Should You Worry About Mold in Your Home?

Answer: Not necessarily

Homeowners have dealt with lead paint, asbestos and radon. Now comes mold, the latest household boogeyman. Mold, of course, has become a hot issue in the world of residential real estate. Just ask the folks at the Insurance Information Institute. They've found that more than 5,000 mold lawsuits are currently pending against insurers. At the same time, insurers face average bills for mold claims from $30,000 to $50,000.

And mold issues have become regular fodder in newspapers and on broadcast news. The stories are grim, focusing on homeowners who've gotten sick from the mold in their homes, homeowners who've had to flee their residences or get even sicker. It's gotten to the point where homeowners have begun panicking every time they see signs of mold in their basements or attics.

Should you, then, be worried about mold in your home? Well, that depends. The fact of the matter is that mold is everywhere, and in every home. There's just no way to completely eliminate it. The thing is, though, not all mold is harmful to every homeowner. In fact, a little mold probably isn't harmful to the majority of people.

"Mold is in every home," Kathy Millborne, a spokesperson with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency once told me for a story I wrote for the trade magazine Metro Chicago Real Estate. "Mold is everywhere. But not all mold is harmful to humans."

The message then? Don't panic if you find mold deep in your basement. You are not alone.

The EPA says that potential health problems associated with mold exposure include allergic reactions, asthma and other respiratory complaints. However, most of these problems are not aggravated unless there is too much mold in a home. There is no way to completely eliminate all mold from a residence, the EPA says.

If you find a significant amount of mold in your home, it might be in your best interests to call a professional cleaning agency to get rid of it. But even if you take this step, the odds are good that mold will come back. That's because mold thrives in moist areas. And if you have mold in your home, it means that moisture is getting in. The only way to eliminate the mold is to eliminate a home's water problems.

Mold will probably continue to receive a lot of media attention.

Officials with the National Association of Realtors recognize this: "This is definitely a big issue for us," Cara Welch, environmental policy analyst for the association told me. "Consumers are hearing more about mold than ever in the media."

Legislators, too, are getting in on the act. Rep. John Conyers, a Democrat from Michigan, earlier this year introduced the United States Toxic Mold Safety and Protection Act of 2002. The proposal, which has not yet been voted on by members of the U.S. House of Representatives, includes a section that would require a mold inspection at the time of sale or rental of residential properties.

Homeowners, though, should remain calm. Tests used to detect the level of mold in homes are still quite expensive. Unless homeowners are feeling ill, or have found a significant amount of mold in their homes, they should refrain from ordering them.


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Alise Luke
Alise Luke
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