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Mold and Health:
Myths & Facts

Mold and Health: Myths & Facts | Mold Testing | GOT MOLD?

MYTH No. 1  

‘Toxic’ Mold is the only dangerous type of mold.

“Toxic” mold or “black” mold is often touted by the hucksters in the mold industry as being the one that makes people sick, the one you must eliminate. This is pure scare tactic.

Yes, there are some strains of mold that seem to be more toxic than others. But there is no such thing as good mold, or even tolerable mold, unless you like stinky cheese. Mold in your home is a problem, because it signifies a moisture problem. Moisture inside your home enables mold growth, and it can also lead to rot, threatening the structure itself.

On top of that, any mold problem that’s allowed to continue often will pave the way for the dreaded “black mold.” The most infamous “black mold,” stachybotrys chartarum, is what’s known as a tertiary mold. It’s very slow to develop and usually follows earlier mold growths, actually feeding off the previous mold colony.

Stachybotrys is also the most difficult to detect in air samples, because its spores are heavy and reluctant to become airborne. And the cheap Petri dish, or settling plate, test kits you can buy in the big-box stores, which often brag about detecting “black mold,” actually won’t grow stachybotrys at all, because the culture medium is wrong.

There are more than 100,000 species of mold (experts are still debating how many), and 50 to 60 of them have been found to be hazardous to human health, especially for people who have sensitivities or suppressed immune systems.

Bottom line: Indoor mold is bad for your house and bad for you and your family.

MYTH No. 2

It has not been proven that mold is a health risk.

The negative health impact of mold exposure is well documented. If any health practitioner scoffs at the idea that mold exposure can make people sick, this is not a professional you want to place your trust in. He hasn’t done his homework.

“Health effects (of mold exposure) generally fall into four categories. These four categories are allergy, infection, irritation (mucous membrane and sensory), and toxicity,” says Dr. Harriet Ammann of the Washington State Department of Health’s Ecology Department.

Dr. Ammann’s highly detailed and footnoted paper will glaze most readers’ eyes, but there’s an excellent example of mold toxicity available that nearly everyone knows about: peanut allergy. Some experts argue that people who are allergic to peanuts are not allergic to peanuts, really, but to a toxic substance produced by a mold that grows on peanuts, called aflatoxin b.

Whether afflatoxin b. causes life-threatening allergic reactions or not, it is documented as a direct cause of cancer, one of the most potent carcinogens known to science, and it’s produced by a fairly common mold. A number of institutions have documented the negative health effects of mold, including the Mayo Clinic, the US EPA, Berkeley Labs, Brown University, and the University of Tulsa.

Bottom line: If you are exposed to indoor mold, get rid of it, or get out.

MYTH No. 3

If you can’t see it or smell it mold is not a problem.

Mold can grow very well in complete isolation, inside wall cavities, between floors and ceilings, in attics. Not only can you not see hidden mold, if it’s cut off from the flow of air that you’re breathing, you’re unlikely to smell it, unless you’re a Mold DogTM like the ones used by GOT MOLD?.

But mold has a nasty habit of producing chemicals that can penetrate walls and get into your lungs anyway. These chemicals are of two types: microbial volatile organic compounds (MVOCs), and mycotoxins (poisons produced by fungi). These chemicals can make some people very sick, and they rarely know what hit them.

And then there’s the unavoidable fact that indoor mold growth is a symptom of excess moisture, and excess moisture will eventually wreck your home.

Bottom line: If someone is chronically ill in your house, and especially if they feel better when they’re away than when they’re home, a professional mold inspection is needed.

MYTH No. 4

Bleach kills mold.

Liquid bleach is a solution of chlorine in water, usually 6 percent sodium hypochlorite, thus 94 percent water. Smearing bleach on mold may appear to kill it, but the effect is superficial and very temporary. Once the chlorine is gone – and it evaporates rapidly – what’s left is all that water, feeding the mold.

There are many chemicals that kill mold. They’re called biocides. That means they kill life. (Bio = life + cide = kill.) Also: Anything that will kill mold is also a potential health threat to you and your pets. Even if you close up a house and gas it or fog it with one biocide or another, what you’re left with is a house full of dead mold, which can be every bit as dangerous to health as it was alive.

Moldy materials in a home must be carefully removed by properly trained professionals – after the moisture problem is identified and solved – and replaced with new, clean, dry material, or the problem will persist.

Mold removal, known as remediation, is done much like asbestos removal. Workers in “moon suits” and respirators isolate the work area with plastic sheeting. They set up HEPA-filtered fans blowing outdoors to create negative air pressure in the work zone, and begin removing moldy drywall, carpet, carpet padding, and whatever else cannot be cleaned. All that material is then bagged, and the bags and wiped down and carried outside to avoid contaminating the rest of the house.

