All about mold: what to look for and how to fight it

The following article originally appeared on, Feb. 13, 2016
Mold. The word conjures up images of two-week old bread in the fridge, that hunk of cheese we accidentally bit into or something we suspect in the crevices of the bathroom tiles.
It's that last image this article aims to address.
Robert Weitz, owner of RTK Environmental in Fairfield County, says that there are different signs to look for in winter versus summer. In summer, the worry and the danger stem from the humidity and condensation, but sometimes winter brings more insidious challenges.
"Ice damming is a big issue," says Weitz. "On Facebook and Twitter we get a lot of traffic [concerning this problem]. [Ice damming means that] when we get a significant amount of snow on the roof, and then the sun on the next day, it causes snow to melt; and that water will end up, naturally, on the roof itself and flow down towards the gutter into the roof ... Now you have water [leaking] into the gutter, and at night it will freeze."
He says the melt-freeze cycle is dangerous. For, when a gutter clogs with ice from melting snow, the ice has nowhere to go "so it backs up under roof shingles and goes in under them and drips into the house."
Sometimes, it's significant and the homeowner sees a rush of water - in which case, where mold is concerned, you could be luckier than if it weren't so apparent. And unclogging the ice dam is key - basically getting water to start flowing again - whether you hire a professional or try to do it yourself. For if you don't see the problem, mold will start to grow on the inside of your kitchen ceiling, say, until you see that tell-tale water stain.
However, he says that there's "usually" less concern for mold in winter if there's no ice damming or an indoor leak, because mold doesn't grow that easily in a cold climate. Mold loves warm, humid, dark places. A basement with no dehumidifier or ventilation is a veritable petri dish. "Mold loves that...loves cellulose surfaces, anything [any surface] made from a tree."
All of this may seem banal to the uninformed, but mold can damage far more than your home - your health, or the health of your pets.
“At RTK we certainly work with a lot of people who are symptomatic," says Weitz. "A lot of people call us when they have a health issue. If you lose your health everything else falls to the wayside." While water staining or that distinctive "old gym" smell is a tell-tale sign of mold, he says in humans the effects are often "a feeling of a heavy chest." But he and others this reporter spoke to for this article rattle off myriad symptoms.
So what's the solution to all of this? It's impossible to keep mold 100 percent at bay, especially during summer or for those of us who live near the beach. But awareness and being proactive is key. Have Weitz's firm check out your home if you suspect ice damming. And he advises, "Keep moisture levels down. Prevent any moisture sources from occurring. Make sure humidity levels are not rising."
Humidity should be at 50 to 60 percent, he says. Invest in a dehumidifier. Watch your ventilation in the basement and attic.
"Mold doesn’t like air movement. So if you can keep adequate ventilation, [do it]. Air conditioning helps."
To contact Weitz's firm, visit RTK Environmental's site or give them a call at 1-800-392-6468. They also have offices throughout the Northeast, and check for lead and asbestos. Watch this video to learn more about how to get rid of ice dams, and follow RTK at @AskRTK.
Photo: Robert Weitz, CMI (certified microbial investigator) with RTK Environmental Group collects a sample of suspected mold from the exterior of a home in Darien, Connecticut. Photo by Alan S. Orling, and used with permission from RTK Environmental Group


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