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Mold and Basement Leaks: Remove materials that harbor moisture and mold

We have a family room in our basement, and just discovered that the air conditioning unit there has been leaking into the carpet. I've been dehumidifying the space, but it still smells musty. What do you recommend?

Our Answer

First of all, if anyone in your family has allergies or asthma, we recommend that you avoid living in a house with a finished basement, which is particularly prone to mold growth. If you want to keep this finished basement family room, it is best to hire a professional to remove the carpeting (under mold containment conditions) and then having a ceramic, laminate or a resilient tile floor installed, with area rugs on top if you want to have a softer floor covering.
According to The Money Pit's indoor air quality expert, Jeff May, all carpet, as well as anything fleecy or cushioned (and that includes upholstered furniture) that has remained damp for more than 24-48 hours should, be discarded as it likely contains mold.

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Mold and Humidifiers

We just added a humidifier to our hot-air heating system because the air in the house was so dry. Now I am noticing mold in the attic for the first time. Could the humidifier be causing mold to grow?

Our Answer

Mold can grow inside of humidifers that are not properly cleaned.  However, this may or may not be the cuase of the mold you are seeing in your attic area.  Mold on the underside of attic sheathing is more likely being cause by a lack of proper attic ventitaltion.
If there are any supply ducts in the attic, check to see if they're leaking, which can lead to condensation and mold growth. According to The Money Pit's indoor air quality expert, Jeff May, you also should be sure that there is adequate ventilation in the attic space, and that there are no openings through which house air can leak into the attic. However, the mold may have already been growing there, due to excess moisture from other sources: a bathroom venting up into the attic, or moist airflows entering the attic around recessed light fixtures in the ceilings below.
If you already have ridge and soffit vents, do all you can to reduce or eliminate the sources of house airflows into the attic. As for the mold growth itself, small areas can be HEPA vacuumed (a HEPA vacuum cleaner has filtration that prevents the release of particulates in the exhaust and should, in my opinion, always be used for even everyday cleaning) and spray-painted to contain allergenic and irritating dust. Always wear at least a NIOSH-rated N95 mask or respirator when cleaning mold. For more information, see www.health.state.ny.us/environmental.

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Mold on Clothing: When Mold Spores Attach

We stayed for a few days in a relative's house, and when we came back, our clothes smelled moldy. Can mold be carried from place to place on clothing?

Our Answer

Mold odors can be pervasive, even though the mold growth may be limited in scope.  According to The Money Pit's indoor air quality expert, Jeff May, despite the strong odor,  there may not be any mold spores on your clothing. If, on the other hand, the mold growth in the house was disturbed (if you sat on a moldy couch or rug), your clothing may be carrying spores and even mold-eating mites.
This isn't that different from getting pollen or pet dander on your clothing, and you can wash or dry-clean your clothing to remove them. Figuring out the source of the moldy smell in your relative's house is another matter!

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Mold in Air Conditioner: Keep your system clean to prevent mold development

Our air conditioning smells like sweat socks. Could this be mold?

Our Answer

A smell like this usually signals the growth of bacteria or yeast, rather than the growth of mold (though all three microorganisms may be present and producing odor).
If you have hot-air heat and/or central air conditioning (or a heat pump), it's important to keep the system as clean as you can, and have adequate filtration. Use only disposable pleated media filters with a MERV rating of 6 or higher.

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Mold, Allergies and Asthma: Is Your House Making You Sick?

Ever since we moved into our new house, our son has been constantly coughing. Now his doctor tells me he's asthmatic. He was fine before. Could the house be a problem?

Our Answer

You don't mention whether you have a family history of allergies and asthma, and we're not physicians, so continue to discuss this situation with your doctor.
That said, The Money Pit's indoor air quality expert, Jeff May, doesn't recommend that people with mold allergies or sensitivities live in houses with hot-air heat, central air conditioning, and wall-to-wall carpeting. If you do have this type of HVAC system, the least you should do is install a good quality electronic air cleaner to keep the air as clean as possible. 
The presence of mold in your house could greatly impact your son's allergies or asthma. If your son's symptoms improve when he is out of the house for an extended period of time, such as a family vacation, we'd recommend that you have an air quality professional do some air and dust sampling for you, to see if mold is present.
If mold is found, removing the mold alone will not solve this problem. You could spend thousands on remediation and unless the source of moisture is eliminated, the problem will reoccur. Mold testing could help narrow down the cause of the mold. Hiring someone who understands buildings before you do a mold test, such as a home inspector who is trained in mold and a member of the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI), can help you find the problem and change the conditions, so the mold won't return. 
 

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Mold in Basement Storage Space: Tips to avoid damage and spread to more mold throughout household

I live in an apartment building where each tenant has a storage space in the basement, and the space next to mine smells really moldy. Is there anything I can do about this?

