The thought of mold in your home is enough to make anyone shudder. Besides looking and smelling gross, it can make your family seriously ill. Health issues can range from congestion and skin irritation to more serious upper respiratory problems, shortness of breath, and fever. The biggest cause of mold is too much moisture. Areas that are warm, damp, and humid create microclimates that feed mold growth. Moisture can be caused by a failed dehumidifier, a slow leak in plumbing where you can’t see, or standing water in your gutters that leaks into your walls. These are just a few ways conditions develop for mold growth. Extensive mold in a home can mean anywhere from $15,000 to $40,000 or more to gut the damaged area and replace it. So how do you ensure that you keep mold out of the house? Below are some prevention tips as well as things you can do to stay vigilant.

1. Control your indoor climate properly during warmer months. The optimal setting of an AC unit is around 78 degrees Fahrenheit. If you set the air conditioning too high, it won’t dehumidify properly. If you set it too low, you create cold surfaces where condensation can occur. Both situations are friendly environments for mold growth.

2. Monitor humidity in your home. If you don’t already have one, purchase an indoor humidity monitor. Ideally you want moisture levels in your home to fall between 30 and 50 percent. Levels closer to the 60 to 70 percent range or higher are susceptible to mold growth.

3. Look for standing water. If you notice increased humidity in the home, it could be caused by standing water. Check for water or dampness near hot water tanks, sump pumps, freezers, refrigerators, basement doors, windows, and crawl spaces.

4. Cover the crawl space floor. Groundwater seeping into crawl spaces can add gallons of moisture vapor into your home. The easiest remedy is to use a landscaper’s plastic to cover the floor, thereby trapping the moisture in the ground.

5. Use a dehumidifier. Dehumidifiers remove excess moisture from the air in your house. You can have one that attaches to your furnace and treats air throughout the entire house. Or if you only have occasional incidents of humidity (with musty odor) in an area such as the basement, you can use a portable one.

6. Caulk around windows and water fixtures. Caulk around windows to keep rain water from coming inside. Caulk around water fixtures in kitchens and bathrooms since water from showers, sinks, and tubs are a major source of mold.

7. Clean your gutters. Besides preventing flooding, keeping your gutters clean prevents standing water that can leak into eaves and exterior walls.

8. Inspect for and repair roof leaks. If you have an attic or crawl space above your rooms, you may not know if there is a roof leak. If a leak goes unnoticed for years, it can cause major mold growth.

Nearly all homes have some kind of mold growth, though not the serious kind. For any kind of extensive mold or a suspicion of mold that can’t be seen, call a professional mold treatment company. The most serious type, black mold, is toxic and must be removed by professionals. Always get at least two bids for any kind of mold testing or clean up to compare costs. Watch out for scammers preying on homeowner fears. Be vigilant by checking for mold in corners and crevices of your home that you rarely or never visit. A little prevention could save you major financial and logistical headaches down the road.

Real Estate Term of the Week

Black Mold: Any of various greenish-black molds of the genus Stachybotrys that are found especially on water-saturated cellulose materials (such as cardboard, fiberboard, or dust). Toxins from black mold can cause serious harm to human health, such as congestion, wheezing, eye irritation, fever, shortness of breath, and other severe illness.

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