Bottom line: A little mildew on your shower tile can be cleaned up with bleach. Anything else likely requires professional help.

FACT No. 1

Mold is everywhere and mold problems exist indoors in every climate.

Mold is, literally, everywhere on the planet, in every climate. A house in the Mojave Desert can have a mold problem as easily as one in Florida or New Orleans.

Mold needs three things to thrive: moisture, food, and the right temperature. Moisture can collect in walls, attics and crawl spaces in the driest of climates with a little help, such as a roof or siding leak, plumbing flaw, and pressure differentials created by air conditioning, or even a poorly vented bathroom.

Food for mold is pretty much everything we build with and everything we own. Mold loves household dust… even in the kitchen sink. And the warmth mold needs is the same temperature range humans prefer.

Bottom line: Every home has mold but not every home has a mold problem. If you think you might have a mold problem, don’t ignore it. Get help.

FACT No. 2

Mold affects everyone differently.

Some people can live in a house teeming with mold growth and never be bothered by it. Others need only open a musty book to begin a fit of sneezing, watering eyes, headache, dizziness, you name it.

One person in a mold-infested home may develop serious, debilitating respiratory problems, while another person in the same home may just have an occasional headache, or a little brain fog, or nothing at all.

Frequently, the person most affected by indoor mold exposure has an immune system already compromised by other factors: they’re infants, or elderly, they’re on immune-suppressant drugs, they’ve been treated often with antibiotics, they’re on chemotherapy for cancer, and so on.

But not always. Some people are the proverbial canary in the coal mine. They are sensitive to mold and its byproducts.

Bottom line: If someone in your home is chronically ill, always consider the possibility that something in the environment, such as mold, is the trigger.

FACT No. 3

A clean house (and/or new house) doesn’t prevent mold from growing.

Despite what you might think, new homes are more likely to have serious mold problems than old homes. Surprised? Modern construction materials, such as drywall, absorb more moisture than older products such as plaster. The way buildings are built today, they also dry more slowly when water gets into places where it shouldn’t be. In addition, many of the things we now build houses out of contain nutrients ideal for mold growth. Making matters worse, most houses have very little fresh air exchange, so when mold and the other byproducts of dampness begin to proliferate, it becomes concentrated, causing potentially serious health problems including asthma attacks, sinus problems, allergies, fatigue and numerous other ailments.

Mold is not about dirt, or sloppy housekeeping. Mold is about excess moisture, somewhere. Too much humidity in the air – anything over 50% relative humidity – can encourage mold to develop in dark corners, behind furniture, in closets, walls and other places.

Structural flaws that allow even tiny amounts of moisture to develop inside of a house – insulation errors, unseen plumbing leaks, any number of water-related situations – can give mold the foothold it needs. No amount of cleaning will eliminate it.

Bottom line: If you think you may have a mold problem, don’t be embarrassed, and don’t deny it out of pride. You owe it to yourself and your family to nip it in the bud.

FACT No. 4

Home inspectors don’t know mold.

Home inspectors – the ones who check out a house prior to sale – are generally ignorant about mold. Many inspectors will see mold and ignore it because there’s no rot or obvious moisture. Others may not see it at all.

Even some mold inspectors don’t actually recognize mold when they see it. In a GOT MOLD? job several years ago, the homeowner had already hired three other inspectors, none of whom found mold. When Jason Earle walked into the room in question, he was stunned. “The entire wall was black with mold. I didn’t need a dog to find that,” he said.

The smart home inspector will recognize mold on sight and will tell the homeowner, or the prospective buyer (whoever hired him), about it. The really knowledgeable inspector will refer you to a reputable mold assessment company like GOT MOLD?.

The not-so-smart inspector might tell you to “clean” it up, treat it with bleach, or whatever. Don’t do that.

Bottom line: Don’t expect a general home inspector to know how to deal with mold, even if he can find it, and even if he’s recently painted “Mold” on the side of his truck. Seek an expert. You wouldn’t trust a fitness trainer to diagnose or treat you for cancer, would  you?

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How to Find Mold in Your Home

Download “How to Find Mold in Your Home”

Professional Tips and Techniques

Yes, you can inspect your home “like a pro,” if you have the basic information and know the visual clues most professionals use. The primary advantage most professional inspectors have over you is experience, much of which can be replaced by knowledge. We offer you this knowledge, right here, right now, no charge.

