We usually get about 42 inches of rain a year in my area. Last year we got 82 inches. Some of that rain came down so hard and fast, that it overflowed our gutters and rain barrels. On top of that, we had intense humidity and so much cloud cover that things never dried out.
After several months of all that wet weather, I started to notice pockets of mold around our windows. I thoroughly cleaned the mold and kept watch. I wasn't too worried. Windows are notorious vectors for moisture and mold. As long as you stay on top of the clean-up, it doesn't necessarily mean a serious problem.
Then, one day while cleaning the bedroom, I saw a patch of mold growing up the wall behind my nightstand. It had apparently been growing there for a while. But it had only just reached high enough that I could see it poking up behind the top of the nightstand.
The Good and Bad News About Finding Mold in Your House
Seeing that patch was both disturbing and a huge relief. On the relief front, I have asthma and had been suffering symptoms for months. Since I'd been vigilant about keeping the visible mold on the windows clean, I thought the wet conditions outside the house were making me sick.
Discovering that there was mold in my bedroom, meant that I could do something to solve the problem. And that meant I could feel better soon!
Not everyone is affected by mold spores, but others like me, can suffer respiratory problems, headaches, fatigue, and a whole host of other symptoms. Removing the mold can mean a return to good health for symptomatic people.
The disturbing part was that where there is mold, there is moisture. Moisture around windows is irritating but relatively common. Moisture on the corner of a house, though, can be a sign that there's a huge problem. Visions of dollar signs danced in my head.
The Problem With Mold
Mold happens. Spores are floating around in the air all around us. When they come into contact with moisture and a food source, they move in. Any organic (as in once living) material makes great mold fodder. Paper, cardboard, wallboard, pressboard, etc. are all delicious to mold.
Those little fungi start eating. Then, when they are fat and happy, they start reproducing. As long as there are food and moisture, they keep expanding their population. Eventually, in the right conditions, those once tiny, free-floating mold spores can become a large colony.
According to the EPA, all molds have the potential to cause health effects. Also, because mold spores are everywhere, you can not remove them all from your environment. However, you limit the potential for mold infestations by managing moisture in your house.
What to Do When You Have Mold
Solving mold problems is a 4 step process.
- First, you need to identify the moisture source and prevent it from recurring.
- Second, you need to dry out the impacted area.
- Third, you need to remove the visible traces of mold from the impacted area.
- Finally, you need to do a final clean up to remove lingering mold that may still be in the vicinity.
This may sound easy enough in theory, but in practice, it's a bit more complicated. Depending on the location and amount of mold, special equipment or the replacement of construction materials may be necessary.
As I just mentioned, mold can have negative health impacts, so you want to limit exposure while you solve the problem. An N95 respirator is recommended for safety. Depending on the degree of the mold problem, you may also need a respirator that has a HEPA filter system attached.
Disposable sanitation coveralls and footwear covers are advisable. Gloves are also necessary for handling moldy materials as well as the cleaning products used for remediation.
If you are sensitive to mold and experience health symptoms, consider contacting a professional mold remediation company for the sake of your health.
DIY Mold Remediation
Now, if you are up to doing the job yourself, let's take a closer look at what you can do to remediate mold in your home.
1. Identify the Moisture Source
Before you start remediating the mold, you need to identify the moisture source and correct that problem. If you don't, then the mold will return as soon as moisture builds up again.
In my case, the mold was in the corner of my bedroom that was also the corner of the house. There was no water source inside the house int hat area. So, I knew the problem had to be coming from outside.
As I inspected the outer corner of my house, I realized that all that rain I mentioned earlier had caused my rain barrel to shift. It was leaning up against the house. So, when the gutters and rain barrel would overflow, they were causing water to flow up under the siding of our house.
Solving that moisture problem was an easy fix. I let the water out of my rain barrel, moved it away from the house and extended the gutter. Since we still have excessively wet conditions, I also pointed a few fans on the wet area to dry out the problem zone
Temporary or Systemic Moisture Sources
Sources of moisture may be temporary or systemic. For example, a burst pipe is a temporary moisture source. These problems are often the easiest to solve.
Seepage that happens every time it rains is systemic. It may require extensive drainage work to redirect water away from your foundation. It could also include things like foundation repair as a result of frost-freeze cycles.
Weather events, such as flooding, may be either temporary or systemic. In my area, the kind of rain we are experiencing this year is expected to become more regular as a result of our changing climate.
