I’m always interested in little Do-It-Yourself projects around my home to help protect my family from mold. Unfortunately, for those of us whose health declines almost immediately when exposed to mold, keeping our homes safe is a constant battle. But, if you look at mold from a more macro-cosmic point of view, like, mold needs a food source (any dead, organic material), oxygen and a temperature between 40 degrees and 100 degrees F to grow, you can evade it before it becomes a major problem.
Here is a list of actions to take, most should not require the assistance of a contractor or mold abatement professional, to make your home a less hospitable environment for mold:
- Open all of your cabinets below water sources, in other words, your kitchen, laundry room and bathroom sinks. Get a clear view of the pipes and all back corners of the cabinets. Make certain there is no evidence of water, water damage or leaks. I check ours a few times a year. If you are opening these cabinets and smelling any musty or mildewy smells, you probably already have a leak. If you find any water, evidence of water, or leaks, remove everything from the cabinet and fix and seal the leak—this will require a plumber, unless you are extremely handy. Now the cabinet needs to be treated for mold, and everything in it needs to be thrown out or treated for mold, as well. To treat the cabinet for mold, dry it out completely. Then, I use the EC3 Mold Solution spray or a homemade spray with mold-killing ingredients to kill the mold. For more homemade mold mixtures, see my blog post on how to clean after a toilet overflow.
- Ventilate crawl spaces and basement wall cavities. Run a fan or dehumidifier in them at all times. I have a humidity reading on my dehumidifier, but if you are using a fan, I would purchase some type of moisture sensor. You want to keep the moisture reading below 60%.
When these spaces are not ventilated, black mold and other molds can take hold. Moisture that enters an area with no air flow is never expelled. If your crawlspace has a dirt floor, it should be dried out, and then covered with plastic. The plastic works as a barrier to prevent moisture from the soil increasing humidity levels in your home. (Note: Crawlspaces can be serious mold havens, and are difficult to tackle, and to get completely dried out. I would consult and employ a mold remediation professional if you need to install a floor barrier in your crawlspace.)
- Ventilate your attic.
Warm, moist air will rise and collect in your attic; proper attic ventilation will allow the moisture to escape from your home. Install an attic fan that vents to the outside, if you don’t already have one. Also, check to make sure your bathroom fans are not venting into your attic. If any moist air is expelling into your attic, have it fixed by a contractor to vent to the outside of your home. This will also bring your house up to current building codes. Now building codes require attics to be properly vented to encourage air circulation.
- Become a fan of fans. Circulating air is dryer air. Mold cannot grow without moisture. Use exhaust fans in bathrooms, kitchens, and laundry rooms. Use ceiling fans and old-fashioned propeller fans regularly throughout your house. Not only will fans circulate and dry the air in your home, but they will also keep your rooms at a more constant temperature in both winter and summer, thus making your home more energy efficient in the process. For example, the average air conditioning unit uses 3,500 watts of energy when running, whereas a ceiling fan only uses 60 watts, even when running on high speed. Also, when you use your fans correctly for air flow in the winter, the furnace will not have to work as hard to keep your home warm. The savings can really start to add up. Move that air!
- Change your air filter. According to the S. Environmental Protection Agency, most people are aware that outdoor air pollution can damage their health; however, many claimed to not know that exposure to indoor air pollutants can cause immediate and long-term health effects. For example, individuals with indoor or outdoor allergies are 76% more likely to take medication for their symptoms than they are to change their air filters more frequently. Only 43% of people polled by the EPA claimed to preemptively change their air filters to capture airborne allergens, such as dust mite debris. Dust mites alone generate many of the most common allergens that trigger allergic reactions and asthma. Air filters in your HVAC system trap dust and pollutants. If your filter is dirty, contaminates can get into your unit. If your HVAC unit is dirty, it is essentially blowing contaminated air into your living space. A dirty air filter also reduces the unit’s efficiency. Try to use pleated high-efficiency air filters with a MERV (Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value) rating of 10 or higher. Never use the cheaper fiberglass filters. They may trap the larger dust particles, but all of the most dangerous contaminants are very small, and will not be trapped—you get what you pay for. If you suspect mold or contaminates inside your HVAC unit, hire a mold remediation professional to inspect, clean and eliminate the problem. This should not be taken lightly. Your family’s health is at risk.
Let me know which, if any of these, you already do, have done, or are going to do. I am always on the lookout for ways to improve my “Mold IQ” and diligence to preventing it in my home, so ideas are welcome. Be well!