The purpose of this e-book is to educate you about indoor mold and the process of mold assessment. Our hope is to ensure you have the right information to take whatever steps are needed next, or to rest assured you have no current problems.

There are three kinds of mold:
1. Mold you can see
2. Mold you can smell but can’t see
3. Mold you can’t see or smell

The third type, hidden mold, can be the most damaging because it’s allowed to thrive much longer. Most people who see or smell mold take action, but it’s the unseen mold that is the greatest hazard to health and wealth.

It’s extremely important to know that where you find visible mold, there is a high probability of hidden mold, often in much greater quantity than the visible part.

A careful, educated inspection of your home, in pursuit of moisture problems, past or present, is the smartest thing you can do, because indoor mold growth is a symptom of a moisture problem and excess moisture is the enemy.

The next smart step is testing. In the event you discover a mold or moisture problem, the next step is to determine whether it has caused an air quality problem. The most affordable, easiest and most scientific way to do that is to purchase and use the GOT MOLD?® Test Kit.

If your inspection finds nothing, but you still suspect there is a mold problem, air sampling often can confirm your suspicions and help you get control of your problem.

By reading and following the instructions in this booklet, you can gain a good understanding of your indoor environment and where to test for mold. We will guide you in an inspection of outside and inside conditions that may indicate the presence of mold.

Our motive is simple: We want you to become a more educated consumer, so that you will be better prepared to use the GOT MOLD?Test Kit if you decide you need it. We also believe you will understand, when you’re finished, why the best choice for your first course of action when you find a problem is the GOT MOLD?Test Kit.

Download “How to Find Mold in Your Home”

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Say “No” To Biocides:
No Need To Kill Mold

Say "No" To Biocides: No Need To Kill Mold | GOT MOLD?

We fix sick homes. Every day, people with asthma, allergies, sinus problems –  and a plethora of other sometimes seemingly unrelated maladies – suspect something in their home might be at the root of their woes and call upon us to do the sleuth work. More often than not, when we find a mold problem and it gets corrected, people begin to see improvements in their health and quality of life, sometimes dramatic improvements.

I’m writing this article because I am constantly faced with this preconception that getting rid of mold somehow involves killing it first, as if you have to sneak up behind it and snuff it out before it knows you’re there. Yes, this stuff can be dangerous, but not like that.

You see, most homeowners and contractors feel that if you kill mold, by spraying or fogging some EPA-registered chemical, that you’re going to make the job easier or more effective. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The purpose of mold remediation, as described in the IICRC S520 Mold Remediation Standard, is to restore an affected property to a “normal” condition. Here’s what’s involved. It’s really simple.

  1. Fix the water problem.
  2. Isolate the work area.
  3. Remove affected materials that cannot be cleaned, such as wallboard, insulation, ceiling tiles, carpet, carpet padding and other porous items.
  4. Clean the remaining surfaces that can be cleaned such as wood, glass, metal, plastic, concrete, tile, etc., using HEPA vacuums and good, old-fashioned, elbow grease. Chemicals need not be involved.
  5. Scrub the air with HEPA filters.
  6. Verify microscopically that the air and surfaces no longer contain abnormal levels of fungal material.

Mold remediation isn’t about killing mold, it’s about removing it and fixing the water problem. Even if you “kill it,” dead mold is still allergenic and potentially toxic, according to the EPA. Leaving behind dead mold doesn’t do you any good. In fact, all you’re doing when you use a biocide is adding another toxin, an additional step and more cost. It’s not a shortcut, it’s a boondoggle.

Are we trying to make the house healthier or sicker? Many of the products sold as biocides/antimicrobials/fungicides are more dangerous than the mold and its byproducts. Do you really want to trade one toxin for another?

The funny thing about biocides is that many of them are water-based, and the active ingredient evaporates relatively quickly. Bleach for example, is 3% sodium hypochlorite and 97% water. When you use bleach during mold remediation, the sodium hypochlorite dissipates rapidly, leaving behind what? Water! Congratulations, you’ve just added water to a water problem. Spores will settle on the dampness you leave behind, eat the dead mold you didn’t remove, and grow right back again. Nice, eh?

Not only are you adding an additional, unnecessary toxin to your home or workplace, you may also be stimulating the mold to produce more of the very thing most people worry most about when they have a mold problem: mycotoxins. Mycotoxins are the toxins some molds produce from time to time. There is strong evidence that chronic exposure to mycotoxins is less than ideal for human health. Research has also shown that mycotoxin production can actually be stimulated by fungicides.

https://www.springerlink.com/content/l68j884554l7gl23/

There are a few circumstances when biocides are prudent and should be considered, like when bacteria is a concern, such as after sewage spills or certain kinds of floods, and in certain circumstance involving individuals with compromised immune systems.  Other than that, the vast majority of mold remediation cases should be free of chemicals and killing agents.

