Mold, A Modern Epidemic?
The absolute best weapons against mold are awareness and knowledge.
Gather facts, develop a strategy, and become equipped to handle any situation.
Mold isn’t magic. It isn’t invisible, and it’s not a mystery.
Yet, when folks are unaware of how mold works, it can becomes those very things: invisible, mysterious and dangerous magic.
Let’s bring mold into the light.
Mold Is A Type Of Fungus
Mold’s job in nature — as a fungus — is to break down dead things.
Of course, nature is full of decaying things, but in nature things are quickly broken down and become healthy, rich soil.
The buildings we live in are full of dead matter, ripe to be eaten by mold — that won’t turn into soil for decades.
There’s always endless food for mold inside buildings — and all it takes is a little water.
Moisture + Food
Mold needs two things: Moisture and food.
Any biodegradable material is a ready source of food for mold. Buildings are full of extremely-processed, biodegradable materials.
In fact, dust is great mold food.
Mold spreads by releasing millions of microscopic spores.
When a spore finds moisture, it will sprout quickly.
Mold also produces “mycotoxins” as a defense mechanism — which can harm the nervous system, hormones, and the gut, and activate the immune system.
Humidity Feeds Mold
It also doesn’t take a leak for moisture to feed mold.
When humidity rises above 50-60%, spores start sprouting.
As the mold absorbs moisture in the air, it swells in size to form a thin thread known as a hyphae. The hyphae quickly spread and extend across the surface, assuming conditions are sufficient for growth.”SCIENCING.COM
Mold Spores Are Everywhere In Nature
Nature is abundant with dead and decaying matter. Microbe-rich soils are a literal feeding ground.
Every time the door or a window opens, fungal spores fly in a building.
So what makes mold such a problem inside buildings?
“There’s never been a mold test that we’ve done that didn’t have any mold. Every house, every environment has mold spores.Rob Hopkin of ProTec Inspection Services — Washington Post
It becomes an issue when the concentration of mold spores in a home is greater than what is found outside.”
What You Need To Know
Mold is an incredibly hardy organism. Here’s how.
1) Mold Can Sprout Fast
Mold growths, or colonies, can begin to grow on a damp surface within 24 to 48 hours.fema.gov
2) Dead Mold Is Still Dangerous
Do Not Disturb
Dead mold is full of spores which are very much still alive.
When dead mold is disturbed, millions of spores and mycotoxins are released into the air.
Spores survive indefinitely. Therefore, dead mold can turn into living mold very, very easily.
As Mold Dries Out…
As humidity falls, mold ramps up spore production to increase the survivability of the species.
Spore counts can easily escalate up to 10X normal numbers after turning on a dehumidifier.
This is a survival mechanism for the mold. Increased spore production means the species will better survive a temporary lack of moisture. Clearly, these spores can be harmful to health, even as the air becomes less hospitable to mold.
One of the more misleading statements heard in the mold business: “All the mold is dead.”
Harsh chemicals, when sprayed onto mold, can cause mold to become aggressive — releasing extra spores and reactive compounds into the air.
A common cause of this? Bleach — which doesn’t thoroughly kill mold and can even feed it (due to its extra moisture). Bleach, like other harsh chemicals, will cause mold to release increasingly noxious VOCs and mycotoxins.
3) Cross-Contamination Is Real
Microscopic spores travel easily.
They cling to fabrics, float in the air, and even have sticky exteriors.
Spores from a contaminated area readily move to a clean environment — often via the humans present in moldy buildings. The longer time spent in a moldy space, the more spores collect on belongings and people.
HVAC Systems Are Mold Incubators
HVAC Systems almost inevitably become mold nurseries and spore-delivery systems. It only takes a couple years of neglect for these systems to become breeding grounds of microbial activity.
HVAC systems should be serviced fully every 6 months. Very, very few are.
HVAC Systems Age Terribly
Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, HVAC systems continue to collect and transport dust and mold spores throughout a building.
