Wanted – building scientists input on Jane Brody in the @nytimes on “Sick” Houses and Mold

Well, I guess I do not really know what to think about this article by Jane Brody in the New York Times: Don’t Catch What Ails Your House

Why do I not know what to think about this?  Well I guess here are some of the things I am pondering:

1. The article gives the impression that as long as one reduces or eliminates moisture, then one’s house will not have a mold problem.  Is this true?

2. The article says “replace sponges and dishcloths often” or “wash and dry them”.  Does this really help?

3. Is it best to replace roofing on a schedule before leaks occur or would it be better to inspect roofing for signs of wear and tear and replace based on that?

4. Does wearing an N-95 respirator when cleaning the hark or raking leaves really help people? (Seems like it should but not sure).

And I have more questions than answers.  But any input on these issues would be of value, at least to me.

Also – do people know what percentage of homes in the US or other countries have “mold problems” of some kind.  Is this common? Rare?  In between?


7 thoughts on “Wanted – building scientists input on Jane Brody in the @nytimes on “Sick” Houses and Mold

  1. “There are over 119 million housing units in US and nearly 4.7 million commercial buildings (…) and almost all of them experience leaks, flooding, or other forms of excessive indoor dampness at some time” (US Inst. Medicine 2004: “Damp indoor spaces and Health, The Nat. Acad. Press). As Joe Lstiburek says, it’s not a question on whether a building will get wet, but WHEN it will get wet. Other features I have seen: between 20-40% of US buildings have moisture problems. Similar features In Scandinavia.

  2. Since there seems to be more evidence for an association or evidence of stronger associations between dampness and health effects than between mold and health effects, perhaps dampness (or excess moisture) is a more important factor from a health perspective.

    As to when a house will get wet, everytime someone takes a bath or shower, and most times when they cook on a stovetop, and often when they run the dishwasher and sometimes when then they run the clothes dryer. Sure, none of this is “supposed” to happen, but as we say here in California, “shift happens.” And in almost all hot humid climates (in America and elsewhere), when gets high and stays high.

    No moisture, probably not much mold other than what people bring in with them or what comes in through openings (windows, doors, ventilation system).

    Regarding the question about replacing roofing on a schedule. It make as much sense as filling your gas tank or emptying your waste basket on a schedule. It’s all about “loads.” If you want a simple, dumb answer, replace it on a schedule. If you want to acknowledge that not all roofs and not all conditions can be reduced to a single, simple model using time as the trigger for action.

    In terms of how many homes have mold problems, if whether you (or the occupants) are sensitive to mold help define when it is a problem. As you know, mold is everywhere. If there is moisture inside the building or even in the hidden spaces in walls, under floors, or in the attic, mold can easily become a problem. Avoid excess moisture by removing the source — roof leak, plumbing leak, water vapor from the shower, cooking vapor, whatever. Use exhaust fans in bathrooms when showering and in kitchens when cooking. These are pretty well-established principles. If you want comprehensive guidance on moisture control, EPA just released a great report — “Moisture Control Guidance for Building Design, Construction and Maintenance” EPA 402-F-13053 | December 2013 | free download at http://www.epa.gov/iaq/moisture

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Jonathan Eisen

I am an evolutionary biologist and a Professor at U. C. Davis. My lab is in the UC Davis Genome Center and I hold appointments in the Department of Medical Microbiology and Immunology in the School of Medicine and the Department of Evolution and Ecology in the College of Biological Sciences. My research focuses on the origin of novelty (how new processes and functions originate). To study this I focus on sequencing and analyzing genomes of organisms, especially microbes and using phylogenomic analysis (see my lab site here which has more information on lab activities).  In addition to research, I am heavily involved in the Open Access publishing and Open Science movements.