We as a society have already done immense damage to ourselves and to the environment with our obsessive use of antibiotics, antimicrobials, herbicides, pesticides and other poisons. In addition to the damage it can do to us as individuals when misused (which is almost always the case), these compounds are also creating new microbes that are resistant to the very poisons we lavish upon them, making stronger heartier foes in the microscopic world. It’s the law of unintended consequences. Is this really what we want?

Interestingly, with this very knowledge in mind, a new company called Homebiotic, has created a probiotic surface spray for moisture-prone areas, like under the kitchen sink, or in a bathroom where you may have poor ventilation. While they do not make claims that it kills mold, since it’s neither a fungicide or a pesticide – which is the whole point – the idea is that friendly microbes colonize the surface and go to work for you, as a preventive measure. The formulation is based upon proven organisms, and there’s some additional testing underway to quantify its effectiveness on different surfaces and other applications, but in the meantime, my own experiments have proved it to work very well.

Finally, there’s a constant desire by contractors and homeowners to apply antimicrobial paints and finishes to surfaces during remediation. This is another unnecessary and wasteful step. Most of the antimicrobial value of these paints dissipates in a matter of months, leaving behind nutrition to support fungal growth if the right amount of moisture is present. In all cases, the mold won’t return without moisture. So adding a coating isn’t necessary if it’s dry. If it’s wet, the mold will return no matter how much antimicrobial paint you apply.

At the end of the day, there’s only one truly effective antifungal. It works every time with no adverse reactions, and it never dissipates. It’s called anti-dihydrogen monoxide, or anti-DHMO.  To understand it, you must first understand its opposite. DHMO is a very simple compound, comprised of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom. It’s otherwise called H2O or, by us laypeople, water.

In other words, keep things clean and dry, and you don’t need chemicals, and you won’t need to hire us. But if you do find yourself trying to make sense of what steps to take next when you think – or know – you have a mold problem, we’re here to help.

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Why Attics Get Moldy

Why Attics Get Moldy | Mold Testing | GOT MOLD?

As the holidays approached, the ornaments and decorations started coming out of the attic.  In the process, you may have discovered that you’ve got a mold problem. Or maybe you’re selling your house and the buyer’s home inspector found something not so good up there.

In the attic? How’d that happen?

Attics are the least actively used space in most homes. Not only is it out of sight and therefore out of mind, but also nobody wants to spend very much time up there because it’s so hot in the summer and brutally cold in the winter. And that is actually part of the reason why some attics get moldy. Attics are not typically our favorite places, so we don’t dedicate much attention to them, but you can develop a very expensive issue if things get out of control while you’re not watching.

For a mold problem to develop, you have to have excess moisture. No water = no mold. Mold will not grow in a dry, well-ventilated attic. So what causes moisture to accumulation in an attic? A ventilation problem. It’s really that simple.

Let’s start with where the moisture comes from.

People indoors generate significant humidity simply through living. Respiration (breathing), transpiration (sweating), cooking, bathing, cleaning and numerous other activities pump water into the air. Having lots of houseplants can add a lot of humidity. Damp basements and crawlspaces often manifest into a moldy attic. Unused or misused dryer vents and improperly installed bathroom exhaust fans are very common culprits too.

Here’s where I’m going to throw you a curve ball. Most people think it has to be warm and wet for mold to grow, and while that’s partially true, certain molds can grow in very low temperatures, but they still require moisture. Have you ever seen black mold growing on the gasket around a refrigerator?  This is usually a very common mold called Cladosporium. It doesn’t mind the cold so much. It also very commonly grows in attics where there’s a moisture trap. But here’s the key, most mold problems in attics are a wintertime phenomenon, not a summertime one. I know it’s counter-intuitive, but I’ll explain.

As we all remember from eighth-grade science class, warm air rises in a building. In a case where there’s a lot of moisture in that warm air, when it finds its way into a cold attic, the water in the air will bead up on the cold interior surfaces of the roof like it would on a glass of iced tea on a hot summer day. During really cold periods, this condensation will actually freeze, making some attics an unintended winter wonderland.

In such circumstances, the exposed nails will transform into icicles overnight, and when the sun comes up, the roof warms, melting the icicles, causing it to drip rusty water droplets onto the floor. This cycle of moisture accumulation on the dusty wooden surfaces of the attic is enough to create an environment conducive to mold growth.  Sometimes this takes decades, sometimes only one season. Depending upon how severe the problem is, the damage can range from some minor surface mold, which can be easily cleaned, to complete rot and degradation of the sheathing, requiring a new roof to be installed. Not fun.

