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10 Tips to Prevent Mold in Your Home

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Fixing mold damage is an expensive and time-consuming home repair. But you can save time and money with these 10 tips to prevent mold.

Homeowners have good reason to shudder when hearing, “You’ve got mold!” Mold can wreck your health and your finances: An extensive mold remediation can reach five figures. Here are 10 ways to prevent, control, and combat mold in your home.

  1. Eliminate Clutter

    Cast a critical eye on household clutter, and pare down your stuff. Clutter blocks airflow and prevents your HVAC system from circulating air. Furniture and draperies that block supply grilles cause condensation. All this moisture creates microclimates in your home that welcome and feed mold growth.

    So throw out things you don’t love or don’t use. Push furniture away from vents and grilles to keep air circulating. On humid, still days, run a couple of fans to keep air moving.

  2. Control Indoor Climate

    Mold problems often emerge during hot, humid summers when you’re tempted to play with the air conditioner. But set the thermostat too high, and the air conditioner won’t dehumidify your air effectively; set it too low, and you create cold surfaces where water vapor can condense.

    To prevent moisture problems and maximize energy efficiency, set the thermostat at 78 degrees F.

  3. Shut Windows and Doors When AC is On

    When you open windows and doors, you let air conditioning escape, waste money, and invite humid air into your cooler home. This causes condensation, which mold loves. So keep doors and windows shut when the AC is humming.

    Also, maintain your home at around 80 degrees when you’re on vacation or at work. Too often, we bump the thermostat up to 85 degrees, or turn off the AC when we’re away. This raises temperature and humidity, which creates the ideal home for mold.

  4. Properly Size Your AC Unit

    Make sure your air-conditioning unit is properly sized for your house. If it’s too small, the unit will run constantly, elevating costs but not the temperature; too big, and the unit will constantly start and stop, which wastes energy, too.

    Install an HVAC unit that’s just right. For guidance, call an HVAC professional or consult Energy Star’s square footage/AC capacity chart.

  5. Monitor Humidity

    An indoor humidity monitor will help you keep track of moisture levels that, ideally, fall between 35% and 50% relative humidity; in very humid climates, at the height of summer, you may have to live with readings closer to 55%.

    But if you reach 60% relative humidity, it’s time to look for the source of the added moisture; above 70% relative humidity, certain species of mold can begin growing.

    Indoor humidity monitors start at less than $20; more sophisticated models that simultaneously and remotely track several rooms can climb to $200.

  6. Evaluate Your AC
    If you get a high humidity reading of 60% or more, make sure your air conditioner is doing its job.

    • Is it set to the proper temperature?
    • Is it cycling on and off periodically?
    • Does it blow cold air when it reaches the set point?
    • Are the coils clean?

    Inspect the condensate drain pipe (the narrow white pipe sticking out the side) to make sure it’s dripping regularly. If it isn’t, the pipe is blocked and water may be accumulating inside the unit — or on your floor. If you suspect a problem, call your HVAC professional. To prevent blockage and mold buildup, pour a cup of bleach mixed with water down the drain annually.

  7. Look for Standing Water

    If the air conditioner isn’t the issue, search for standing water or chronic dampness that’s increasing indoor humidity and providing a lovely environment for mold.

    Check for puddles or dampness around hot water tanks, sump pumps, freezers, refrigerators, basement doors, and windows. Inspect crawl spaces for ground water dampness or foundation leaks.

  8. Cover Your Crawl Space Floor

    Groundwater seeping into crawl spaces can add gallons of moisture vapor into your house every day. The simplest defense is to cover crawl space floors with a plastic vapor barrier — 6 mil polyethylene (landscapers’ plastic) — that traps moisture in the ground.

    If you regularly crawl in your crawl space, use a heavier plastic that won’t rip as easily: Some 20 mil plastic coverings are on the market.

  9. Add a Dehumidifier

    A dehumidifier removes excess moisture from the air.

    You can buy a whole house dehumidifier ($1,100-$1,800) that attaches to your furnace, treats air throughout the house, and connects to a drain so you never have to empty a tank. If you live in a very humid area, a whole-house system is the way to go.

    If you have occasional bouts of dampness and musty smells, a portable dehumidifier will suffice ($150-$200).

    Most models have an auto shutoff that keeps the unit from overflowing when the storage tank is full. Some portables have a hose hookup that automatically sends water into a nearby floor drain.

  10. Call a Professional

    If you can’t find the moisture problem on your own, or you aren’t sure how to correct a problem you do find, call a home inspector or indoor air quality consultant. Look for credentials from a respected industry organization, such as the American Society of Home Inspectors or the Indoor Air Quality Association. A house call will likely run $250 or more.

