Mold- Construction & Remodeling
If you are building a new home, or just doing some remodeling, you may have concerns about mold and its possible health effects. Besides expensive damage to your property, mold growth can contribute to poor indoor air quality in your home, potentially resulting in dangerous health problems.
Mold concerns have been getting a lot of attention in the news. Numerous legal cases have arisen in which millions of dollars have been awarded because of mold infestation in new construction. But is the mold problem really a new one?
Mold has been a problem for builders since pre-biblical times. Over the millennium, however, the more-successful builders employed a few simple techniques that dramatically reduced the risk of mold in their buildings. As a homeowner, you want to make sure your contractor is building a safe, healthy home for your family. Here are some helpful tips you can use to make sure your new home or addition is mold free:
KEEP IT DRY
Molds are microscopic organisms that are present virtually everywhere in our environment. Molds break down dead organic materials, such as wood and leaves, and recycle nutrients back into the environment. All that is necessary for mold growth to start on these materials is moisture.
Generally, within 48 hours after getting wet, invisible mold growth has started on wet woods and paper-backed products such as Sheetrock. After about four days, mold growth on surfaces is visible in the form of discoloration, frequently green, gray, brown or black, but also white and other colors.
Because molds digest organic material, they gradually destroy whatever they grow on. Molds also release countless tiny, lightweight spores, which travel through the air. These mold spores provoke allergic reactions in many people, and contribute to asthma attacks. They can also produce dangerous mycotoxins, poisonous substances linked to a variety of serious health problems, some even fatal.
In finished construction, roof and window leaks, plumbing defects, drainage and grading problems, and other sources of water infiltration can trigger the chain of events that ultimately leads to active mold growth. But in new construction, there are some simple steps to take to cut down the chance of mold infestation.
Simply put, the best advice is this: Do not build with wet materials. This may present a challenge in certain climates of the United States, especially during rainy times of year, but there are still several steps a prudent contractor can take to prevent or minimize mold growth.
As simple as the advice may be, you’d be surprised how often it goes unheeded. Poor weather conditions, unrealistic construction schedules, and even ill-advised drives for “efficiency” in construction causes many contractors to ignore some of the most basic mold-prevention tips. Sit down with your contractor before building begins, and express your concerns about mold in your home.
Mold spores are always present in both indoor and outdoor air, and they can flourish in any ambient temperature from 40 F to 100 F (4 C to 38 C). But you can have some control over the moisture mold needs, and you can also have some control over the use of organic materials in construction.
Because some moisture is inevitable, either during installation or from condensation, use components that will retain as little moisture as possible. Moisture-resistant materials will cut down on retained moisture. Specify materials that have no organic content as part of your overall mold-resistance strategy. For example, paper facings could support the growth of mold. Some of the new “paperless” gypsum wallboard might be a good alternative. Materials that don’t have organic components resist mold.
Of course the use of some organic building material—such as lumber, for example—is unavoidable. Here are some tips to follow to prevent mold growth in these materials:
1. Keep stocks of lumber, plywood, oriented-strand board (OSB), Sheetrock, and other porous materials in a dry, covered storage area. If the stockpiles are out in the open, and it looks like it might rain, cover the materials with a good tarp, anchored down so that the wind does not blow it off. When the materials are needed, remove them from beneath the cover without allowing the remainder to get wet or damp.
2. Inspect carefully for water damage.Before installing the materials, inspect carefully for water damage, staining, warping, or initial signs of mold growth. Such signs might be visible patches of mold, or simply the musty odor we associate with mold or mildew. Discard any such materials immediately.
3. Install a roof or cover the new construction as soon as practical.If the rain is falling, the interior spaces of the building are getting wet. Moisture is one of the key things mold spores need to grow.
4. Thoroughly dry out the wet materials. If the materials are merely wet, all hope is not lost. Bring in portable heaters and dehumidifiers to thoroughly dry out the wet materials before covering them up or sealing up the building. A contractor can employ a simple moisture meter to make sure the previously wet materials are sufficiently dry to allow construction to proceed.
5. Existing mold growth should be cleaned up completely before anything new is added.If, despite these precautions, mold starts to grow on installed building materials, do not attempt to “cover it up” by installing dry lumber or Sheetrock over it. Mold spreads very rapidly in a moist environment, and the wet materials will serve as a moisture source that will rapidly transfer damage to the previously clean, dry materials. Existing mold growth should be cleaned up completely before anything new is added.
6. Do not try to simply wipe off mold or paint over it. The underlying moisture that is supporting the mold growth will not go away, and the mold will likely reoccur, even after construction is complete. In addition, the materials might already be structurally or functionally damaged, and paint will not cover that up for long. Most mold-infested porous materials must be removed and discarded.
MAINTAINING A MOLD-FREE ENVIRONMENT
By following these common-sense practices, your contractor can have you well on the way towards living in a healthy, mold-free home. After the construction is done, make sure to keep your home free from indoor air quality hazards. Refer to our article Twelve Steps to Improving Indoor Air Quality for more helpful tips.
Your home comfort system is in the background, running all day long, on and off, for most of the year. It keeps you comfortable, catches your dust, and zaps those nasty cold viruses. It needs to be properly cleaned and maintained.
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