The best strategy against mold infestation is mold prevention. While there are various steps to correct a mold issue in your home, there is one vital step that must be taken whether the inhabitant (that’s you!) is attempting to prevent or fix a mold concern. That single, most important step of all is maintaining home-healthy moisture levels. In other words, reducing humidity–mold’s best friend.
Moisture is Mold’s Best Friend
Mold of every type thrives on moisture. This is why most cases of mold growth occur in bathrooms, kitchens, and basements. Corrosive or leaky pipes are the usual suspects for water damage, but careless ownership and maintenance, such as spilling or splashing water (from the bathtub, sink, or toilet), are equally common, especially in homes that have seen many years and/or multiple owners or renters. In addition to those causes, root growth from trees and shrubbery are well-known for breaking pipes and causing severe water damage.
The key to the safety of the home and the comfort and health of the occupant(s) is suspicion. Instead of waiting for the signs of water damage (or even mold growth), be proactive. The possibility of water damage and the presence of unhealthy moisture is almost always guaranteed in most homes, regardless of the age of the house or the number of its past occupants. Water damage can be very costly, but if mold has developed, the damage to your health or your renter’s health could be permanent, if not lethal. Making assumptions and being suspicious of your home’s moisture levels should never be shrugged off as paranoia—your very life and the lives of your loved ones could be at risk.
Test Your Home
Experts recommend home humidity levels to stay below 60% and all heating units moderated to 68 degrees Fahrenheit, in order to avoid mold and bacterial growth. But it isn’t enough to just bring in a dehumidifier and turn down the thermostat; every room’s moisture level must be tested first and then retested once issues have been discovered and addressed. Testing should especially be repeated as the seasons change, regardless of a corrected problem or the presence of a dehumidifier. Moisture can vary significantly with each new season.
To test your home, invest in a hygrometer. A hygrometer is an instrument designed to measure the moisture content in the atmosphere. While generally used for greenhouses, industrial spaces, incubators, saunas, and museums, hygrometers are also the ideal tools for discovering and maintaining healthy moisture levels within the home.
Depending on quality, purpose, and capability, hygrometer prices range from $6.00 to $400.00. For the purpose of establishing a quick answer to your room-by-room humidity question, you should purchase an instant digital reader instead of a “hair string movement” hygrometer. The “hair string” is more of an, immobile, long-term humidity monitor and isn’t ideal for moving from room to room just to ascertain a quick snapshot of each room’s moisture content. Not all digitally-reading hygrometers are made equal, however, so aim for a better quality meter, roughly between $20 and $60. It is a good, long-term investment and will serve you well, whether you’re a permanent occupant or a temporary renter.
When using your hygrometer, watch for significant rises in humidity. If the majority of the house is relatively the same—with only slight variations in moisture percentages—but one or more rooms have a steep rise in humidity, chances are, there is a cause for concern. That room could have broken or leaky pipes or even structural wall or roofing issues, allowing outdoor moisture into the home. Check the ceiling and walls for staining or peeling. Any discoloration, bending, or bubbling should be closely examined for water damage. Corroded pipes or even rusty sink fixtures could be a sign of constant dripping or leakage. Check windows for water spots or mildew between the panes and where the window frames meet the glass. Check mirrors and all metal accents for rusting or corrosion. Check flooring and carpets for discoloration or misshapen areas.
Be diligent, determined, and detailed in your search. If you find what seems to be older, dried-up water damage, don’t be careless and assume the problem is gone. Some dried-up water damage areas are only dry for certain seasons and once a more humid season rolls around, the damage spreads and the risk of mold and bacterial growth increase.
Regardless of the severity of your findings, your first and most vital step, as mentioned in the beginning, is to maintain home-healthy moisture levels. If any room in your house is above 60% humidity, bring in a dehumidifier. Don’t let mold or bacteria gain a foothold in your home. Both hazards grow and spread from room to room at an alarming rate, so make it a priority to halt their progress at the first sign of raised moisture levels.
Dehumidifiers can be quite pricey, depending on quality and room-size capability. For a small room with no visible water damage and no structures designed to carry or hold water (such as sinks, faucets, pipes, bath tubs, toilets, etc.), expect to pay between $50 and $125. For rooms suffering from visible water damage or rooms designed with water-carrying or water-holding structures (such as bathrooms, kitchens, and basements), expect to spend between $125 and $300 for an adequate dehumidifier.
It is important that your dehumidifier(s) meet your particular needs and the requirements of the space(s) in question. Most dehumidifiers come with a container that fills with water and must be emptied at specific intervals throughout the day, such as every 4-6 hours or every 1-2 days, depending on the humidity level of that room. If the container is full, the machine will stop running, which means the room’s moisture content will climb. This is why it is absolutely essential that you purchase the correct dehumidifier size and capability in relation to the size and moisture level of the room(s).
Smaller dehumidifiers are good for transferring from one small room to the next or for providing a subtle presence that won’t disturb the decor, but don’t forget to dump out its water container (most machines will have a fullness light indicator and some even emit sounds when it’s time). Larger dehumidifiers (best for bigger rooms, severely water-logged/damaged rooms, and basements) usually have hose extensions that can be placed into floor drains or other types of drains. This capability relieves you of the task of emptying the water reservoir and ensures the machine can run non-stop, further preventing or solving your humidity issues. (Note: If your house is small and there isn’t a specific water concern but you live in an area that simply has high atmospheric moisture levels, then I suggest buying a large dehumidifier since it will help regulate the whole house.)
Take the First Steps to Reduce Humidity
Measuring the moisture levels (hygrometer) throughout the house and artificially lowering a room’s humidity (dehumidifier), are only the first steps to protecting your property and your health. If mold or water damage is discovered, it is important to continue using both devices while also confronting the issue head-on. Don’t delay in fixing the problem. If you’re a renter, you have a right to live in a healthy, stable home (or to move immediately). If you’re the homeowner, you must find the means and the way to repair a water-based issue before it costs you even more money or results in poor health, disablement, or worse.
If you’re not sure what to do or where to start, then you’ve come to the right place. MoldBlogger.com offers expert advice for mold prevention and mold solutions. With topics ranging from “renter’s rights in the case of mold infestation” to “foods to eat when you have mold or yeast in your body” to “how to prevent or kill mold naturally,” MoldBlogger.com is one of your greatest allies when it comes to fighting mold. Stay vigilant, stay safe—mold is a formidable foe, but you’re not alone.
The Wife is the mother and personal chef of two boys, the domestic technician of a three-bedroom town home, and occasionally, a freelance writer and editor. Feel free to follow her on Twitter @TheWifesLife.