Now let’s talk about the ventilation.

Contrary to what you might think, an attic fan is not the solution, as attic fans are designed to operate during the summertime to remove excess heat. Also, the vents on opposite ends of many attics, called gable vents, do nothing. They are worthless for the purpose of moisture control. I’ve seen homeowners try every type of shortcut possible to avoid doing what needs to be done, but in essence, there’s only one solution which works flawlessly: natural ventilation with ridge and soffit vents.

So, what is natural ventilation, you ask? Good question.

When warm, moist air rises into the attic, a well-ventilated attic will allow it to escape through the peak of the roof, through something called a ridge vent. In order to make up for the air escaping through the peak, makeup air needs to come from outside, but in a very specific way, from a very specific place: the eaves through soffit vents. In summary, through natural ventilation, warm moist air from the house escapes through the attic peak, rather than being trapped, while the vents in the eaves allow air to come in from outside, keeping the surface temperature of the inside of the roof closer to that of the outside of the roof. This prevents condensation in the wintertime and also helps keep the roof cooler in the summer, extending the life of asphalt shingles.

No fans. Nothing to remember to do. It occurs naturally and flawlessly, but here’s the key. The ridge and soffit vents have to be continuous and integrated. What that means is that they have to go from one end of the roof to the other end, and they don’t work without each other. Building codes here in New Jersey require new roofs to have ridge vents, but they say nothing about retrofitting the soffits with vents. In essence, the ridge vents are worthless without soffit vents.

There is a specific amount of ventilation needed for every attic. Owens Corning has an interesting tool to perform the calculation.  You should definitely refer to it if you plan on making any changes. Here’s the web address:

http://roofing.owenscorning.com/homeowner/accessories/ventilation/determinerequirements.aspx

The other element is to make sure the vents in the soffits are not blocked by insulation. Many a weekend warrior will install new insulation in the attic to bring down the utility bill, stuffing every bit of insulation possible into the far corners of the attic, including the eaves, only to find that they inadvertently blocked the vents, rendering a functional natural ventilation system worthless.  A few hundred dollars in annual savings becomes thousands of dollars in mold remediation before you know it.

Another common mistake is venting bathroom exhaust fans into the attic instead of through the roof to the outside. When doing bathroom renovations, please don’t make this mistake. It’s a costly one. Similarly, the absence of an exhaust fan in a bathroom used for bathing sends a ton of water into an attic. Get a fan installed and use it very time you shower or take a bath. Some of my clients have connected the light switch to the exhaust fan so that they know the kids are using it without thinking about it. It works like a charm.

So, if you have a problem, what do you do next?

First of all, you should engage a professional, such as GOT MOLD?, who specializes in diagnosing mold and moisture problems. What they will first do is track down the source of excess moisture, assess the extent of the damage to the structure, and determine where the ventilation failed and what needs to be done to correct it.

In all cases where a visible mold problem exceeds 10 square feet, the US EPA recommends you use a professional to clean it up. A quick word of caution here: You should never hire a company that performs both diagnostics/testing and remediation. This is a blatant conflict of interest since they will often be testing and inspecting their own work.

If the sheathing has not been damaged to the point where it is delaminating and losing its structural integrity, you can usually get away with surface cleaning. In this case, a qualified professional mold remediation firm would isolate the attic from the rest of the house as described in the IICRC S520 Mold Remediation Standard, bag and remove all insulation, then clean all exposed surfaces with HEPA vacuums and damp wipes.

Afterward, before final funds are released to the contractor, they would submit themselves to a third-party clearance inspection where samples would be collected for analysis to ensure that the job was complete. Also, the inspector would look to see that the appropriate repairs have been made, including the installation of requisite ventilation. After the inspector provides the green light, the insulation can be replaced. Do yourself a favor and get the formaldehyde-free insulation. And make sure not to block the vents in the eaves!

If the sheathing has deteriorated and the plywood has started to delaminate, you will need to replace the roof. I know this is bad news, but it’s the truth. Once that’s done, then you can proceed with the instructions above, although I’ve seen most of the cleaning of rafters and removal of insulation occur with the roof off, which makes a lot of sense but requires coordination of the roofing contractor, mold remediation firm and Mother Nature. Regardless, make sure the roofer understand what continuous ridge and soffit ventilation is all about and that he/she installs them that way. Also please make sure all of your exhaust fan vents are directed through the roof to the outdoors.

