Your home is your sanctuary, your refuge from the rest of the world. It provides shelter, comfort, and security to you and your family. This fortress can take hits from the elements and remain to stand, so you may not think a leak can cause so much trouble.
However, any water leak carries the risk of mold growth. Even a one-time leak from your plumbing can cause further damage thanks to mold. This fungus thrives in damp conditions, and when leaks are not handled quickly, the water and indoor mold can rapidly wreak havoc on the house and your health. Here’s everything you need to know about leaky plumbing and its connection to mold.
Does Water Leak Always Cause Mold?
What is Mold?
The term mold is a blanket term that refers to a variety of fungi that grows by digesting organic matter and reproducing by releasing spores. Outside, it is beneficial as it helps decompose plant debris such as wood or leaves. However, growing inside the home poses a danger to the house and your health. Since it digests organic matter such as wood, mold caused by a leak in the plumbing system can cause damage to the floor and ceiling of your home.
Several indoor-based mold species exist, namely Cladosporium, Aspergillus, Penicillium, Alternaria, and Stachybotrys Chartarum (also known as black mold). These fungi appear in various forms, textures, and colors, from white to yellow, blue, green, and black. They have a fuzzy, rough appearance, but this depends on the type of mold and where it grows.
These fungi spread through their spores, which can enter your home through open doors, windows, clothes, pets, and shoes. Once the spores are inside, they remain dormant as long as they are in a dry area. However, they start growing once they get into contact with moisture.
The appearance of mold is associated with a musty, damp, unpleasant odor. It can grow on any surface, such as walls, cardboard, drywall, insulation, fabric, wood, and upholstery, as long as the conditions are ideal.
How Fast Does Mold Grow After A Leak?
Mold can begin to grow quite rapidly. The spores can grow within 1 to 2 days in the right conditions. That means mold will start developing by Sunday morning if a pipe in your ceiling starts leaking on Saturday morning. However, it will take about 3 to 12 days for spores to colonize the area and properly germinate. At this stage, your mold problem is still going unnoticed. It’s not until three weeks later that the first signs of mold damage will become visible.
That said, how quickly the spores will depend on several factors, such as:
- The condition of your house and how bad the water damage is
- How much moisture is present?
- How warm or cool is your house?
- The types of organic surfaces in your home
- How much time has passed since the leaking started?
Once mold starts growing in your home, it can spread quite rapidly. If the spores land on an organic surface and the conditions are right, they will grow and spread to adjacent areas. This means that mold from a burst pipe in your ceiling can spread to building materials, furniture, and floor in a matter of days.
Dangers of Mold Growth
Mold can cause serious health effects with symptoms such as
- Blurry vision
- Nasal and sinus congestion
- Chronic cough
- Eye irritation
- Skin rash
- Sore throat
- Allergic reactions
- People with chronic respiratory issues such as asthma can have trouble breathing and are even at risk of getting lung infections.
Plumbing Issues That Can Cause Mold Growth
Leaking or damaged plumbing, water-soaked surfaces such as floors or ceilings, and minimal exposure to the sun are the perfect conditions for this fungus to grow in your house. Of all these factors, leaky or damaged plumbing poses the biggest risk as it can set the scene for creating the perfect conditions for mold growth. Here are some plumbing issues that could cause mold.
The out-of-sight nature of plumbing means there’s no lack of opportunities for leaks and mold. A home’s piping runs through the walls, floors, and ceiling, so if there’s a leak, it will take a while before there are tell-tale signs. For instance, if there’s a leaky pipe in the wall, the water will get absorbed into the drywall and insulation. If the wall becomes discolored or uncharacteristically cold, you might only tell there’s a leaky pipe. Leaks in other hard-to-reach places are even harder to detect.
Home flooding can occur due to natural disasters or human error, for instance, if a pipe bursts or you leave a tap open. Since most house-building materials are porous and will absorb and retain water, so if there’s flooding, they will soak up a lot of water.
Even after removing and cleaning up the flood water, it doesn’t mean the water absorbed by the various surfaces will be easily released. Instead, it remains trapped in the surfaces, and over time it leads to deterioration and fosters mold growth.
