Humidity is a given in the Midwest! Staying up-to-date with the weather is an important part of daily life in our part of the country as the weather can change suddenly and drastically. As we monitor our weather closely entering into the fall season we also need to consider the forecast for our home interior. Unfortunately, this is not something that Gary Lezak can’t help with. Did you know that your home has it own Ecosystem of humidity, air flow, temperature and organic materials? Just like the weather outside when the temperature, humidity, and air flow change within your home things can take a sudden turn. The restoration industry is centered around emergency responses like flooded basements, broken pipes, faulty sump pumps, etc. All of these things are emergencies and are major contributors to water and mold damage. However, for most of us, we are not in an emergency. We are thinking about other things like, “I wonder why the basement always smells musty? Why does it feel sticky in here? Why does this room feel stuffy?” The list can go on and on with all of the comments we have heard from customers over the years. It all goes back to two things that are probably contributing to your questions that are humidity and air flow.
Mold needs oxygen, humidity and an organic food source to grow. All structures are full of organic materials and oxygen. The missing link to these organic materials becoming problematic is the introduction of water. This also includes gradual and prolong elevated humidity levels. In addition to humidity, stagnant air only makes humidity levels worse, as air flow helps to disperse moisture in the air. Airflow and humidity are huge contributors to mold growth and one of the leading causes to hidden mold. The result is a buildup of humidity and no way to disperse the humidity outward. Safe humidity levels are between 40-60%. Even with semi-low humidity, a room may even support mold growth simply due, to the lack of air flow. Rooms with inadequate air flow normally have no vents from the HVAC system or other sources of fresh air, nor any other way for air to circulate to and from that room. The door is usually closed and humidity gradually builds over time and fungi begins to grow. Think of air as similar to water, any body of water that does not have circulation or movement causes stagnation and thereby causing algae and fungi to grow. This same principle is true with air. The lack of air flow or air circulation can cause stagnation and help the growth of fungi that is often referred to as a mold. Signs of lack of air flow include mustiness, odor and visible fungal growth. Some of the areas of concern would be:
All of our homes have a variety of storage spaces and many times they are shut up and are not frequently accessed. From the storage area under your staircase to that closet in the spare bedroom that is never used. Storage areas that are closed up and do not have frequent air flow are an invitation to fungus. Foundation leaks that occur in storage areas are often expected as the leak is often not found until the problem becomes much worse. For one of our customers who called with a mold concern, she had a closet that had mold growing. When we arrived at her home we noticed that there were no signs of water or a leak that would cause mold to even be a problem. During our inspection, we discovered that there was a pair of boots in the closet. Upon further discussion, it became evident that the boots were put into the closet after a snow storm and the closet didn’t have any ventilation and it caused mold to grow in just a few weeks time.
Sump pumps are a hideous must have for basements in Kansas City. Unfortunately, they are unsightly and many times we hide them with nice enclosures to get them out of sign and out of mind. However, if proper ventilation is not considered when constructing the sump pump enclosure then the probability of mold growth within the enclosure is pretty high considering that sump pumps are pulling and pumping water thereby creating elevated humidity levels.
There is nothing more beautiful and mystic than a well-built wine cellar and Kansas City is full of them! We have seen some of the most beautiful wine cellars and the reasons for our visits have not been to pour a glass, but rather remedy mold. It all goes back to the construction and original design of the cellar. Wine cellars during construction are often built with the primary focus on wine preservation. Most often builders mistakenly don’t take into consideration airflow and humidity regulation. Because this is often overlooked mold has become a common occurrence in wine cellars. It is important to not neglect this reality when considering constructing and/or modifying a room in your home for a wine cellar.
In reference to a crawl space, most in the Midwest are vented. Vents allow humidity in, but not necessarily releasing it out at a high enough rate to regulate the humidity levels. An alternative to the standard venting method is to seal off the crawl space and add air flow. This can be done by using an electric air pump on a timer that will periodically move fresh air into the crawl space giving it air flow. This is not an easy fix, but at least an alternative to the status quo and the most effective.
Most attics are vented through the roof and soffit vents of the home. Air flow comes in through the soffit vents and moves upward escaping through the roof vents. Here are two ways that I have seen humidity build up and support fungal growth in attics. First and foremost, soffit vents can become plugged due to blown in insulation covering air vents and restricting air flow into the attic. This can be remedied by simply removing the insulation and allowing air flow to come through the soffits correctly. Another thing to consider is if your roof has the sufficient number of the soffit and/or roof vents needed to properly ventilate your attic. The second reason for high humidity in attics is due to HVAC exhaust lines leaking or coming apart and pumping humid air into the attic. This will produce a large amount of mold in a very short amount of time. Not to mention, fill your attic with toxic carbon monoxide from the HVAC unit. HVAC systems are recommended to be vented to an exterior wall vs. being vented through the roof whenever possible. Roof leaks is also another leading cause of humidity and fungal growth in attics, especially if prolonged over a period of time.
One of the simplest and most effective methods for regulating humidity is to have adequate airflow drawn in and vented out again. This is especially important in enclosed spaces that are not used frequently and that are shut up frequently. It can also be as simple as opening the door to areas of the home that may not be frequently used and leaving air vents open. There needs to be fresh air from the HVAC system or at the very least access to the larger volume of air to that room by leaving the door open, etc. In addition, the use of a dehumidifier in the room to regulate and maintain humidity levels below 60% is recommended.