Mold is Serious Business

In the past, I’ve addressed the risks posed by asbestos and lead. This week, I’ll tackle the dangers of mold. Not all mold is created equal, but all mold in a house (unless it’s on cheese by design) should be assessed so you know if it’s allergenic, pathogenic, or toxigenic.

Allergenic mold triggers allergic reactions and asthma in people who are susceptible. Pathogenic mold can affect people whose immune systems are compromised. Toxigenic mold (often referred to as “black mold”) is the most dangerous and can cause serious health issues, even in the healthiest of people.

All mold grows where it’s damp, so in homes, you’re likely to find it in basements, laundry rooms, kitchens, bathrooms, and along the sill of a single-paned window. You can also find it anywhere a leaky pipe keeps things damp.

Mold can grow on all sorts of surfaces from wood to tile, wallpaper, carpet, upholstery, and more. It is often found after a leak, especially in poorly ventilated bathrooms. Mold can grow behind sheetrock in shower, in the subfloor around a toilet if the wax seal is compromised, or in a crack in the shower pan. It can also hide behind furniture pressed up against a poorly insulated wall. The damage isn’t always visible, but it often is. Sometimes smell gives it away. In a bathroom, it doesn’t take long for water to cause discoloration or a spongy feel to the floor.

As tempting as it is to ignore a leak, leaks don’t get better on their own. Anything that allows water to intrude opens the door to mold. Once water is inside, it tends to stick around. If you are thinking of buying a home and you see evidence of water stains or leaks—or if it smells musty—be sure to read the disclosures carefully (which you should do anyway) and ask questions about whether mold has been a problem in the past.

Until the last several years, most people didn’t realize how dangerous mold could be. Now we recognize that for some, the health effects of exposure can be severe. For those who are sensitive to mold, symptoms can include a stuffy nose, wheezing, and red or itchy eyes or skin. People with asthma can have more frequent and/or more severe asthma attacks. And for some, mold can lead to fever and shortness of breath.

So, how do you know if you have a mold problem? Well, if you see it, you know. But mold can hide where it’s hard to see (in the walls, for example). If you suspect there’s a problem, either purchase an over-the-counter mold test kit or better yet, hire a professional to test your air quality. Mold spores can be hard to detect, and you don’t want a false sense of security.

If you find a little spot of mold, say, less than 100 square feet and you’re good with home repairs, you may consider addressing the problem yourself. Otherwise, I highly recommend hiring an expert. Mold removal is not easy or cheap, but having it removed safely is critical to your health. A couple of local options include Redwood Restoration and ServePro.

You should know that insurance companies are not big fans of water damage. After remediation, insurance companies sometimes refuse to renew their policy for fear mold issues.

In a nutshell, if you think you have a mold problem (especially if you are considering selling your house), check it out and disclose what you find. If you’re thinking of buying a house and you suspect a mold problem, check it out and make sure you do not end up footing the bill for remediation. Mold is not one of those problems that gets better with time.

If you have questions about property management or real estate, please contact me at or call (707) 462-4000. If you have an idea for a future column, share it with me and if I use it, I’ll send you a $25 gift certificate to Schat’s Bakery.

Dick Selzer is a real estate broker who has been in the business for more than 45 years.

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