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How Invisible Stuff Like Mold Can Destroy A House

Sam Smith Foundation Repair Consultant

Condemned, Mold Damaged HouseAre you concerned about the possibility of mold spreading in your home?

You’ve come to the right place!

In this Regional Foundation Repair guide, we cover common mold-related issues and their effects, including:

  • How Can Mold Be Invisible/Dormant In A Home?
  • Why is Invisible Mold Dangerous?
  • When Should You Contact A Professional Mold Removal Company?
  • How Can Mold Impact Your Home’s Foundation or Structural Integrity?

And much more!

Most homeowners know that mold can spell serious trouble and hefty remediation bills. But did you know invisible mold can destroy your house silently? It sounds scary, and left unchecked it can be, but there are a few things you can do to prevent it from taking over your home.

Let me explain.

Mold grows anywhere as long as there is moisture and any organic matter that it can feed off. In most homes, the basement provides an excellent place for mold to multiply quickly. Not only does mold quickly multiply, but it can also cause health problems such as stuffy noses, headaches, coughs, and allergies.

If the mold in my basement is a potential health and safety hazard, how do I get rid of it? This is the question we want to answer in this article. We will start by looking at how you can identify mold, deal with invisible mold, identify the products to use and not to use when dealing with mold, and determine when to hire a mold treatment expert and what that will cost you.

What Causes Mold to Grow in the Basement?

Molds are found everywhere because they are part of the natural environment. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says that “Outdoors, molds play a part in nature by breaking down dead organic matter such as fallen leaves and dead trees, but indoors, mold growth should be avoided.”

From the statement above, it’s clear that there will likely be small amounts of mold in any basement. This mold usually dies away before it reproduces to concerning levels.

Mold is often found in the basement because this part of the home provides the most suitable environment for mold growth. It has the food required by the mold to grow. This source of food could be paper, cardboard box, or wood. Also, the warmth and moisture in the basement provide an optimal environment for the mold to multiply.

How Do You Identify Basement Mold? 

To kill mold and ensure that it doesn’t regroup and attack, you will need to be able to identify it.

The Canadian company that provides mold, toxin, and pollution recovery services, Cleanfirst.ca, says that “The easiest way to check for mold is to sniff around for a musty or smell.” Adding, “The limited ventilation in your basement will make it much easier for you to detect any strange odors.”

Apart from the smell, you can identify mold by seeing visible spores. However, in her article published by Insider.com, Lauren Schumacker quotes a house sitter, Kelly Hayes-Raitt, who suggests that “Once you see it, you’ve got a big mold problem because what you’re seeing is literally just the tip of the iceberg.”

Since mold can grow undetected, the best way of determining if there is mold in your basement is to know the signs. Restorationmasterfinder.com, a company that connects service providers with consumers in different locations around the U.S., lists some signs showing that there may be a mold problem in your basement:

Water damage: A basement that has recently been flooded is likely to have mold even as it becomes dry.

Allergic reactions: When everyone begins to experience symptoms like a stuffed or runny nose, itchy eyes or throat, skin irritation, and respiratory infections that subside when the individuals leave the basement or your home, there could be a mold problem in your home.

Physical damage: Mold damage can manifest through soft spots, watermarks, cracks, or paint that starts to bubble on the ceiling or walls.

Invisible Basement Mold 

Most people think mold will be easy to see or detect in their basements, but falling into this trap can cost you thousands of dollars in home repairs as the problem worsens and potentially causes illness.

This is a view also acknowledged by Cleanfirst.ca, which advises that “Looking for visible signs of mold is not the best way to check for mold growth.” Adding, “This is because mold likes to grow in dank areas, where people usually don’t go or look.” Therefore, you will likely find mold under cabinets, behind the fridge, and behind walls rather than out in the open.

The truth is that “invisible mold” isn’t really invisible; it’s just hidden from view. Invisible mold is any mold growth that happens out of sight, which makes it significantly more dangerous.

Mold growing on a basement wall
Busted: mold and mildew everywhere by JenCarole

It is dangerous because it can grow undetected behind walls and under floors for years before the homeowner discovers it. It can even lie dormant for ages before it becomes a severe health and safety hazard.

