Water damage – and secondarily, mold – can come from sources other than floods. Your home is full of potential leak sources such as water pipes, water heaters, and washing machines as well as less obvious hazards like inadequate ventilation and improperly aimed downspouts.
The good news is, you can stop most problems before they start with regular maintenance.
Mold and health risks
In rare cases, mold can be toxic. But typically, mold is an allergen and an irritant. The dosage is what makes it toxic (even table salt is toxic in high enough levels).
Currently, there aren’t widely recognized medical standards that define “safe” and “unsafe” levels of mold. Nor is there evidence that mold is more toxic now than at any time in history. What is known is that mold can damage your home – and mold growth can be prevented. It’s a maintenance issue stemming from excess moisture.
Where mold comes from
Mold spores are microscopic living organisms that live virtually everywhere in our environment. They depend on moisture to survive. Some mold is actually critical to the ecosystem, while other mold is harmful to health and property.
We didn’t hear much about mold problems 20 years ago. Back then, homes weren’t built as “tight” to maintain energy efficiency, and unwanted moisture had more of a chance to escape through the attic and walls.
Preventing water damage, controlling mold
Mold can be prevented or controlled if you stop water leaks immediately and eliminate dampness and humidity within 48 hours. The Environmental Protection Agency names moisture control as the key to mold control. Here’s what you can do:
Look for leaks The moment you notice a water problem (like a leaky water heater or a drip under the sink), mop up the water and repair the leak immediately.
In bathrooms Check around pipes occasionally for leaks and, if your toilet seems to be running more than normal, investigate the problem and repair it before it causes damage. Most leaks are easily fixed, and you can do many repairs yourself. Otherwise, call a plumber to help you spot the problem and correct it before it worsens.
In kitchens Dishwasher hoses and automatic ice-maker lines often develop leaks. Check your dishwasher lines (they are usually connected to the plumbing under the kitchen sink) for signs of brittleness or leakage. Placing a plastic tub under the kitchen sink will make it easier to spot leaks before damage occurs. If you move your refrigerator to clean, be careful not to overextend or pinch the ice-maker line. If you see signs of brittleness or moisture, call a qualified repair technician.
In the utility room Older water heaters can leak and flood your home, causing major damage without warning. If it happens while you’re away, you face an even larger problem, particularly if your structure stays wet for any length of time. Hardwood floors are especially vulnerable to water damage. Consider replacing your water heater if it’s more than 10 years old.
Worn out washing machine hoses cause more than $100 million in damage each year in the United States. When they burst, water gushes quickly into your home in surprising volumes. Hoses usually provide hints there’s a problem before it’s too late. Check them for cracks or leaks. Periodically check the floor under the hoses for moisture after you do a load of laundry.
To be safe, install new washing machine hoses every five years. We suggest you purchase a quality high-pressure hose. They’re available at most home improvement centers for $5 to $10.
On the roof After a windstorm, check your roof for damage. Missing tiles or shakes can let water in.
Let your house breathe To avoid trapping moisture in your home:
- Never block the foundation vents under your home.
- Don’t allow attic insulation to plug eave and roof vents.
- Aim gutters and downspouts away from your home.
- Keep shower enclosures well-caulked and tile grout thoroughly sealed.
- Make sure range hoods, dryers, and bathroom exhaust fans vent outside (not in your attic or garage).
- Turn on your stove’s exhaust fan when cooking or canning. Run the bathroom fan or crack a window during showers to let steam escape.