How to Deal with Mold

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The AvantaClean DC Riverfront Team: Eric Kirby, Choutee Kelly, and Dan Davis. Photo: AvantaClean

Mold. If you’re a homeowner or landlord, it’s not a word you want to hear. Yet in older homes mold can be quite common. Dan Davis, owner/operator of AdvantaClean here in the District, notes, “In DC, and specifically the Hill, most mold issues that I see are in basements. Older homes tend to have leaky foundations. Over time, structures settle, materials degrade, and tree roots push through cracks and enlarge them. Moisture finds its way inside, and wood, drywall, and other organic materials will start to grow mold if they remain damp over time.”

Mold can grow on almost any organic material where oxygen, water, and a cozy temperature are present. Davis notes that drywall, which has widely been used in home construction and remodeling over the last 60 years, is an excellent host for mold as the paper surface provides an ideal food while the gypsum core acts like a sponge and retains water. Uncontrolled mold can degrade walls, furniture, clothing, and almost anything. Mold can also irritate the eyes, skin, nose, throat, and lungs of people and their pets, and may cause allergic reactions or asthma attacks.

Getting Rid of Mold
What do you do if you discover mold? Mold on a nonporous surface such as ceramic tile or counter tops can be removed with a good commercial mold and mildew cleaner. Some staining may remain in grout and caulk, and if it persists it should be professionally cleaned or replaced. While bleach is widely used as a home remedy for eliminating mold, Davis cautions that it isn’t effective. Household bleach is too diluted to penetrate beneath the surface, and while it may look as though the mold has disappeared, it’s likely to return and possibly with a vengeance as the water in the bleach penetrates and provides moist conditions. If you spot mold on wood, drywall, furniture, clothing, or carpet, call a professional.

According to Davis, getting rid of mold has three steps: removal, cleaning, addressing the moisture source, including a backup plan to coat the structure with an antimicrobial infused encapsulant to prevent the mold from spreading. Professional mold remediation involves the removal of wet and damaged nonstructural material. Areas around the structure are cleaned with broad-spectrum antimicrobial solutions to kill any remaining mold. These solutions don’t have a harsh bleach or chemical odor. Some effective products are plant-based oils (mostly thyme) that, while generally more expensive, are more environmentally friendly and more accommodating to those who are highly sensitive to smells, chemicals, or allergens. In some cases ultraviolet lighting may be used to prevent mold growth. For additional tips on controlling mold, the Occupational Safety and Health and Health Administration (OSHA) has a helpful brochure at https://www.osha.gov/OshDoc/data_Hurricane_Facts/mold_fact.pdf.

Discovering Mold
Mold isn’t always visible, and it’s often identified by a whiff of musty, earthy smell when opening a closet or basement door. Mold should also be suspected when residents (including pets) experience a persistent cough, sore throat, headache, or other respiratory symptoms – especially if they lessen or stop when away from home or business. Michael “Max” Grove of the Capitol Hill-based Max Insulation was recently talking with a client who mentioned that she’d never had allergies until she moved into her home. A quick trip to the basement revealed three basement walls thick with mold. Another Hill resident noticed some mold growing on one of his indoor air vents. He called in a professional service that found a healthy stock of mold growing in the heating ducts.

Finding mold under flooring or behind paneled walls can be challenging. Working with a good inspection company is key. They can better pinpoint the location of any mold through moisture and temperature readings and infrared technology. Air samples can detect if there are elevated spore and particulate counts. There is even testing available that detects the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that mold gives off as it grows. Some of these VOCs are the musty odors associated with mold.

Preventing Mold
You can prevent mold by fixing leaks, removing and replacing molded materials, and frequently cleaning ducts. Mold growth in basements or bathrooms can be avoided through more frequent cleanings, the use of dehumidifiers, and frequent airing of the space by opening windows. Joan Carmichael is a Capitol Hill-based realtor who’s seen a lot of mold issues in homes over the years. “The worst cases always stem from deferred maintenance,” she notes. “I’ve seen ceilings falling in that are covered with mold. The problem usually begins with a small leak that was not corrected and then became a huge problem down the road. Homeowners are using what used to be storage basements as living spaces. It’s hard to see cracks or seepage when the basement, now the family room, has carpeting on the floor and drywall on the walls.”

New DC Regulations
Recognizing the negative impact of mold on human health, in May 2016 DC enacted comprehensive mold regulations that will become operant in 2017. According to Tommy Wells, director of DC’s Department of Energy & Environment (DOEE), “Mold is not new to the District of Columbia. We are putting a new focus on the issue, creating the emphasis it deserves, due to its potential negative impact on the health of our residents, young and old.”

Here are some key aspects of the new DC regulations:

  1. A licensing requirement for mold professionals includes passing a DOEE-approved exam. By law, only licensed professionals may use terms such as licensed, certified, qualified, or professional, and professionals should be willing to show their license.
  2. A licensed mold professionals must notify DOEE of all projects and follow performance standards and work practices required by the regulations.
  3. While homeowners do not need a license to inspect and/or remove mold in their home, as long as it is not occupied by a tenant, with limited exceptions they must follow DOEE guidance to remediate any mold issue.
  4. In any home occupied by tenants, the assessment and remediation of mold occupying 10 square feet or more must be performed or supervised by a DOEE-licensed mold professional.

Find more information on DC’s Mold Regulations at http://doee.dc.gov/moldlicensureregs.

While dealing with mold is not something any homeowner wants to do, ignoring the problem is not a viable option. It will not just go away on its own.

Catherine Plume is a lifelong environmentalist, a writer, and a blogger for the DC Recycler: www.DCRecycler.blogspot.com; Twitter @DC_Recycler.