Anywhere there’s moisture, food, oxygen, and darkness—which is basically everywhere—there’s a good chance mold is lurking just around the corner. Of the things mold needs to grow, moisture will have the greatest impact as to whether you have a mold problem or not.
According to an EPA study, around 47% of U.S. homes have mold or dampness problems. While you might not think you have a dampness problem, moisture can sneak into your home in a variety of ways. One of the most common is through your HVAC system.
Luckily, with proper HVAC maintenance, you can prevent mold from growing and spreading throughout your home. Here are some HVAC maintenance tips to keep your home mold-free and help you save money on professional mold remediation.
Why Is Preventing Mold Growth Important?
This might surprise you, but mold is everywhere. That “fresh air” you breathe outside? It’s filled with mold spores. The spores from outside easily make their way into your house. Mold spores are floating through the air right now as you’re reading this. So, if mold is everywhere, then why is it so important to prevent its growth?
In small concentrations, like the levels found outside, mold isn’t dangerous. But in high concentrations, mold can be harmful to your health and even your house!
According to the CDC, mold can cause a host of ill health effects:
- Stuffy nose
- Coughing and wheezing
- Red or itchy eyes and skin
- Shortness of breath
In severe cases, mold exposure has even been linked with upper respiratory tract issues. For people who already have respiratory problems or asthma, mold exposure can worsen symptoms. Studies have shown that 10% of Americans are sensitive to mold.
Beyond the potential health effects, mold can also deteriorate your home. Mold, like any living thing, needs food to sustain itself. What does mold eat? Organic materials like wood and drywall—the main building components of your house! If left unchecked, a mold infestation can cause serious damage to the structure of your home.
While it’s impossible to remove mold from your house completely, it’s important to prevent it from growing and creating unsafe concentrations in your home. If you do find mold in your house, it’s best to call a mold remediation team right away to clean it up. The source of a mold infestation can be difficult to spot. That’s why it’s always best to hire a professional to remove mold at the source and prevent future growth.
HVAC Systems Are Perfect for Mold Growth
Mold needs six things to grow:
- Lots of moisture
- Temperatures above freezing
Inside your home, you can control the amount of light and moisture, which helps to prevent mold from growing all over your interior walls. But there are other places around your house where mold can thrive, like in your HVAC system.
Your HVAC system ducts, drains, and drip pans are always dark and damp, making them perfect places for mold to settle down and start a colony. The worst part about HVAC mold is that it’s very hard to spot. How often do you check your HVAC system for mold? Likely not very often. Once the mold takes hold, it can grow almost unchecked.
Can Mold in the HVAC Spread to the House?
You don’t hang out in your HVAC ducts or drains, so why does it matter if there’s mold? Well, your HVAC system is responsible for distributing air throughout your entire house. If there’s mold in the system, all those spores are coming along for the ride. They’ll be distributed just like the conditioned air, which could lead to more infestations all over your home!
If you don’t want mold all over your living space—along with constant, expensive mold remediation bills—it’s important to keep your HVAC system clean and mold-free. The best and cheapest way to do that is with proper maintenance.
HVAC Maintenance Tips to Prevent Mold Growth
Since there’s not really an easy way to allow UV light into your HVAC system, limiting the amount of moisture is the primary agenda when performing HVAC maintenance to prevent mold growth. Here are a few easy ways to limit moisture buildup and stop mold from taking over your HVAC:
Maintain Drip Pans
Have you ever enjoyed a cold glass of lemonade on a hot Florida day? If so, you probably noticed all the condensation that accumulated on the outside of the glass. When something is much colder than the air surrounding it, it pulls moisture out of the air, causing condensation.
Well, your air conditioning system is cool, and the outside air is hot and humid. Your HVAC system creates a lot of condensation (moisture) that needs to drain somewhere. That’s what your drip pans are for.
The drip pan sits under the HVAC unit and catches all the condensation drips, hence the name. The drip pan is sloped down to a drain line, which safely removes the water from your house, so you don’t have to deal with water damage or (hopefully) constant mold remediation.
