But keeping our homes toasty might actually be worsening a problem that many homeowners must deal with at some point in their lives – mold.
Mold isn’t just unsightly, it can be downright dangerous for your home and your health. Suspect there might be mold lurking in your home? Here is how to identify, remove, and prevent mold, so that you can protect your family’s health and your home’s value.
What is mold?
Mold is any fungus that grows on organic organisms. There are various types of mold, and they can occur in many different places, from the leaf of a plant to the tiles in your bathroom. Sometimes invisible to the naked eye, mold gives off a musty odour similar to wet earth, and thrives in wet, damp or poorly ventilated areas.
Why is mold dangerous?
Mold itself is not dangerous, but the spores released by mold during its asexual reproduction cycle can carry toxic chemicals, called mycotoxins. Although short-term side effects caused by inhaling these spores are limited to throat, eye and nose irritation, reactions can escalate and vary from person to person.
How to identify mold
Mold can grow almost anywhere, and often ends up in hard-to-reach places, identifying mold can sometimes be tricky. A quick comb of your house, however, can help you identify areas in need of attention.
Here are some signs to look for:
- Stains on walls, ceilings or floors
- Stains on furniture or wallpaper
- Dark patches behind appliances, around vents or anywhere else moisture could be trapped
Some key areas to look for mold include:
- Any damp areas in your home
- Behind and around your bathtub
- Behind and around bathroom and kitchen sinks
- Under, behind and around refrigerators
- Anywhere water damage has occurred
- Behind peeling wallpaper
- Dark and damp areas of your basement or attic
- Behind your washing machine
- Around air conditioning units
- Around leaky windows
- Washroom and dryer fans and vents
The most visible type of mold, called mildew, is easier to spot. Watch for tiny black spots which often grow into larger colonies. Mildew can often be found inside on damp walls, the shower, outdoor deck boards and especially in shady and damp areas.
Getting rid of mold in your home isn’t as difficult as it might seem. In fact, removing surface mold found in bathrooms, siding and decks is quite quick and easy.
For surface mold:
Simply use a brush to scrub down affected areas with a mixture of bleach and water. Your bleach to water ratio should be 1-to-8. When using bleach, always be careful to avoid staining or burning organic materials. Be sure the cleaned area or object is allowed to dry – use a hairdryer for dark and damp spots.
If the affected area has undergone extensive water damage, carries a strong musty odour, or has a mold concentration covering more than a few square feet, it’s wise to take a few extra precautions to avoid breathing in spores or cross-contaminating other areas of your house:
- Be sure to wear old shoes and clothing that can be easily washed or thrown away.
- When removing mold, cover your ducts and turn off your air conditioner or furnace to keep spores from spreading.
- Be sure to wear a respirator, gloves, and goggles when cleaning the mold.
- Put a box fan in the window to keep the room in which you’re working well-ventilated. When your mold removal is complete, throw the fan away – it’s almost impossible to clean the fan of spores.
- Wet any moldy areas with a garden hose to keep airborne spores under control.
- When disposing of moldy carpets, be sure to securely wrap them in plastic.
- Be sure to double-bag any moldy debris for disposal.
If there is any widespread mold contamination on carpets or walls, removal can be a little trickier.
Use a utility knife to cut up moldy carpets into 6 x 8 feet sections. Mist the surfaces with a pump sprayer to keep spores from spreading, then roll up each section of carpet. Double wrap them and then tape them for disposal. Seal off the room from the rest of your home by covering the doorway with a barrier of plastic sheets, taped to the wall and floor. Also cover all air ducts with plastic and tape.
Turn off the power to any outlets in the room. Then open up moldy walls by prying off baseboards and trim from moldy areas with a pry bar. You can also use a screwdriver to probe open any heavily moldy walls. If there is moldy insulation inside, mist it with water then double-bag it for disposal. Scrub any surface mold stains in the walls with your bleach solution, then wipe off – but don’t rinse. After the areas are dry, seal with pigmented shellac or an oil-based primer.
Removing existing mold is only the first step to getting rid of a mold problem in your house. The best way to keep mold from coming back is by taking the right preventative measures. Take a moment to identify what overarching problems are leading to the mold in the first place. Is your room properly ventilated? Are there leaky windows in your house? Are you keeping up with a regular home cleaning routine? Do you have any water damage in your home?
Addressing moisture issues helps prevent mold from returning, stops any existing mold you missed from spreading, and discourages mold from growing in new places. As a further precaution, you may choose to invest in a portable dehumidifier for more problematic and chronically damp areas of your home, such as a cellar.