The Low-Down On Mold

By Michelle Deininger, InsWeb

The issue of mold in homes has been getting a lot of attention lately – with good reason. Homeowners face costly repairs when property is damaged by mold growth, and, in some cases, families experience serious health problems related to mold. As the problems mount, insurance companies are confronting rising claims costs and, sometimes, disagreements over who is responsible when mold attacks.

First, the bad news: As a general rule, mold is not covered by homeowners insurance policies. Standard homeowners policies cover disasters and accidents, but aren’t designed to cover cleaning and maintenance, which is the category mold falls into according to insurers. An exception: In cases where mold results from some accident or disaster (such as bursting pipes), repairs and eradication may be covered.

In addition, mold can cause serious health problems for people who suffer from asthma or have allergies (an estimated one in five of us), and can worsen cold symptoms like throat pain and congestion for everyone.

Now, some good news: Mold is everywhere, and most of the time is not much of a problem. Mold can grow on wood, carpet, paper, cloth, leather, sheet rock, insulation, and of course, on foods. Outdoors, it grows in the ground and in shady, damp spots. Indoors, it grows in high humidity and moisture areas including basements, kitchens, and bathrooms as well as ceilings and walls where water collects from leaks. Most molds aren’t particularly dangerous to you, but some do produce hay fever-like allergic symptoms.

The best defense against mold-related catastrophes is to avoid them completely. And it’s not as hard as you might think.

Mold can be eradicated pretty well by cleaning affected areas with bleach and water. But it can grow back. The only way to guard against this is to get rid of moisture completely – whether by cleaning or by replacing damaged floors, boards, walls, and other contaminated areas. While this is certainly not going to be cheap, the cost of letting mold spread and proliferate is going to be much higher in the long run.

So, what should you look for? Signs such as musty smells, or water stains on walls or ceilings can signal the presence of mold. To discourage mold growth:

* Keep your home and belongings clean and dry.
* Fix plumbing leaks immediately.
* Keep gutters clean of leaves and other debris.
* Maintain your roof to prevent water from seeping into your home.
* Keep humidity in your home at 30%-60% with air conditioners or with dehumidifiers, which are good for those with asthma or severe allergies.
* Use exhaust fans in kitchens when cooking.
* Don’t carpet basements, bathrooms, or damp areas.
* Vent bathrooms, dryers, and other sources of moisture.
* Prevent condensation on cold surfaces by insulating windows, piping, outside walls, roof, and floors.

Protect from the outside:

* Keep your home's exterior painted – ideally with paint containing mold inhibitors.
* Keep plantbeds away from exterior walls so soil doesn't touch siding.
* Don't let sprinklers hit walls for an extended time.
* Don't pile wood or debris against the side of the house.
* Have your home inspected if you see mold.
* Make repairs after a flood or other damage.
* Dry or replace water-damaged carpets, padding and upholstery within two days of their getting soaked.
* Remove puddles of water as soon as possible, since it breeds microorganisms.
* Wash and disinfect affected areas. This includes walls, floors, closets, shelves, as well as heating and air-conditioning systems.

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