Mold: The Unwelcome Houseguest

mold on ceilingMold is a frequent and unwelcome guest in homes across America. So much so that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has designated September as Mold Awareness Month.

We at CertainTeed agree that mold is an issue worth addressing. As a manufacturer, we are able to help reduce the threat of mold by developing products that discourage its growth. We also devote significant building science resources to keep building professionals apprised of new information on this complex issue. Perhaps it’s this education, which ultimately trickles down to the homeowner that has the largest impact on mold. After all, it’s not just good materials and proper construction that keep a home mold-free. Good home maintenance is a key defense against the pesky guest.

We often refer to mold as the four-legged stool. It grows easily because it only requires air, water, a food source like dust, paint or fabric, and for the temperature to be between 41 to 104 degrees. In a home, these elements come together frequently so mold has the potential to flourish. Flooded basements or attic space beneath a leaky roof are high-risk areas for mold proliferation, but so are less obvious spaces like carpet near a wet potted plant. Mold spores can also enter a home through open doors, windows, heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems with outdoor air intakes. Spores can even attach to pets and people who unknowingly bring them inside on their bodies, clothes, and bags.

Homeowners are often able to remediate small areas affected by mold. A solution of one cup of bleach to one gallon of water can remove the unwanted fungus from nonporous surfaces. It’s important, however, that homeowners know to be careful to not mix bleach with other household cleaners and to wear disposable gloves and a protective N95 respirator during the remediation process.

For larger mold removal projects, or those affecting porous surfaces like drywall or insulation, building professionals with a solid understanding of building science should be the ones to clean away the mold. These professionals will also be able to safely remove materials and replace them with mold-resistant materials like fiber glass insulation or mold-resistant gypsum wallboard.

The good news is mold does not have to happen. Our building scientists often tout the five Ds to controlling mold. De-leak fixtures and holes, de-bubble wallpaper, dehumidify the indoor air, dry wet furnishings within 24 to 48 hours, and de-odor or fix the source of musty smells.

For more information on mold or Mold Awareness Month, visit http://www.epa.gov/mold/preventionandcontrol.html.

 

Tips for Checking for Mold Following a Wet Winter

Mold-in-basement2

Following this incredibly wet winter, it is a good idea to check to make sure that mold growth is not beginning inside or on your home. You may have noticed that the media has been talking about this on news programs of late.

Mold needs four things to thrive and liquid water is perhaps the most critical as it is the only one we have a chance of controlling. Having liquid water coupled with available oxygen, food and the temperature sweet spot, 41° to 104° F, is the perfect storm for mold growth. Here is what you should do:

  • Inspect your basement for damp walls or cracks where moisture can come in and seal them.
  • Fix plumbing leaks and other water problems as soon as possible. Dry all items completely. 
  • Scrub mold off hard non-porous surfaces with detergent and water, and dry completely.
  • On porous surfaces, in addition to surface cleaning you need to completely dry the material in order to prevent its reappearance. If that can’t be done, you may need to remove the material.
  • Inspect the exterior of your home at ground level. If water is collecting there, divert it away from the foundation.
  • If you find mold, make sure to cover your face and hands to minimize exposure when cleaning the area. It is also important to put a fan in a window and blow air from the room out of the house when you are working around the mold or you may disturb it. If it is a significant area affected or if you begin to feel “allergy type” symptoms when working around mold, call an expert to clean it out.

What humans typically react to are the mold spores which become airborne when it is in its “happy place” with food, water, and a cozy temp or when the mold is physically disturbed.  

We’ve made a lot of changes to how we build in recent years in order to conserve energy and live more sustainably. Many of the things we’ve done to improve our habitat have unfortunately created an ideal environment for mold to thrive. The only chance we have to keep mold from becoming a full-time member of our households is to eliminate the presence of liquid water in or on the materials we use to construct the dwellings.

 

Beware How You Finish Your Moisture and Mold Resistant Drywall

CTG_FibaTape_Mold-X10_Details_ImageWhy are you spending all your effort and resources on moisture and mold resistant drywall and then finishing it with a standard, drywall paper tape? 

That is what often happens. In high moisture areas such as bathrooms and kitchens you need to make sure that you do not erode the added value of the drywall by finishing with standard tapes. There are fiberglass mesh drywall tapes that provide the best defense against mold and moisture when used with mold-resistant treated paper and paperless drywall. 

As I have pointed out before, you want to remove the presence of food which is one the four legs needed for mold to grow:  right temperature, oxygen, moisture and food – in this case – the paper drywall tape.

Always keep in mind that everything is a system and you need to consider all aspects of the wall assembly and how you want it to perform or you may not get the outcome you were striving for.

