Crawlspaces and attics are dark, dingy and sometimes damp: all ideal conditions for mold, fungus, and other germs to flourish.
Mold in crawlspaces is extremely common, and may impact one in three crawlspaces in the United States, according to mold remediation specialist Jim Dobbins. It’s usually the result of increased humidity and moisture in the crawlspace, typically from the ground in the crawlspace, a leak, or inadequate ventilation.
In attics, meanwhile, mold often forms as the result of inadequate ventilation. Warm moist air, created from the people living below, rises toward the ceiling and enters the attic around light fixtures and other openings. If the attic is well-ventilated, the moisture will pass outside, but if the warm air has nowhere to go, the moisture will accumulate.
Both attics and crawlspaces are also rich in the organic materials that molds, fungi and other microbes need to feed on.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “Mold grows well on paper products, cardboard,ceiling tiles, and wood products. Mold can also grow in dust, paints, wallpaper, insulation, drywall, carpet, fabric, and upholstery.”
In short, it can grow almost anywhere, as long as moisture is present.
In fact, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), 30 percent to 50 percent of all structures have damp conditions that could encourage the growth and spread of biological pollutants like mold. And that’s just for average climates; in warm, moist climates, this percentage is likely much higher.
What’s Dangerous About Mold?
Mold is a microscopic, living organism whose purpose is to break down dead materials. This is why, over time, it will destroy whatever it is growing on, including your carpets, furniture and cabinets, and even structural elements of your home.
However, this is only a part of what makes mold dangerous. Molds release thousands of microscopic spores into the air, and they are easily carried around your home, where you may breathe them in.
It is through this inhalation that mold can cause health problems to you and your family.
What Types of Health Problems do Molds Cause?
“All molds have the potential to cause health effects,” says the EPA. “Molds can produce allergens that can trigger allergic reactions or even asthma attacks in people allergic to mold. Others are known to produce potent toxins and/or irritants.”
In fact, people who live in homes with mold often report:
- Respiratory problems, such as wheezing, difficulty breathing, and shortness of breath
- Sneezing and/or nasal congestion
- Eye irritation (itching, burning, watery, or reddened eyes)
- Coughing or throat irritation
- Skin rashes or irritation
Among people who have existing respiratory conditions (such as allergies or asthma) or weakened immune systems, as well as children and the elderly, molds can be particularly dangerous. People in this group may experience more severe reactions or even serious lung infections when exposed to mold.
Preventing a Mold Problem in Your Crawlspace or Attic
If you suspect mold is in your home (some indications include stained ceilings, a musty or earthy smell, black, pink, orange or green spots on walls, flood or hurricane damage, damp basement, crawlspace or attic) you should seek out a professional (a certified mold remediator or a certified mold contractor) to evaluate your home and perform the removal.
For those of you who don’t, count yourself lucky, and begin to take the following 11 steps to keep mold from becoming a problem in your home.
- Use an Air Treatment System to clean your air.
- Fix any leaky plumbing or other leaks immediately.
- Prevent moisture due to condensation. To reduce moisture levels in your air, increase ventilation (if the outdoor air is cool and dry) or use a dehumidifier (if the outdoor air is warm and humid).
- Don’t let your home’s foundation stay wet. Make sure there’s proper drainage and that the ground slopes away from the foundation.
- Keep furniture and floors dusted. Mold spores can collect in your household dust, so dusting often is highly recommended.
- Keep heating, ventilation, and air conditioning drip pans clean and flowing properly.
- Make sure moisture-generating appliances, like your dryer, and your bathroom and kitchen exhaust fans are vented outside.
- Keep indoor humidity levels below 60%, and preferably between 30-50%.
- Change your home’s air filters regularly.
- If necessary, add insulation to reduce the potential for condensation on cold surfaces, such as windows, piping, exterior walls, roof or flooring.
- Make sure any damp or wet spots are cleaned and dried within 48 hours.
U.S. EPA: Mold Remediation in Schools and Commercial Buildings
CDC: Environmental Hazards & Health Effects, Mold
Texas Department of State Health Services
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Americans spend nearly eight hours a day sitting (and another four hours watching TV and playing computer games) according to a Harris poll conducted by the America On the Move Foundation. Now consider your own day. How many hours per day do you spend sitting at a desk, either in your office or at home?
