September is Mold Awareness Month and the National Association of the Remodeling Industry points out how to recognize signs of mold or water damage, and how to catch these issues early on - or prevent them all together. While mold is everywhere, the amount and location of the mold is what can be harmful to homes and people’s health.
Moisture brings moldMold becomes a problem when moisture is present and the mold begins to grow. The risk increases in places that are more exposed to moisture, such as bathrooms, kitchens, attics and basements.
“Oftentimes, bathrooms that are not properly ventilated or not properly insulated are at greater risk of mold issues, regardless of the age of the home,” says Brian Jones, president of Minneapolis-based Jones Design Build.
This was the case with Jones' clients and their 10-year-old home. They began to notice stains on their first-floor ceiling, directly under the location of their upstairs shower, and grew concerned. Once Jones took down the drywall during the demolition phase of the project, their concerns were realized - the fiberglass batt insulation throughout the entire shower wall area was covered in mold.
“In this instance, the ceiling of the shower was sloped and it can be difficult to install fiberglass insulation properly when the area is sloped, increasing chance for error,” Jones says. “There needs to be a plastic barrier that protects the insulation from openings where moisture seeps in.”
Given the oddly shaped shower, the vapor barrier between the drywall and the insulation was not taped or sealed at all seams, so moisture found its way under the plastic, creating a ripe environment for mold to thrive.
Mold growth behind the wall reduced the direct health risk to the homeowners, but according to Jones, if left untouched, mold poses another risk to the structural elements of their bathroom.
“Mold that continues to grow for years can actually eat through the wood, causing structural problems,” he says.
Removing moldAfter the discovery, Jones called in mold remediation experts to clear the area before work could continue. If not properly removed, mold can re-emerge.
Luckily for Jones, remediation is a fairly simple process. “A plastic barrier contains the area with the mold, so that it doesn’t spread into other parts of the home. As it is being removed, a fan drives air to the outside through a window, and HEPA vacuums remove leftover mold particles from the area,” he says. Once the area is completely cleared of mold and dried, it is sealed with a mold-inhibiting paint to help prevent future outbreaks.
Following the remediation, Jones recommended using a polyurethane spray foam insulation instead of the fiberglass batt insulation that was originally used.
“The polyurethane foam insulation is sprayed into the area, so it completely fills every crevice and hole that may be present,” he says. Not only does this type of insulation block all moisture, but it is also known for its energy-efficient elements.
Recognizing issues early onDo you have moisture issues in your home? Jones provides the following tips to ensure early detection of moisture issues and preventative measures for mold growth:
- Staining. By the time you notice staining, you can be sure that water either has been or is present. “Drywall and paint is easy and cheap to replace, so when I see staining, I recommend clients cut through the drywall immediately and locate the problem,” he says.
- Odor. Many times you don’t need to physically see the mold to know that it is present because it will have an odor. If you walk into a room or basement and notice an odor, it’s time to investigate.
- Blistering. Paint that is peeled or blistering is another sign of water damage. Also bulging dry wall, and screws or joints that are popping out is evidence that the wood is warping from repeated water exposure.
- Ventilate. Areas of the home that have accessible water systems or could face water exposure from the outside are extremely susceptible to mold growth and must have proper ventilation. “I suggest a bathroom fan with a wired timer, that will continue to run 30 to 60 minutes following shower use to keep the moisture level down,” Jones says.