    Other Tips:
    Control Indoor Climate
    Shut Windows and Doors When AC is On
    Properly Size Your AC Unit
    Monitor Humidity
    Evaluate Your AC
    Look for Standing Water
    Cover Your Crawl Space Floor
    Add a Dehumidifier
    Call a Professional

“Copyright NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®. Reprinted with permission.”

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How to Kill and Prevent Bathroom Mold

Got bathroom mold? Here’s how to get rid of it and prevent future infestations, too.

If you’ve never experienced bathroom mold, perhaps you aren’t looking deep enough into the corners of your bathroom.

It’s one of the most common problems in any house; it’s also one of the easiest to prevent and cure — as long as you haven’t let it get out of hand.

“Bathroom mold occurs primarily because mold loves damp, dark, isolated spaces,” says Larry Vetter of Vetter Environmental Services in Smithtown, N.Y. “Typically, a bathtub, shower, or entire bathroom remains damp enough for mold growth just from showering or bathing.”

Common Causes of Bathroom Mold

  • Lingering moisture caused by lack of ventilation.
  • Leaky toilets, sinks, and plumbing pipes.
  • Damp cellulose materials such as rugs, paper products, wood, wallpaper, grout, drywall, and fabric.

So how do you know if you have a mold problem? Matt Cinelli, owner/operator of AERC Removals in North Attleboro, Mass., says, “If you can see it or smell it, you’ve got it.”

Finding the Mold in Your Bathroom

Bathroom mold isn’t always obvious. Check out hidden areas, such as under sinks, access doors to shower and bath fixtures, around exhaust fans, even in crawl spaces and basements underneath bathrooms.

“It could be starting in the bathroom but actually forming in another room,” says Cinelli, adding that lack of proper ventilation is the biggest culprit for mold growth.

Preventing Mold

The best defense is preventing mold from occurring in the first place. Yashira Feliciano, director of housekeeping for Conrad Conado Plaza Hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico, offers the following tips for keeping mold out of your bathroom:

  • Use your bathroom ventilation fan when you shower or bathe, and leave it on for 30 minutes following the end of your bath; if you don’t have an exhaust fan, install one.
  • Keep household humidity levels below 50%; an air conditioner or dehumidifier can help.
  • Use a mildew-resistant shower curtain, and wash or replace it frequently.
  • Don’t keep bottles of shampoo or shower gel, toys, or loofahs in the shower, as they provide places for mold to grow and hide.
  • Wash your bathroom rugs frequently.

Getting Rid of Mold

What do you do if mold growth is already a problem? As long as the infestation isn’t large, you can take remedial measures yourself:

  • Strip away and replace any caulking or sealant that has mold growth.
  • Clean your bathroom with mold-killing products, such as bleach, vinegar, and hydrogen peroxide.
  • Open windows and doors while cleaning to provide fresh air and help dry out the mold.

If you have a problem area bigger than 10 sq. ft., refer to guidelines from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency or call in a professional.

“When you see it creeping into walls and insulation, you need a professional,” says Cinelli, who notes that tearing out walls (which may be necessary for a big problem) can release mold spores into the rest of the house and create an even bigger issue.

“The idea is to kill it and then remove it,” he says. “And the most important thing is to figure out why you have it before you clean it up.”

“Copyright NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®. Reprinted with permission.”

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Home Owners Insurance: Is Mold Covered?


Whether mold is covered by home owners insurance often comes down to the source of moisture and the wording of a policy.

Mold strikes fear into the hearts of those who’ve heard horror stories about toxic mold, expensive mold remediation, and denied home owners insurance claims. Yet mold can be found anywhere, including in most homes. It’s usually harmless.

Mold needs moisture to thrive. Problems can arise for home owners when the presence of persistent moisture goes undetected or unresolved, leading to widespread mold growth. Moisture can result from high indoor humidity, flooding, or a leaky roof or dishwasher.

Whether mold damage is covered by home owners insurance often comes down to the source of that moisture. Take an hour or two to review the language of your policy, especially as it pertains to water damage. Look for mold exclusions or limitations. Call your agent if the wording is unclear.

Mold and home owners insurance

Most basic home owners insurance policies exclude coverage of damage caused by mold, fungi, and bacteria, says Mark Ferguson, property claim specialist with General Casualty Insurance in Sun Prairie, Wis. Yet that doesn’t mean a mold claim will be denied automatically.

