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2. The Truth About Mold

There's Good Mold and There's Bad Mold

Molds are the “bleu” in bleu cheese and Roquefort. Molds improve our wine. They produce penicillin and antibiotics and are used widely in the food and beverage industry. Without mold and mold’s decaying mechanism, the natural environment would be overwhelmed with large amounts of dead organic matter.

Despite many harmless and beneficial molds, some molds can be toxic and pose health threats to humans. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) cautions that all molds can cause health problems under the right conditions. The word “toxic” refers to mold that produces hazardous compounds, or mycotoxins.

Often included in the list of toxic molds is Stachybotrys Chartarum, a greenish-black mold, which can grow on high-cellulose, low-nitrogen materials such as fiberboard, drywall, paper, dust, and lint – all of which are found in homes – when these materials become wet.

There is evidence that mold exposure can cause the following symptoms:

   • Allergic reactions, including irritation of the eyes
     nose, or throat.
   • Flu-like symptoms, including fatigue, dizziness
     headaches, and diarrhea.
   • Worsening of asthma.

How to Minimize Mold Growth

Mold is a natural byproduct of the fungi family that thrives when organic substances and water combine under certain circumstances. Mold reproduces via spores that can remain dormant, yet viable, for years. They “come alive” again in the presence of moisture.
HVACR mechanical systems are not generators of mold; their metallic surfaces do not provide the organic matter mold needs to grow. However, systems that are not well maintained could support mold growth. It's important that your system:

   • Is designed and installed correctly.
   • Is properly and regularly maintained.
   • Controls the moisture in your building.
   • Uses good filtration methods to keep your air clean.

Preventing Mold
   • Consider augmenting your air conditioner with
     a dehumidifier. These systems pull the moisture
     from the building, thus minimizing growth.
   • Don’t turn your air conditioner off for long periods
     of time during the summer. In humid climates
     especially, moisture levels can become quite high
     in buildings, which can permit mold to gain a
   • Install insulation and vapor barriers to prevent
     condensation on cold objects such as water pipes
     beams, and plumbing fixtures.
   • Keep sinks, showers, tubs and other wet areas free
     of standing water.
   • Demand architectural, design, and construction
     methods that prevent water from entering your home
     in the first place. Areas of concern include improperly
     pitched roofs, poorly designed balconies, windows
     doors, improperly installed flashing, inadequate vapor
     barriers, and thin stucco.
   • Inspect the building exterior at least once a year and
     repair caulking, roof flashing, and all breaches in the
     building envelope.
   • Purchase a preventive maintenance agreement
     (PMA) from your ACCA member contractor. A
     technician will thoroughly inspect the HVAC
     system, including duct work and filters, twice
     a year and make any repairs or adjustments
     necessary. A PMA will save you money in the
     long run by reducing major repairs, extending
     the life of the equipment, helping to inhibit
     mold growth, and ensuring that the system is
     working at optimum efficiency. If you notice
     any water pooling or dust in between semi-
     annual PMA visits, call your professional
     ACCA member contractor at once.
   • Inform your HVAC contractor of your mold concerns
     and point out locations of suspicion or evidence of
   • Educate your family or building occupants about mold
     its dangers, and prevention.

If You Suspect Mold in Your Home or Building

The first step is to alert your HVAC contractor and the builder (if the building is relatively new) regarding your concerns. The contractor or builder will inspect for mold. If there is mold, the next step is to identify its type and establish whether it’s toxic. If so, evacuation, abatement, and remediation may be necessary.
The identification of mold requires specialized testing and laboratory analysis. Partly because of media attention to mold issues, mold abatement has become a growth industry, often attracting less than reputable people who may cause more harm than good by not identifying toxic mold, improperly removing it, or charging you for work you don’t need. Check with your state environmental protection or public health agency to find out if mold remediation contractors are required to be certified and licensed.
ACCA member contractors are concerned about the quality of the air you breathe, too, and many have added indoor air quality services to their offerings. If your HVAC contractor does not perform mold analysis, abatement, and remediation, he or she may be able to refer you to a reputable company that is a trained and certified in this kind of work.

© Air Conditioning Contractors of America Association, Inc., www.acca.org. Reprinted with permission.