Staring down at mold in a house can be scary. This type of contamination situation isn’t exactly a hot topic in today’s day and age (yet!), which can leave you scratching your head on how to properly handle the problem. Throw in the misinformation and lack of industry standards, and the result is a stressful, overwhelming, and confusing situation. The key to tackling this scenario is digging through the science, finding trusted experts, and taking the correct steps the first time around to eliminate the contamination.
Time is of the essence when it comes to dealing with mold in a house.
The longer the mold is present, the more contamination there will be throughout the indoor space. This lowers the air quality and leads to prolonged exposure, which can trigger a long list of adverse health reactions for those spending time within the space.
Understanding how to handle any contamination situation that pops up can reduce this level of exposure and ensure that you’re not having to spend money repeatedly to deal with the issue correctly. Far too often, families are forced to pay multiple times for remediation because of improper testing or unsuccessful protocols to eliminate the contamination.
To avoid this unwanted issue, these are the steps needed to properly handle mold in a house. The more aware you are of the process, the better prepared you will be to create your healthy indoor environment.
What is Mold?
Before getting into resolving the issue, here are the cliff notes of what you’re up against so that you can better understand why each step is important.
The word "mold" is actually an umbrella term for a couple of different things.
- The 100,000 different types of species of mold identified so far
- The particle (spore)
- The organism (colony)
This lack of understanding of the general question "What is mold?" has led to quite a few misconceptions, as this video explains.
The main thing to keep in mind when considering this fungus is that, as a colony grows, it reproduces by releasing non-living particles called spores. Some species of mold also create microscopic toxins called mycotoxins, further adding to the particles throughout the area. The common misconception is that since these particles exist all over the world, they’re not a big deal when they’re in our homes.
That is not true.
There's very little airflow between indoor and outdoor environments thanks to modern building practices pushing for net-zero energy efficiency. This means that when mold in a house occurs, most of the colony's particles will remain inside the environment and continue to build up as time goes on. So, while it is impossible to completely avoid exposure to mold, a few particles dispersed throughout the day is not the same scenario as a home packed full of particles.
And, to make matters more contaminated, bacteria grows in similar conditions as mold and is often found growing alongside colonies. This further adds to the contamination in the space.
The Health Part of the Equation
The ability of these particles to cause problems largely rests on their size. Measured in a unit called a micron, mold spores, fragments, mycotoxins, and bacteria can all be inhaled, ingested, and absorbed into the body.
The body is typically equipped to get rid of low levels of these microscopic particles, but mold in a house tasks the body with fighting off an entire army of them. This can lead to the immune system getting bogged down and/or malfunctioning, opening the door to chronic symptoms. It can also allow autoimmune conditions to take hold, such as Aspergillosis or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.
Some common symptoms of mold exposure include:
Headaches and migraines
- Joint and/or muscle pain
- Digestive issues
- Brain fog
- Chronic fatigue
- Flu and cold-like symptoms
- Hair loss
- Anxiety and/or depression
- Mood swings
- Skin issues such as rashes
- Hormone imbalances
The tricky thing is that no two people will respond to mold in a house the same way. One individual may experience occasional headaches while another develops 11 symptoms and an autoimmune disease.
Much more research is needed to better understand how indoor contaminants affect our health, but it’s a tough subject to nail down. Factors such as genetics, species of mold, presence of mycotoxins, presence of bacteria, length of exposure, and immune system status all play a role. For example, those with compromised or developing immune systems are at greater risk of developing symptoms faster and to a greater extent.
The potential for adverse health reactions is reason enough to ensure that mold in a house is taken care of properly so that you and your family are not negatively impacted.
That being said, here’s what you need to know.
Step 1: Testing
Testing lays the foundation for success in properly handling mold in a house. All of the data that an inspector collects will help create the comprehensive protocol needed to appropriately handle the toxic situation.
Unfortunately, not all inspectors are built the same.
There are three main types of inspectors.
- The Visual Inspector: This person will look around the home to determine if there are any issues, and that’s pretty much where their job ends. This will not provide you with the information needed to properly remediate mold in a house. Microbial growth can occur anywhere, including inside walls and underneath the flooring. A visual inspection will not point to these hidden areas or what contamination is present in the home.
