How to Handle a Toxic Mold Problem in Your Home

Dealing with Toxic Mold in the HomeMold remediation is big business today. Part of the reason is that toxic mold can have serious health consequences, with symptoms that range from headaches, skin rashes and eye irritations to serious allergic reactions, asthma and lasting lung issues.

The underlying problem is moisture, and once mold spores appear, it can be very difficult to eliminate them or completely counteract the environment that gave birth to them. Even in the desert, mold and mildew can thrive in dark, damp corners of a home: Under the sink, near an air conditioner, or in a water heater closet.

Diagnosing a Problem

Detecting mold can be difficult, but a "sniff test" is often the first clue, particularly in a basement or garage, around plumbing fixtures and in utility rooms. If you have recently moved to a new Fairfax home and family members are plagued by red eyes, runny noses, irritating coughs or general malaise, suspect mold, especially if you don't normally suffer from allergies. There are different types of mildew and mold, and infestations can spread quickly.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, small patches of mold can often be treated successfully by a homeowner or handyman. Once the source of the mold has been determined—usually a leaky faucet or hose bib, or a dripping water line—and fixed, the next step is clean up and repair. You can scrub a moldy wall or ceiling with water and detergent and simply allow it to dry completely before repainting or refinishing.

However, if you discover a previously undetected leak, if there has been a flood in the basement or you have experienced a water or sewer backup, think mold. Growth can begin within hours under the right conditions.

Ignoring the signs is never a good idea.

The Truth About Mold

While you most likely would not buy a house with a serious mold issue, sometimes even widespread contamination goes undetected until inhabitants experience associated medical issues. Calling in the experts to evaluate your home's nooks and crannies can be expensive and invasive, but think of the alternative. Treatment is also disruptive, often involving removing sheetrock and insulation, bath tiles and carpet, and sometimes even gutting an entire portion of the home. But when your health is at stake, professional remediation may be the only option.

Know that mold can grow on any surface: It's not limited to old slices of bread and basement walls. While there is no way to completely prevent mold from forming on home surfaces under the right conditions, toxic mold is usually preventable; that's the good news. Check regularly for signs of mold, especially the "white mold" that indicates beginning stages of growth. Keep bathrooms and damp areas scrupulously clean and as dry as possible and assure proper ventilation.

Use dehumidifiers in damp basement areas. Regularly check attics and roof rafters for telltale leakage that leads to mold growth. Have your heating and air conditioning ducts professionally checked on a regular basis, and replace filters as necessary. Note and respond quickly if you notice musty smells.

Home ownership requires regular upkeep and ongoing maintenance. One of the best ways to protect your home and your family from the problems caused by toxic mold is to routinely inspect for signs of moisture, immediately remedy any leaks, and thoroughly clean and dry suspicious areas.

Then, breathe easily.

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