Most people don’t want to spend as much time in their attic as you just did reading about it, but this happens far more commonly than you might think. Hopefully your new-found awareness and knowledge will help you avoid having to call us.

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Create a Healthy Bedroom

Create a Healthy Bedroom | Mold Testing | GOT MOLD?

How do you feel when you wake up in the morning?  Do you wake up groggy and foggy or are you refreshed and rarin’ to go?  Did you know that sleep disorders affect 50 million to 70 million Americans of all ages?

Sleep is one of the most important aspects of our waking life.  Recent research shows that the optimal number of hours is between 6 and 8 hours. Much less and you suffer from cognitive issues and put your immune system at risk. Sleep deprivation is known to increase the risk of numerous chronic health problems including diabetes and heart disease. Drowsy driving can put more than your health at risk. It can put others’ lives on the line too, along with your own.

Sleep much more than the prescribed number of hours and your metabolism can suffer, potentially adding unwanted pounds and, ironically, creating a sense of fatigue.  But it’s not just quantity. Research reveals that quality seems to be even more important. The big question is how?  What needs to be done to ensure that the hours we spend in The Land of Nod add up to real rest and rejuvenation?

If we give ourselves the gift of a full eight hours per night, we’re spending 30% of our life in bed. To make the most of this time and ensure that you get the rest you deserve, there are some things that you can do to make sure that time is well invested, and that you wake up feeling strong and rested, ready to take on anything that comes your way. The items we’ll discuss below are even more important if you’re one of the approximately 100 million Americans who suffer from respiratory problems such as asthma, allergies, chronic sinus problems, which by themselves can make having a good night sleep even more challenging.

The indoor environment is something we have far more control over than most of us realize. So, let’s take a look at what you can start doing to start enjoying the best sleep possible, for the rest of your life.

1. Moisture and Humidity

The target humidity in your home is 45%. Much above 50% and you start to be at risk of mold growth and dust mite proliferation. Below 40% for too long and you’ll start feeling some physical discomfort such as drying of the mucus membranes and dehydration. Far too many sinus infections are caused by low humidity. This is completely preventable.

My house is particularly dry in the winter, and unless we humidify the bedroom, I wake up parched, with swollen glands and sinus problems. Not fun. So, we have two humidifiers running all night and make sure to monitor the humidity in the room with a digital humidity gauge making sure not to overdo it. It has made all the difference in the world.

Also, fans of any kind blowing directly on you will dry you out, regardless of the humidity. If you insist on having a fan in the bedroom, make sure it points away from you or oscillates.

2.    Light and Sound

Our bodies’ 24-hour biological cycles are known as circadian rhythms (from Latin: circa “about” + dies “day”) and are largely driven by how our bodies interact with light, natural or artificial. It’s well known that exposure to certain types of light can limit or prevent the production of melatonin, the sleep hormone. Red-light frequencies, like what we get from fire, don’t create sleep disturbance. Certain spectrums of light, which naturally come from the sun – especially of the blue-type – are actually nature’s way of waking us up. Computer screens and televisions are common sources of blue light, as are many light bulbs. Night lights often have blue light within the spectrum of light they emit.

So as we adapted to become indoor creatures dependent upon electricity, we became more exposed to blue light and other sleep disturbing frequencies during the evening hours. For the best night’s sleep, we should reduce exposure to television, computers and any other backlit screen for at least an hour or two before bed. As I said earlier, most incandescent AND fluorescent (yes, even your super-efficient CFL light bulbs) are major violators.  Some people light candles late at night to bridge the gap, and while this works well, it should be done in moderation for reasons we’ll discuss later.

The other big one is ambient light from outside. Street lamps are huge in blue light. If you have any outside sources, which are detectable in your bedroom, find a way to “black out” your windows to eliminate that light from coming in. You’d be amazed at the difference. The last resort (or perhaps the best test) is to get a sleep mask, which will quickly show you how stark the contrast is between your bedroom “as is” and how it actually should be for the most spectacular snoozing. What you’ll quickly see is that your eyelids are lousy blinds.

Sound is an obvious one. Everyone’s been awakened by an uninvited noise. Some people are more sensitive than others. While it’s often recommended to use earplugs, safety precautions prevent me from endorsing this. What if you can’t hear the phone or alarm, etc?  If your house is very noisy, some people find relief with heavy area rugs and curtains, which absorb sound, but also provide a haven for dust mites, so if you choose this route, keeping your humidity under control is even more important. Also, double and triple-paned windows help to mute outdoor noise sources, but the indoor ones are still a problem. Appliances that create “white noise,” such as fans, can help, but as I said earlier, avoid having the fan blow directly on you. Some people play soothing sounds all night and find that to be successful.