Modern high-powered units create extremely cooled and heated air, causing even more condensation to form in the ductwork, while also failing to remove humidity from the air.
HVAC Systems are dark, hidden, dust-collecting chambers. They are extremely difficult to adequately clean. They create constant condensation (on evaporator coils, drain pan, and ducts). All of these factors feed microbes — particularly mold.
HVACs at Tennessee Locations
HVAC Systems Must Be Maintained, Cleaned
When HVAC systems are fully serviced every 6 months, this should include a full cleaning of the coils, drain pan, and drain line.
Ducts are recommended to be fully cleaned every 3-5 years. The fact that ducts are long, narrow, inaccessible chambers makes them virtually impossible to truly clean after they have been contaminated. In professional cleaning, they’re mostly just vacuumed and brushed. Some companies will spray chemicals in the duct — which is a potentially bad idea for your health. Therefore, with ducts, prevention is key.
When there’s a mold problem anywhere in a building, HVAC systems spread mold VOC’s and spores all over — to any room with air vents.
Install HVAC UVC Lights
UVC Lights are essential to discouraging mold growth on the evaporator coils — and their installation is quickly becoming an industry-standard practice.
The bulbs can be installed inside the housing so that the coils are constantly exposed to UVC light, making mold much less likely to grow.
HVAC Systems Are Largely An American Phenomenon
Modern human often like “perfect” temperatures and tend to rely heavily on HVAC systems to achieve this. Heavy use of air conditioning can cause troublesome condensation in the unit and ducts.
Around the world, HVAC Systems are less popular — and different designs are used (such as Ductless Mini-Splits — which are gaining popularity in America).
Ductless mini-splits operate without the need for poorly-designed duct systems. Air enters the unit, is cooled inside, and then blown into the room. Condensation is still the result of chilling the air, so these units must still be cleaned and maintained regularly.
Ductless mini-splits still require bi-annual cleaning. However, they avoid the pitfalls of ductwork and decentralize potential problems instead of spreading one problem to an entire building.
Modern Construction Encourages Mold
Newer Doesn’t Mean Safer
Surely, mold is only a problem in older, poorly-maintained homes? Right?
After all, in a newer home there’s been:
- Less time for leaks to happen
- Fewer previous owners to make mistakes with maintenance
- Less rainfall and humidity exposure
Unfortunately, modern construction practices and materials are quite different than those of yesteryear. In fact, in many construction circles, modern homes are considered “mold candy” due to their:
- Low-quality materials
- Negligent construction practices
- Thoughtless design
The Unfortunate Truth
Moldy Grows Before Install
Many building materials have already developed mold before even arriving at the construction site.
These materials are then left uncovered at the building site — often in the rain for weeks or months — and then as the house is built, the materials are drenched with rain repeatedly before the roof is completed.
Then, the building’s “envelop” is installed to create the moisture — trapping the moisture on the inside and preventing we materials from drying out while allowing humidity to rise in the unfinished, unconditioned space.
OSB & Other “Pre-Digested” Wood Products
OSB (Oriented Strand Board) is then used throughout the house, and drywall is installed.
OSB and drywall are prime examples of “mold candy” due to heavy processing.
The house is sealed tight, trapping in any outside humidity further. Any pre-contaminated materials will sprout mold in this environment — if they haven’t already done so.
Construction materials are repeatedly processed to break down the wood’s fibers. This creates a highly digestible food source for mold.
Materials are routinely left uncovered for months (in the lumberyard or at construction sites) and are often moldy even before being installed.
When low-quality materials are used in construction, it only takes small amounts of moisture or humidity to lead to perpetual mold growth — in a new home.
All unconditioned spaces are subject to high humidity at some point in the year — in most climates.
New Homes Are Built “Tight”
Modern homes trap air — accumulating chemicals, toxins, dust mite excrement, and VOC’s, — as oxygen levels fall.
This air-tightness also traps humidity inside the building’s envelope, preventing it from drying out.
- Hot temperautres on one side of wall,
- Cold temperatures on the other side
- Condensation occurs inside the wall.
