Mold

The problem: Airborne mold spores can aggravate asthma and allergies and cause hay fever symptoms, breathing problems, and, in rare cases, lung infections. Many people believe that Stachybotrys chartarum—aka "toxic mold"—is also responsible for debilitating medical problems, such as memory loss, but the Centers for Disease Control has yet to confirm a link.

Mold will thrive anywhere it has moisture and food (i.e., organic material), a combination found almost anywhere when the relative humidity is above 60 percent. Look for it in attics, basements, and poorly ventilated crawl spaces; in walls (there were small patches of mold in the walls at the TV project, thanks to cracks in the stucco siding); on the outside of houses; in carpets; even growing inside ducts. The best way to detect it is by sight and smell.



The best solution: Isolated mold outbreaks—under 10 square feet—on hard surfaces can be cleaned up by homeowners with a bucket of diluted bleach or soap and water. (Before tackling mold, suit up with gloves and a type N-95 respirator.) On porous surfaces like wood, borates are the best choice, because even after they dry, they continue to inhibit mold growth. Once the mold is gone, you can paint the surface with a mold-resistant primer like Kilz.

When mold affects a large area of wall or framing, is inside ductwork, or has penetrated into carpet or drywall, removal is a job for a pro. (Most companies that do asbestos and lead abatement also deal with mold.) Of course, just as important as cleanup is fixing the source of the moisture that caused the problem in the first place, which could mean adding ventilation in the attic or basement, installing a bathroom fan, or fixing leaks around doors and windows. Luckily, the mold in the TV show house was easily dealt—a little scrubbing with boric acid and a repair to the stucco took care of the problem. And when the plastic is removed and the kitchen restored, the homeowners can take comfort in the knowledge that their place is not just more beautiful but healthier too.

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