Maggie Reinke's Blog

Environmental mold

How do you address mold in your home? 

November 05, 20239 min read

Education is key, and understanding your home, potential sources of “contaminants,” and the pathways that may exist to create exposures makes all the difference. .” - Michael Schrantz

Have you wondered how to get rid of mold in your house? Or if mold remediation is required. Maybe you have a chronic health condition like MCAS, CIRS, Lyme, SIBO, PANS/PANDAS, ALS, or AD and want to know if mold is contributing to your illness. This article will lay the foundation for you to take the next steps to determine if you need to take a deeper dive into addressing mold in your home.

How to address environmental mold

Environmental mold:

  • With mold exposure, it's not about normal fungal ecology but elevated or atypical exposures.

  • There are 3 main groups of people when it comes to mold exposure: those with genetic resilience, those who may experience health issues later in life due to prolonged exposure, and those with immediate reactions like individuals with mast cell activation syndrome.

  • The vulnerability of people with MCAS are the "canaries in the coal mine" with immediate responses to mold exposure.

  • The factors contributing to mold's impact include dose, duration, genetic susceptibility, and immune system response.

  • The indoor environments we live in have become energy-efficient and airtight, leading to a higher concentration of contaminants and potential health issues.

  • Sick building syndrome is mentioned as a documented phenomenon caused by toxins in buildings, which can lead to various health problems.

Health effects of mold exposure:

  • Carcinogenic properties

  • Effects on neurodegenerative disorders like Parkinson's and Alzheimer's

  • Association with autism and GI issues

  • The duration and level of exposure to mold can influence the severity of health problems.

  • Some individuals are more genetically susceptible to mold-related health issues.

Common Symptoms of Mold Exposure:

  • The symptoms of mold exposure can vary depending on individual sensitivity.

  • Respiratory problems, neurological symptoms like those associated with Parkinson's and Alzheimer's, and gastrointestinal problems.

  • Symptoms may include immediate reactions, such as respiratory distress, or delayed responses, with effects manifesting over time.

  • May include one of more: fatigue, dry cough, shorness of breath, anxiety, red or swollen eyes, itchy eyes, sensitivity to light, irregular heart beat, stiff muscles, insomnia at night, brain fog, increased urinary frequency, swelling/burning lips/tongue, wheezing, depression, rashes or hives, watery eyes, headache, sensitivity to sound, stiff joints, daytime sleepiness, forgetfulness, itchy skin.

Reasons Mold Is a Significant Problem:

  • Elevated mold exposure can result from mold growth in water-damaged buildings, which is relatively common.

  • Mold tends to grow quickly when moisture is available, making it an early indicator of water damage.

  • Tight and energy-efficient building structures have led to a buildup of contaminants, increasing indoor mold concentrations.

  • Sick Building Syndrome is a documented phenomenon associated with toxin exposure in poorly ventilated and sealed buildings.

  • Mold-related toxins, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), mycotoxins, and endotoxins can contribute to health issues.

  • Hidden mold growth is often prevalent, with many affected areas not visible but still posing health risks.

  • Mold exposure can occur in various settings, such as homes, workplaces, schools, churches, and other enclosed spaces.

To mitigate mold exposure, it's essential to monitor and control indoor humidity, ensure proper building maintenance, and address water damage promptly. Regular maintenance and servicing of HVAC systems can also contribute to reducing mold-related health issues.

Controlling Mold Growth:

  • Different types of molds have varying moisture requirements.

  • Some molds are exophytic (dry-loving), while others are hydrophilic (water-loving).

  • The water activity or available moisture level is crucial for mold growth.

  • Conditions conducive for mold growth typically occur when relative humidity exceeds 60-70%.

  • Available water activity is typically around 80-90% or 0.8-0.9.

  • Mold can germinate quickly, within 18-24 hours, or after several months depending on moisture levels.

  • Mold spores are always present in the environment but require moisture to grow and amplify.

  • Mold amplification occurs when there is excess moisture in the environment.

Maintaining Ideal Humidity Levels:

  • Keep indoor relative humidity below 50% to prevent mold growth.

  • Use humidity gauges in various rooms, including closets, to monitor and maintain appropriate humidity levels.

  • Implement dehumidifiers to control humidity levels in areas where humidity is challenging to manage.

  • Whole-house dehumidifiers can be effective for larger or more complex home configurations.

  • Air exchange systems can help improve indoor air quality and humidity control.

  • Regular maintenance of dehumidifiers and HVAC systems is essential, typically twice a year.

  • Avoid using chemicals, especially foaming cleaners, for maintenance that can cause health issues.

  • Instead, use physical removal methods with water and specialized tools for cleaning, such as evaporator coils.

These tips can help people control indoor humidity levels and prevent mold growth, especially in humid climates or homes with challenging configurations. Regular maintenance and monitoring are crucial for a healthy indoor environment.

Tips for Cleaning HVAC Coils:

  • Some coils can be cleaned with a mixture of homeowner-grade dish soap and water (5 drops of dish soap per quart of water).

