Has it ever occurred to you that the very home you regard as a sanctuary could also be harboring stealthy toxic mold threats? Sick house syndrome, caused by a build up of toxic mold, is a very real threat. As long as mold and dust exist in the world these irritants can wreak havoc with your family’s health and ultimately do damage to the structure of a home.
Air quality expert Jeff May has performed scores of indoor investigations over the years and solved many a toxic mold mystery along the way. His crusade against misinformation and health threats to homeowners has led to four informative books including My House Is Killing Me, My Office is Killing Me, Mold Survival Guide, and Jeff May’s Healthy Home Tips.
“We often hear that mold is everywhere, and that gives people the impression that it’s okay to have mold and you can’t prevent it, and nothing could be further from the truth,” says May. “There may be areas so humid that it’s more difficult to control growth, but in most of the country, mold is not growing everywhere. There are definitely spores in the air, but that’s not the same thing as mold growth, a very, very important distinction to make. The same can be said about dust mites. Mold growth and dust mites can be controlled…it’s pretty straightforward.”
Don’t let mold take hold
Indoors and out, mold spores’ ideal landing pad is one with moisture, air and organic matter to serve as food. This combination of conditions can lead to a full blown sick house syndrome situation and be found everywhere, from furnishings stored in damp conditions to cardboard boxes that come in contact with subterranean concrete floors or wood shelves. However, according to May, one of the biggest and most often overlooked havens for toxic mold is the air conditioner, whether a humble portable or mighty central air setup.
“The irony is that you’re told to put in air conditioning for asthma and allergy problems, and in one way it’s helpful, but in another way it can be detrimental,” says May. “An air conditioning coil and everything around it is damp while the machine is running, so unless the surfaces are absolutely 100 percent clean, mold is going to grow. It’s almost inevitable that if somebody has an air conditioning system or a portable air conditioner and they don’t use adequate filtration, they’re going to get mold. So the single most important thing for all air conditioning is to use a decent filter.”
That means a pleated filter with a MERV (Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value) rating of at least 8, or 11 if your family is prone to allergies. May also notes that in the case of a window AC unit, the filter it’s shipped with usually has a MERV rating far lower than 8, so an immediate filter upgrade is in order.
Basements are the other major household toxic mold zones, and call for careful humidity control. Keep the humidity level below 50 percent, and to further combat mold attraction, keep finished below-grade spaces heated to at least 60 degrees around the clock. Also make sure that the grading and drainage patterns outside your home aren’t ushering in potential moisture and mold problems, and that ventilation is vigorous and properly directed outside.
Toxic mold is a problem for millions of Americans. But by following these simple guidelines, you can avoid exposure to toxic mold, prevent sick house syndrome, and live in a mold-free home.