Avoiding Mold in Your Home

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Wondering if your home has a mold problem? You should. Mold can grow anywhere in a place where moisture is allowed to leak or accumulate. Whether the cause is a loaf of bread gone bad, or rain water dripping into your attic, the key to eliminating mold growth in your home is targeting the source.

Mold growing in homes and other buildings indicates a problem with water leakage or excess moisture. The problem could be due to user habits or structural issues. Mold caused by the habits%VIRTUAL-pullquote-"There are no guidelines for 'safe' amounts of airborne mold in the home. Testing will only keep you up at night, and not solve any problems."% of a home's occupants often results from simple humidity build-up that could be resolved by regular use of an air conditioner, dehumidifier or exhaust fan.

For example, condensation from your refrigerator might cause mold to grow behind or under your fridge. Mold on the grout in your shower tiles could be eliminated by flipping on the overhead exhaust fan before you bathe, and leaving it running for a few minutes afterward. Cracking a window will also help. Whereas mold along the caulking at the base of your bathtub, where it meets the floor, might be caused by water dripping onto your floor from the shower curtain or a damp bath mat. Making sure a shower curtain drips dry inside the bathtub and hanging a bath mat to dry can help prevent mold in these cases.

Make sure that your exhaust fans from your bathroom, oven range, and clothes dryer vent the moist air directly outside and not into the attic space. Even if you are properly venting these items, moisture can still build up in your attic as the general moisture and humidity in your home tries to escape.

Keep your attic well ventilated. The attic and basement are places where mold can grow -- cold, dark, damp places.

In an attic or upper level crawlspace, leaks in the roof or improperly fitted flashing around a chimney can add moisture to your attic. So could build-up from ice dams, which cause water to leak in under shingles as the ice and snow start to melt.

Because hot air from your home rises, it needs to escape from small vents in your gables. Using a dehumidifier to keep the moisture levels in your home low will also help keep the moisture in the attic and basement at low levels. This is especially a necessity in basements, which are a hot spot for mold growth because they tend to be poorly ventilated. Moisture can even seep in from the ground and cause mold along the lower half of your basement walls and along baseboards.

Should you test for mold? "Unless you have a strong medical concern from your health care professional that mold is creating a health risk in your house, there is no reason to test your house for mold," says Gerry Aubrey of Blue Bell Consulting, a home inspection service licensed in Florida and Philadelphia. "If you test, the answer will be yes, you have mold. There are no guidelines for 'safe' amounts of airborne mold in the home. Testing will only keep you up at night, and not solve any problems."

Mold leaves some very conspicuous signs that you can note yourself, such as:

1. Black, green, or brown patches in corners of ceilings, and near moisture spots, such as around baseboards, around skylights and on caulking in bathrooms and kitchens.

2. Smell. If there's a certain area of your home with a distinct, musty smell (and it's not coming from any rotten food products), chances are you've got mold.

3. Peeling Paint. Peeling paint is never a good sign, as the most common reason for paint to stop adhering to the wall is moisture.

4. Decaying Wood. Although not all decayed wood is a direct result of mold, it is plausible.

5. Chalky Substance. Your walls' binding agent can sometimes break down under moist conditions, leaving a chalk-like residue. This is a clear sign of water damage and/or mold issues.

5. Health Symptoms. If you have a sudden allergic reaction to a certain area of your home (and you haven't recently changed cleaners, carpet and/or furniture), mold could be a reason for the onslaught of allergens.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development gives this summary of ways to prevent mold:

1. Keep your house clean and dry.
2. Fix water problems, such as roof leaks, wet basements, and leaking pipes or faucets.
3. Make sure your home is well ventilated, and always use ventilation fans in bathrooms and kitchens.
4. If possible, keep humidity in your house below 50 percent, by using an air conditioner or dehumidifier.
5. Avoid using carpeting in areas of the home that may become wet, such as kitchens, bathrooms, and basements.
6. Dry floor mats regularly.

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