- Installing studs and vapor barriers on concrete footers (or slabs) that aren’t fully dry can trap moisture inside walls (see below)
- Larger homes mean more plumbing, and more risk of leaks
An even bigger problem, according to Knoblauch: When construction begins in the fall, halts during the winter, and picks back up in the spring, materials are often left exposed to the elements — a disaster in the making.
Industry experts estimate that over 30% of *NEW* homes have mold issues.
Is this an epidemic? Absolutely.
Where Should You Look For Mold?
The answer: Anywhere moisture or excessive humidity can be found.
Older homes often used better materials, but time is not on their side.
More time for mistakes & accidents where water damage can occur. Even worse: water intruded and the owner did not address the problem.
Most have heavily trapped air, extreme climate control (overpowered HVAC and insulation), out-of-sight-out-of-mind architectural design, and inferior modern building materials like OSB and green-board (most new buildings).
Garages develop trapped, humid air.
Moisture is frequently introduced via cars and other items. Garages are rarely kept clean. Dirty items get stored here.
Air from attached garages will always find its way inside a home — bringing down the home’s air quality.
Basements are almost always leaky. Basements have poor visibility for inspection and are visited and maintained less than other parts of a house. Basements are very risky for building health.
Crawl spaces trap humidity and foster mold. Bathroom exhaust fans should NOT send humid air to the attic. Even ventilated crawl spaces are exposed to high humidity in summer weather.
Attics, Sheds, Storage Units, and Boiler Rooms
These areas facilitate trapped, humid air. There’s poor visibility for inspection, and they’re rarely cleaned.
Preventing mold in these danger zones requires active maintenance and awareness.
Difficult To Access Means Difficult To Monitor
Don’t remain willfully ignorant: Modern comfort and convenience have encouraged an “out-of-sight, out-of-mind” mindset that, despite its societal prevalence, is remarkably unwise.
Get to know your house and other buildings.
How Mold Affects Body & Mind
Health status when first exposed to mold — along with the severity of the exposure — greatly influences how well, or poorly, someone reacts and holds up.
Mold exposure appears to cause inflammation to rise high and remain high chronically.
This can affect nearly every bodily function: hormones are severely disrupted, nutrients aren’t absorbed, mental clarity can be lost, sleep is broken, and blood sugar can be dysregulated.
For every single bodily function, chronic inflammation gets in the way — and this is one way mold toxicity can affect one’s entire life.
Mold — and their mycotoxins — also appears to wreak havoc on gut health, as well.
It does appear that fungal spores can take up residence in a weakened — and therefore hospitable — gut. After all, trillions of microbes per day are swallowed via the mouth.
It’s likely that chronic inflammation interferes with gut health. A chronically-elevated stress response is certainly damaging to gut health.
Even without the presence of mycotoxins, impaired gut health leads to overworked detox organs like the liver, kidneys and lymph system because metabolic waste and microbial endotoxins cannot be eliminated properly — winding up reabsorbed into the bloodstream, instead. This only worsens as gut health declines and fiber becomes less and less tolerable.
When mycotoxins and VOCs from mold enter the picture, the liver’s burden on grows.
This results in worsening food intolerance over time. As gut health declines, eating feels more and more hazardous — and for good reason: In gut dysbiosis, you are poisoning your body and causing serious inflammation every time you eat.
By contrast — in a healthy gut, good flora ferment your food and release nutrients such as B-vitamins, butyric acid and Vitamin K2, which strengthen the body’s metabolic processes.
Mold also seems to interfere with sleep.
Again, perhaps it’s the never-ending inflamed state the body exists in or nutritional deficiency from impaired gut function. Perhaps general toxicity is high, but sleep seems to always escape those suffering from toxic mold.
During sleep, the brain dumps waste and toxins, meaning that a sleep-deprived person essentially has a toxic brain.
This could be a major factor in why mold sufferers are so often labeled by others as being hysterical, emotional, and irrational (or worse).