- The Air Testers: Testing the air is a key component of any good inspection, but only if it’s done correctly. And, only if it's one of many testing methods utilized to provide a comprehensive picture of the state of the home.
- Wellness Consultants: These are the rockstars that take a deep dive into a home to figure out exactly what’s going on.
The wellness consultant is the obvious choice!
This individual will spend hours carefully assessing the interior and exterior of the building and use a variety of methodologies.
Some of the testing data you should expect to see are:
Species of mold present
- Quantities of each mold
- Potential spore presence in the HVAC system
- Presence of mycotoxins
- Presence of bacteria
All of this information is needed to understand what’s actually existing in the home so that they can create the right protocol for the unique situation. If other contaminants, such as mycotoxins and bacteria, are present, the remediation protocol will need to address this. This will need to be remedied should spores make their way into the HVAC. Otherwise, those particles will blow all over the house and could turn into a new mold colony.
Successful remediation requires every piece of the puzzle to fit together correctly in order to decontaminate a home.
Pricing might also seem like a huge determining factor, but going with the "cheaper option" often leads to gaps in the testing results. Lower pricing often means less testing, less time, and less consideration for finding the answers you need. Thoroughness is the name of the game when it comes to remediating mold in a house.
Click here for a list of recommended mold inspectors based on your state.
From here, you can move on to the next part of the process.
Step 2: Engineering Controls
Once your mold inspection has been completed and you know where the sources of mold are and what led to the growth, the next step is to jump in and get started on remediation. Whether you’re attempting to tackle a project or vetting a remediation company, one of the most essential parts of eliminating the issue is setting up proper engineering controls.
Engineering controls are equipment, processes, and/or systems that lower the risk of project worker exposure to a hazard. These protections help place a barrier between the contaminated area being remediated and the rest of the home. Particles like spores, mycotoxins, and fragments will get kicked up while remediating the original space and can catch a ride on the indoor air current, making their way to other parts of the building.
Contaminants left behind lead to prolonged exposure and increase the likelihood of another problem developing in the building after the protocol is complete.
How Should Airflow Engineering Controls Be Set Up?
There are three main ways to set up airflow engineering controls, depending on the particular indoor space.
These three methods include:
- Put the area inside the contaminant under negative pressure with the use of a nearby window
- Put the area inside the contaminant under negative pressure by running a tube outside of the containment area to a nearby window
- If there’s no window nearby, make sure the space around the area is positively pressurized so particles don’t escape
Don’t Forget About Protective Equipment
Again, the particles being kicked up while remediating mold in a house are small enough to enter the body. The more harmful particles that enter the body, the higher the toxic load will be, increasing the chances of adverse health reactions occurring. Another key aspect of engineering controls is protective equipment to protect the individual remediating the space from these microscopic particles.
Wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) protects any individual undertaking a remediation project from these hazardous microscopic particles.
PPE for remediation includes:
- Full Tyvek suit with hood and boots
This equipment should be used the entire time someone is in the space and removed immediately after leaving the containment area. Do not take the equipment to other areas around the home, though, because this will track particles all over the indoor space.
Once this is all set up, it’s time to begin remediation.
Step 3: Remediation
The first step will be removing all wet and water-damaged building materials and resolving the issue that led to the moisture in the first place. The ultimate goal during this phase is to eliminate all of the current moisture. Any left behind can allow mold in a house to continue growing or come right back. Once you’ve got this task completed, you can get started on removing the actual mold contamination.
Remember, though, that in order to properly remediate, all of the contamination must go. This includes the colony, roots, dead mold particles, mycotoxins, and any bacteria present. The process you use should be comprehensive, like the one explained in the video. Eliminating the contamination can be difficult, especially from porous and semi-porous surfaces, so taking the time to carefully and thoroughly remediate the space is required for full effectiveness.
Your cleaning tools will include:
- HEPA vacuum with a bristled brush attachment
- 8% hydrogen peroxide
- Botanical cleaner
- Microfiber towels
Keep in mind that the rule of thumb for removing microscopic particles is to clean until the microfiber towel is free from all dust, debris, and residue.
Understanding this information can help you prepare for a remediation project or vet a potential remediation company for your home. Not all companies are created equal, so take the time to choose the right remediation team that understands proper decontamination and has your health as the ultimate goal.
