published Saturday, October 19th, 2013

Sparring with spores: Wet summer has led to mold-filled fall in greater chattanooga area

Removal experts say mold often starts in the basement.
Removal experts say mold often starts in the basement.
Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto.com
  • photo
    If you see mold in your house, look for a water source; mold always starts there.
    Photo by Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto.com

Last week, Livability.com listed Chattanooga as one of the Top 100 Best Places to Live in America.

Just a couple weeks prior to that, the American Planning Association named the Walnut Street Bridge as one of 10 Great Public Spaces for 2013.

And earlier this year, the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America ranked Chattanooga the ninth top city in America as “the most challenging places to live with fall allergies.”

Luke Morin, who lives in the North Shore community of Chattanooga, wasn’t particularly surprised to learn about the allergy ranking. Late last year through early spring, he’s been waking up congested and suffering from pounding headaches.

“After Thanksgiving last year, I started having allergy problems. It was miserable,” Morin says. “I’d wake up every morning feeling like I had a vice on my head. So finally in March, I went to an allergy doctor.”

The diagnosis surprised him.

“I had an allergy, but it wasn’t to pollen,” he says. “I found out I was allergic to mold.”

It was in Morin’s home.

According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, mold allergies are year-round.

“If you have an allergy that never ends when seasons change, you may be allergic to the spores of molds or other fungi,” according to the organization’s website. “Mold lives everywhere, and disturbing a mold source can disperse the spores into the air. Inhaling the spores causes allergic reactions in some people.”

Getting rid of mold, which actually is in most homes in some amount, can be challenging, says Joel Rains, owner of Rossville, Ga.-based Servpro of Chattanooga, Dade and West Walker Counties, a water/fire damage and mold restoration service.

“Every year at this time we start seeing more of (mold) because of the heat and humidity. Lately, there’s been so much of it because of the rain in late summer,” Rain says. “It has caused a bumper crop of mold, just like other plants. Mold is a micro plant. When you see the flowers blooming, the mold is following along.”

And, like Morin, Rains is allergic to mold.

“I have to wear a mask or respirator if I’m around it or when I do an inspection,” he says. “I just found mold on my boat after walking in it and getting all stuffed up. I had to send a crew to get it cleaned up.”

Not everyone, though, has mold allergies — even when there are huge amounts, Rains says.

“We had a house where every color of mold you can imagine was covering the basement. Yet upstairs, where a lady lived, she was not affected. She wasn’t allergic. On the other hand, you have people like me who are allergic to the most common type of mold — penicillium/aspergillus.”

In Morin’s case, the source of the mold was located in a leaking air conditioner fan in the attic above the linen closet.

“It created a lot of mold in my closets and in the air ducts,” he says. “I tested it with mold tests that I bought from Ace and Home Depot. Every test was positive. Mold was in my closets and the air ducts. My towels were wet and some of my clothing was damp.”

Morin says he tackled the problem himself by scrubbing the walls with bleach and cleaning the air ducts.

“So far, so good,” he says, explaining that his most recent mold tests showed there was no mold in his home. “But I’m rechecking in a few weeks just to be sure.”

The entire mold-ridding process, ranging from the $12 mold-testing kits to the cost of replacing air vents, purchasing bleach and laundering clothing/linens tainted by mold, cost him less than $200, Morin says.

But not every mold issue is that easily resolved.

Jason Farmer, broker at Remax Renaissance Realtors in Chattanooga, says that mold removal is not always a costly process, but it can be.

“It is a reasonable cost to address moisture problem and remediate mold,” he says. “In severe cases, though, it can be very costly. In my 13 years in the business, I know of one house that had to be demolished due to mold. The house was over 100 years old.”

Mold can also be an issue when trying to sell or buy a home, he says.

“If a house has mold, try to determine the source causing the mold issue and how much mold growth has happened,” Farmer says. “I always advise clients to have someone certified in mold remediation to assist them in determining these issues.”

Rains advises calling a professional to address mold issues.

“It’s better to be safe than sorry,” he says. “Some forms of mold can be dangerous. When it first gets started in your house, you won’t see it. It’s a micro plant, a fungi. And it’s everywhere. When you open your doors, mold spores comes in. If it’s in water, it will grow and release spores like a dandelion. It can accumulate and cause problems.”

Typically, however, most mold problems can be fixed, he says.

“An industrial specialist will come in and pull air through a pump and catch the mold spores. The spores will then be analyzed for types of mold. They’ll also analyze outdoors in the area and compare the mold. If there are more spores inside the house than out, then the house has become an incubator for mold,” Rains explains.

Mold will have either a food source (like dry wall) or a water source (under a sink, an air conditioner, etc.), he says, and it always starts with a water source, Rains says.

“If you suspect mold in your house, look for a water source and stop it. Most of the problems with mold that I have seen have started in the basement. You want to stop it before it causes a lot of damage.”

If mold is in the carpets, they can be cleaned, but there’s no guarantee that the mold will be totally gone, he says. “Most every carpet I’ve removed has mold — it’s one of the worst places. My policy is to pull out the carpet.”

Though Morin’s mold-removal process was successful, that’s not always the case, Rains says.

“The difference in someone doing it themselves rather than hiring a professional is that a professional knows what they’re doing. They know to isolate the room when removing the mold because they don’t want to spread it to other areas,” Rains says. “The spores float through the air and contaminate the rest of the house.”

Contact staff writer Karen Nazor Hill at khill@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6396.

about Karen Nazor Hill...

Feature writer Karen Nazor Hill covers fashion, design, home and gardening, pets, entertainment, human interest features and more. She also is an occasional news reporter and the Town Talk columnist. She previously worked for the Catholic newspaper Tennessee Register and was a reporter at the Chattanooga Free Press from 1985 to 1999, when the newspaper merged with the Chattanooga Times. She won a Society of Professional Journalists Golden Press third-place award in feature writing for ...

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