Preventing mould in buildings
Increasingly, we are talking about specific kinds of mould, not just old mould. And due to the emergence of these conversations, you likely have some questions:
- Is this a new problem or just one that our technology is now allowing us to detect more effectively?
- Are we overreacting or should we be concerned?
- If we should be concerned, what products or actions are most effective?
Unfortunately, there is not a simple answer. However, we do have better technology that allows us to understand and analyze more of the world around us. Therefore, the buzz around air quality issues is likely a result of engineers and scientists learning more about it.
Mould Issues In Buildings
Unfortunately, it is true that homes and buildings that are more vulnerable to conditions promote the growth of mould. It is also true that mould is one of the most common causes of frequently reported respiratory problems.
The following is intended to provide an overview of what we know about mould and what we can do about it. Before you take any action in your own home or building, however, you should consult a local specialist: a building inspection engineer.
The Problem with Mould
The problem of mould is one that no building owner or manager can afford to ignore. Mould has been suggested as one possible factor in so-called Sick Building Syndrome. The unusual weather conditions in recent years have provided good conditions for the growth of toxigenic fungi and increased the potential for human exposure.
Throughout the country, deaths of children from pulmonary hemosiderosis (bleeding lung disease) have been attributed to inhalation of toxins produced by the fungus Stachybotrys chartarum.
The Cost of Mould
Mould remediation can be costly. Costs vary widely depending on the size of the property, and extent of the mould growth and from province to province or city-to-city. Generally, the cost may range from $550 to $30,000 or more.
Preventing & Detecting Mould
Criterium-Jansen Engineers regularly inspects buildings for mould related concerns. Mould starts as a water issue. We can help you solve your water issue and eliminate your problem by inspecting the area of concern and letting you know the remediation required.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is mould?
The words mould and mildew are sometimes used interchangeably. If there is a difference in the two terms, it is that mildew generally refers to a fungus-caused discoloration of an underlying, porous material, whereas mould refers to a fungus growth on a porous, often rotting material. Essentially, mould is the growth produced by several types of fungi as they feed on organic matter. Mould typically reproduces asexually by means of airborne spores. These spores are always present in the air. There are thousands of types of fungi (mould).
Many fungi are helpful. Some good types of fungi are those used to produce Camembert and Roquefort cheeses. The wonder drug penicillin is a by-product of the fungus Penicillium notatum.
What does mould need from us to grow?
Like all living things, mould spores need certain conditions to reproduce and grow. Mould needs water, food, and the right temperature range. Mould grows better in a dark environment, and with an organic, porous material to grow on. Such material often provides a source of both food and water.
Unfortunately, buildings provide an almost ideal environment to support the growth of mould. The typical temperatures are right, and there are plenty of dark places and organic substances. Just add water, and you’ve created a perfect mould breeding ground.
Dry rot, a common condition in older homes, is bacterial activity similar to mould and needs the same combination of conditions for ideal growth. If you have dry rot, you probably have mould. The reverse is true as well.
Why should we be concerned about mould?
Mould can feed on and destroy most of the organic materials found in buildings such as wood, paper, carpet, and glue. However, almost any surface can support the growth of mould. Although mould can be found anywhere, it typically grows in dark, moist places such as behind walls or in HVAC ducting.
Mould can cause harmful health effects in humans. Although the species Stachybotrys chartarum (sometimes referred to as stacky for short) has received most of the recent press, many other types of fungi are potentially harmful to humans as well. For this reason, Stachybotrys chartarum is not treated as a unique case.
One bit of good news: although Stachybotrys chartarum is considered one of the more hazardous forms of mould, its spores are wet and slimy. That makes it a bit easier to visually identify and much less likely to become airborne. Stachybotrys chartarum is usually transferred by contact with insects or rodents or by water.
Exposure to fungus can cause organic dust toxic syndrome (ODTS) or hypersensitivity pneumonitis (HP). ODTS may occur following a single exposure to high concentrations of dust contaminated by fungus, such as might be encountered during remediation or renovation work. The symptoms are flu-like. HP occurs as a result of prolonged exposure and can lead to permanent lung damage.
Exposure to fungus can also cause allergic reactions: typically a runny nose, sneezing, eye irritation, cough, or aggravation of asthma.
What should I look for when it comes to mould?
Mould is not only a problem in itself but also a symptom of a water problem. The first step in any investigation for the presence of mould in buildings is to follow the water.
Look for evidence of high humidity, condensation, or visual evidence of water staining. Mould grows in dark, hidden places, such as behind walls, and may not always be visible. Other clues, such as musty odors or reported physical symptoms in occupants, should be noted.
How do I know if I have a mould problem?
If you see mould or evidence of moisture accumulation, test the suspect material. Consulting a professional to assist in the identification of the mould will better enable you in the process of determining the course of action required.
How can I minimize the risk of mould?
Because mould likes the same temperature as humans, changing the ambient temperature as a method of control is not usually an option. It’s also hard to eliminate the mould’s food source entirely, as it feeds on a wide range of materials commonly used in building construction and interior finishes. However, because mould can feed on dirt, cleanliness can go a long way toward control.
The easiest way to minimize mould growth is to eliminate sources of water. Moisture in a building can exist in two forms, as humidity and as free water. Moisture may come from inside the building through condensation, plumbing leaks, cooking, showers, or the HVAC system. Water may enter the building from the outside through leaks in the roof, the facade, or the basement. Water also may be introduced into the building through the use of wet building materials such as roofing materials, insulation, and drywall.
If you identify any of these sources of water or moisture, you should take immediate steps to eliminate them. This may require modifications to the structure, improved ventilation, improved environmental controls (HVAC), improved surface drainage, or any one of many other possibilities. You should consult a qualified building inspection engineer for advice.
How can I remediate an existing mould problem?
Any plan to remediate mould must first address solving the water problem. The source of the moisture must be identified and the condition rectified. Only then should the process of remediation begin.
Remediation consists of either cleaning the affected materials in place or the removal and replacement of these materials. The decision of whether to clean or replace is largely an economic one, based on the size of the areas affected, the ease of access, and whether or not the building components have been damaged by either mould or water.
If the buildings structural components are not damaged, small areas can usually be remediated by homeowners or maintenance staff. Trained contractors, however, should handle larger areas. Dealing with extensive areas of mould is like handling any other hazardous material and requires specific training. Health Cananda publishes a useful guide titled Mould and Your Health.
Other ways of dealing with large infestations are being tested. At least one company treats mouldy houses by enclosing them and raising the interior temperature in a controlled manner to about 160 degrees F. This effectively bakes the mould and kills it.
Most air cleaners (purifiers, ionizers, etc.) are not effective in dealing with a mould problem. At best, such equipment deals with the symptom rather than the cause.
Determining the cause of the problem, whether that is a leaky roof, facade issues, excess humidity, or a malfunctioning HVAC system, is often a complex process of detective work. There are often false leads, and inexperienced people often mistake effect for cause, leading to a misdiagnosis.
Breathing contaminated air can lead to respiratory irritations and, for some, can be life-threatening. It is time well spent to inspect the buildings in which you live and work to determine if there are any suspect conditions that might lead to a mould infestation. If there are, testing, source identification, and remediation should follow quickly.
For help with mould problems or suspected mould problems, the first step is to contact an engineer who is qualified to perform the diagnostics necessary to determine the root cause of the problem.
Call Criterium-Jansen Engineers at 1-888-940-0571 for your mould consultation.