Don’t Stop at the Surface with Moisture and Mold Damage

1316551358_254450912_4-Residential-and-commercial-Flood-Water-Damage-services-free-est-8888110187-ServicesMold Awareness Month Tip #2: When you see signs of moisture damage either on the exterior or interior you can’t just address this at the surface.  You have to keep digging until you get to dry materials.  If that means tearing out the drywall and the insulation until you get to something dry, so be it. You can’t just fix the surface because it was wet. If you have to replace materials following moisture damage consider using a mold and moisture resistant drywall and a smart vapor retarder with your insulation to add protection to your wall assembly. You will be building in more robustness to an area of your home that is apparently susceptible to moisture intrusion.

That’s from the outside too.  If you find some water damage around your window and you tear it out you can’t stop there.  Take your screwdriver or awl and probe the wood behind it to find out how far the damage goes. If you don’t correct the problem at the source and replace all the damaged materials, the chances of mold occurring in this area are very good..

So, don’t stop at the surface or just treat the symptoms.  You have to exhaust the symptoms and get to the source.

Remember, if you see moisture damage whether inside or outside the building don’t stop digging and probing until you get to dry.

If It Smells Bad It Is Bad

 September is Mold Awareness Month and I thought it would be a good time to provide some helpful tips about mold.  This was prompted by a discussion that came up the other day when I was conducting a webinar on “The Future of Building Materials and Their Impact on How we Build”.  Mold is not always visible but early detection of a mold problem is critical to the health of a building.

Mold-in-basement2Mold has a long history, in fact, references about mold can be found in the Bible (Leviticus 14: 33-53). When you are dealing with living things that have that much staying power, it is clear that you can’t or won’t get rid of them easily.  In a previous blog, I discussed the four things that mold needs to grow: the right temperature, sufficient water, oxygen and food.  But you can control the growth by eliminating one of the elements. If the problem is moisture in the wall cavity you need to remove all the wet insulation and drywall and thoroughly dry the assembly.

One of the best ways to identify a mold problem early is through smell. Often you can smell it before you see it. If you smell something that doesn’t smell right, trust your instincts and check it out.  This is your learned response to protect you from dangerous materials.

If you think you may have mold, get on your hands and knees and sniff around the outlets in your walls. If you have it – you will smell it.  Also, check areas that do not have adequate ventilation (closets or other spaces with no vents or registers).

If you smell it that means the mold spores are airborne and that is when they present the most health risk. When it’s dormant you are not going to smell it but if the spores go aerosol, you need take action.

 

If You Suspect Mold in a Building – Remember the Hindenburg!

Lucas Hamilton

If you have had some moisture damage in your building and suspect or see that you have some mold, remember The Hindenburg

Before you cut into the wall, compartmentalize and put the space under a negative pressure.  The last thing you want to do in a building when you think you may have had a moisture issue and suspect that mold could be growing behind the wall is to disturb it and have the mold spores release into the air within the building. If you think you may have a problem and need to cut into the wall take these steps to create negative pressure in the room:

  • Close the door
  • Open a window
  • Put a fan in the window blowing out to create negative pressure in the room
  • Then you can safely cut into the wall to treat the mold

The lesson we learned from the Hindenburg relates to the smoking lounge.  The lounge was kept under positive pressure and the smoke leaked out into the rest of the dirigible so that if there was a gas leak in the envelope of the dirigible, the gas could not flow into the smoking lounge to get ignited by a pipe or a lighter.

You are doing the same thing here but in reverse.  You are putting the space into a negative pressure before you disturb the space so that contaminants could not possibly flow into the building.

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

It is Spring Tune-Up Time for Your Home

Lucas Hamilton

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

It is spring and we just celebrated the 42nd Anniversary of Earth Day. While you are contemplating changes you can make to your home and property to conserve energy or improve curb appeal in a re-heating real estate market, keep in mind that this is the perfect time to do a home inspection and make sure that your home is efficient, safe and in-keeping with the Earth Day ideals.

Here are a few places you should inspect:

  • Inspect your roof for missing or broken shingles or possible places where water could come in. If your roof is not ventilated properly you could have damage from ice dams. Nothing could be greener than making our existing resources last longer and your roof is the first line of defense.
  • Check your attic or crawl space to make sure that water is not coming in.  It is also a good time to see if you need to add additional insulation to your attic space. The attic is one of the easiest places in a home to add insulation and insulation prices are about as low as they get right now so no point in waiting.
  • Clean your gutters.  Make sure they are cleared for the rainy season. Leaves and dirt can build up in any season. Clogged gutters are one of the most efficient ways to redirect water back into your building once you have already shed it.
  • Tune up your air conditioner.  It is the prime time for specials from contractors. Making sure that your unit is working properly can help save on utility bills and actually improve your indoor air quality.
  • Check your walls and foundation for any cracks that could cause moisture infiltration. You must maintain your barriers.
  • Check the basement for mold. When the temperature gets above 41 degrees that is when mold is happy. If mold is present you will be able to smell it. If it smells bad it is bad.

If you have an older home it is critical to make upgrades and improvements when signs of weakness appear.  Taking care of simple repairs will save you money over time but will also make your home more competitive in the marketplace and make for a healthier habitat for you and your family.

