Hurricane Harvey wreaked havoc with torrential downpours and massive flooding of homes—the perfect storm for mold growth. If you did not dry your home within 24-48 hours after flooding, the CDC says you can assume you have a mold problem. And it could still be a problem now—six months down the line. You do not want to wait until you are forced to gut your house or a family member goes to the hospital because of the mold in your home.
Mold is bad news
The more mold there is inside, the more mold you breathe everyday. You cannot ignore it because mold can affect your health. Inhaling mold spores can irritate your eyes, skin, nose and throat—even if you are not sensitive to mold. And if you are, mold could mean allergic reactions like sneezing, runny nose, red eyes, and skin rash. Even worse, mold can trigger asthma attacks and might even produce toxic substances called mycotoxins.
Not only can mold affect your health, it can also severely damage your house. The longer it grows, the more damage it can do. The last thing you want is to have to live in a mold-ridden house and not even be able to sell it in the future.
5 tips to say goodbye to mold after flooding
If mold is growing in your home, you may be able to smell it before you see it. Mold can hide behind drywall or under wallpaper or carpets.
You can usually do the cleanup job yourself if the moldy area is 10 sq ft. or less. It could be a tricky business though for larger water-damaged areas—then you may need to hire a professional who is trained in mold cleanup.
Here are 5 tips for reducing the amount of mold you breathe in, long after the flood waters recede. Keep these tips in mind whether you hire a professional or attempt it yourself. Remember, you need to use the right protective equipment, like face respirators to protect yourself. Also, the area itself should be unoccupied. For neighboring spaces, the EPA recommends that infants, people who are recovering from surgery or those with suppressed immune systems not be present. The same goes for people with asthma, hypersensitivity pneumonitis and severe allergies.
- Know your moisture levels
Mold and moisture go hand in hand. Mold reproduce via mold spores that travel through the air and land on damp spots. The only way you can control mold growth inside your home is to control moisture levels, no matter how hidden the damp spots. If your wall studs, flooring, carpets, or drywall have high enough moisture levels—you can bet mold will be there.
A moisture meter might become your new best friend. You can gauge moisture levels in carpet, drywall, wood studs, brick and concrete and plan next steps. You would either use a meter at the surface or one with a thin probe. A new type of equipment (and probably the most accurate) is an infrared camera that produces a thermal image of the material to identify moist areas.
- Dry moisture-laden building materials
You may decide to dry out building materials with high levels of moisture. The USDA reports acceptable moisture levels for baseboards, drywall, hardwood flooring, wood studs, and wood furnishings. Fans, blowers, and dehumidifiers are often used to speed up the drying process. It might take a while—weeks to months—for moisture levels to come down to 15%, for example, for wood studs.
- Clean up moldy materials
If you have found mold growth, now comes cleaning time, and this EPA guide offers advice. You can try a detergent like dishwashing soap or laundry detergent for semi-porous materials like wood or concrete. Then, you could follow it up with a disinfectant like a half cup of household bleach mixed with one gallon of water (make sure not to mix with ammonia products or use a higher concentration of bleach).
- Say goodbye to the unsalvageable
Unfortunately, some materials are beyond repair. This includes drywall, carpets, insulation and ceiling tiles, which are very hard to clean if mold has taken up residence. If these kinds of materials were wet for more than 48 hours after the flooding, it is a done deal in terms of water and mold getting inside. It is best to remove and replace.
- Stave away ripe conditions for mold buildup
While repairing your flood-damaged home, the last thing you should do is offer new golden opportunities for mold to grow. Keep indoor humidity levels to 30-60%: try to vent bathrooms to the outside, use air conditioners and dehumidifiers, increase ventilation and use exhaust fans.
Watch air quality during mold cleanup
Be careful your efforts do not backfire and you end up increasing your exposure to mold spores in the air.
Spores are likely to take to the air if:
- Moldy porous materials like wallboard are broken up
- Invasive measures like exposing a wall cavity are taken
- Wallpaper is stripped or peeled off
- Fans are used for drying
If you are doing the work yourself on a large area, remember to contain the area and exhaust air to the outside–just like a mold remediation specialist would do. Here is information about limited and full containment from the EPA.
An air purifier can help during & after mold cleanup
How can an air purifier help with mold? An air purifier can help trap or eliminate mold spores in the air before they get to your nose. This can be very important while cleanup efforts are underway.
Ultimately, the best way to prevent breathing in mold is to remove it like this article discusses. But you can never fully eliminate indoor mold spores, as mold is ubiquitous outside and will always find a way in. If you are especially sensitive to mold, using an air purifier is a good idea. Traditional air purifiers like HEPA filters will trap mold particles, but not destroy them. A new technology inside the Molekule air purifier will actually destroy the mold spores with a special chemical reaction called Photo Electrochemical Oxidation (PECO).
Many homes were damaged because of Hurricane Harvey. The consequences of the flooding, including mold growth, will be felt for years to come. Yet it does not mean that indoor mold has a permanent home in Houston and Louisiana houses, or that it is too late to take action. Mold remediation experts can help with cleanup or you can try to safely remove the mold yourself. Everyone has the right to breathe clean indoor air and getting rid of mold is a big part of that.
Photo credit: J.T. Blatty/FEMA