Therefore, the rain barrel system I have in place now is probably not sufficient to protect against future weather events. That means I'll need to rethink my overflow valve and make adjustments to my gutter spouts to be ready for future weather. I'll also make it a point to inspect all my rain barrels regularly to make sure they are still level and overflowing away from our house.
If your problems are systemic, make sure you find and solve the underlying issues. Don't waste your time temporarily removing mold only to have it flare up again.
2. Dry the Area
Depending on what kind of moisture problem you have, you may need to dry the area before you start removing moldy materials or cleaning up mold from surfaces. For example, if your walls and your carpet have mold, you may want to dry the carpet using fans so you can see the extent of the damage (e.g., is it just at the surface or has it gone deeper).
For standing water, such as a flooded basement, you might need to use a pump to remove water. Make sure the pump you choose is rated for the height you need to move your water. If you need to pump your water upstairs and then uphill, you'll need more horsepower than if you just need to pump water a few feet with no uphill slope.
Wet and dry vacuums or shop vacs can also be used to remove standing water. Since they have multiple uses around the homestead, they might be your best choice for smaller jobs instead of buying a new pump.
Drying is often done using fans. For small jobs, house fans can work. However, for large jobs, you may need an industrial strength fan. After the major drying is done, you also probably want to keep running a dehumidifier to draw moisture from the air and keep your mold from recurring.
3. Remove All Visible Traces of Mold
Depending on the extent of the mold and moisture damage, you will either need to clean or remove and replace moldy materials.
Remove These Moldy Items
Personal items like books and papers covered in mold should be thrown away unless they have sentimental value. Unpainted drywall needs to be removed as it is difficult to remove subsurface mold and moisture.
Carpet that has been infested with mold, particularly if it has reached the pad, generally needs to be removed to prevent mold from regrowing. Moldy furniture with padding or fabric needs to be removed.
Enclose discarded items in closed, plastic bags when possible to prevent exposing trash handlers from unnecessary contact with mold items.
Clean These Moldy Items
Non-porous surfaces such as painted drywall or plastic can be scrubbed using a cleaning solution. Wood can also generally be cleaned. You may be able to treat some fabrics (e.g., curtains) if they will not be damaged by the cleaning products needed to remove mold and can be thoroughly dried.
For non-porous items, use 1 cup of bleach mixed with 1 gallon of water to kill surface mold. If mold is below the surface, scrub with a solution of 1 cup borax mixed with 1-gallon water.
You can also saturate materials with undiluted 5% distilled vinegar. But make sure to dry thoroughly. Vinegar is purported to kill 82% of molds and will work in most cases.
You can also try using one teaspoon pure tea tree oil mixed in 1 cup of water. Saturate moldy materials then dry thoroughly. For best results, do not wash off the tea tree oil.
Note: After cleaning, make sure the areas is dry, and all visible mold is removed before you start introducing new materials such as replacement drywall or new carpet.
4. Remove Lingering Mold Spores
Mold takes days to weeks to grow to become noticeable. To ensure that you have adequately addressed the issue, clean the affected area and around it using a HEPA vacuum. Dispose of the HEPA bag after use.
You may also want to consider installing a HEPA filter on your house HVAC system. If you live in a shared building, then plugging in a free-standing HEPA air purifier will also help.
Consider a dehumidifier, if moisture in the air is a constant problem you face.
Once you've had an infestation of mold, even with a thorough clean up, you likely still have lots of lingering mold spores. So, be extra diligent going forward. Keep a close eye on any wet area like bathrooms, kitchens, and basements just in case.
What About UV-C lights?
Some people also use UV-C lights to kill mold. For these to work, the air containing mold spores must pass directly under the light. Unless they include a fan or are incorporated into your HVAC system, they may not be entirely effective.
Additionally, some people have concerns about the fact that they are a form of radiation and produce ozone which may have adverse health effects. In my own trials, the ozone aftereffects from using UV radiation also caused my asthma to flare up. However, it did seem to kill mold on contact so that I can see the benefit.
Get Back to Good Health
Even if you don't have noticeable symptoms from exposure to mold, drinking lots of water, getting lots of fresh air, and exercising can help to mitigate any potential effects after remediation.
Actually, I can't swear those things are necessary for DIY mold remediation. But they sure helped me feel better after my mold issues. I bet they'll be good for you too!