Mold sufferers tend to become increasingly reactive to more and more environmental triggers, such as chemicals, pollution, smells, and VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds). I suspect this is because of the aforementioned failing nutritional absorption, rising bodily and brain toxicity, chronic inflammation, as well as chronically elevated stress hormones which can become difficult to “turn off.”
Blood Sugar Crashes
Inflammation, toxicity, and nutrient-scarcity lead to blood sugar crashes. Plummeting blood sugar is extremely common, and won’t be fixed until gut health, toxicity, nutrient stores & balance (including fat solubles, minerals, and B-vitamins), and sleep improve. Getting clear from major exposure is critical, as well. Diet plans that avoid carbohydrates are not recommended in this state, or at all, as they do not succeed in “starving” out gut pathogens, yet do create worsened conditions in the gut.
Recovering from mold illness is a process that involves getting clear of exposure, and healing the body and mind together.
When Is Mold Dangerous?
Extent of Growth — Length of Exposure — Your Health — Species of Mold
The Simple Answer:
Mold is dangerous when moisture is regularly present.
- Water Intrusion (windows, roof, gutters, plumbing, or ground water)
- Humidity above 60%
Here are the four ways mold becomes dangerous to your health.
1) Extent Of Mold Growth
The more extensive the growth, the bigger the problem. The heavier the mold growth, the more polluted your indoor space will become.
Extensive Mold Growth
- Due to long-term moisture intrusion
- Heavy moisture intrusion
- Higher mycotoxins, VOCs and spore counts
- Mold in your bedroom will affect you more than mold in another part of the house
- Mold wants to spread. If it’s one part of the house, it will affect the whole house over time.
Cumulative Effect Of Multiple Species
- Less-toxic molds might still be harmful if growth is heavy
- Less-toxic molds might still be harmful if many species are present
- Poor air-exchange and trapped-air spaces can accumulate toxins rapidly
- Modern houses are very tightly sealed, with poor air-exchange
2) Length of Your Exposure To Mold
The more time you spend in a sick space, the more its effects build up in your system.
Were you exposed for mere days? Months? Years?
The location of your exposure can affect how much time you spent exposed:
- Bedroom mold = 8 hours of exposure/day.
- Workplace mold = 8 hours of exposure/day.
- Car mold = ? hours of exposure/day.
- MONTHS & YEARS spent in these environments cause health issues.
- A more toxic species harms more quickly.
3) Your Health Status
A healthy body and mind will be much more resilient to environmental toxicity. Gut health, light, sleep, nutrient balance, movement, and even your mindset are all critical factors in your overall health, and therefore, resilience to environmental toxins like mold.
However, great health is not 100% protective. There are plenty of stories involving healthy folks falling victim to the effects of mold exposure — especially when a building is extremely moldy.
There is some evidence that certain genes can affect how much people are affected by mold. While this knowledge may provide some clues as to why mold is affecting you, it can easily serve as a distraction from the best steps forward. In other words, you don’t need a gene test to tell you a sick building is affecting you negatively.
4) Species Of Mold
Some species release more mycotoxins, harmful VOCs (volatile organic chemicals), and spores than others.
Most Harmful Species
- Stachybotrys (this may be the worst of all)
Sometimes, worrying about the species of mold growing in your house can also serve as a distraction from what matters — controlling moisture, controlling humidity, contacting trusted remediators, or removing yourself from the exposure.
Mold Testing For Species
Proper mold lab tests identify mold species by their DNA.
Unfortunately, lab testing — while useful — can be extremely limited and costly. Many folks look to tests in an attempt to avoid addressing mold. Others will be overwhelmed by the readings no matter their result.
On the other hand, lab testing can be highly useful when trying to convince “higher ups” (landlords, legal entities) who are skeptical of a problem.
Mold test kits sold at local stores are almost entirely worthless. Limitations and all, the only legitimate tests are ERMI and HERTSMI tests.
Your best defense against mold?
Awareness of your buildings.