At its heart, a remediation team bent on success should always adhere to three pillars for success.
- Remediate the sources properly.
- Identify and address the problems that led to those sources in the first place.
- Eradicate all contamination created by those sources, including toxins and bacteria.
Failure to hit every point can lead to failed remediation. If the source that led to the contamination isn’t addressed, the conditions for growth are still there, allowing the problem to come right back. High levels of contamination left behind can lead to continued exposure. This includes mycotoxins and bacteria, which can be removed from the space. It requires a thorough decontamination process to deal with these hard-to-eliminate particles, but it is possible.
Avoiding More Contamination Situations
Throwing in preventative steps during this phase of the process is also a phenomenal idea to help better protect against mold in a house. Antimicrobial paint, for example, can be beneficial as long as it’s non-toxic and applied correctly. Just make sure you use the best paint product that supports a healthy home environment, as the video explains. Combine this with a dehumidifier, and you’re well on your way to a healthier home.
The last step in this process is to clean the HVAC system. It’s inevitable that some microscopic particles will make their way into the ducts of the home while the mold is growing. Particles in the ducts can lead to continued contamination being blasted all over the house, which is a serious no-no for home health. It lowers indoor air quality, leads to continued exposure, and increases the chances that mold spores or bacteria will opportunistically land on habitable surfaces and start growing. They might even start to grow within the ducts and the HVAC system itself.
A NADCA-certified company should be brought in to clean the ducts and avoid this contamination situation.
Step 4: Cleaning and Post-Testing
The finish line is in sight! Once the remediation is complete, you can move on to the final phase of the process of handling mold in a house.
Do not skip this part of the process.
The goal here is to ensure that the protocol was successful and to remove as many microscopic particles from the indoor space as possible. Keep in mind that the entire time that the mold colony was in the home, it was releasing particles throughout the indoor space.
To ensure your home health success, tick off the boxes for each step listed below.
1. Test Within the Containment Area: This will determine whether or not the remediation was successful.
2. Seal All Registers and Returns After Cleaning the HVAC: This protects your HVAC from any particles kicked up during the mega-cleaning process to come.
3. Deep Clean: Tackle every nook and cranny in your home to remove any spores, mycotoxins, fragments, bacteria, and more that the contamination has created.
4. Post-Test: This will help you determine what’s present in the environment to ensure all of your hard work was successful.
5. Analyze the Results: Making sure that the levels in the home are lower than pre-testing and don’t indicate further problems is key to ensuring that the indoor environment is once again a safe space.
Once all of this is complete, you can have peace of mind knowing that your home is once again a safe space for you and your family.
Final Step: Consult With a Practitioner
Now that the mold in the house portion of the equation is resolved, it’s time to dive into your unique healing journey.
Healing your home is only one part of the process. To feel better from those chronic symptoms, you must also work on detoxifying your body from all the foreign particles introduced by the toxic environment. The medical professional you choose to work with should understand this issue. They should have experience treating clients dealing with environmental exposures and have a process in place to figure out exactly what your body needs to heal. If they suggest a single "fits-all" strategy, they’re not the professionals for you.
This individual should also listen to you, trust in your instincts, and be dedicated to doing whatever it takes to help you and your family heal. Unfortunately, getting through mold exposure can be a difficult and time-consuming process. They should be in it for the long haul and ready to face any obstacles that may pop up, as well as shape their protocol around wherever you are in the home health process.
For a list of top-notch medical professionals, click here.
Your Healthy, Happy Home
Knowing how to deal with issues such as mold in a house should be a part of everyone’s home maintenance plan. No one wants to live in an indoor environment that triggers chronic health issues. Yet, this scenario happens far more often than many people think.
As the average person breathes 20,000 breaths per day and spends around 90% of their time indoors, it just makes sense to ensure these spaces are as healthy as possible. If they’re packed full of all sorts of microscopic particles, that can directly impact your health. Having a solid grasp of the process outlined above can help protect you and your family from unwanted exposure.
Not to mention, it can help save you money from having to unnecessarily repeat steps because they were not conducted properly, leaving you with an environment that’s still toxic. Again, that happens way too frequently, and it’s a trend that we’ve got to end.
If you have questions or concerns at any point, reach out to a qualified expert to ensure you’re on the path to success.
Health begins at home.™