 

Why Should You Get Rid of Basement Mold? 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), mold can have adverse health effects on people. The same organization reports that individuals with allergies are more sensitive to mold.

The CDC also adds that in the presence of molds, “Individuals with chronic respiratory disease (e.g., chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder, asthma) may experience difficulty breathing.” Another group mentioned explicitly by the CDC is people with immune suppression.

Apart from the fact that mold can make people in your home ill, it is also unsightly and can cause extensive property damage. Let’s look at other reasons you should take mold seriously and consider measures to get rid of it.

Mold Can Grow Undetected

Mold in your home is never a good thing, but invisible mold is the worst because it just continues to spread without you realizing there’s an issue. Spores under your sink because of a leak certainly isn’t a good sign, no matter how few spores there may be. However, it is still better than a pinhole leak behind the wall that feeds mold and promotes growth for months or even years.

When looking for hidden mold, Restorationmasterfinder.com suggests that you check:

  • Behind wallpaper, paneling, and drywall
  • The opposite side of ceiling tiles
  • Under carpets and rugs
  • Wall surfaces behind furniture
  • Air ducts
  • Areas close to water pipes

It Can Destroy Your Home

The fact that invisible mold can go undetected is terrifying. Add to that the immense damage it can cause, and you’ve got yourself a full-blown nightmare.

I was called into a project one time for basement waterproofing. The homeowner told me that the $12,000 job I was doing was the last of a full renovation on a previously renovated home. The repair total was several hundred thousand dollars.

Mold growing in unfinished basement
Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

Apparently, the homeowner bought the property for his mother and moved her in. She suffered from allergy symptoms and respiratory problems for nine long years. However, the family didn’t know that the house was to blame.

They purchased a home that had been “renovated” and was beautifully done, based on the pictures they showed me. New kitchen, new hardwood floors, fresh paint; everything looked great.

It wasn’t until they finally took the mother to the Mayo Clinic to determine why she was having health issues that they discovered mold was the culprit.

When it was clear that mold was the problem, the family searched the home for signs of mold growth. They found musty odors in the basement and some dampness in the attic, but after they began taking out walls, they found the real problem.

Mold had spread throughout the house behind the sheetrock. They couldn’t even find a leak or any reason why the mold had been growing. They could only think of the naturally high humidity in the region and no HVAC system or dehumidifier to combat the indoor moisture.

To cut a long story short, the mold and moisture had eaten away at the studs, rafters, and floor joists, totally compromising the house’s structural stability. In the end, they leveled the house and rebuilt it.

All in all, the family spent over $200,000 rebuilding the home, plus another $100,000 on medical bills trying to figure out why the mother was experiencing such intense allergy symptoms and respiratory distress.

Mold Devalues Your Property 

While it may be easy to ignore a mold problem in your basement when you own the house and don’t think too much about the future, you may face challenges trying to sell it. You could hide the mold by painting over it, but that constitutes a criminal offense in certain parts of the U.S. Generally, the law requires that you inform potential buyers about any defects.

Referring to the effect of mold on the value of a property, Green Home Solutions, a company involved in indoor air quality solutions, says that mold is not as big an issue as curving floors during a buyer walkthrough. However, the company adds that “Mold is a non-starter for most buyers because of the short- and long-term health problems it creates.”

Green Home Solutions suggests that mold in any part of the house affects both the seller and the buyer. For the seller, once a buyer notices mold in a property, they may start questioning the seller’s honesty about the defects in the house. On the other hand, the buyer will become more cautious, and the seller will need to work harder to prove that the mold problem does not indicate more significant issues.

Dealing with Mold in the Basement 

Now that it’s clear that mold in your basement presents problems, we need to look at how we can deal with the challenge. However, it’s important to remember the advice from the EPA: “It is impossible to get rid of all mold and mold spores indoors; some mold spores will be found floating through the air and in house dust.”

A basket of cleaning supplies with yellow rubber gloves
Home Cleaning Products and Supplies by franchiseopportunitiesphotos

However, the good news is that the mold spores floating around will not multiply unless they find the right environment. Now, let’s look at some common ways to deal with mold in the basement before it starts or after it has started to grow.

