Is Hidden Mold at Home Making You Sick?

"For the moment in time that that building is viewed as a problem its value goes to zero," Sitomer said. "The litigation is so aggressive and has multiplied so quickly that it has frightened the insurance industry. The damages can include almost anything. Pain and suffering, negligence, the claims go on and on."

Most insurance policies do not cover damages related to mold, according to Gordon Stewart, president of the Insurance Information Institute. "In 44 states, mold is excluded, unless it is the direct result of a peril that is covered," Stewart said. For example, some insurance companies do not cover mold, but do cover water leakage, which can cause mold to grow.

Meanwhile, articles about mold — like one in the magazine Redbook headlined "It's Invisible. It's Deadly. And It's in your home" — have made many homeowners nervous. With unanswered health questions, the looming risk of litigation, prospects of nose-diving property values and no insurance safety net, what's a homeowner to do?

Experts agree on one thing: If you've got mold you need to get rid of it. More importantly, you need eliminate the cause.

"We say: 'Find the moisture, eliminate the moisture, clean up the mold,' " Kelly said. "Come back a month later, make sure it's still gone."

It is possible to have mold and not know it. If you can't find it yourself, a "mold dog" may be able to help. Jason Earl, a mold inspector works with a mold dog named Oreo. In the same way dogs can be trained to detect drugs and explosives, Oreo can find mold, he says.

Tracking Mold in Your Home

How does mold get into houses?

Mold is everywhere, in the air indoors and out. To reproduce, mold generates spores (seeds) that become airborne. These spores can remain dormant for 50 years or more.

They become active when they come into contact with moisture and food. Where there's mold there is always water. Mold colonies develop which, in turn, release more spores into the air. How do you know if you might have mold?

Visual Signs:

Surface mold. Signs of water intrusion (discoloration, peeling or bubbling paint, bulging walls or ceilings). Water intrusion (broken pipe, flooded basement, roof leak, etc.) that wasn't completely dried out within 24 - 48 hours. A musty smell.

Persistent physical symptoms (sneezing, runny noses, red eyes and skin rashes) that seem to lessen when the sufferer is not at home. If you see mold on the walls or floors of your home, and it's less than a 3-foot by 3-foot patch, clean it using bleach and water, and let it dry completely. If you see any spots larger than that, contact an industrial hygienist. (Try the American Industrial Hygiene Association at aiha.org for a referral.)

When should you consider a mold inspection?

When there is a musty smell, but you cannot find any visual evidence. When there is visual evidence and you need to determine the extent of infestation and damage. When there is no visual evidence or smell, but a member of the family has persistent symptoms (sensitivities vary by individual). When you need help locating the source of the water that's causing the mold. When you're buying or selling a home. When you need a formal plan to remove the mold and repair the damage.

When you need someone to supervise mold removal and repairs.

How do you select someone to remove the mold and fix the damage?

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