By Melissa Sprouse Browne, Real Estate School of South Carolina
Mold can be a troubling problem in homes and businesses, causing health issues and the potential destruction of the home in which it resides. You may wonder how a mold growth extensive enough to compromise the structural elements of a building can escape the notice of the building's occupants. The answer is simple: the mold does its work while enclosed within other materials and is almost always out of sight.
In some cases, by the time mold becomes visible, the damage within the walls, the attic above the ceiling and the basement or crawl space beneath the floor is extensive and not easily repaired.
Regional climates can have a tremendous effect on your home and its propensity to grow mold. A home located in a cold climate is designed to keep heat inside and fight off cold and moisture from the outside. Conversely, a home located in a warm, humid Southern climate must focus on moisture control. When cold air meets warm air, the result is condensation. When condensation happens outside, it's called rain. When it happens inside, damage ensues. The cold air produced by air conditioning generally tends to meet much warmer air outdoors within the space defined by the exterior walls, the attic and the basement, creating a favorable environment for mold.
Since mold growth requires water, and water entering a structure flows to the lowest level, an excellent way to see inside a wall is to remove the electrical outlet cover and box (taking extra care to avoid electrical shock!). A high intensity lamp generates enough light for a low-level examination. If there is anything showing that is not identified as wood, drywall, or the base for exterior siding, sterile swabs should be taken of the foreign material and sent to a lab for identification.
Mold thrives in bathrooms and kitchens. As a general rule, if mold is present at the seam joining walls with floors or ceilings, you should inspect behind the wall. Cleaning the mold over and over will not control the problem. In fact, re-growth of mold in a particular location guarantees the source of the mold colony is in a hidden location (inside the wall or ceiling) adjacent to the visible growth.
The back of wallpaper is also a fertile breeding ground for mold. If steam or other moisture (such as from your shower in the bathroom) is causing wallpaper to detach from the wall, there is usually mold growth on the back side of the wallpaper. Surprisingly, almost all wallpaper has mold growth between it and the wall it covers because there are always mold spores present on the back of wallpaper and very small bubbles of air that encourage the growth of mold. Have you ever removed wallpaper and noticed black or orange streaks on the wall? That was mold.
Mold can cause a wide variety of medical conditions that are detrimental to your health. Some people may have an allergic reaction to mold, while others aren't affected at all. There are, however, molds commonly found indoors that will produce an allergic reaction in more than half the population. Typical symptoms are itchy eyes, runny noses, headaches and clogged sinuses, with those sensitive to mold suffering more so than others. Long term exposure to certain molds may lead to asthma, pneumonitis, upper respiratory problems, cough, rash, and stomach upset. Severe exposure (a long period of time spent in contact with a significant amount of mold) can cause kidney and liver failure and pulmonary emphysema.