  • This solution can help remove contaminants, and the soap acts as a surfactant to loosen surface tension.

  • It's essential to check with your HVAC company before using this cleaning method, as some manufacturers may void warranties if alternative cleaners are used.

Finding a Reliable Mold Inspector:

  • Finding a trustworthy mold inspector can be challenging. (See resources below)

  • Be cautious of inspectors who conduct brief inspections and offer little value.

  • Look for inspectors who listen to your concerns, consider moisture issues, and have the tools to locate the source of mold.

  • A good inspector will be exploratory, using non-intrusive methods like cavity sampling or swab sampling to identify mold sources.

  • The inspector should have the ability to provide detailed recommendations for remediation.

  • Open communication and a two-way discussion with the inspector are essential to ensure your concerns and findings are considered.

Complex Mold Cases and Recovery:

  • Mold toxicity varies based on individual sensitivities and health conditions.

  • For some extreme cases, particularly in individuals with mast cell activation syndrome (MCAS), recovery may not be possible if mold exposure persists.

  • Recovery from mold-related health issues can be more challenging for those with severe hypersensitivities, who are down to limited foods and supplements.

  • It's important to address mold exposure promptly to prevent or mitigate severe health consequences.

Recovery in the Presence of Mold:

  • Recovery from mold-related health issues may not be possible if severe mold exposure continues.

  • Cases of severe hypersensitivities and anaphylaxis due to mold exposure can be extremely challenging to manage.

  • In extreme cases, removal from the moldy environment is often necessary to initiate the recovery process.

Here are some of the most commonly overlooked sources of mold in homes that people should ensure their mold inspectors check:

  1. Crawlspaces: Crawlspaces are often located beneath the home and may contain exposed soil, plumbing lines, electrical lines, and HVAC ductwork. These dark, unfinished spaces are susceptible to moisture intrusion and can harbor microbial growth.

  2. Attic Spaces: While not mentioned in the transcript, attic spaces can also be a source of mold if there is a roof leak or poor ventilation. It's important to have your attic inspected for any signs of moisture or mold.

  3. Basements: Basements are another area where moisture and mold issues commonly occur, especially in older homes or areas with high groundwater levels. Leaks, poor drainage, or foundation issues can lead to mold problems in basements.

  4. Bathrooms and Kitchens: These areas are prone to moisture due to regular use. Mold can grow in hidden areas, such as behind tiles, under sinks, and in or around plumbing fixtures. Mold inspectors should thoroughly examine these spaces.

  5. HVAC Systems: Mold can develop in HVAC systems, including air ducts and coils. Regular maintenance and cleaning of HVAC systems can help prevent mold growth and ensure good indoor air quality.

  6. Hidden Wall Cavities: If there has been a history of water leaks, mold may be concealed within wall cavities. Inspectors should have the tools and knowledge to check for hidden mold sources.

It's essential to have a comprehensive mold inspection that covers these commonly overlooked areas to identify and address any mold issues in your home.

Commonly Overlooked Sources of Mold in Homes:

  • Crawlspaces: Inspectors often neglect checking crawlspaces beneath the home, which can harbor moisture and mold issues.

  • HVAC Systems: Mold can grow in HVAC systems, particularly around the evaporator coil and registers.

  • Building Defects: Issues related to building construction or remodeling can trap moisture and create conditions conducive to mold growth.

  • Water Stains and Leaks: Leaks and water stains may be discounted, but they can lead to structural damage and mold growth if not addressed.

DIY Mold Sampling:

  • DIY mold sampling can be a useful starting point but should not replace a professional inspection.

  • Interpretation of DIY samples is crucial, as incorrect conclusions can lead to false negatives or positives.

  • Mold samples should be interpreted by knowledgeable professionals who understand the limitations of the sampling method.

Additional Resources:

Environmental mold checklist:

Here is a quick checklist to get you started:

  • List your current health complaints.

  • Check to see if they match up with the sypmtoms listed in this article for mold exposure

    (fatigue, dry cough, shorness of breath, anxiety, red or swollen eyes, itchy eyes, sensitivity to light, irregular heart beat, stiff muscles, insomnia at night, brain fog, increased urinary frequency, swelling/burning lips/tongue, wheezing, depression, rashes or hives, watery eyes, headache, sensitivity to sound, stiff joints, daytime sleepiness, forgetfulness, itchy skin.)

  • Contact a professional to inspect your house if you suspect mold.

  • Remediate your home if it is contaminated.

  • If mold was discovered in your home or you previously lived in a moldy home, consider a mycotoxin test to determine if mold has colonized in your body. (see additional resources above)

  • If you are unsure if you need to test, sign up for a complimentary 20 minute discovery call to determine if it is necessary: discovery call

  • Alternatively, if you have a local practitioner or an established relationship with your current health care provider, ask them for lab testing.

  • Treat mold coloization in your body, if you test positive.

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