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Serving Western Pennsylvania
Residential & Commercial

What Is Mold?
What Does Mold Look Like?
What Causes Mold?
What Does Mold Need To Grow?
Does Mold Pose A Health Risk?
How Do I Know I Have Mold?
Should I Have My Home Inspected?
What Can I Do To Protect Against Mold?

What Is Mold?
Molds are living organisms belonging to the taxonomic kingdom of fungi. The kingdom of fungi includes molds as well as rusts, smuts, mildews, mushrooms and yeasts. Similar to (but different from) plants, fungi do not have vascular tissues that form true roots, stems or leaves. They have rigid cell walls but lack chlorophyll and can not photosynthesize. All fungi rely on living or dead organic material to obtain energy and grow. Some fungi are considered pathogenic to humans and some molds release toxic chemicals, called mycotoxins, that are associated with severe and hazardous health risks including poisoning and death. Molds reproduce by producing microscopic spores that are invisible to the naked eye. Mold spores can be found continuously in both outside air and indoor air. Mold is often recognized by its musty smell.

What Does Mold Look Like?
Molds form colonies that will most often appear as fluffy, cottony, velvety, granular, leathery, glassy or hairy spots or patches of various colors. Mold can look white, gray, black, brown, yellow or greenish. Actively growing mold in the early stages of growth has hair-like extensively branching filaments (hyphae), which develop a more hairy appearance as the mold matures. (This can easily be seen under a magnifying glass.) Actively growing mold may be soft, slimy, and damp and may smear when touched. Inactive or dead mold is dry, appears powdery and rubs off the surface easily, subsequently becoming airborne.

What Causes Mold?
Mold growth occurs when there is a sufficient source of food and water for the germination and growth of mold spores. High moisture is the major contributor to indoor mold growth. This is due to nutrients (food source) for spore germination and growth being readily available in most buildings. These nutrients can be dirt, dust, wood, paper, adhesives, acoustical fiber, paint textiles, stored material, carpets, floors, and much more.

What Does Mold Need To Grow?
Mold requires only two things to grow: a source of moisture or water and a substrate or surface to grow on. When moisture problems or water damage occur mold growth can be underway within 24 - 48 hours. High humidity (typically more then 60%) may provide an ample source of moisture for mold growth. Substrates such as wood, wallboard, ceiling tiles, carpet, wallpaper, paneling and leather items are favorite food sources for mold. Since molds can feed on almost anything organic, water is the factor that limits mold growth.

The actual germination of fungal spores and mold growth is influenced by several factors. These factors include:

Time Remaining Wet: The longer the materials stay wet, the higher the probability of mold growth.
Water Source Availability: The greater the water sources, the greater the microbiological activity.
Substrate: Fungi prefer natural materials. Some fungi will grow on almost anything.
Light: Most molds thrive in dark places. (Ex. closets, attics, basements, inside walls, behind wallpaper, behind refrigerators.)
Temperature: Temperatures between 68F and 86F are the optimal temperatures for microbiological activity.
Air Velocity: Stagnant areas are more conducive to microbiological activity. This is why you see more molds in closets, attics and inside walls.
Nutrients: Organic material such as drywall, wood, ceilings, adhesives, paper, plasters, leather and cloth are ideal for mold growth.
Humidity: Anything above 50% RH (relative humidity) is conducive to mold growth.
Moisture: When substrates are wet or damp, the opportunity for microbiological activity is great. A moisture content of 18% or greater can cause mold growth.

Does Mold Pose A Health Risk?
Molds can cause a wide array of adverse responses in humans depending on the type and quantity of molds that are present. Some molds can produce allergens, irritants and in some cases, potentially toxic chemical substances known as mycotoxins. However, these are not the only factors that should be taken into account when considering the health affects to mold exposure. Since dose and human response can be highly individualistic, the sensitivity of the person exposed is also an important consideration. Some individuals will have no reaction when exposed to molds while other, susceptible, individuals may suffer from more severe health effects. Also, infants and young children, the immune-compromised and the elderly are at an increased risk of experiencing adverse health effects related to mold exposure. This is a subject under continuous and evolving study by medical experts.

There are many routes of exposure to molds including dermal contact, ingestion and inhalation. The health risks associated with mold exposure include, but are not limited to: allergic reactions, irritation associated with volatile organic compounds (VOCs), invasive disease and mycotoxicosis.

Allergy - Allergic reactions are the most common health problems associated with exposure to mold. An allergic reaction is elicited when a substance such as mold, that is not harmful in itself, causes an immune response such as allergic rhinitis, dermatitis, asthma associated aggravation or hypersensitivity pneumonitis in a susceptible individual. The symptoms of an allergic response to mold exposure range from runny nose, itchy-watery eyes, coughing, sneezing, and throat irritation to more severe symptoms caused by chronic conditions such as sinusitis and asthma.

