Following the COVID-19 Pandemic more people are spending time in their homes. We felt there was no better time to highlight some areas to focus on when you next give your home its yearly health check to ensure that your living environment is supporting your good health.
While many of you have spent time limiting your exposure to a wide range of toxins from heavy metals in your food to the hormone disrupting properties of fragrances, our focus this month is:
Mycotoxins, often referred to as MOULD are produced by fungi and can wreak havoc on any system in the body.
We hear a lot of people tell us that they regularly wipe mould from shoes, clothing and surfaces in their homes. While wiping away or painting over mould will temporarily make the problem less visually apparent, this does not protect you from the health hazards inherent in living with mould. Research has linked mould toxins with a range of symptoms such headaches and allergies, fatigue, weight gain and autoimmune conditions. Studies have also shown a link with mould toxins and immune system suppression, cell damage, cancer and birth defects.
Q: What kind of issues in my home can cause mould?
A: Water damage is the most obvious cause. This can come from a shower, bath or or sink overflowing, from rising damp, or from a roof leak. You can minimise mould growth from these sources by immediately putting heaters in the water damaged area and running dehumidifiers.
Other causes include:
- storing large amounts of water absorbent materials, such as books or cardboard boxes, in a damp space.
- kitchens, bathrooms and laundry rooms with poor ventilation, higher levels of condensation and humidity and/or leaking pipes
- cupboards and corners with restricted ventilation
- walls or windows that are exposed to wide temperature fluctuations from hot indoor air and cold outdoor air
- walls and ceilings with insufficient insulation
- rain water leaking into the building
- wet building foundations (eg. rising damp)
- rain leaking in through the roof or walls
- showering, cooking and boiling without adequate ventilation (exhaust fans/open windows)
- use of clothes dryers or hanging wet clothes without adequate ventilation
- leaky pipes
Q: What does mould look like?
A: Mould is not always easy to recognise. It often looks like ‘fuzz’ or appears to be a stain, smudge or discolouration. The most common moulds are black, green or white. However, mould can be many other colours, ranging from grey to orange to brown.
Q: Is it obvious if I have mould in my home?
A: Unfortunately, mould is not always obvious in homes and buildings even when it is the source of health problems. It’s sometimes only when people remove floorboards, cut out drywall or remove carpet or floors that they discover that they’ve had mould in their living environment that has been exacerbating or triggering some of their unexplained health problems.
Q: What kind of places might I find hidden mould promoting damp?
A: Common culprits are:
- Vents chimneys, doors and widows that haven’t been installed properly. The water that gets in seeps into drywall which is very porous. This becomes the perfect breeding environment for mould. You cannot necessarily see this through paint.
- Roof materials above ceiling tiles (due to leaks or insufficient insulation) – cement roof tiles may lose their outer glaze and absorb moisture into roof spaces. Moisture in roof spaces accumulate, particularly if moist air is vented into the roof space but not allowed to escape
- Underside of carpets and pads, or curtains
Q: What are some rules of thumb to keep me and my family safe?
A: Keep the humidity in your home below 50 percent (even when you’re away) because mould struggles to grow below this level.
Each quarter, check all barriers to water are intact – caulk in your kitchen and bathroom, the waterproofing under your bathroom tiles, seals around windows, your roof (particularly where exhaust ducts leave the building).
Make sure you service your air-conditioning unit. AC systems are often not left on long enough to lower humidity.
If you have a more complex issue such as rising damp, we recommend contacting a mould remediation specialist with a long track record of successfully remediated problems. While there are many services on the market that claim to help, it’s less expensive, less stressful and better for your health to fix the problem once and only once. The remediation company should contain the mycotoxins so they don’t spread into other areas of your home.
Fix leaky plumbing and other building faults.
Use exhaust fans or open windows in the bathroom and kitchen when showering, cooking or using the dishwasher.
Vent clothes dryers to the outside.
Use a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filter.
Remove all sources of pooled water or excessive moisture from the home
We do not recommend using chemical mould sprays. This can make people feel even more sick.
And remember that the most successful treatment for a mould problem is to move out and into a non-mouldy environment. While we understand it is a painful process, we recommend getting rid of any porous materials that can’t be washed or UV treated such as leather shoes, sofas, mattresses, books and frames.