Old House Green Renovation: Mold Clean Up, Part 1

Jim Mallery

Part 1 of a three part series, Old House Green Renovation: Mold Clean Up

Oldies, unfortunately, can be moldy. Your charming old house may be a mold mill, swarming with dangerous toxins and wreaking havoc on your upper respiratory system.

In its decades of life, the old house has had plenty of opportunity to develop damp spots that give mold spores their breath of life. And it's secretive enough that you may not be aware of the mold till you start dismantling your home for a renovation.

Mold in your home is an indoor-air-quality issue and it can be a serious health concern. As part of keeping your environment healthful, you need to clean it up.

What is Mold?

Mold is a fungus. Like mushrooms and yeast, it gathers its nutrition by breaking down organic substances. Mold is everywhere, and if it had any organizational skills and malicious intent, it could wipe out humankind.

Fortunately, not only does it not have malicious intent, some molds are our friends, such as penicillin and blue cheese. That Roquefort dressing, blue-cheese hamburger, or shot for tonsillitis are all gifts of mold.

Omnipresent Mold

But some molds are bad, and you can't escape them. They reproduce with spores that float on the breeze or stick to clothing. They can enter your home on air currents, on your umbrella, your shoes or the tip of your nose. They don't discriminate on where they land, though they are finicky about where they grow.

Dangers of Mold

Understand that many molds are not inherently dangerous. That fuzzy stuff you bite into when the bread is a little past its shelf date probably is not going to hurt you--it's just mighty unpleasant.

But many types of mold do release chemicals that may cause problems. You often hear the term "black mold" as the bad guy, and indeed some of these molds turn out toxins that even can be carcinogenic. But almost any mold growing in your house can be deleterious. It needs to be removed, and the cause--moisture--remedied.

Even if the mold were not harmful to your health, it still is degrading whatever surface it's growing on. It gains its nutrients by breaking down its host; given enough time, it can reduce your old house to a giant compost pile.

Mold's health effects on people are highly individualistic. Some folks are not affected by most molds at all, yet some otherwise healthy people can develop respiratory problems from exposure to mold. Such people may have eye irritation, stuffiness, itching and wheezing.

And of course, people with allergies, asthma or other respiratory ailments are highly susceptible. Just as people with cat allergies might collapse in a wheezing fit when they enter your feline-friendly home, a person with mold sensitivity might find the air in your home unbreathable, while you have no problem at all.

In people with weak immune systems or chronic lung disease, molds are more likely to cause fungal infections in the lungs.

Houston May Have a Problem, Too

Some people associate mold with the cold, but it can be found in homes anywhere in the country. As stated before, any house, especially an old house, can have situations that welcome the growth of mold.

The second and third articles of this series will look at conditions that promote mold, where it might be found in your old house, and what can be done about it.

Mold clean up part 2

Mold clean up part 3

About the Author

Jim Mallery, a semi-retired journalist and onetime registered contractor, has extensive experience remodeling, repairing, and rebuilding homes.

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