Identifying and Removing Mold from the Home

Identifying and Removing Mold from the Home

Identifying and Removing
Mold from the Home

Michael Rubino

Mold remediator and president of All American Restoration Michael Rubino has helped more than 1,000 families remove mold from their homes for cleaner air and better health. In his book, The Mold Medic, he provides a step-by-step guide to mold remediation and improving indoor air quality.

A Closer Look at Indoor Air Quality, Mold Toxicity, and Mold Remediation

We consume a lot of air—20,000 breaths per day, on average. As with food and water, the quality of the air we consume is vital to our well-being, yet it’s often the last factor that is examined when our bodies are unwell. But after working with many doctors and helping over a thousand families improve their home air quality, it’s becoming more apparent to me that clean indoor air is important for overall health. One common contaminant in indoor air is mold.

What Is Mold?

Mold is a general term used to describe over 100,000 species of fungi, including mildew. It’s a living organism that begins as a spore (a small particle) and continues to grow and survive in the presence of moisture (typically a leak) and organic food sources (e.g., wood and other things that make up homes and buildings). As mold grows in a location, it makes spores and toxic compounds that can contaminate the air and spread throughout the entire home.

Symptoms of Mold Toxicity

As the contaminated air is inhaled over time, it can lead to mold toxicity in the body, which is when the body has been exposed to so much mold that the immune system is unable to remove it. This can cause chronic inflammation, which can lead to chronic inflammatory response syndrome. CIRS may express itself as a host of symptoms: brain fog, chronic fatigue syndrome, respiratory infections, asthma, eczema, skin rashes, weight changes, anxiety, and depression. People I work with have also reported that mold toxicity has exacerbated conditions like Hashimoto’s disease, Lyme disease, Sjögren’s syndrome, lupus, small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), Epstein-Barr virus, and other autoimmune disorders.

In my experience, brain fog is a very common symptom of mold toxicity. Mold toxicity can cause inflammation and make it difficult for people to process their words and focus. I’ve seen clients experience frequent loss of thought while speaking or struggle to construct coherent sentences. One of my clients started to slur her speech after long periods of mold exposure. In extreme cases, I’ve seen people lose their jobs because they just couldn’t stay on task no matter how hard they tried.

Signs of Mold in the Home

Although an estimated 50 percent of homes in the US have a history of water damage, most homes with mold growth have little to no signs of it. Often, mold is hidden behind walls; in the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system due to poor filtration or maintenance; in basements and crawl spaces; or in attics. But common visible signs of mold are:

  1. Coffee-like water-damage stains on ceilings or walls from an old leak

  2. A recent leak (mold can grow as quickly as twenty-four to forty-eight hours from the start of a leak)

  3. A musty smell from gas by-products of mold growth (also known as mVOC or microbial volatile organic compounds)

If you suspect mold is in your home, I recommend immediately contacting a professional mold remediator.

Mold Remediation

As the name implies, mold remediation is the process of remedying or treating mold—essentially removing mold from a home or building. I’ve performed mold remediation for over a decade, and the removal process varies—depending on where it’s growing, how long it’s been growing, the size of the home or building, etc.

But in all cases, the key to effective mold remediation—and what differentiates my method from the standard industry method—is to remove the mold, its spores (or particles), its toxic compounds, and any other by-products that the mold growth creates. Leaving these toxic by-products behind, which is often done in standard mold remediation, can contribute to additional mold growth and continued health issues.

I start by working with the best specialists in the US to perform thorough inspections to help identify the biological contaminants that are impacting the people living inside the home. Considering most mold problems are behind walls, in attics, or crawl spaces, you need someone who can properly inspect these areas for water damage (since mold cannot grow without a water source). And when you test areas around the water damage, you can pinpoint exactly where the mold growth originated and how it’s spreading. This is important for the remediation process, as is working with mold inspectors who perform the correct testing and sampling: source-level testing (targets specific areas of water damage), cross contamination sampling (dust sampling), and ERMI (Environmental Relative Moldiness Index) sampling.

Once I have the results from the inspection, I’m able to visit the home to craft a plan. Generally, I’m looking for things that are often neglected or not performed properly during the building process that allow for mold growth. I start by addressing what I call building busts. This is a term I define as poor designs of the home that allow an opportunity for microbial growth—the source of the leaks or excessive moisture. For example, a bathroom exhaust fan that vents into the attic instead of outside, which causes excess humidity to enter the attic. Or exposed soil in a crawl space that allows perpetual moisture to grow mold inside the crawl space. Once I’m able to address the structural issues, I remove the mold using the remediation process that’s outlined in The Mold Medic.

Other companies often have a more abstract approach to their inspections. Instead of considering the source of the mold growth, they simply take an air sample (or two) inside the rooms of the home that the client raises concern about. The air sample is typically taken in a small part of the room (one foot by one foot), which provides extremely limited information about the air quality in the entire room and the home. Yet they use this information to create an analysis. It would be like going to your doctor with an illness and when they take a blood test to determine what’s going on in your body, they test only for vitamin D levels. It’s impossible to get a full picture with this analysis. There’s so much technology available to measure the air quality of a home, outside of an air sample. And it’s important to work with an inspection or remediation company that does this work properly and thoroughly.

Stages of Mold Remediation:

  1. Identify the source of mold growth.

  2. Remove the mold and its spores and toxic by-products (key to effective remediation).

  3. Fix the source of the mold growth, so the mold doesn’t return.

  4. Clean the entire home thoroughly to remove any residual mold spores and toxic compounds that may have spread throughout the home.

  5. Incorporate preventive measures (e.g., installing a better air filter in the HVAC system to improve air quality).

Mold Prevention

Mold needs moisture to grow, so generally anything that minimizes moisture in the home is helpful in preventing mold growth. However, it’s extremely difficult (basically impossible) to keep water from getting into the home occasionally. So the most effective way to prevent or minimize mold growth is to schedule annual mold inspections with a professional. And in between annual inspections, address leaks immediately—mold can grow within twenty-four to forty-eight hours of the start of a leak. If you’re moving into a new home, I recommend scheduling a mold inspection prior to moving in. You can find recommended mold inspectors here.

Michael Rubino is a leader in the mold and remediation space and an advocate for better indoor air quality. He is the president of the mold remediation company All American Restoration, the author of The Mold Medic, a council-certified mold remediator by IICRC (Institute of Inspection Cleaning and Restoration Certification) and ACAC (American Council for Accredited Certification), and a member of the Indoor Air Quality Association.

This article is for informational purposes only. It is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice. To the extent that this article features the advice of physicians or medical practitioners, the views expressed are the views of the cited expert and do not necessarily represent the views of goop.

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