How to Keep Toxic Mold Out of Your House

Mold can appear in any home, even those of the rich and famous. Take former CNN anchor Campbell Brown, for example. She had to flee her home and live in a hotel for months last year after finding mold on the wall of her New York apartment. The mold was so toxic that it woke her 14-month-old son at night with nasty coughing attacks. (She just moved last month to a new place, Tribeca, that cost her $4.65 million and is hopefully mold-free.)

Mold is a part of nature. In the great outdoors, molds are necessary for breaking down dead organic matter. "But mold can become a problem when it makes its way inside your home," says Susan Lilliard-Roberts, founder of the Mold Help Organization. If left unattended, mold can cause allergic reactions, asthma and respiratory infections

Here's what you need to know about mold, along with Lilliard-Robert's expert advice for keeping it out of your home.

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Where does mold grow?

Mold comes in all shapes, sizes and smells. Some is easily spotted--black, green or gray, with a powdery or shiny surface--while others are invisible to the eye, growing behind walls or ceilings and under floors. Humidity is a prime factor in mold creation; mold often grows on water-soaked materials, such as wallboard, fabric, and paper. Typically, buildings in naturally humid climates, such as the South and Northeast, experience more mold problems than in drier parts of the U.S., but mold can grow anywhere, as long as moisture is present.

How can you prevent mold from infiltrating your house?

The key to keeping mold at bay is controlling moisture in your home, says Lilliard-Roberts. "It's important to stop plumbing leaks, drips and water damage before they start." The Environmental Protection Agency has these recommendations for keeping excess moisture down and mold out:
  • Reduce indoor humidity by venting bathrooms and dryers to the outside of the house.
  • Use air conditioners and dehumidifiers to lower humidity levels.
  • Increase ventilation in the rooms by using ceiling fans and opening windows.
  • Use exhaust fans whenever cooking, dishwashing, and cleaning.
  • Prevent condensation by adding insulation to cold surfaces like windows, floors, exterior walls, the roof and pipes.
  • Don't install carpeting in areas of the home with perpetual moisture problems, or on concrete floors with leaks or frequent condensation.

If you find mold, how do you get rid of it?

Most mold is relatively harmless, but you should dry water-damaged areas and items within 24 to 48 hours to prevent mold growth. Usually, cleaning it by adding one cup of bleach per gallon of water will do the trick on hard surfaces and nonporous materials. Don't bother trying to do mold cleanup on absorbent materials, like ceiling tiles and carpet; you'll just have to consider them ruined and replace them.

Use gloves during mold cleanup and take frequent work breaks in a place with fresh air. If you feel any symptoms of illness, like nausea, dizziness or shortness of breath, it may be time to call in a professional.

Where to turn for professional mold help

Knowing whether the mold is toxic or not will determine how to do mold cleanup. You can purchase a do-it-yourself testing kit to see if you have a serious mold problem. The consumer group Home Owners Against Deficient Dwellings recommends a self-help test from MouldWorks@home. The $45 kit cost includes the lab analysis. If the results show a serious mold problem, MouldWorks will recommend mold inspectors and abatement contractors in your area.

Even if the mold problem is serious, if the area affected is small enough -- 10 square feet or less -- it's safe for you to remove the mold and clean up the area yourself. If the mold infiltration is more extensive, you'll need professional advice from a mold remediation expert, as more serious health risks and contamination may be involved. Be prepared to pay -- mold cleanup can be costly, starting at $500 to remove it from a house crawlspace to $10,000 and up for widespread structural damage.

Want to make your home a cleaner and greener place? Here are some AOL Real Estate guides to help:

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