Chances are it’s a pretty substantial amount of time. Between work and the endless number of things people now use computers for, you may easily be spending more time at your desk than anywhere else, which is why learning how to sit at a desk and still be healthy is so important.
The Downfalls of Sitting Too Much
In general, sitting (whether at a desk, in the car or elsewhere) for too long is not a health-promoting thing to do. For one thing, it can cause you to gain weight. A study in the International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders found that those who had high daily levels of sitting (7.4 hours or more) were significantly more likely to be overweight or obese than those who reported low daily sitting levels (less than 4.7 hours a day).
A study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine even found that the longer a man sits at a desk at work, the greater his chances are of being overweight.
Sitting at a desk all day also puts you at risk of back pain, particularly if you sit with poor posture, leg cramps, tense muscles and, of course, boredom.
Healthy Tips for Sitting at Your Desk
Many of us don’t have a choice and must work at a desk, at least for a portion of our day. During this time, use the following tips to keep your mind and body at their best.
- Keep your body in a neutral position. This means that your joints are naturally aligned, reducing your risk of stress and strain on the muscles, tendons, and skeletal system and developing a musculoskeletal disorder (MSD), according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). To achieve a neutral body position:
– Adjust your chair so your thighs are parallel with the floor.
– Choose a chair that supports your back, including the curve in your lower back (if not, place a rolled up
towel or pillow be hind your lower back for support).
– Your hands, wrists and forearms should be in-line and roughly parallel to the floor.
– Your head should be in-line with the torso and at a level, balanced position (or just slightly forward).
– Your elbows should be close to your body, bent at a 90- to 120-degree angle.
– Your shoulders should be relaxed and upper arms hanging naturally next to your body.
– Your feet should be flat on the floor or supported by a footrest.
– Your chair should be well-padded.
- Move around often. Your body can only tolerate being in one position for about 20 minutes before it starts to feel uncomfortable, according to the Mayo Clinic. About every 15 minutes, stand, stretch, walk around or change your position for at least 30 seconds.
- Take nutritional steps to build your energy. If you feel better and more energetic, you are less likely to want to sit for long periods of time. Instead you feel more like being active and alert. Do more than take a multivitamin/mineral by discussing options that could be best for you at your next appointment. Ways to better support your body for increased vitality by building up greater energy in your body’s individual cells.
- Reduce repetitive movements. Movements that you repeat over and over (such as answering the phone or reaching for a book) can lead to strains and stress. Reduce unnecessary movements as much as possible by keeping items you use often within arm’s reach and using tools, such as a phone headset, to reduce repetitive movements. You should also alternate the hand you use to operate your computer’s mouse.
- Keep your computer monitor in a healthy position. This means directly in front of you, but at least 20 inches away. The top of the screen should be at or below your eye level, and it should be perpendicular to the window (to reduce glare), according to OSHA.
- Look away from your computer screen often. Focusing on a computer screen for too long can lead to dry eyes and eye fatigue. Be sure to change your focus often, looking at a point in the distance, and blink regularly to keep your eyes moist.
- Use a document holder. It should be at the same height and distance as your computer monitor (holders mounted to the monitor are ideal)
- Keep your keyboard and other office accessories clean. Keyboards, phones and other office equipment are breeding grounds for germs. Desks themselves can even harbor more bacteria than a toilet seat!
- Declutter your desk. About 40 percent of U.S. office workers say they are “infuriated” by too much clutter on their desks. Save yourself this mental strife by taking a few minutes each day to go through papers. Throw away those you don’t need and file those you do.
- Don’t keep junk food at your desk. The temptation is simply too high to eat the junk, and subsequently feel sluggish, tired or guilty. Instead, keep a supply of healthy snacks nearby to satisfy your hunger in a smart way. Great snack ideas include cut-up vegetables, a few nuts, fresh fruit, a hard-boiled egg, etc.
- Make your desk your own. While keeping away from too much clutter is good, adding a few items that mean something to you will make your desk more enjoyable to work at. Some items to consider include a few pictures of family or friends, a plant, inspirational posters or paintings for the wall, and any other mementos that make you feel good.
International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders. 2003 Nov;27(11):1340-6. American Journal of Preventive Medicine. 2005 Aug;29(2): 91-97.
U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration