This year’s allergy season has been one of the worst in recent memory due to what some have called a pollen tsunami. Tree and grass pollen hit extremely high levels at the same time, which is unusual – and a recipe for misery for allergy sufferers. But outdoor conditions may not be the only reasons you're sniffling and sneezing. In fact, you could be allergic to something in your own home: mold.
As homes have been tightened for improved energy efficiency, residential air quality has suffered. The EPA has named indoor air pollution as one of the top five environmental risks to public health, and also reports that indoor air can be up to 100 times more polluted than the air outside. Indoor air quality has a major impact on health, and in today’s tightly sealed homes, there’s a high risk of exposure to allergens, pollutants and harmful mold.
Mold exposure does not always present a health problem indoors. However, some people are sensitive to molds and may experience symptoms such as nasal stuffiness, eye irritation, wheezing, or skin irritation. Certain individuals with chronic respiratory disease (chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder, asthma) may have difficulty breathing. People with immune suppression may be at increased risk for infection from molds.
So, how can you tell if your home is harboring harmful molds? There’s a new home mold test that really impressed me. It’s fast, it’s accurate, and it’s easy to use. It’s called the 5-Minute Mold Test and it’s made by Healthful Home. It identifies the presence of bad molds in five minutes or less without waiting for lab results, and saves you hundreds of dollars on mold inspectors. This is a true DIY test for mold. Other tests on the market are either just sample collection kits for lab analysis, or they don’t tell you whether you actually have mold (like instant protein tests that turn blue in the presence of anything biological, such as food or flour).
Testing for mold is an easy, three-step process: swab the area, bend bulb to wet, and add the sample to your test, which uses the same proven lateral flow assay technology used in medical labs. You don't need to actually see mold to test – the 5-Minute Mold Test can detect mold spores in household dust. And it only identifies molds known or suspected to cause health issues, not everyday background molds. It detects over 32 different unhealthful Asp/Pen and Stachybotrys mold types associated with illness by the EPA.
The extent and type of mold in your home will determine whether you can handle the mold cleanup yourself or need the assistance of a mold removal professional. Small mold cleanup jobs – generally 10 square feet or less of mold growth – can be tackled by a homeowner, as long as there is no one present who is sensitive to mold. You can use a solution of 1 part bleach to 10 parts water, and wear a dust mask to avoid breathing in mold spores.
Larger cleanup jobs should be handled by professionals. To find a qualified mold removal professional, ask for references from your insurance company and a mold removal contractor's past clients, and seek information from professional training and certification organizations such as the American Indoor Air Quality Council and the Indoor Air Quality Association.
Finally, mold cleanup and removal is something you might find yourself needing to do again and again unless you change the conditions that were conducive to mold growth in the first place. Preventing mold is really all about managing the moisture inside your house, so make sure you keep humidity below 50% in basements; improve outside grading and drainage by keeping gutters clean and soil always sloping away from your home; and cover dirt crawlspace floors with plastic to reduce moisture.