In most cases, if mold results from a sudden and accidental covered peril, such as a pipe bursting, the cost of remediation should be covered, says Ferguson. That’s because technically the pipe burst is the reason for the claim, not the mold itself. Claims are more likely to be rejected if mold is caused by neglected home maintenance: long-term exposure to humidity, or repeated water leaks and seepage.

It’s hard to put a precise dollar figure on mold damage because most insurers don’t separate mold claims from water-damage claims, says Claire Wilkinson of the Insurance Information Institute. About 22% of all home owners insurance claims result from “water damage and freezing,” a category that includes mold remediation, according to the III. A 2003 white paper on mold from the III put the cost of the average mold claim between $15,000 and $30,000, at least five times the average non-mold home owners claim at that time.

After a rush of mold claims in the early 2000s, most states adopted limitations on mold coverage. Amounts vary, but a typical home owners policy might cover between $1,000 and $10,000 in mold remediation and repair, says Celia Santana of Personal Risk Management Solutions in New York. Most policies won’t cover mold related to flood damage. For that, home owners need separate flood insurance, which averages $540 per year through the National Flood Insurance Program.

Damage done by an inch of floodwater

Replace carpet, flooring

$2,700

New baseboard molding

$2,250

Replace drywall

$1,350

Cleanup, materials

$1,000

Bookshelves, lamps

$500

Total

$7,800

Source: National Flood Insurance Program

Is extra mold coverage necessary?

It might be possible to purchase a mold rider as an add-on to your existing home owners policy. Ask your agent. A rider will offer additional mold coverage. Cost and your personal risk-tolerance are the driving factors behind a decision.

Premiums will vary based on where you live and the value of your house. You could pay from $500 to $1,500 a year for a rider on an existing policy. Prices tend to climb in humid southern climates, and in Texas and California, where there have been high-profile mold cases.

In general, older homes in humid climates where mold thrives will be more costly to insure than newer constructions in a dry climate. In particular, homes built within the past five years are likely constructed with mold-resistant wood, drywall, and paints, says Santana. Newer homes are also less susceptible to water infiltration.

If your insurance carrier isn’t willing to provide a rider because the risk is too great, specialty companies such as Unitrin might sell you a standalone mold policy. Brace yourself for a hefty price tag. Annual premiums for a standalone mold policy might range from $5,000 to $25,000. Weigh the cost against risk factors including the age and value of your home, its construction, and the prevalence of mold issues in your area.

Moisture prevention is the key

The surest way to avoid having a claim denied is keeping mold at bay in the first place. Preventing mold and eliminating mold when it does occur are critical to protecting the value of your home.

To help prevent mold growth in your home, the III suggests taking the following steps:

  • Lower indoor humidity with air conditioners, dehumidifiers, and exhaust fans.
  • Inspect hoses and fittings on appliances, sinks, and toilets.
  • Use household cleaners with mold-killing ingredients like bleach.
  • Opt for paints and primers that contain mold inhibitors.
  • Clean gutters to avoid overflow and check roof for leaks.
  • Avoid carpet in wet areas like basements and bathrooms.
  • Remove and dry carpet, padding, and upholstery within 48 hours of flooding.

“Copyright NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®. Reprinted with permission.”

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BEWARE SPOTTY MOLD INSURANCE COVERAGE

Owners with mold in the home may face a double-whammy: Their insurance policy may not cover the damage it’s caused.

Mold needs water or moisture to grow, but not all causes of water damage are covered by homeowners’ policies, reports the Illinois Department of Insurance. Standard homeowners policies don’t cover water damage caused by “maintenance” problems, such as continuous or repeated water seepage or leakage, humidity or condensation problems, or landscaping or drainage problems. Homeowners policies also exclude water damage caused by floods.

The best way to avoid an iffy insurance claim for mold? Heading off mold before it takes hold. Help owners do that by posting to your website a free article, How to Kill and Prevent Bathroom Mold, from the REALTOR® Content Resource. It’s one of five free articles now available in the September “Stretch Home Repair/Remodel Dollars” article package.

You can also post to your website (or your blog, Facebook page, or Twitter feed; add to your e-newsletter; email; or brand, print, and hand-deliver) any of about 1,000 always-free home listing, selling, and ownership articles. Just search the REALTOR® Content Resource by keyword or topic for other content ranging from home improvement and maintenance to taxes and finance.

While you’re adding REALTOR® Content Resource materials to your marketing communications, be careful not to download photos or videos on the site. The REALTOR®Content Resource doesn’t have permission to allow others to use them, and owners of the images actively search online — and charge violators for — unauthorized uses. Learn more in the Reprint Rights Policy.

