First things first: Mold is a type of fungus that loves damp, dark, warm spaces and thrives at temperatures between 40-100 degrees. It likes to hide between walls, beneath rugs or carpeting, and along the walls of poorly insulated closets. Anywhere moist, where air gets trapped, can be a breeding ground for mold.
Most homeowners discover they have mold one of three ways: They see it, smell it, or develop symptoms of mold exposure. It’s not uncommon to smell it before you see it — that musty, old-sponge stench is potent. If you find mold, you should get rid of it as soon as possible.
Some people don’t experience the common symptoms of mold exposure. If you do experience symptoms, they’re likely to be similar to seasonal allergies (and are often mistaken for them). If you experience skin rashes, a runny nose, itchy eyes, or wheezing, you might have mold hiding somewhere in your home. Even if you don’t feel any symptoms of mold exposure, you should call a professional to get rid of it.
Testing and treating it
The value of testing for mold is a bit controversial. There’s no set standard for harmful levels of mold, so unless your results come back with very high levels, there’s no way to know for sure whether you’ll experience problems or symptoms due to the mold. Testing is expensive, requires special equipment, and the results can take a long time — think weeks, not days — by which time the mold can get much worse and start causing serious problems. Given all of this, it’s probably just better to get rid of it as soon as you notice it. Call your local health department and ask for a recommendation on treatment services.
If you do decide you want to get your house tested, a technician will take indoor and outdoor air samples to compare the number of spores. If the spore count is significantly higher indoors, you might have mold hiding somewhere.
The bad news is that mold isn’t always covered by insurance. When it’s caused by sudden accidents (like a burst pipe), it tends to be covered. Whether it’s the result of a slow accumulation due to poor insulation in the attic or because of a flood, the damage probably won’t be covered.
Mold is usually grouped in with water and freeze damage on policies, but in many cases you can get extra mold protection through a rider tacked on to your policy or a stand-alone policy by another insurance company. But, fair warning: It tends to be expensive.
Once moisture gets in, you only have a day or two before the fungus gets a foothold and starts to grow, so it’s best to work on prevention. Here are a few tips that won’t go amiss:
- Make sure your attic and basement are well insulated and don’t have any leaks.
- Check for leaks in the roof, too, and make sure gutters and drain pipes are clear of leaves.
- Replace any single-pane windows with newer, insulated versions.
- Keep beds, pillows, sofas, and any other fabric at least a few inches away from any external walls and off the floor.
- Opt for washable floor coverings wherever possible. Go with hard floors and area rugs rather than wall-to-wall carpet.
- Install a range hood above the stove and a vented fan in the bathroom.
- Regularly clean any areas where water sits, like the refrigerator drip pan.
- Aim to keep humidity at 60 percent or lower in the summer, and 40 percent or lower in the winter. Refer to the humidity gauge on your thermostat (most have them).
Mold is a scary prospect. It has the potential to ruin furniture, clothes, and linens, not to mention cause serious damage to your home and your health. But it is preventable. Putting in the effort to prevent it in the first place is well worth it.
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