In the previous post we were talking about what kind of house mold situation may or may not be harmful to you and your family. I briefly mentioned attics. Here in the Northwest, mold in attics is a real issue for homeowners. There are numerous reasons why, and I will address them in a subsequent post, but I would estimate that 10-15% of the homes in Portland have attic mold. Have you ever heard of stack effect? It is the reason that 1. You have mold in the attic in the first place, and 2. aren’t affected by it if you do. Let me explain.
Stack effect is the phenomenon that moisture and airflow follow heat upwards, which is something high school physics class taught you (if you stayed awake). So the air in your crawl space now will be in your living space in a few days, and the air in your living space will be in your attic in a few days, and the air in your attic (if properly ventilated) will end up outside. But what if it’s not? What if your attic isn’t properly ventilated, or what if your creating excess moisture that your attic can’t adequately expel? In that event, you end up with mold. Why isn’t this a problem when it comes to your health? Because of stack effect! Mold is not like salmon; they do not swim against the current. Mold is lazy and will go where the air tells it to go, which, because of stack effect, is up. If the mold is already above you, the chances of you being affected by it are exceedingly small. So unless you spend a lot of time in your attic without a respirator, I wouldn’t worry too much about how your health is affected by the mold in your attic.
That being said, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have the issue taken care of by a mold professional (this is something your friends over here at PureSpace will be happy to take care of for you). The mold in your attic is doing the exact same thing that mold on a fallen tree is doing in the woods, which is slowly decomposing the organic materials. Each year it will get a little worse, eventually leading to the need to replace the sheathing altogether, which is always more expensive than mold remediation of the same space. Additionally, the mold that grows in attics here in the Northwest may trigger an allergic reaction, but it is rare (although not impossible) to find the toxic strains of mold.
Another situation that may or may not be harmful to you and your family is if you ran a humidifier for your sick child and now there is a blackish substance starting to form on the ceiling directly above it. While this is unsightly and unsettling, it probably isn’t harmful… yet. With it being small and still on the surface, if tested, it would likely come back as Cladisporum, which is the most ubiquitous mold in the entire world. If you are allergic to Cladisporum in such small amounts, you likely live in a bubble. For the rest of us, we breath cladisporum everyday and lots of it! If the moisture gets into the substructure (behind the sheetrock and onto the studs) you could be looking at a real problem. But some simple detergent and a scrub brush in the hands of a homeowner should be able to be used to clean smaller spots. If the affected area is larger than 10 square feet, call a professional (again, your friends here at PureSpace can take care of this for you). Either way, the point is, once you see it, get it taken care of quickly.
What do all of those situations in both posts have in common? They are all ‘surface affected’ type situations. If you are thinking along, then when do you suspect mold really becomes a problem for our health? Yes, when it goes beyond the surface. If the reason the mold is growing in your attic is because there is a roof leak, and the shingles hold the moisture in the wood, which then starts to rot, that can be a real problem. If the humidity in a home is so high that not only are the surfaces of the walls affected, but the substructure is affected as well, that is a problem. If you have a leak under your fiberglass shower, and the subfloor underneath gets and stays wet for long periods of time, you could have a potential problem.
Usually the difference is in the quantity and duration the materials stay wet. The mold in your attic is likely caused by humidity. Humidity shouldn’t be ignored as it is a more powerful force than we give it credit for, but ultimately it doesn’t amount to a whole lot of water, just enough to cause some surface mold growth. Additionally, the humidity is only high enough during the colder months (here in the Northwest, but during the hotter months in the Midwest and South) and often only at certain times per day. However, a shower leak gets and stays wet indefinitely, and usually in much higher concentrations. It is this concentration and duration that allows for the nasty toxic molds to grow.
Either way, you should always be in touch with reality. If you start to experience symptoms (which could include circulatory, immune, skeletal, excretory, muscular, endocrine, digestive, nervous and respiratory, or any combination thereof) you should consult with a medical professional.
Bear in mind that while mold often is made out to be much worse than it often times is, it has serious side effects up to and including organ failure and death. The point is not to be scared, the point is to take the steps to avoid exposure to high levels of mold, and to properly protect yourself in the event you will be in contact with mold in high concentrations. If you have any questions or concerns about some mold growing in your home, please do not hesitate to call us!