Avoid Bleach

If you find only a tiny mold section and manage to limit the moisture — and you go to great lengths to confirm there isn’t more mold growing elsewhere — you can use a DIY solution. However, you need to be careful what you use.

Most people online and some professionals rehash the same suggestion: spray diluted bleach over the infected area. This is not only unlikely to solve the issue, but it also could do more damage to your home.

When you mix bleach and water and spray it onto porous surfaces, the bleach remains on the surface while the water soaks inside. The bleach might kill spores close to the surface, but it won’t address the problem below. The water absorbs into the material and can promote mold growth in the exact areas where you’re looking to stop it.

Plus, bleach is a relatively strong acid, and it can eat away at wood and even concrete. That means you could be damaging your house further by using a bleach solution on studs or your foundation.

Bleach solutions can work on nonporous surfaces, but most materials in your house are porous. As such, a vinegar solution is a better option, or you can contact a remediation company to demolish and replace the affected areas.

The EPA agrees that bleach should not be used as a routine practice during mold cleanup. The agency explains: “In most cases, it is not possible or desirable to sterilize an area; a background level of mold spores will remain.”

Use Vinegar Instead

Vinegar is an effective solution for treating mold in small sections. The provider of medical information, Healthline.com, says “Vinegar has antifungal and antibacterial properties, and it can be a cheap and effective treatment for many types of mold.”

Pour undiluted white vinegar into a spray bottle and spray generously over the infected area. Let the vinegar sit on the surface for about an hour.

After an hour, spray the surface with water and wipe it dry immediately. The vinegar will soak into the porous material, killing the spores both on and beneath the surface.

You can repeat this process the following day if required, but mold quickly dies in the presence of acidic vinegar, so you should only need one or two applications.

Remember: if you have a severe mold issue, it’s best to call in professionals. Vinegar is only recommended for small sections of mold that are more easily manageable.

Preventing Basement Mold in the Long Run

If you don’t want to keep treating mold in your basement indefinitely, you will need to find ways to ensure that you get rid of the problem once and for all.

Below are some ways that can help you minimize the risk of mold in your basement:

Limit Moisture

Since molds flourish in areas with high levels of moisture, you should limit the moisture in your house to stunt the growth of the mold.

If the walls are in contact with an area that is always wet, you could get an industrial drier to keep the area dry. You may want to invest in a dehumidifier as well to limit the moisture in the air. If you can confirm that a roof or plumbing leak is the culprit, fix the problem immediately to stop the mold from getting worse.

Whatever you do, don’t carry out remediation until you have fixed the underlying problem.

Cleanfirst.ca lists some useful tips on how to prevent mold growth in your basement:

  • Clean regularly with a vacuum that has a High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filter so that mold spores do not get a chance to accumulate.
  • Avoid putting damp items in the basement.
  • Remove clutter from the basement because it can create a suitable environment for mold growth.
  • Repair leaks without delay.
  • Keep your basement dry with exhaust fans.
  • Keep basement humidity between 30 and 50%.
  • Do not install carpet in the basement.
  • Avoid having plants in the basement.
  • Ensure that water flows away from the house and not towards it when it’s raining.

When Should You Hire an Expert and How Much Will It Cost? 

If you have a severe mold issue, it’s best to call in professionals. You will also need a professional if you can smell or see the molds but can’t determine the source of the problem.

A professional will also be required if the problem has grown so big that you can’t solve it using simple DIY methods. Also, if you have any allergies that the mold may trigger, you may want to desist from attempting to deal with the mold problem yourself.

Regarding cost, you may expect to pay between $200 and $600 for a qualified mold inspector to determine the size of your mold problem.

Once you are clear about the extent of the mold problem, fixing it could cost between $10 and $25 per square foot. A home advice website, Bobvila.com, identifies some of the factors impacting the cost of dealing with the mold problem: type of mold and size, location, and the cost of labor in your area.

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Sam Smith Foundation Repair Consultant
SHORT BIO: Hey, I'm Sam Smith. I'm one of our service techs here at Regional Foundation Repair. I'm here to help you learn more about your home's foundation. I've been doing this for a while, so I have a few insider tips and tricks to share!

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