You've read the stories about it - Mold! It's in the papers and all over the web. You've also read about all the efforts to contain and remove it from homes and buildings. An entirely new industry has developed to deal with mold removal. The focus has been on dealing with the mold once it occurs. Much less effort has been directed at preventing it in the first place. So is Mold "The Problem"?
Mold - more precisely mold spores - are everywhere! Inside and outside of buildings, we come in contact with mold or mold spores. Mold in buildings or homes is not a new event. Mold has been our companion ever since we built the first structures we called "home". Mold in general likes the same conditions environmentally that we do. This makes where we live a good place for it to live.
Most efforts have focused on source removal, that is, physically removing the mold from a structure. This is a time consuming process as well as an expensive one! Far less effort has gone into preventing mold growth from occurring. "Find mold. Remove mold. Problem solved." This seems to dominate the thinking of most people. But the removal of mold does not solve "the problem". Mold growth is only a symptom. Like a person with a disease, we see not the disease, but the symptoms - it's effects. In a building we see the mold, but we often cannot see the cause.
Like us, mold needs food and water to live and grow. It will consume almost anything organic. Our buildings are filled with food for mold, but even with all that food mold will not grow without moisture in sufficient quantity. So then "The Problem" is MOISTURE!
All Buildings Leak!
So how do you fix "the problem"? First, we must accept (or embrace) the reality that all buildings leak! ??? I'll pause for a moment so you can regain your composure. . . Yes, all buildings leak, but this does not mean that all buildings fail. How we manage the moisture that "leaks" into our home is key to the success or failure of the structure. Make no mistake, we must make every effort to keep moisture from entering our building; i.e., properly sealed roofs, windows properly flashed, proper drainage around the perimeter of our building, etc., but inevitably moisture will enter either in liquid or vapor form.
With the reality of moisture entering our home or building, we must decide how to best manage it. The "envelope" (exterior walls, roof and foundation of the structure) is our first line of defense. If improperly constructed these components may allow liquid water to infiltrate to such an extent that they fail. That is, they are ineffective in preventing the moisture from penetrating into and through them. The wall itself suffers damage and over time the rest of the structure, as well. Mold may develop in the wall, insulation becomes saturated and ineffective. Drywall and structural members began to decay. Exterior cladding may have been improperly installed. House wrap or other types of vapor barriers may also have been improperly installed or missing. These types of problems are common, and can be hard to repair, but if neglected, the resulting damage and comfort issues can be major.
High humidity levels within a home are another problem. Once moisture has passed through the walls or entered through other places it now must be removed. Most people assume the air conditioning system will handle this moisture. This is not the case. Yes, air conditioners do remove moisture, but only as a byproduct of cooling the air to the temperature we set on the thermostat. Unless the air conditioning system is designed to lower humidity (moisture) to a pre-determined setting, independent of the temperature setting (only one or two manufacturers make such a system) it simply shuts off when the desired temperature is reached. This does not allow for independent and precise control of humidity levels in the home.
The approach we recommend is a whole house dehumidifier. These work well and can be installed in almost any type of home, without replacing the existing air conditioning system. If you'd like to know more about whole house dehumidifiers check out the page "Whole House Dehumidifiers". Understanding the need to manage moisture is a step toward finding a solution.