Last fall I accepted an interesting assignment of appraising several homes in New York State. All three homes were primarily vacation getaways for their family and friends visiting during the warm summer months. The remainder of the year these 19th century farmhouses stood vacant and unventilated.
We found the antique collections of Period furniture and decorative art to be extensive – but we also found a pervasive mold problem. A minute did not pass after I stepped through the entry door into the foyer that I could smell the damp smell of mold – in this case it was so prevalent – I suggested perhaps opening a window. While in the dining room photographing the crystal, I was amazed that white mold spores even appeared on the early crystal stemware I was photographing, resembling the silhouette of miniscule snowflakes. At this point I decided to break out my 3M mask with HEPA filter and don my disposable gloves!
Evidently, mold spores can grow almost anywhere as long as the environment is favorable. The first indication that a mold problem exists is the characteristic musty odor. Mold can appear as a velvety growth in almost any color or powdery deposit and on just about any object. In most every situation, mold is associated with unclean humidifiers, standing water, poor housekeeping and poor ventilation or water damage. The mold problem in the homes I visited stemmed from poor ventilation and recent water leakage in the basement and elsewhere.
The best way to prevent mold growth is to regulate the relative humidity in your indoor environment. By routinely monitoring the RH levels and keeping the humidity between 45% and 55% and always below 65%, spore germination is less likely to occur. In the warm summer months, dehumidifiers are essential and necessary to reduce the moisture content of the air. Likewise, the temperature is also an important factor in controlling mold growth. A target temperature of 64 – 68 degrees will also limit the potential for mold. Also be sure to maintain adequate air circulation by using a fan and proper ventilation to keep materials dry.
Architectural or structural problems can also play a role in mold growth. Leaking pipes or gutters, cracked windows or cracked walls will allow water seepage and moisture to build up. If you need to temporarily store items, avoid storage in damp areas such as attics, basements or directly on floors. All articles should be stored at least four inches above the floor and away from outside walls where they are more susceptible to high condensation and leaks from upper floors.
If an object shows signs of mold infestation, it is important to enclose it in plastic sheeting in order to prevent the mold from spreading. After the climate has been controlled, vacuuming dry mold spores with a HEPA filter is appropriate in most cases, however be sure that the mold is dry and powdery. This may only be possible after removing the object to a dry isolated space where the RH can be lowered by running a dehumidifier. You may also want to consult a conservator with a specialization in the types of objects to be treated. Following is a list of suppliers that carry mold remediation products.
Gaylord Brothers, Inc., Syracuse, NY www.gaylord.com
Talas, New York, NY www.talasonline.com
Fisher Scientific, Pittsburgh, PA www.fishersci.com