitor in the home.
It attacks damp areas, any place where moisture comes and stays. "If anything in the house has gotten wet and it doesn't thoroughly dry out, it will get moldy," Stoy says.
About a half-dozen different kinds of mold can found in the average home, he says. Many produce a musty smell and can grow in places like the paper that covers sheet rock. Mold often is green or black, but can be white. If there's standing water anywhere in the home and enough dust and dirt settle into it, mold can even grow on that.
Many people aren't allergic to mold, making it more of an aesthetic problem. But those who are can have the common allergy symptoms of runny nose, sneezing and itchy eyes. Mold may spur an asthmatic attack.
Like other allergens, mold causes the reactions in the body by triggering release of histamines. Stoy says treatment means use of either prescription or over-the-counter antihistamines, either in pill form or as nasal spray.
But prevention also is important, he says. "You don't want anything in your house to stay moist. A dry environment doesn't allow mold growth."
And if the mold does grow, there's a cheap way to get rid of it. A solution of one part chlorine bleach to 10 parts water is a highly effective cleaner for removing mold and if the area is kept dry, it won't come back, Stoy says.
Part of the problem also is knowing what constitutes "dry."
"I think that a lot of people don't even know the humidity level inside their home," says Mike Arnold of Accent Contracting, one of several local companies that does mold abatement.
Homes need to stay below 50 percent humidity, Arnold says.
That can be a problem in smaller houses with a lot of occupants where normal activities like cooking and showering put moisture in the air. "Homes are so air tight now that when you add moisture to the home and there's no way to exhaust it, that's a problem."
But even exterior home maintenance can add to moisture problems, Arnold says. Improperly maintained or arranged sump pump hoses can discharge water against the foundation, causing it to seep back inside. Homeowners also sometimes flip up downspouts when they mow the grass and then forget to flip them back down, not allowing water from the gutters to flow away from the foundation.
Mold problems also can come from flaws in construction, like leaks around windows and siding and in roofing that allow in moisture, which percolates down into the basement, Arnold says.
Even if the walls feel dry, moisture still can lurk in spaces between walls, he says.
In cases of severe mold, a contractor would have to remove it the same way he removes asbestos, he says. That means sealing off the room and using negative air pressure - basically a large vacuum - to keep the mold from spreading. Walls are then stripped down to the studs and frames and the mold-contaminated sheet rock and insulation are disposed of.
Arnold cautions that can be pricey, anywhere from $1,000 to $3,000 a room, depending on how much work is necessary. Few homeowners spend that much, he says; mold abatement on that level generally is done only on government and business buildings.
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