Thursday, November 27, 2008

Mold -- What Is It and Why Do We Care?

Why do we care about mold in the house? What's the big deal, you may ask?

Damage to materials is one concern. Materials can get stained or discoloured, and over time they are ruined. Moldy paper and cardboard disintegrate over time. Fabrics are damaged. Continued mold growth can indicate moisture conditions in the house that are favourable for the growth of fungi that cause wood rot and structural damage.

When molds are growing inside the home, you have health concerns about which to worry because molds release chemicals and spores.

Health experts say that, depending on the type of mold in the home, the amount and the degree of exposure, and the health condition of the occupant, the health effects of mold can range from being insignificant to causing allergic reactions and illness. Pregnant women, infants, the elderly and those with health problems, such as respiratory disease or a weakened immune system, are more at risk with exposure to mold. Consult your doctor if you believe there is someone at risk.

How Can You Tell If It's Mold?

Discoloration is a sign of mold. However, all discoloration is not due to mold. Carpeting near baseboards, for example, can be stained by outdoor pollutions entering the home. Stains or soot may also be caused by the smoke from burning candles or cigarettes.

Mold may be any colour: black, white, red, orange, yellow, blue or violet. Dab a drop of household bleach onto a suspected spot. If the stain loses its colour or disappears entirely, it may be mold. If there is no change, it probably isn't mold.

Sometimes molds are hidden and can't be seen. However, a musty or earthy smell often indicates the presence of molds. However, a smell may not be present for all molds. Even when you don't notice a smell, wet spots, dampness or evidence of a water leak are indications of moisture problems and mold may follow, if it isn't already present.

What Are Molds?

Molds are microscopic fungi, a group of organisms which also include mushrooms and yeast. Fungi are highly adapted to grow and reproduce rapidly, producing spores and mycelia in the process.

We encounter mold everyday. Foods spoil because of mold. Leaves decay and pieces of wood lying on the ground rot due to mold. That fuzzy black growth on wet window sills is mold. Paper or fabrics stored in a damp place get a musty smell that is due to the action of molds.

Some molds can be useful to people, such as penicillin and some food (i.e. yogurt). Molds are undesirable when they grow where we don't want them, such as in homes. Over 270 species of mold have been identified in Canadian homes.

Molds will grow if we provide them with the moisture and nutrients. If we keep things dry, mold doesn't grow. High moisture levels can be the result of water coming in from outside, through the floor, walls or roof, plumbing leaks, or even from moisture produced by the people living in the home, from things like bathing, washing clothes or cooking. Water enters the building when there is a weakness or failure in the structure. Moisture accumulates within the home when there isn't enough ventilation to expel it.

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