“Copyright NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®. Reprinted with permission.”

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How to Hire Professionals to Get Rid of Mold


Not all mold experts are equal. We explain how to find reputable mold remediation experts and inspectors.

When you find mold growing in your home, sound the alarm and get rid of it fast. Delay can mean extensive and costly remediation and repairs. On average, professional mold remediation costs $500-$6,000 — but the price can soar into the tens of thousands if the problem is severe. Here’s what you need to know about hiring professional mold inspectors and remediation companies.

Hire a Mold Inspector First

If you find mold growing on drywall, trim, or unfinished wood surfaces, and especially if the affected area is more than 10 sq. ft., hire a mold investigator to discover the root and extent of the problem. They’ll also be able to direct you to a reliable mold remediation company. Reputable companies work with third-party inspectors instead of doing the inspection themselves.

But be sure to check credentials when hiring an inspector. The mold industry is largely unregulated, but there are guidelines to help you know when you’re hiring a true professional:

  • Qualified inspectors should have an undergraduate (at least) degree in a science or engineering field and have completed industry-approved coursework in mold investigation, preferably from the American Board of Industrial Hygiene or the American Council for Accredited Certification (formerly the American Indoor Air Quality Council).
  • They should bear respected industry credentials, such as CIH (Certified Industrial Hygienist) or CIEC (Council-certified Indoor Environmental Consultant).
  • They should work independently of a mold remediation company (reputable remediation companies hire a third-party inspector) and shouldn’t sell mold-related products.
  • They should provide a customized report that includes lab results of air or surface samples taken.
  • They shouldn’t hype one species of mold as more dangerous than another.
  • They should tell you whether a mold problem has a DIY solution, or whether you must hire a professional mold remediation expert.

Expect to spend $200-$600 for a site visit from a qualified inspector, which will take 2-5 hours. The inspector will take air samples and may open up walls to find mold.

Ins and Outs of Air Sampling

Analyzing air samples isn’t cheap and, depending on the lab used, can cost $30-$150 for each sample. Some inspectors roll sampling into their base price; others don’t. So make sure you ask.

Not every mold issue requires sampling. If you can see mold, sampling is necessary only if you must identify the actual mold species for medical or legal reasons. However, if you think mold is present but can’t actually see it, samples can confirm your suspicions. Also, sampling typically is used after cleanup to verify success.

Ask inspectors to explain why they’re taking samples and what hypothesis they’re trying to confirm.

If the cleanup is simple enough to perform yourself, a mold inspector can advise you on procedures, protective equipment, and tools. The inspector should also be able to pinpoint the moisture issue that led to the mold problem so that you can correct it.

Warning: Don’t even think about diagnosing your mold problems with a home testing kit. They don’t work. They’ll probably reveal some mold, but only because spores are always flying through the air. These kits can’t:

  • Guarantee a statistically significant sample of air.
  • Confirm the presence of dead mold spores (which also cause health problems).
  • Determine baseline levels of mold in your home in order to compare results with other non-mold-infected areas.

What A Mold Remediation Professional Will Do

Mold remediation companies will clean up your mold in a few days if just some washing and removing carpet is involved, or in a few weeks if demolition and rebuilding is required.

Generally, the cleanup process entails:

  • Removing water-damaged, mold-infested materials.
  • Cleaning and disinfecting walls, carpet, and personal items.
  • Removing drywall and studs if mold damage is extensive.
  • Vacuuming with HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filtration.

Related: Mold Remediation: What to Expect When You Hire An Expert

If mold infestation is severe and you are mold-sensitive, you may have to live elsewhere during cleanup.

Remediation costs vary depending on how much and where mold exists. Figure on:

  • $500-$4,000 to remove mold from crawlspaces only.
  • $2,000-$6,000 to remove mold from ducts, crawlspaces, walls, and attics.
  • $10,000-$30,000 (or more) to repair widespread structural damage.

“Mold remediation isn’t about ‘kill, kill, kill,’” says Wane A. Baker, a Wisconsin mold investigator. “Even dead mold can still be allergenic.”

Does Insurance Cover Mold Remediation?

Don’t presume your homeowners insurance will pay to fix your mold problems. Insurance typically pays if the problem results from an emergency already covered on your policy, like a burst pipe, but not if mold resulted from deferred maintenance, persistent moisture or seepage, or from floodwaters (unless you have flood insurance).

Check with your insurance agent to see if your particular mold problem is covered.

“Copyright NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®. Reprinted with permission.”