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Mold, the tiny and often slimy spores that accumulate in moist areas, can damage a home structurally and also compromise the health of its inhabitants. Some mold is unavoidable – and some mold also accumulates in dry, dusty environments, too. But home buyers should check during their home inspection (and periodically after purchase) that their home isn’t excessively moldy.

Health impacts of mold

The health impacts of mold vary from mild allergic reactions to serious side-effects. Exposure to mold can lead to irritated nose, eyes, throat or skin, as well as rashes, lack of concentration, digestive problems, headaches, flu-like symptoms, respiratory illnesses, learning disabilities and immune system problems that make the body vulnerable to fatal illnesses such as cancer.

Where mold accumulates

Mold is often visible in the form of small black circles or white thread-like objects which accumulate in moist environments. Mold most often results where moisture is present – in damp basements, near plumbing, or in improperly ventilated areas of a home. It can also grow in bathrooms and kitchens if the steam that occurs during showers or cooking isn’t properly vented, and it can spread from those rooms to attics or other parts of the home. New construction isn’t immune to mold either: Building materials exposed to rain or damp weather can harbor dormant mold spores that later manifests as mold, especially in moist weather conditions such as rain. Even seemingly non-damp materials – wood, drywall, and insulation – can harbor dormant mold spores and mold.

How inspectors conduct a mold screening

Many home inspection companies are not qualified to conduct a mold screening as part of the home inspection process, but WIN inspectors have been trained to conduct mold investigations by the Environmental Solutions Association.* WIN offers mold screening as part of a regular home inspection or as a standalone service. Inspectors can examine a specific area of the home for signs of mold, or conduct a more thorough investigation.

During a mold screening, inspectors will look for visual clues of mold in the attic, basement or crawl space, heating and cooling system, and around all visually accessible plumbing or appliances that create moisture. Inspectors will look for signs of leaks, moisture stains, defective caulking, and indications of water penetration. Inspectors may also take samples of carpet surfaces or air which are sent to a certified independent laboratory for an evaluation by qualified professionals who can detect whether mold contamination is occurring. They can also take swab samples from visibly moldy areas to determine the type of mold present.

Major types of mold

There are several types of mold, but generally molds fall into one of three categories: allergenic, pathogenic, or toxic molds. All of these molds may produce physical side-effects, but allergenic and toxic molds produce the most serious symptoms and a home with toxic mold may be deemed dangerous to inhabit. A screening can assess the type and degree of mold in your home and how to address it.

Curious about mold?

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*Services may only be available through specific WIN home inspectors. Specific licensing and state requirements may also apply.