3.    Dust and Other Particles

Dust is a generic term for the visible accumulation of non-descript particles whose origin you would rather not know.  Most household dust is an incredible mixture of atmospheric dust, human skin cells, pollen, mold spores, clothing and carpet fibers, paint particles and other tiny little pieces of our buildings which constantly shed in the process of our world being whittled down by nature’s forces.

The biggest violators in the bedroom are carpets, curtains and downy blankets on the bed. They are HUGE reservoirs of dust, and if the humidity goes up for more than a few days, that’s where the microbial critters start to party. Candidly, carpet in general is bad, especially for those who have asthma, allergies and sinus problems, but when we put it in the bedroom, it’s a real problem. Remove it. If you must, use some area rugs, but keep them clean.

People often ask me about air purifiers. I always respond the same way. They are required appliances in every home. Rarely do we, as a culture, open the windows for fresh air anymore, and when we do, are we really getting “fresh” air?  HEPA-filtered (High Efficiency Particulate Air) air purifiers such as the IQAir HealthPro Plus are incredible allies in this battle against air pollution in our home. Not only do they help reduce exposure to all things impure, they also reduce the amount of dust that settles on surfaces, which inevitably has to be cleaned.  This brings up two points:

  • The key to preventing mold growth is to keep things clean and dry. It’s that simple. When things are clean, and a moisture problem creeps up, mold growth still occurs, but not with the voracity that occurs when things are dusty or dirty. Mold needs moisture to get rolling AND nutrients to accelerate the growth. Keep both under control and you’ll be in the clear.
  • HEPA air cleaners are great, and a must have.  HEPA-filtered vacuum cleaners are just as important. All vacuum cleaners that lack a HEPA filter fail to capture the micro-fine dust, and actually redistribute it throughout your house. It’s not bad enough that this is a huge waste of time, but many of these particles fall into a size range that can cause all sorts of irritation in sensitive people and trigger asthma attacks.

While it’s important to use HEPA-filtered air cleaners and HEPA-filtered vacuum cleaners exclusively, washing your curtains very regularly is also key. And when’s the last time your moved your bed or dresser? If you need to throw on an N-95 dust mask, do it. Dust bunnies don’t bite. Go for it! You’ll be glad you did.

Lastly, candles are an inviting part of an amorous bedroom, but burning them for too long, too often can contribute a substantial amount of very unhealthy, super-fine, combustion-related dust and, in the case of scented candles, release lots of potentially toxic (albeit pleasant-smelling) chemicals into the air. Use candles in short increments, but enjoy the benefits, by all means!

4.    Chemicals and Fragrances

Over the last few decades, we have become a chemical society. We are literally steeped in them. It’s truly incredible. Many of them we cannot avoid or even limit our exposure to. In fact, there is very little known about what we’re actually ingesting or absorbing every day.

On the other hand, there are very clear and distinct ways to consciously live healthier lives and one of them is through better choices about what things we bring indoors and how we use them.  Most new homes are built of materials that emit, or “off-gas,” chemicals which evaporate into the air. Also, many of our household products contain them. They are know as VOCs, or “volatile organic compounds.”  Some common examples are formaldehyde – a known carcinogen – and chlorine. You wouldn’t want to inhale either one, yet you probably often do.

  • Reducing the number of chemical cleaners is a good first step. Believe it or not, most natural cleaning products work better than their chemical counterparts, but up until recently, were far too expensive.
  • Also, reduce the fragranced products you use. Some are stimulating, which you don’t need in the bedroom, but ALL are unnecessary. Clean doesn’t have a scent.
  • When remodeling or sprucing things up, choose No-VOC paints, building products and finishes which carry the Greenguard Certification (www.greenguard.org). The “new home smell” is toxic. So is the “new car smell.” Sorry to break the news to you. The “new new” doesn’t have a smell.
  • One of the worst violators of all is “air fresheners” of any kind. If you’re using Febreeze or Glade Plug-Ins, let me be clear: STOP!  Not only is this horribly unhealthy, but Glade Plug-Ins and other devices like it have been implicated in countless house fires.

5.    Electro-Magnetic Frequencies (EMFs)

Perhaps the most controversial item on this list is EMFs. Electro-magnetic frequencies are much like chemicals these days. We are awash in them. While we are flesh and blood, our existence relies on electrical impulses throughout our body. According to a significant amount of research, this delicate natural balance can be disrupted by the waves of electromagnetic energy emitted from high-tension power lines, badly wired houses and certain very common household appliances. Some things as benign as a dimmer on a light switch can wreak EMF havoc.