Clogged pipes and blockages obstruct water flow causing stagnant water in different areas in your home. Any plumbing issue that causes water to drain a lot slower than intended gives it more time to seep into adjacent areas. If you have a clogged drain pipe, the standing water can get absorbed into the walls causing potential mold growth.
How To Spot Water Leaks And Mold
Spotting water leaks in your home is tough, especially if the leakage is well hidden. Here are some signs to look for:
- Stains on the walls or ceiling
- Damp odors
- Sounds of dripping water
- Sudden changes in your water pressure
- Higher than usual water bills
- Cold spots and wet areas in your home
On top of looking for these obvious signs of mold, here are some common places where you can find plumbing-related mold.
- Under the sink – this is a dark, closed-off area high in moisture. Since many people often enclose this area to hide unsightly pipes, mold is ideal for mold to grow, especially if there’s a leak due to clogged or aged piping.
- Basement – this underground area is home to sump pumps, washing machines, drain pipes, and pressurized water. A leak from any of these appliances can go unnoticed for a long time and result in a mold infestation.
- House exterior – mold can grow around your house because of stagnant water caused by a clogged drain, gutter, or flooding.
- Walls and ceilings – the plumbing lines that pass behind the walls, ceilings, and crawl spaces can crack and start leaking. Since they are in hidden spaces, you might not notice any water damage until there’s discoloration.
Mold Remediation: How To Tackle Mold In Your Home
When you discover you have a leak in your home, what you do within the next few days is the only way to prevent mold growth and prevent serious damage to the home’s structure.
The first step is acting quickly. Mold grows very fast and damages what it grows on. The longer it grows, the more damage it causes. Once you discover a water leak, it’s important to start water damage cleanup immediately.
Identify and repair leaks and remove surplus moisture as quickly as possible. Make sure to turn off the main water valve before you start cleaning up the water. This will help prevent mold spore growth and reduce the damage the water might cause. Look for leaky faucets, fluctuations in water pressure, or a higher water bill. These all indicate a plumbing issue.
Remove any water-damaged items that can’t be properly cleaned or completely dried. For instance, if you find a leak in your wall or ceiling and the water has seeped into the insulation, you may have to remove it if you cannot dry it completely.
Dry the area completely
Mold thrives in damp conditions, so speeding up the drying process will help prevent its growth. Once you have tackled the leak and mopped up as much water as you can, work on drying any water that seeped into the surfaces. Open any windows and use fans to increase air circulation in the room. This will help dry out the area and prevent mold.
You can also use heaters to warm up the air, and the fans can circulate the warm air into the hard-to-reach areas. If you have a leak in the basement, these areas tend to retain a lot of moisture. Since it can be difficult to increase air circulation in such an area, consider using a dehumidifier to dry out the room.
Control the humidity
In addition to drying out the area, you can use an AC or dehumidifier to help control the humidity in your home. These devices pull moisture from the air, controlling humidity levels and thus preventing the growth of mold. Try to keep humidity levels in your home as low as possible. The higher the ambient humidity in your home, the more likely you are to have mold.
Keep your home humidity levels under 60% to prevent mold spores from developing. However, if the temperature outside drops, you need to adjust your indoor humidity as lower temperatures affect indoor humidity. As a rule of thumb, drop the humidity by 5% for every 10-degree drop in temperature. Additionally, remember to regularly clean and drain the water from the dehumidifier and perform maintenance checks on your HVAC system.
Lastly, monitor the area over time
Once you have repaired, cleaned, and dried the affected area, keep an eye on it to see whether any mold grows. Even though the area might be clear, it doesn’t mean you are in the clear. Mold spores can live for a long time, so even when mold colonies dry out, it doesn’t mean they die out wholly. Continue controlling the humidity levels in your home to prevent them from reviving.
Here are a few more tips
- Regularly perform maintenance checks on your home to ensure your plumbing is still up to code and there are no leaks. Also, check the gutters, drains, and other facilities for damage.
