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Prevent Mold and Water Damage

water supply and shut-off valve

Water damage in the home is a costly problem, in part because the harm may already be done long before it's detected. Learn to identify and prevent some common household water and mold problems.


Identify Water Problems

There are some simple steps you can take to get ahead of serious water problems.

  1. Monitor your water bill, and check for unexplainable fluctuations. 
  2. Check your water pressure. The water pressure in an average home is approximately 50 to 70 pounds per square inch (psi). High water pressure causes extra stress on pipes and fittings and can cause premature failure. You can test your home’s water pressure with an inexpensive pressure gauge. 
  3. Inspect pipes and fittings each year. Check under sinks, ice makers, washing machines, dishwashers and anywhere there's a water supply or drain. 


Check Internal and External Water Sources

Internal

  • Shut-off valves
  • Water supply lines
  • Washing machines
  • Dishwasher
  • Ice maker
  • Water heater

External

  • Gutters
  • Downspouts
  • Roofs, shingles, flashing (valley, vent pipes, chimney)
  • Caulking / sealant (vent pipes)
  • Soffits
  • Drip edges
  • Foundations
  • Plants
  • Cracks
  • Mortar joints 
  • Chimneys


Prevent Water Problems

  • Know where your water shut-off valves and household water supply lines are located.
  • Inspect around your water heater, washer, dishwasher, sinks, bathrooms and refrigerator ice maker. If hoses indicate wear, replace them.
  • Turn off your main water line when leaving your home for an extended amount of time.
  • Never leave the house with appliances, such as dishwashers, washers or dryers, still operating.
  • Repair window and door cracks with caulk, and replace old or dried-out caulk. This helps to prevent water from seeping into the house from outside.
  • Clean out gutters and downspouts regularly.
  • Allow faucets connected to vulnerable pipes to drip during extremely cold weather. This keeps the water moving and helps to reduce the chance of freezing.
  • If your bathroom has an exhaust fan, be sure to run it while the shower is on. This helps to remove steam from the room.
  • Water-heater leaks can be deceiving. Before you assume the heater itself is at fault, check the water lines coming in and going out of the unit.


Detect and Prevent Mold

Mold can be expected in even the cleanest home. Mold is a fungus whose spores are always present in the air — millions of them. When conditions are right, these spores attach to an accommodating surface and form a colony. These colonies are commonly known as mold or mildew, terms we tend to use interchangeably. Mold takes on many colors. Shades of blue, green, black, brown, white, red or orange are normal. A musty smell in the house is also a sign that mold may be present.

Mold and mildew can be found (in, on or under) walls, floors, ductwork, attics, crawl spaces, gutters, ceiling tiles, houseplants, window frames and many other spots.

Leaky roofing or roofs where ice dams have intruded can harbor mold colonies. Today's energy-efficient homes are pretty airtight. When housing spaces aren't ventilated properly, moisture and stale air (two of mold spore's primary environmental triggers) can be trapped. But don't blame your home for the majority of mold cases. Mold can occur where three environmental triggers combine. When the correct temperature, food and moisture meet the right species of mold, it won't be long before a colony appears.
  
The environmental conditions present after natural disasters, such as floods and hurricanes, are notorious grounds for mold and mildew. The optimum temperature for mold to form depends on the fungus itself. Mold can be equally at home in a refrigerator or an attic, but warmer temperatures primarily trigger mold growth.

Mold feeds on organic matter, which can be found in drywall, insulation, fabric, leather, carpet and paint. Dirt and dust also provide nutrition for a mold colony. These food supplies can even rest on unsealed concrete block, shower curtains and glass. Moisture can take the form of liquid (rain or flood water) or vapor (a room's relative humidity). Moisture can also result from the capillary action of water being absorbed by porous materials, like wood, drywall, carpet and brick. Air can contain a lot of moisture, and warmer air holds more moisture.

Several molds may be categorized as hazardous. Stachybotris, more commonly know as black mold, is a black / green-colored mold that occurs mainly on items containing cellulose. These items include paper, fiberboard and wallboard. In order for black mold to form, excessive moisture needs to be present. The catalyst therefore can be high humidity, leaks or other water damage. The space between walls and floors are ideal environments for mold to grow unnoticed. The problem may remain hidden from view for some time, creating a significant problem.

Never mix chlorine bleach and ammonia for any reason. The fumes are toxic. Always follow the manufacturer's directions carefully when using any cleaning product. Wear all recommended protective equipment when mixing and applying.


Cleaning Up Mold

When you see a spot of mold, clean it. Acting within the first 24 to 48 hours of identification is important to prevent the colony from spreading. But first, determine if you're faced with an infestation or merely a simple cleanup. The Environmental Protection Agency recommends that if the affected area is larger than 3 feet by 3 feet, you should find a professional mold remediation contractor. Always make sure you choose contractors carefully. Hard surfaces, such as tile, can be easily cleaned. Absorbent surfaces, such as drywall, will need to be replaced.

After a Leak:

  • Turn off water to the house.
  • Remove as much water as possible with mopping and blotting.
  • Remove all photos, art and small fixtures to a safe, dry place.
  • Remove damp books from shelves, and spread them out to dry.
  • Wipe wooden furniture dry. Prop up cushions for even drying.
  • Open drawers, cabinets and closets for faster drying.
  • Put aluminum foil, saucers or wood blocks between furniture legs and wet carpeting.
  • Remove rugs from on top of wet carpet to prevent color saturation.
  • Remove items that aren't colorfast, such as books and magazines, from wet flooring and carpet.
  • Immediately use fans to circulate air and encourage drying.
  • Try to stabilize the indoor air temperature to about 70°F, and use dehumidifiers, if possible.