TESTING FOR MOLDS
Molds are a normal and natural occurrence in nature. They serve important functions in the environment by breaking down dead organic matter such as wood and leaves. When it comes to indoor molds, their function is counter-productive, and as a result, they should be eliminated. This is because they produce allergen irritants and in some cases toxic substances known as mycotoxins that can cause allergic responses, including sneezing, runny nose, red eyes, skin rashes, headaches, and other hay fever-like symptoms. In most instances, symptoms from inhaling mold spores do not go beyond basic hay fever-like reactions; however, some individuals, especially those with allergies, hay fever, or asthma, can experience more severe symptoms including fever, severe headaches, pulmonary bleeding, and even brain damage. As with most disease-causing agents, it is the elderly and young that stand to suffer the most from mold exposure. Also at risk are those with weakened immune systems. Molds are comprised of spores that are not visible to the naked eye. Through natural processes, these spores become airborne and can travel great distances, and if what they eventually land on is organic and moist, they will grow. It doesn’t matter if the landing surface is indoors or outdoors. There are thousands of different types of molds; however, none of them will grow without a continuous source of water. This means that it is likely that when the mold is cleaned up, it will return if the water source is not eliminated.
Some have speculated that the reason for heightened awareness of dangers associated with mold is due to media more than it is because of increased occurrences; however, it is clear that mold grows best on processed paper-like products, and it is a fact that the construction industry uses much more paper products than it did in years past. Today’s modern consumers much prefer the look of paper-based drywall over the brick in the interior of their homes. These paper-based materials, combined with the right moisture content, can be breeding grounds for mold. Additionally, homes built after the 1970s are much more airtight than they were in previous eras. This is due to improvements in construction materials and the advent of improved insulation and sealing agents such as caulk. The simple fact is that houses are built tighter today than ever before, and this means they provide better environments for mold growth.
Causes of Mold
As established, mold will not grow without a source of water. This is the key to understanding how to prevent it and how and why it may invade a home. The following are nine examples of unsuspected sources of mold entry:
1. Defects in construction, such as gaps between siding and the framing of a house
2. A leaky roof
3. A damp crawl space
4. Poorly ventilated bathrooms
5. A humidifier
6. A leaky washer hose
7. A faulty ice maker
8. Over-watered plants
9. Pet doors
Of course, the list of why and how mold can grow in a home goes on and on. The fact is that all of the conditions needed for mold growth (food sources and appropriate temperatures) can be present in indoor environments when adequate moisture is present. Without moisture, mold will not grow.
Mold’s Water Source
Within the earth’s water cycle, water moves from the ground to the air and then back to the ground again. In this process, it changes from solid to liquid to gas, over and over again. Pure water is tasteless, odorless, and colorless and it can exist in three states including solid (ice), liquid, or gas (vapor).
Solid water is frozen water. When it freezes, the molecules within water move farther apart, making ice less dense than water. That is why ice floats in water. Water freezes at 0° Celsius, 32° Fahrenheit. Because mold only thrives between 60 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit, you’re probably not surprised to know that solid water creates no risk of mold.
Liquid water is wet and fluid. This is the form of water with which we are most familiar. Given liquid water, the right temperatures, and an excellent food source such as wallpaper glue, some paints, greases, paper-based materials, textiles, and wood products, mold will prosper.
Gas Water is vapor present in the air. It is a less obvious source of moisture resulting from the effect of temperature gradients (temperature differences). It is more obvious in regions where warm and moist air comes in contact with cooler surfaces. Just as water condenses on the outside of a cool glass of water, these conditions can cause water vapor to condense on building surfaces. When relative humidity is elevated indoors, building materials and furnishings can trap the moisture. In turn, these dampened materials provide a place for mold to thrive. If there are no cold condensing surfaces and the relative humidity is maintained at or below 60 percent, there is not enough water for mold to take hold. Likewise, if the relative humidity is maintained above 70 percent, mold will grow.
In the summer, air conditioning can dehumidify an indoor space. But if the system is too large or too small for the space it serves, the cooling system can create high humidity by cooling without removing water vapor. A properly sized and maintained system will dehumidify and cool a building. Clothes dryers should be vented to the outdoors. Unvented space heaters can generate substantial water vapor and as a result, should infrequently be used. Homeowners should remember to run the bathroom exhaust fan when showering or bathing to avoid excessive vapor. Equally important, a kitchen’s exhaust fan will remove vapors created while cooking.
Mold can be hidden inside walls or under a house, in the attic, or under the carpet and as such may not show the slightest sign of its existence. Additionally, many property owners do not know what mold looks like. For example, they don’t understand the slight staining in a window sill or the flaking paint on the ceiling in the corner of a room could mean mold is present. The fact is that it is very common for sellers to be unaware of mold problems that exist on their property. When they have chronic headaches or frequently experience allergy-like symptoms, it’s easy for the human condition to simply chalk it up to seasonal allergies or even age.
As a real estate agent, you own the responsibility of reasonably working to identify mold problems on behalf of the seller and the buyer.
Protecting your Interests
Given mold’s potential to be hidden, sellers and their real estate agents, along with a general inspector, are advised to inspect for hidden clues. The biggest of which is any water leaks, musty smells, or velvet-like staining. Also, it may be prudent as a seller’s agent to question the seller about any water-related problems that he or she has encountered on the property, including any repairs that they may have done to eliminate them. It is also important to find out if the mold was ever identified on the property and if the seller knows for certain that the mold was eradicated. A helpful list of questions to help you through this process include:
- Have you ever had any problems with water leaking into or in the house?
- How did you identify the problem?
- What did you do to eliminate the problem?
- Do you know if the mold was present?
- How do you know that the mold problem was completely eliminated?
If you find that there was a water leak, you should list the details associated with it on the general property inspector’s report along with the seller’s and real estate agent’s disclosures. Identifying them in writing helps to prevent against future liabilities.