Our Answer

There is a strong chance that your neighbor's possessions contain mold growth if he or she has laid cardboard boxes or other biodegradable materials directly on the floor or up against the wall. To prevent mold, personal goods should be stored on plastic or metal shelving, away from the wall and up off the floor. There may also be a leak in that area of the basement that is contributing to the spread of household mold.
This isn't your storage area, but the air you breathe while in the basement is being affected by the mold; in addition, up to a third of the air in a small residential building can come from the basement, due to the stack effect (warm air rises).
In a situation like this where mold is suspected in basement storage, it's best to speak to your neighbor as well as to the building management about this problem, to see if you can get the space cleaned up by a mold remediation professional. Any leaks that are present should be repaired, and the basement should be dehumidified (with the relative humidity less than 50%) in the warmer months to prevent the return of mold.

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Mold Danger and Children

My three-year-old son has had a runny nose for the past year, and now has an eye allergy. His doctor said it could be due to mold in our apartment. We can't see any mold on the newly painted walls, but can smell and feel the humidity as soon as we walk in. The owner won't do anything about it, but I need to protect my son. I appreciate your advice.

Our Answer

Mold exposure can be very dangerous to children. The mold spores that lead to the health issues you've described are pretty speedy, stealthy airborne travelers, and can take up residence in areas of a home that aren't easy to spot.
 
Improper ventilation can lead to the damp environment that mold loves best, and this could be a primary issue in your apartment. However, an air quality professional will be able to give you the best and most thorough assessment of the conditions and what can be done.
 
Before finding a local pro through the Indoor Air Quality Association, make sure you've carefully documented any mold sightings and issues, as well as your son's pattern of symptoms. Then re-address the situation with your landlord, who has a duty to keep the property in a reasonable state of repair and safety.
 
If he or she still resists addressing the problem, be prepared to foot the bill for an air quality inspection, and to move or file suit if the results reveal mold issues that the landlord refuses to correct. Regardless, be sure that you have expressed your concerns to the landlord clearly and in writing. Should the landlord still not take action and the mold problem gets worse, the landlord could be responsible for not only the cost of cleanup, but even the cost of any medical treatments that exposure to mold may cause.

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Black Mold in Bath: Proper Ventilation and Moisture-resistant Finishes Are Key

I have black mold on the ceiling in my bathroom and behind the shower wall. There is black mold coming through the plastic wall covering in the shower wall, too. What should I do?

Our Answer

Mold in a bathroom is about as common as mold in last-week's refrigerated leftovers. Most of the time this mold is Cladosporium and generally not as much of a concern as the more toxic molds.
Cladosporium is the most common type of the black molds found in a home. It is black because it produces a black pigment that protects it from ultraviolet light. While some people can become sensitized to it and develop asthma-like symptoms, for most of us it is just a cleaning hassle. 
The first thing you should do is to clean the mold from the shower. I'd remove and replace the plastic shower curtain and use a 10% bleach and water solution, or a commercially available tub-and-tile bath cleaning product to remove as much of it as you can.
Next, avoid future development of black mold by looking for ways to reduce the humidity in your bathroom. The easiest way is to make sure you have a bath fan, and use it! The fan should be vented to the outside and not into an attic, a condition I found quite frequently in the 20 years I spent as a professional home inspector.  Add a timer to the bath fan controls to make sure it runs past when you leave the bathroom as it often take 10 or 20 minutes for the humidity for fully clear the room and not further feed a potential black mold problem.
You might also consider repainting the bath with a paint that resists mold and mildew. Likewise for the caulk that might be around the tile.  You should also choose a product that resists mildew.
Finally, to avoid black mold in the bath, it helps to dry off the shower walls after taking a shower. In my house, we keep a small squeegee in the shower. Just a few strokes clears most of the water away from the walls, which then dry much quicker and help us to avoid the formation of mold.

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Replacing Flooded Basement Flooring

We recently replaced carpeting with laminate flooring in one room of the basement. Yesterday the pipe broke on the sump pump and flooded the basement floor.  As a result, we're pulling out the rest of the carpeting in the basement floor and replacing it.

We are wondering if we have to pull out the new laminate flooring? This is the room all the water went through to get to the carpet. I'm worried about mold.

Our Answer

Replacing the carpet in your basement with laminate flooring was a great move.  Even if you hadn't had a flood, carpet is a really bad idea for a basement. Basically carpet in a basement is mold food! 
Mold needs three things to grow:  water, air and organic matter. Carpet holds dust and dirt, which can be very organic.  Plus, the backing material on carpet is also very organic. This plus the allergens carpet holds, like dust mites, make it a very bad idea for basement flooring.
Laminate, on the other hand, has no such limitations.  In fact, it can be submerged for days on end and suffer no deterioration whatsoever.  Since laminate is totally inorganic, you should have no worries about mold on your laminate floor.  Just dry the laminate floor, damp mop it with a 10-20% bleach to water solution, and the laminate floor will be good to go.
Also, you might want to talk to an insurance adjuster about your flood.  With any luck, you could claim enough damage to pay for the rest of that new laminate floor!