…But Probably Shouldn’t
By Kathy Orton | E-mail the writer
UPDATED: October 25, 2013
Article published in the Washington Post. Click here to see original article.
J.T. Burton, a real estate agent with Long & Foster, was looking for a home for his growing family. The father of 6-month-old identical twin sons, Burton found what looked to be an ideal house: a four-bedroom, three-bathroom Colonial in Potomac.
In this hot market, the property should have been snapped up quickly. But there was a problem: The house had mold, and under Maryland law, the sellers were forced to disclose it. The fear of mold was enough to deter potential buyers. Although the house had been under contract for $650,000, it languished on the market for nearly two months.
Unlike the other shoppers, Burton saw the problem as an opportunity to snag a good house for a discount.
“I knew how to address [the mold] so, therefore, I wasn’t scared off,” he said.
Mold seems to be cropping up more often these days, and it is not only because it has been a rainy year. So, what causes mold? Experts say mold is not more prevalent these days; instead, we are more aware of it. The way new homes are built may not be helping matters. New energy-efficient homes tend to be conducive to mold growth because of their tightness, which restricts air movement.
“They’re too green,” said Nelson Barnes Jr., a mold remediation expert in the Washington area. “Houses need to breathe.”
Still, experts say that finding mold need not be panic-inducing. Understanding what it is, what causes it, and how to address it can help homeowners prevent mold and ensure that their home’s environment is healthy.
A fungus among us
Mold is not a new problem. Homeowners have been dealing with it since biblical times. Leviticus, one of the early books in the Bible, offers advice on mold.
“There’s never been a mold test that we’ve done that didn’t have any mold,” said Rob Hopkin of Poolesville-based ProTec Inspection Services. “Every house, every environment has mold spores.”
It becomes an issue when the concentration of mold spores in a home is greater than what is found outside.
Mold needs three conditions to thrive: an ideal temperature, a source of food and moisture.
“If you eliminate any one of those three, you will not have a mold problem,” Hopkin said.
If only preventing mold were that simple. The temperature in most houses is almost always ideal for mold growth. Mold feeds on dust or dirt, which is nearly impossible to eradicate from a home. That leaves moisture.
“Most people think you have to have a water intrusion or pipe burst in order to grow mold,” Barnes said. “If you have relative humidity above 60 percent and you have organic debris, which we all have, which is dust, you can grow mold.”
The Environmental Protection Agency cautions that if damp or wet building materials or furnishings are not cleaned and dried within 24 to 48 hours, the moisture can lead to mold growth. So if it takes a couple of days to notice that leaky faucet or the rainwater that seeped through the foundation, mold probably exists.
“That funny smell — we usually call it a musty smell — that’s from mold spores feeding on nutrients and off-gassing,” Barnes said. “That’s the first key that the homeowner can say I’ve got something going on here.”
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