By Greg Stopher

Mold is part of our naturally occurring environment and mold spores are present in the air all around us.The temperate rainforest of Southeast Alaska is the perfect environment for mold growth. A mold spore needs only water, the correct temperature, and a food source to multiply. In Southeast Alaska we have the water and moisture with the amount of rainfall we receive. The temperature here in the rainforest is almost always ideal for mold growth since mold thrives in the same temperatures that we enjoy or feel comfortable in. Mold feeds on most organic materials as well. A mold spore floating in the air can land on a food source that has the right moisture level at the right temperature and can blossom into a mold colony and produce more mold spores.Inside the home, mold spores are also present in the air. If it has what it needs to survive, mold will take hold and grow in a home.

In our homes it is impossible to eliminate the correct temperature that mold needs to grow because we would have to live in an environment that is either too cold or too hot for us to be comfortable or even survive. How about eliminating the food that mold needs to grow? Although, this is a good idea, almost everything in our homes is made out of something organic or carbon based. The wood we put into our homes, the paper on the sheetrock and the food we bring into our homes all contain organic materials that can grow mold. Even a synthetic carpet or flooring, such as vinyl, can harbor organic materials that can supply food for mold. Mildew on caulking is another example of how a mold can grow on the surface of a non-organic substance, just by feeding off the soap and dirt that has accumulated on caulk or grout in a shower.

The most common organic material in a home is wood. As wood is broken down from a tree, to dimensional lumber, to plywood, to particleboard, to paper, the easier it is for mold spores to attach to it and grow. For example, mold will grow on dimensional lumber before it will grow on a living tree, mold will grow on plywood

before it would grow on dimensional lumber, and so on until wood is processed all the way down to paper, which in the right conditions (the right temperature and some moisture) will start showing signs of mold growth in a matter of a day.

The one thing that mold needs to grow and that we can eliminate is moisture.Eliminating moisture can stop mold growth in a home. Moisture in the home can come from many sources including plumbing leaks, plumbing breaks, floods, spills, roof leaks, shower doors, poor construction practices, moisture intrusions into the home, or just high humidity within the home. In my work, I have observed shower door leaks that seemed minor but were never corrected. Over time, the leak destroyed the entire sub-floor of a bathroom and the only thing holding the floor together was the vinyl flooring. I have also seen tile and grout that were not properly installed in a shower and when the tile was removed, there was a major mold problem.

Attics and crawlspaces can also be a place for moisture issues.A crawlspace, if not sealed properly with a vapor barrier can be the source of more moisture in the home by raising the humidity from the evaporation in the crawlspace. Furthermore, the house can then create mold problems in the attic as the moisture in a vapor form travels into the attic (which may also lack a vapor barrier) and then condenses on the cool roof deck, leaving a wet surface for mold to take hold.

In Southeast Alaska, with the continuous precipitation, exterior materials can also become saturated from the outside in.If there is no barrier behind the siding, no place for the moisture to drain behind the siding or if windows are not installed correctly, wall cavities can become wet, remain wet and mold can overtake the wall cavities.

Why should mold be eliminated from your home? Even though mold spores are naturally in the air we breathe, problems occur when there is a high concentration of mold impacting your indoor air quality. Mold can produce allergens in sensitive individuals and some molds produce toxins that can harm people. Even people who are not sensitive to mold, can become sensitive after long exposures. Symptoms can be a runny nose, sneezing, coughing, headaches, redness and tearing of eyes, and skin irritation. In some extreme cases mold can also cause fevers and difficulty breathing.The elderly and the young are more susceptible to the effects of mold.

Where to Check for Mold?

• Crawlspaces

• Below sinks and faucet

• Around and in the shower stall and bathtub

• Bathroom surfaces around and above the shower

• Around windows and doors

• Attics

How Do I Fix the Mold Problem in My Home?

First, you need to find the source of the moisture problem causing the mold.If it is a leak, get it fixed. If you are unable to determine the source of the moisture problem, get an expert to look at it. To remove the mold, non-porous materials can be carefully wiped down with a light detergent. Porous materials, such as wood, can be sanded down to clean wood.Sheetrock with mold should be removed. Mold takes root in the sheetrock and just wiping it down – even with a bleach mixture – will only deter the mold until the humidity or moisture reactivates the mold. In order to get rid of mold, ventilation is important.Try to keep humidity in your home below 60% through the use of room dehumidifiers, HVAC systems and whole house dehumidifiers.

If the problem is major, it might be a good idea to talk to a licensed contractor. There are a variety of certifications and trainings that contractors can participate in to learn to deal with mold properly. Ask your contractor about their experience with mold and if they have had any training. If mold is not removed properly, it can come back. It is important to address any mold issues swiftly to limit exposure to a potentially toxic material and to keep the air quality of your home healthy.

Greg Stopher has over 16 years of experience in the construction field and earned a degree in Construction Technologies from the University of Alaska – Southeast. His company, Stopher Construction, LLC, is a general contracting company specializing in remodeling, custom finishes, additions and new home construction projects. He can be reached at 907-321-2350.