Experts say several things should be noted immediately — mold occurs almost everywhere, and not all molds are toxic. The severity of a problem depends on the comparative air quality of the indoor space to the surrounding area, and the severity of a leak or other source of moisture that could be causing the mold.
If you suspect you have a mold issue on your rented property, either through sight, smell or the presence of water in your home, you should alert your landlord. If you own the home, contact a mold assessment professional to inspect the area or take air samples to determine the potential presence of mold in your living space. Mold test kits are available from around $10.
You can also reach out to the county Department of Health, which can do a preliminary inspection but does not handle professional mold assessment/remediation. Town code enforcement officials also do not typically inspect or mitigate suspected mold — homeowners or landlords should refer to commercial agencies for that service, said Terry Ekwell of the Henrietta Building and Planning Department.
As a real estate agent, it's important to bring up the M word with both sellers and buyers, said Tina Mattia, an associate broker with Re/Max Realty Group.
She knows more than she ever wanted to know about mold, given a severe mold problem in her Pittsford home that eventually required a complete restructure. While that situation is extremely rare, mold should be taken seriously, she said.
Home inspectors typically can't address a mold issue, so her practice, if she's on the buyer side, is to discuss any visual signs of mold with buyers. If on the seller side, she recommends that the seller inspect his/her property and deal with any problems before putting a house on the market, she said. She also noted that in doing any home renovations, homeowners should consider how moisture could infiltrate the construction design and cause future mold.
A mold problem isn't quantifiable in the way you might think.
"Mold is a living organism," said Steven Nardozzi of Rochester Environmental and Construction Group, which handles remediation of mold, asbestos, lead paint and other unwanted household issues.
"When we deal with lead paint and asbestos, those are fibers — particulates that can be measured. Mold can’t be measured. It's always growing," he said.
Spore count numbers are evaluated using air quality testing equipment based on what the outside numbers are in any particular area, said Wes Kimble of Turn Key Home and Mold Inspections.For example, if the spore count is 13,000 in a garage, 2,000 in an adjacent living environment and 1,000 outside, then you could deduce that the garage likely has a mold issue, said Nardozzi.
Not all molds are toxic, and often a number of types are present in an area at one time.
Other tools to determine the extent of a mold problem include visual inspection, and moisture meters that determine the level of moisture in building materials, said Nardozzi.
Mold growth often begins in a high moisture area, such as standing water outside the shower or leaky windows. Once a source is identified, it should be fixed promptly and all the excess moisture removed, said Kimble. While many say bleach can handle a mold cleanup, it destroys the plant life itself — but it “waters” the spore, or the seed, with moisture, which allows it to survive, he said.
Bleach may work on non-porous surfaces such as glass, metal or plastic, but not on porous surfaces like wood, concrete or drywall, where mold could easily seep into the material and stay alive, said Nardozzi.How much could professional remediation cost?
Mold assessment and remediation could cost anywhere from several hundred to dozens of thousands of dollars, based on the location and extent of the problem.
"It's one thing to clean mold and the surfaces, but the other thing that gets more pricey is stopping the water that makes it grow," said Nardozzi. Suggested remedial measures could range from removing spores via an air scrubbing machine, to digging into insulation or cutting up walls, he said.
The most comprehensive state legislation on mold to date was passed in 2015 and concerns regulation and licensure of mold assessment and remediation professionals. One of the reasons it is in place is because some mold removal companies were charging exorbitant amounts of money to address "extreme" mold problems that didn't exist, said Nardozzi.
Now, assessment and remediation professionals must obtain appropriate training before gaining licenses with the state, and they must renew that license periodically. What are potential symptoms of mold?
Most molds will not produce significant symptoms in most people. However, certain types of mold can bring on issues ranging from typical allergenic reactions to more severe problems, based on whether the mold produces mycotoxins, or toxic substances produced by fungi.
When symptoms are present, they vary from person to person, said Kimble of Turn Key Home and Mold Inspections. Symptoms could include nausea, dizziness, vomiting, respiratory issues, burning eyes, burning lungs and rashes. Severe cases are very rare.
Using dehumidifiers, insulating living spaces to prevent condensation and plugging any leaks in the house will reduce the possibility of indoor mold. Here are a few other tips from Rochester Environmental and Construction Group:
Continuously monitor for water leaks, water stains and water activity, upon discovery act immediately.
Monitor ventilation and blockage of ventilation periodically.
Monitor water drainage/gutters and blockage of water drainage/gutters periodically.
Maintain relative humidity at or below 55 percent, using proper ventilation or dehumidification where necessary.
Maintain proper housekeeping and areas free of clutter to promote proper air circulation.
Periodically change your furnace or whole-house filtration system and maintain/clean HVAC ductwork. What are the laws regarding mold remediation, and who's responsible to pay for it?
New York state requires that all mold assessment and removal professionals be licensed, and details a framework for how the jobs are to be planned and carried out.
If a consumer believes a mold assessor/remediator hasn't followed the law while on the job, he/she can fill out a state mold contractor complaint form.
Neither federal nor state law addresses a landlord's responsibility when it comes a mold outbreak in a rented space, other than broad standards that require them to keep living spaces in a safe and sanitary condition.
Landlords of multi-family units like apartments can have their own property managers handle mold, and are exempt from state licensure laws, said Nardozzi."People fight about this every day," he said. "It is a constant battle in our world."
His tip for both tenants and landlords — for a relatively small fee, you can get a professional into the space in question to assess whether a problem exists and how severe it is.
If a tenant feels a landlord has ignored a repair issue to the point that it has become a health concern, he or she can bring the matter to court and consider rent withholding or "repair and deduct," during which the tenant repairs the issue and reduces his or her rent.
These are typical molds you may notice indoors. Some of them may produce various levels of health issues, from allergic symptoms to more significant problems. Consult an expert if you believe you’ve identified one of these molds in your house.
Alternaria: Most common type of mold in the world. Velvet-textured with dark green/brown hairs. Typically found in showers, bathtubs, below leaking sinks or as a result of general water damage. Can cause allergenic symptoms in the respiratory tract, nose and mouth.
Aspergillus: Common mold in U.S. households. Creates long chains of mold on surfaces and can appear in many different colors. Can produce allergenic symptoms such as respiratory problems.
Chaetomium: Commonly found in water-damaged homes and buildings. Has a cotton-like texture and changes colors from white to grey to brown to black over time. Recognizable by its musty odor. Can cause skin/nail infections, and capable of producing mycotoxins.
Penicillium: Found in water-damaged homes/buildings, carpets, wallpapers and ducting. Typically blue/green with a velvety texture. Can cause pulmonary inflammation/asthma, can lead to chronic sinusitis after long exposure.
Stachybotrys: Also known as “black mold.” Dark green/black in color with a slimy texture. Thrives in damp areas where wet conditions continue for weeks. Produces mycotoxins that can cause severe health problems, including difficulty breathing, sinusitis and fatigue.
Ulocladium: Usually black and easily confused with other molds. Typically found in kitchens, basements, bathrooms and buildings with extreme water damage. Divided into two subspecies, and people prone to allergies can experience severe reactions. General asthma-like symptoms are most common.