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    How to Prevent Mold in Your Home

    Mold in the home often brings a snap reaction: yuck. Then, practical concerns surface.

    First, people fear toxic mold, but many forms of mold exist besides the potentially health-troubling "black" mold, says Sarah Kirby, an associate professor and housing specialist with North Carolina Cooperative Extension.

    "If you see mold in the house, the misperception is that you need a mold test and you're going to die," she says.

    While a need for caution exists, mold usually is more of a threat to the home than to health.

    Mold warns of trouble with a house, pointing to too much moisture inside a structure. Mold needs a damp environment in which to thrive, and the homeowner should take the time to ferret out the cause, Kirby says.

    If left untreated, mold might stain wood and some types of fungi can weaken and cause deterioration in wood, Kirby says. Also, high moisture levels associated with mold indicate a welcoming environment for termites.

    And regardless of the type of mold, the process is the same: stop the moisture problem and then remove the mold.

    "If you don't address the moisture issue, the mold will just keep coming back," she says.

    Humid climates such as the Southeast or wet regions such as the Pacific Northwest offer ideal mold conditions. While some places might have longer seasons with high mold potential, excessive moisture can create a mold breeding ground in any home, anywhere in the country, during any time of year.

    Pay attention to landscaping, for example, Kirby says. Poor drainage can direct water from sprinklers toward, rather than away from, a house. Well-maintained gutters and drains can also keep rainwater from puddling and seeping into a home.

    Look for leaks, particularly around showers or toilets, and search for the less obvious causes, such as a clothes dryer vented into a crawl space rather than a home's exterior.

    "You'd be taking the moisture from the clothes and just venting it back under the house," Kirby explains.

    Similarly, when taking showers always run a ventilation fan, and use a fan to vent the kitchen when cooking. Remember, these fans help only if they're vented to the outside.

    Other mold prevention steps include: fix leaks or seepage in the house; wash shower curtains and bathroom tiles regularly; and increase the flow of air within your home by moving furniture away from walls and opening closet doors to allow air circulation.

    After eliminating a moisture source, homeowners can clean up small areas of mold with soap and water followed by a dose of bleach, Kirby says. As a precaution, always wear gloves and a dust mask.

    If the mold covers an area larger than 3 square feet, however, call a professional. With a mold problem of this size, a non-professional might spread rather than remove the mold spores, Kirby says.

    Tips for Mold Prevention

    • Vent bathroom, kitchen, and other exhaust fans outside
    • Damp basements need vents to allow better circulation
    • Keep gutters clear to drain away from the house; trim plants away from siding
    • Keep windows and siding well caulked to prevent moisture from seeping in
    • Keep shingles and flashing in good shape; trim trees away from roof so sunlight can kill mold
    • Place a dehumidifier in rooms that are prone to dampness, such as the basement
    • Water stains signify inadequate ventilation or clogged gutters

    By Noble Sprayberry

    illustrations by Tom Milner