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