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Home Health

Could All the Recent Rain in Dallas Mean Mold in Your Home?

Experts explain how severe weather can cause mold to grow and how to take care of it.
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Since Memorial Day weekend, thunderstorms have been wreaking havoc across North Texas, blowing over trees, knocking out power, spoiling groceries. And while you can now get some assistance from FEMA, the potential disaster isn’t over yet. Did all the rain showcase a leak in your roof? You may be growing mold in your home, which can cause even more problems and potentially cost thousands of dollars. But how? We talked to three local experts about how severe weather can cause mold, how to detect and remediate it, and how to prevent it in the first place.

What is mold? 

Mold is a fungus that breaks down dead, organic materials in nature, like leaves. There are tens of thousands of mold types that come in all colors of the rainbow. They begin as airborne spores both outside and inside our homes. “They are a natural part of the environment,” says Brandon Apple, president of Mold Inspection Sciences Texas. But, he adds, “when we start to find it within our homes, that’s when we start to consider it to be a problem.”

In order to grow, mold needs three things, says Joe McCrary, a North Texas–based remediation contractor with Dalworth Restoration. “It requires a source to feed on, it requires moisture, and it requires the right temperatures.” Because houses are often made from organic materials, like sheetrock and insulation, they’re ripe with food sources that the mold will eat and destroy. Once it has food and moisture—from, say, a pipe leak—mold can grow within 24–48 hours.

Why is mold so bad for people?

Common types of mold that inspectors and remediators look for are penicillium and aspergillus. Stachybotrys, or black mold, is particularly concerning because, as McCrary says, “it’s not a common mold that you find [and it] can have pretty adverse health effects.” 

However, there is a misconception that only one or two molds are bad for you. “The reality is there are lots of different types of molds that can potentially cause issues in people,” Apple says. Mold is an allergen, causing hay-fever-like symptoms like sneezing, coughing, runny noses, watery eyes, etc., and some reactions can be severe. Mold can also trigger respiratory conditions, like asthma, or make it hard to breathe. For people who are immunocompromised or have chronic conditions, mold can cause lung infections

Where is mold most likely to occur in my home?

If your house is working properly, you shouldn’t have the type of moisture that could grow mold, like leaks or standing water, Apple says. However, some areas in the home are more prone to mold, like bathrooms and kitchens, where there’s more plumbing and water, generally. Behind the fridge or the washing machine are also common spots. Additionally, below-ground spaces, like crawl spaces or basements, can be an ideal home for mold. If your basement is not properly waterproofed, groundwater, for example, can seep in. But Apple notes that mold can grow “anywhere moisture is within the home.”  

How can heavy rains cause mold? 

When there is severe weather, like what Dallas has recently experienced, that can also spark issues on the home’s exteriors. Those kinds of prolonged, heavy rains “expose any deficiency when it comes to the waterproofing of the home,” says Apple. That small drip from the roof or the little leak in the window, which aren’t huge issues when it sporadically rains, become a problem because “that moisture is just going to continue to build up and continue to saturate the building materials that it’s affecting,” making it an even better moisture source for mold. And the longer things stay wet, the bigger the problem becomes. 

What are the signs of mold? 

Mold can grow in many different ways, Apple says. Sometimes it looks white and fuzzy or like a wispy spider web. It can be a black discoloration, look like moss, or have an orange peel texture. In extreme cases, Apple has seen mushrooms grow in the mold. 

However, you won’t always see the mold itself. “Any signs of water is potential for mold,” he says. Be wary of musty, wet odors. Also look for visual signs of water damage, like stains and discoloration on the ceiling; bulging, swollen cabinetry; or buckling drywall. These could indicate that there’s mold behind those places. Higher humidity conditions and “unexplainable health conditions” could also be indicators, he says. 

What should I do if I find a wet spot or mold?

If you find a leak or wet spot, you should address it quickly, and get it dry. If you have a ton of water, like after a flood, just shop-vaccing the space won’t cut it, McCrary says, because the water will get between the baseboards and the sheetrock. He recommends calling a professional. Water damage is not something you want to postpone fixing, because after a few weeks, growing mold cells will make it an even bigger problem. You can run a dehumidifier, but that will only remove moisture from the air. 