- Properly ventilate crawl spaces and keep them insulated to prevent moisture build-up.
- Use extractor fans to remove moisture accumulated during cooking.
- Avoid laying carpets and other non-waterproof materials in bathrooms and basements.
- Avoid indoor moisture-producing activities and vent any moisture-generating appliances such as dryers.
- Ensure all fabrics are totally dry before storing them.
- Vacuum your home regularly to remove mold spores.
- Empty and air drawers and closets that are rarely used.
- Regularly cleaning surfaces so that mold cannot grow.
- Use mold-killing products such as bleach or vinegar when cleaning the bathroom.
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Cleaning Mold From Various Surfaces
When it comes to mold removal, it’s important to take precautions since it can cause serious health problems. The spores are microscopic and travel in the air so ensure you wear protective gear such as long-sleeved rubber gloves, a mask, goggles, and protective clothing to prevent contact. Additionally, this protective gear will limit exposure to the chemicals and products used to kill mold.
Products That Kill Mold
To eliminate mold in your home, you will need these products to help kill and clean mold-infested surfaces. They include:
Household bleach can destroy and kill any mold as well as remove the discoloration caused by its growth. To create a simple mold-killing solution, mix 1 cup of bleach with 1 gallon of water and spray it directly onto the affected area. Let it sit for 5 to 10 minutes, then scrub, rinse, and air dry. The bleach will remove mold discoloration as well as any color, so make sure to do a patch test before use.
Keep in mind that chlorine bleach is quite harsh so take caution when using it. Make sure to ventilate the area well to avoid inhaling any dangerous fumes. Also, never mix it with any products with ammonia, as it will produce toxic gasses.
Vinegar is a natural solution that can quickly kill mold as its acidic nature helps break down its structure. It is a gentler alternative to bleach, so mold stains might still remain even after use. Pour undiluted vinegar onto the affected area, let it sit for an hour, and wipe it off. You will need to scrub the surface with a household cleaner to remove any mold stains. Additionally, you can mix vinegar with baking soda or borax to increase its cleaning power. The increased pH of this blend also inhibits the survival and growth of mold spores.
Hydrogen peroxide is a less harsh alternative to bleach that can kill and lighten mold stains. It works much slower than bleach but produces no fumes or residue. Take a spray bottle, pour in a 3 to 10% solution of hydrogen peroxide, and spray it onto the affected area. Let the solution sit for 10 minutes and scrub away the mold.
While this might not be a strong mold killer like the rest of these solutions, it can still kill and inhibit mold growth.
You can also use mold-removing products.
Removing The Mold
The mold removal process for most house surfaces is the same.
- Start by wearing protective gear to keep you safe from the mold and the products you will use to clean it up.
- Vacuum up the mold to capture any spores and prevent them from spreading. Use a vacuum with a HEPA filter as it traps over 99% of spores and its anti-allergen seal ensures the spores don’t escape the vacuum canister. Once you are done, seal the contents in a plastic bag and dispose of it carefully.
- Clean the affected area using any of the solutions mentioned above. For instance, you can wash moldy painted wood walls with detergent and a brush to clean the surface, then spray some vinegar or bleach to remove any stubborn stains. Be careful not to saturate the surface and let it air dry once you are done cleaning.
- If the mold persists, try using a stronger solution such as bleach. For instance, if you have mold on your house walls and the mold has deeply penetrated the surface, try sanding down the surface and redo the mold cleaning process. Let the surface dry properly and refinish or seal it with paint to prevent future damage.
When To Call A Professional
While you can handle repairing some of the water damage to your home, there are instances when you might need professional help. For instance, if you have mold on more than 10 sq ft of your home, consider hiring a water damage restoration and mold service to help you eliminate it and prevent further mold exposure and damage to your home.
Additionally, removing large mold colonies requires expertise, heavy-duty chemicals, and professional mold-disposal methods. Lastly, it’s a good idea to have your property inspected periodically for mold and water leaks by a professional. They can ensure your home is properly inspected so that no mold or water leaks are missed.