Expert Interview Series: Darren Gradus on Addressing Mold Problems in Homes

Mold problems

Mold in homes is a lot more common than most people would guess, says Darren Gradus, CEO of Canada’s Restoration Services.

“Mold spores are everywhere so technically every home has mold,” he says. “But don’t be scared, mold is only harmful once the spore levels become elevated.”

If it’s visible to the human eye, then the mold spores have found a prime location to grow and have germinated, Darren adds. There are many types of mold. Some are okay for homeowners to remove themselves; but to be safe, they should consult a professional first.

We recently checked in with Darren to learn more about all things mold-related. Here’s what he had to say:

What are the most common problems you address in homes that would result in a failing home inspection?

There are several issues that we receive calls on when it comes to a failing home inspection. The most common one would be mold in the attic. The attic is out of sight, so it becomes out of mind. When an inspector checks to see how the insulation is, mold is commonly found. Now thankfully, because the attic is not a living space, the mold spores are most times not harmful. However, if it is left too long, then deterioration of the roof can cause further issues that could pose a threat to those within the property.

Other common mold problems that show up in a home inspection are mold in the bathroom (either in tile grout or caulking, or on the drywall itself), mold in the basement (due to humidity issues or foundation issues) and mold around windows (due to old windows and condensation issues).

Asbestos is also commonly found in older homes, whether it is wrapped around ductwork or boiler pipes, in register vents or within old flooring tiles. The only way to know 100 percent if there is asbestos in these areas is to have it tested, but home inspectors have come across asbestos so often that they are aware of the characteristics that asbestos brings.

Any of the issues listed above needs to be handled by a professional company that is trained and certified to handle mold and asbestos. General contractors do not have the qualifications to be handling and removing mold and asbestos.

What are the biggest culprits for mold in a home? Where should inspectors be looking for it?

One of the biggest culprits is improper ventilation and insulation in the attic. If there is not proper air intake and outtake and/or sufficient insulation, condensation will build up in the attic and cause mold growth. Also, the exhausts from bathroom and kitchen fans need to be checked if they are vented through the attic. It is very common that the exhausts are blowing directly into the attic and not out through the soffits, which again will cause mold to grow in that area.

The other major culprit for causing mold to grow in homes is foundation issues. Whether there are cracks or the foundation needs waterproofing, this is allowing for moisture/water to come inside basement. If the basement is finished, the water will be trapped in behind the drywall and mold growth will start. You will eventually see the mold on the outer drywall, but the main issue may be hiding behind.

Why is mold a problem? What are the most dangerous types of mold?

Mold has become such an issue because of a few things. Weather plays a huge role in mold growing. Canada has extreme temperature changes that cause condensation buildup in homes, which leads to mold. Also, building codes have changed so much over the years that homes were not built with proper insulation, vapor barriers and waterproofing, which allowed water to find its way in.

The most common types of mold found are Penicillium, Aspergillus, Alternaria and Cladosporium. The most dangerous type of mold is Stachybotrys, which is commonly known as the “toxic black mold.” This should not be found anywhere in a property that is occupied by humans.

What safety precautions should home inspectors take when working in homes with mold?

If an inspector finds mold, they need to be sure not to touch it. Once mold is disturbed, the spores are released and the body can inhale them. If they notice that the property has a lot of mold, most likely the spores have already been disturbed and they should get out as quickly as possible. If it is just certain rooms that are affected, then they should not be in them. Masks may be worn to keep the home inspector safe from inhaling any spores.

What are the steps to remove mold from a home?

There are six steps to safe mold removal:

1. The first step in the process of identifying and treating the mold is an inspection. A scope of work will be given on properly and safely removing the mold. Determining the source of the mold growth is key when removing mold. If the source is not fixed, the mold will return.

2. Once the mold remediation takes place, containments and equipment need to be set. The entire area will be sealed by containment and negative air, and air scrubbers will be running to perform complete air exchanges.

3. All technicians who are performing the mold removal must be wearing full PPE (Personal Protective Equipment), which consists of suits, masks, filters, gloves and booties.

4. Next, all material or mold growth is physically removed. According to the IICRC (Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration), all mold needs to be physically removed, not encapsulated or painted over. By physically removing the mold, you are getting right down to the root while not leaving anything behind.

5. Next, several hepa vacuums are performed in the affected area, and the area is cleaned with an antimicrobial agent.

6. Lastly, equipment and containments remain for 24-48 hours after the removal and cleanup to continue purifying the area.

Air testing may be done before and after to ensure that all mold is removed. Once everything is clear, containments and equipment are removed, and the area is ready for reconstruction if necessary.

Where do you most often find water damage in homes?

The most common area that suffers from water damage is the basement. Because of gravity as well as the foundation and drains of the homes, they are usually the most affected.

However, if there is a burst pipe on a main or upper level, or if there is a roof leak, the whole home may be affected.

What are the long-term repercussions of water damage?

The most common is mold growth. Mold needs organic material to be wet/damp with a lack of airflow for it to start growing. As soon as a home has experienced water damage, mold can start to grow within 24 to 48 hours and can grow as fast as 1 square foot a day.

Other repercussions are wood rot and deterioration of the home’s structure, which can result in major issues.

What are the most critical water problems homeowners should make sure to remedy quickly?

All water issues need to be addressed promptly and properly. If your basement has been flooded and there is sitting water, then it needs to be extracted immediately.

Any affected material needs to be removed. Dehumidifiers and fans need to be installed to dry out as quickly as possible. Oftentimes, homeowners do not have the proper equipment for this, so hiring a professional restoration contractor is necessary.

Even if there is a small amount of water damage, ensure that it is dried quickly. Mold does not need a lot of moisture to start its growth process.

What home maintenance advice do you find yourself repeating over and over to homeowners?

1. Clean your home regularly – this will help you catch any signs of mold growth and have it dealt with before it becomes a bigger issue. Mold is easily spread by dust particles, so keeping dust to a minimum is key.

2. Clean your tile grout and caulking regularly. If you notice it deteriorating, have it redone to ensure that no water can get in behind the tiles. If you notice tiles pushing out from the wall, then there can be mold or water in behind them.

3. If your bathroom does not have an exhaust fan, get one installed. Opening your window is not enough. If you have a fan installed, ensure it is installed properly and you leave it on during and after every shower or bath for at least a half hour.

4. Clean your windows regularly and open the blinds and curtains. If you notice that your windows have condensation build-up, wipe them down. This will help prevent mold growth in the windows.

5. During warmer weather, keep the windows open to create a cross breeze. This will help with proper airflow throughout your home.

6. Do not keep furniture pushed right up against the wall. This will not allow the walls to breathe, and surface mold can start to grow.

7. If you notice your home (and your basement in particular) feels humid, install a dehumidifier to remove any excess moisture.

8. Have your basement checked by a foundation company to ensure that proper waterproofing is done and there are no cracks. Otherwise, it can lead to major issues down the road.

9. Check under your sinks in your kitchen and bathrooms to ensure there are no leaking pipes.

10. Check in your attic once a year to make sure everything looks fine and there are no signs of rodents, water leaks or mold growth.

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