It’s Not Just Wallboard Anymore

 

Ashwin Himat

Ashwin Himat

Ashwin Himat is Director of Marketing – North America for CertainTeed Gypsum

New innovations in technology are redefining building products industry-wide. Manufacturers are improving products today based on solutions to environmental concerns and to address indoor environmental quality. Wallboard is no exception.

Historically, wallboard enabled residential and commercial construction to provide better fire protection and a flat, smooth surface that could be easily painted or wallpapered. Because of the recycled content of wallboard, it has always been considered a sustainable product but its function rather than its features were the primary selling point.

The drivers for innovation of wallboard products predominately came from the commercial build community. Earlier innovations in wallboard provided moisture resistance for areas of buildings with high moisture such as bathrooms and kitchens. With increased concerns and claims regarding mold in buildings, a technology was developed to provide mold and moisture resistance to wallboard.  Mold is a potentially serious health issue for people so the ability to include a mold resistant wallboard in a home or building susceptible to mold reduces the potential.

With the rapidly growing awareness of the importance of indoor air quality and its impact on health and productivity, recent technology innovations have led to the introduction of wallboards that clean the air.  By removing volatile organic compounds (VOC’s) such as formaldehyde and other aldehydes from the air and converting them into safe, inert compounds, these wallboards can improve indoor air quality for generations. 

In response to the growing marketplace demand for acoustic comfort, manufacturers have increased innovations in the area of noise-reducing gypsum board, specifically designed for wall systems requiring high STC ratings where acoustic management is needed.

The commercial build community is aware of these advancements in wallboard and they are including them in specifications especially in the educational and healthcare arena. But these wallboards adapt well to residential construction as well especially when designing custom homes that may include home theaters or music rooms.

Homeowners need to be educated about the options they have when either building a new home or expanding an existing one.  Decisions made about the walls and ceilings of a home should be carefully considered because ones overall comfort depends on it.

Wallboard is not a one size fits all product any longer so when it comes to improving comfort and indoor environmental quality remember to consider the best solutions for your walls and ceilings.

Excessive Wet Weather Can Lead to Mold

Lucas Hamilton

The historic rain that the United States has endured in 2011 has increased moisture levels in places where moisture has never been a problem. I have heard from many people around the country who have never had water in their homes but have recently sustained water damage and are now concerned about potential mold.

As I have mentioned in a previous blog, mold needs four things to grow:  moisture (liquid water), food (typically starch or sugar), temperature between 41° and 104° and oxygen.  When water is trapped behind walls or paneling, the other elements will most likely be present and the potential for mold growth will exist. Try to clean and dry areas subjected to water within 48 hours to help prevent mold growth. After cleaning and drying, continue to be sensitive to musty odors in the affected area.

Check the exterior of homes and building regularly for accumulating ground water.  Many parts of the country have far exceeded saturation and mold can begin for form outside and find its way inside. If water is accumulating against your foundation, take measures to drain the water away from your building. Keeping things dry is the key to preventing mold growth.

There are many products available today to help protect the home or building from moisture infiltration and mold growth.  There are coating products that can be applied to dry materials to mitigate any mold growth potentials for that surface in the future. If materials are wet and can’t be cleaned or completely dried, remove them from the building and replace them with new materials which may be more mold resistant. Fiber glass doesn’t have the food needed for mold growth but often when insulation gets wet, the water which intruded into the cavity was dirty and brought food along with it. If you have wet insulation, replace it with new fiber glass.  If replacing drywall, consider selecting a board that that contains mold and moisture inhibitors.

Many people have sensitivities to mold and it can be a health concern.  Make sure that you take extra care to check for mold especially if this is the first time you are dealing with water inside your home or building. Use a mixture of common sense and caution- if it smells or looks bad assume that it is bad and take appropriate measures.

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

Radon Mitigation Starts with Proper Home Foundations

Lucas Hamilton

The use of foundation drainage systems helps with water control, mold and moisture issues and Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ) in a building. But, bear in mind that those same remedial efforts, if using the Form-A-Drain system, will also help with radon mitigation. In the same manner that these systems relieve head water pressure on the cold joint of the foundation / footer, they give migrating radon gas a path of least resistance away from the home.

Radon gas is a colorless, odorless, tasteless noble gas, occurring naturally as the decay product of uranium. Radon gas from natural sources can accumulate in buildings, especially in confined areas such as attics and basements.

Most regions of the U.S. encounter radon gas especially if they have basements or crawlspaces.  It is important to test for radon especially if the basement is part of the living area of the home.

Many homeowners are not aware they have a brewing radon problem until they put the house on the market.  It can, in some instances, be costly to install a radon mitigation system.

Leave in place Form-A-Drain systems pay for themselves not only in their benefits related to the forming of footings and moisture management but the added value of what they provide with regard to radon venting; making the use of Form-A- Drain product for all new construction projects the best ‘drainage’ solution for contractors, architects and builders.

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation