We need fresh, clean water to live and don't realize the infrastructure in place so we get water when we turn on the kitchen faucet or shower. Water is a great thing in the right places but water is not our friend when it comes to our home. Pooled water or high levels of moisture support the growth of mold and mildew which can cause damage to your home and health problems for your family.
Mildew and molds are microscopic organisms that live anywhere there is food and water, i.e they're living organisms like us. They play many important roles in our world, like causing leaves to decay and returning nutrients to the soil. It's their ability to destroy organic materials that causes problems for our homes and our bodies.
Where Mold Grows
Mildew and molds (the difference between mildew and mold) grow on many of the materials used to build our homes — structural wood and insulation inside our walls, drywall and interior wood trim around doors and windows, wallpaper, cabinets and furniture, carpet and wood flooring and organic materials in our home like cardboard, fabric and plants. Mold growth starts quickly — on a damp surface within 24 to 48 hours, and they reproduce by sending out spores or “seeds” that travel through the air, ultimately destroying the materials they grow on and they spread.
Water Damage That Supports Mold Growth
The key to minimizing mold in your home is to minimize water and moisture. That's why it's important to continually monitor your home for hidden water problems that might allow mold to grow unchecked for years. If you're watching HGTV, you'll see some pretty scary “behind the wall” examples of how devastating water damage can be.
You can't always avoid water problems. You can take action immediately to remove the water and dry all affected materials. For example, if your basement gets flooded, you need to remove the water and cut holes in the drywall and run fans to force air through the walls to dry things quickly (within a day) or you'll have to replace the drywall, insulation, etc.
Water problems we've seen in my handyman business, many causing serious problems because they were not resolved quickly:
- Flooding in the basement, most often happens when ground water rises above your home's foundation.
- Sewage back-up from flooding is even worse, as it's dirty water and you're unlikely to salvage much. 7 months pregnant, I rushed home to find my 3 year old sitting on the washing machine while the babysitter attempted to clean the water jumping out of the basement toilet. A horrible mess!
- Crawl spaces and damp basements can cause problems when humidity gets too high. You'll want to make sure there's enough air circulating through crawl spaces and purchase a de-humidifier to bring down humidity levels in your basement (homeowner tips: mount de-humidifier to the wall next to your utility sink, and let it drain into the sink).
- Roof and siding leaks letting water into the attic and/or walls which are challenging to find as who goes to their attic daily? and inside the walls, you don't know there's a problem until you see brown stains on the ceiling or walls.
- Bathroom plumbing can leak so it's wise to check periodically – under the sink, around the toilet base, around showers and bathtubs, and check (replace) caulking where walls meet the base. Always clean up spills immediately.
- Plumbing problems can hide inside your walls for years to pay attention to unusual sounds (water spurting makes an unusual noise) and changes in water pressure.
- Appliances that create humidity should have good ventilation to avoid humidity building up in a small, closed area, i.e. under corner kitchen cabinets. My husband is always pulling the rice cooker and coffee pot out of the corner (and I push it back), dryers and humidifiers.
Want to learn more about identifying mold and deciding how to remove it? Here's an easy to read handbook from from FEMA, Mold & Mildew in Your Flood Damaged Home.