Irritation - Fungi produce Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) during the process of degrading substances to obtain nutrition. The VOCs are the cause of the typical "moldy/musty" smell commonly associated with fungal contamination indoors. Exposure to high levels of VOCs may irritate the mucous membranes and the central nervous system leading to symptoms of headaches, decreased attention span, difficulty in concentration, and dizziness.

Invasive Disease - This type of disease is uncommon. It is usually an opportunistic infection caused by exposure to microorganisms that don't normally produce disease in healthy individuals, but affects those persons with abnormally functioning immune systems. (For example, those with HIV/AIDS or those receiving immunosuppressive drugs such as transplant or chemotherapy patients.)

Mycotoxicosis - Poisoning caused by ingestion of a mycotoxin. (Often times poisoning by food products contaminated by fungi.)

How Do I Know I Have Mold?
You may see white thread-like growths or clusters of small black specks on walls, ceilings, or window sills. You may smell a "musty" odor. Seeing and smelling mold is a good indication that you have a mold problem. However, you cannot always rely upon your senses to locate mold. Hidden mold can be growing behind wall coverings or ceiling tiles, inside wall cavities, in crawlspaces and in attics. Common places to find mold are in areas where water has damaged building materials and furnishings, perhaps from flooding or plumbing leaks. Mold can also be found growing along walls where warm moist air condenses on cooler wall surfaces, such as inside cold exterior walls, behind dressers, headboards, and in closets where articles are stored against walls. Rooms with both high water usage and humidity, such as kitchens, bathrooms, laundry rooms and basements are often havens for mold.

Should I Have My Home Inspected?
Due to the growing concerns about mold in the home and it's effects on human health, Mold Inspections are becoming a common practice. You should not buy a home or live in a home with mold. A mold inspection is your first line of defense!

Here are some reasons to consider a professional on-site investigation for toxic or allergenic mold:

  • People in the building are at particular risk: elderly, infant, immune-impaired, asthmatic, history of respiratory illness or other medical complaints which might be caused by or aggravated by mold, allergens or other bioaerosols
  • The building has or is suspected of having had a history of events or even a single event which flooded some areas: plumbing leaks, roof leaks, ice dam leaks, basement water entry, sewer backup, ventilation problems, air conditioning system problems; forced-air central heating/cooling concerns
  • Water damage or mold has been discovered and you need an estimate of the extent of demolition and mold remediation which will be needed to make a proper cleanup and repair. If you are confident that the amount of mold is less than 30 sq. ft. of contiguous mold then the NY City mold remediation guidelines suggest that professional remediation is not appropriate. If more than 30 sq. ft., you need professional advice, as more serious health risks may be involved.
  • Contractors have bid a variety of approaches to building cleanup/remediation and you need an unbiased, informed professional to help sort out these proposals
  • Avoiding conflicts of interest during a mold remediation project: the person who evaluates your property to tell you what (possibly costly) cleanup work is needed should certainly not be the same person who is going to perform that work. Similarly, after a mold cleanup has been completed, the person who inspects and tests to certify that the work has been done properly should have no connection with the company who performed the cleaning.

    What Can I Do To Protect Against Mold?

  • Look for sources of water leakage if there is an unexplained strong musty smell in your home or if there are visible signs of mold.
  • Periodically turn off all faucets and appliances that use water, then check your water meter. If the meter still shows water flowing through your system, it may be a sign of a leak in your water supply lines or plumbing system.
  • When it rains, check your house for leaks. Periodically inspect your attic for signs of roof leakage, including damp insulation. Consult with a professional about stopping any sources of water.
  • Regularly inspect water heaters, appliances that use water and their supply hoses, air conditioning drain lines and plumbing pipes. Repair or replace any that show signs of leakage.
  • Redo any tile grout or caulk around sinks, tubs, showers or toilets that shows signs of mold or mildew.
  • Keep the roof free from leaves, tree branches or other debris that can damage shingles or tiles. Keep gutters clear and make sure the downspouts direct water away from the house. Repair missing or damaged shingles, and properly seal around chimneys, skylights and vents.
  • If your home has a basement, keep the drains cleared. Avoid using carpet in basements, bathrooms, kitchens and other areas where water is likely to gather.
  • Do not cover the weepholes in the exterior walls or siding on the building. This will trap excess moisture in the walls and may promote mold growth.
  • Control moisture in your home by: keeping the humidity below 50%; venting kitchens, bathrooms and utility rooms that generate moisture; using insulation on pipes, walls, attics, flooring and around windows to reduce condensation; increasing attic ventilation; avoiding blockage of air conditioning vents.
  • The key to controlling indoor mold growth is controlling water and moisture indoors!

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