These waves can be measured using something called a Gauss meter, named after Carl Friedrich Gauss, one of the lesser known electrical pioneers, along the lines of Nicola Tesla and Thomas Edison.  While these devices are often used to hunt ghosts (this is where you chuckle), they can also sniff out areas of high EMF emission, and they’re not terribly expensive.

I used to scoff at EMFs a while back, but while living in a compact apartment, my tower PC was on the floor between my desk and the head of my bed. I had been sleeping fitfully for a very long time and was also, spontaneously and unrelatedly, inspired to consolidate all of my computers into one laptop. I bit the bullet, made the move and got rid of the tower PC, which also removed the massive power strip and wires from underneath my bed. When I laid down that night, there was an eerie quiet. The EMFs had been accompanied by a white noise, one I couldn’t hear until it was gone. That night, and for very many nights to follow, I recaptured a very healthy, deep, rejuvenating sleep pattern. Do you have lots of electronics in your bedroom? If so, get rid of them.

6.    Mattresses and Bedding

People think nothing of spending significant sums of money on a car, while trying to save money on a budget mattress.  Don’t be cheap with your mattress. You’ll spend more time there than anywhere else in your world. Make it the best it can be.

I don’t want to be the preacher of doom, but very few people would willingly sleep on most mattresses if you knew how they were made and what they were made of.  Fire retardants are required in most mattresses by federal law, and are among the most toxic substances we’re exposed to. Certain mattress types are exempt. Regardless, even without the fire retardants, the chemicals used in the manufacture of most mattresses are simply unacceptable. There are some other interesting materials which are more appealing, but natural latex seems to be the most popular.

Natural latex is a favorite among many people who suffer from allergies, unless, of course, it’s a latex allergy. It’s naturally antimicrobial and dust mites don’t like it very much. That being said, dust mites are more abundant in your bedding than your mattress, but we’ll discuss that later. In essence, latex mattresses are a foam alternative to the spring type. You’ll pay up, but most people love them. They are often encased in organic, unbleached cotton and lack springs, which is also a very good thing. Interestingly, there is some evidence that springs in mattresses can help conduct EMFs, causing amplification of related problems. Who knows? Mattresses without springs are simply more comfortable. If my mattress doesn’t also serve as a radio receiver, all the better.

Bedding is a two-fold discussion. One, the bedding itself. Two, the way it’s handled.

  • Not to beat the chemical issue into oblivion, but less is more. Organic cotton sheets and blankets are the best choice. It’s not hard to imagine why.
  • Using fabric softeners and scented detergents are a sure way to ensure that your sheets are NOT in fact clean. Again, clean doesn’t have a scent.

Lastly, ALL beds should have mattress and pillow encasements to contain allergens as much as possible.

8. Location, Location, Location

Just because your bed is in your bedroom doesn’t mean it’s the best place to sleep. Sometimes you might need to make changes to which room you’ve chosen. Far too many people have called us over the years who were concerned about a basement apartment or bedroom. These are almost always a problem for too many reasons to list here, but lack of fresh air exchange and a high probability of moisture problems should serve as two pretty good examples. By the same token, a bedroom with tons of glass, facing south, might present other problems sleeping past dawn, if you’re one of the lucky few who can blissfully do so.

9.    Other Thoughts…

Although most of these items are generally not a big part of bedroom behavior, all of them can contribute to a poor night’s sleep.

  • Caffeine: Do I really need to elaborate?
  • Exercise: Do it, regularly, but not within two hours of bedtime.
  • TV & Computer: Try to turn them both off a couple of hours before turning in. The blue light and other stimulating qualities can really make getting to bed in the right state, at a decent hour, an unnecessarily difficult task.
  • Food: The rule of thumb is not to eat within four hours of going to bed. Also, eating spicy foods or those likely to cause heartburn can really screw up your night.  One who sleeps well chews wisely.
  • Proper hydration: Having a glass of warm or room-temperature water before bed is not a bad idea. Having two might not be so good, if you intend to sleep the night through without hitting the bathroom. A glass of cold water will likely keep you awake longer than you might like.
  • Alcohol & tobacco: Alcohol may make you sleepy, but it also causes sleep disturbances as it’s metabolized. Try not to drink alcohol within four hours of bedtime.  The nicotine in tobacco is a stimulant. It does not mix with healthy sleep, regardless of what smokers say

I know this is a lot to swallow, but if you only do a few of these things, it can make a dramatic and positive impact on your health, and of the ones you love. We see it every day.

If you have any questions or feedback, please email me: jason@gotmold.com

To your health!

JE