If you do spot a little bit of mold in areas where mold commonly grows—like a bathroom shower—and you can clean it up easily with common household cleaners and it doesn’t grow back, you’re probably safe, Apple says. But it keeps coming back, or you notice it in spots where it shouldn’t be—like the drywall next to the shower—then you could have a problem.

Can I test for mold using an at-home kit?

Most professionals won’t recognize do-it-yourself mold testing kits, which often get inaccurate results, Apple and McCrary say. “The only thing it’s going to do is drive you crazy, right?” McCrary says. “You’re going to get a result that you don’t know if you can trust it or not. And you’re going to end up hiring a consultant either way.” 

So I need to call a professional. Who should I call?

Unlike other states, Texas has a lot of regulations around mold remediation. Every consultant and remediator must be licensed with the state. The first thing you should do is call an inspector, or a mold assessment consultant, who will perform an initial assessment. If they find potential mold, then they’ll recommend that you call a separate remediation company. After the remediation is finished, the consultant will come back and check to make sure the mold is gone and the issue causing the water damage, like a leaky roof, is fixed. If all looks good, you’ll get a “Certificate of Mold Remediation” signed by the consultant and the remediator. 

All this “provides checks and balances on the project,” says Ben Blaiss, Mold Inspection Sciences Texas’ chief operating officer. “It protects the consumer to make sure that the companies they’re hiring are doing good work.” 

What happens during the inspection?

The inspection process should take several hours. Apple tells clients to expect a base of two or three hours, plus one hour for every 1,000 square feet. During an inspection, the mold consultant tests the air quality both inside and outside the house—if indoor air quality is worse, then that’s a problem. If there is visible mold, then they’ll also take samples of that. All the samples they take get sent to a lab for testing. 

If the consultant determines there’s mold that needs to be removed, then they’ll write up a protocol that’s provided to both you and the remediators. The protocolis  “a scope of work for those remediation contractors to follow,” Blaiss says. It’ll dictate, for example, if the baseboards need to be removed, if the air ducts need to be cleaned, or if your drywall needs to be cut out.

What happens during the remediation?

During remediation, the first thing McCrary does is build containment, like hanging plastic tarps, around the affected area so mold spores don’t spread. “When we start to remove sheetrock, we don’t know what we’re gonna find,” he says. “We know there’s mold. We don’t know how much.”

While they work, the contractors will run air scrubbers and a negative air machine that filters the air four times an hour. They’ll bag the mold and remove it. They’ll sand down the studs and clean them. Then, they’ll disinfect everything and sometimes apply an encapsulation, a sealant that prevents mold. 

How long remediation takes depends on the scope of the project. A small project can take three to five days to remediate, but a larger project can take three to five weeks. 

How much will this cost?

Mold remediation for a small project, like one room, can cost anywhere from $3,000 to $7,000. The bigger the project, however, the more expensive. 

Insurance will sometimes cover mold remediation, like if it was caused by a sudden weather event. “A windstorm comes through, rips the shingles off of your house, and then it rains, and that rain over several weeks’ time creates a mold problem—that’s something that could possibly be covered,” Apple says. 

But more often, mold is a symptom of an ongoing water-damage issue that has become out of hand. The insurance flags it as “deferred maintenance,” and it won’t pay up. You should look at your home insurance policy, McCrary says, and see if it covers mold. 

So how can I prevent mold in the first place? 

The best way to prevent mold, Apple, Blaiss, and McCrary say, is proactively maintain your home. Properly caulk your exteriors. Reseal your shower grout. Then, once we get into a storm season, you should be “very aware of your home,” Apple says. Do visual assessments—pop up into the attic, check under the sink cabinet, poke around your crawl space. “The key is actually knowing when it’s happening,” he says, so you can get rid of any water quickly and stop the mold in its tracks.  

Author

Catherine Wendlandt

Catherine Wendlandt

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Catherine Wendlandt is the online associate editor for D Magazine’s Living and Home and Garden blogs, where she covers all…
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