Sometimes, the drain lines can clog, or the drip pan can get bumped and lose its slope. When that happens, moisture can build up in the drip pan. And what does moisture lead to? Mold!
Check your drip pans occasionally to make sure water can flow unobstructed out of your house. If you’re not comfortable clearing drain lines and cleaning drip pans yourself, you can hire an HVAC technician to do it for you. Regular cleanings are much cheaper than hiring a mold restoration team to take care of a mold infestation.
Change Air Filters
Your HVAC air filters are responsible for trapping debris and particles—including mold spores—from entering your system. The first step to mold growth is mold spores. If you can keep the spores out of your system, you can prevent mold from growing.
Dirty air filters aren’t as effective at their job. After a while, they start to let contaminants through and sometimes even trap moisture, which will lead to even more mold growth.
Replace your HVAC air filters regularly, so they can efficiently prevent the spread of mold spores. Most HVAC experts say you should replace your air filters about once per month.
Dry Out Air Ducts
Your HVAC drip pan isn’t the only place moisture can accumulate; it can build up in your air ducts too.
As the cold air rushes through, your metal air ducts can accumulate condensation, just like the HVAC unit itself. The more moisture that gets trapped in your ducts, the higher chance that you’ll have a mold problem.
Mold in your air ducts is a serious problem. Once the HVAC unit kicks on and forces air through the ducts, it’ll also push all those mold spores into your living space. If anyone in your family is sensitive to mold, they’ll start feeling effects almost immediately. Plus, all those extra spores floating around your home could lead to even more infestations.
Since it’s not entirely practical to crawl through your air ducts with a paper towel (who do you think you are? John McClane?), the best way to keep your ducts dry is to control the humidity level inside your house. Of course, in Central Florida, that’s easier said than done.
Here are some simple ways to keep humidity in your house to a minimum:
- Run fans and vents when cooking and showering.
- Use dehumidifiers.
- Insulate cold air supply ducts and water pipes.
- Make sure the attic and crawlspace are well-ventilated.
The less humidity you have in your house, the better. Without all the humidity, your air ducts will remain nice and dry and your house mold-free. Keep the moisture at bay, and the mold remediation team can stay away!
Use HVAC Disinfectant
Just like you’d disinfect your kitchen countertop after working with raw chicken, you should also disinfect your HVAC system occasionally to prevent mold and bacteria from growing in your ducts.
HVAC disinfectants come in a wide range of shapes and sizes. You can find anything from a simple aerosol to commercial-grade foggers. But, before you start spraying anything in your ducts, make sure the product is EPA-approved that’s labeled for HVAC use. You don’t want to use a bleach solution with fumes that get pumped into your house through the HVAC system.
In most cases, it’s much simpler, safer, and more reliable to hire a professional to perform HVAC disinfectant work. They’ll have much better equipment and knowledge to ensure your ducts are clean and mold and bacteria-free.
Apply Mold Inhibitor
While an HVAC disinfectant kills mold spores and bacteria, a mold inhibitor makes sure it doesn’t come back. After you’re finished disinfecting your HVAC system (or a professional is), apply a mold inhibitor to ensure you won’t have a mold breakout later on.
Apply the mold inhibitor to every component in your HVAC system according to the instructions to protect your entire system from mold. That way, you won’t have to worry about mold growing anywhere in your HVAC system, at least for as long as the product lasts.
Just like the disinfectant, make sure the mold inhibitor is EPA-approved for HVAC use. Using unapproved products could lead to more harm than good. Or, if you’re not confident in your abilities, hire a professional to do it for you.
Get Professional Duct Cleanings
Simple sprays and disinfectants are helpful, but they don’t get rid of everything that a professional cleaning will. During a professional duct cleaning, an HVAC technician will inspect your entire system and run commercial-grade cleaning equipment through your ductwork to remove any debris or contaminants—including patches of mold—that might be hiding there.
Since it is such a thorough process, you don’t need to have your ducts cleaned too frequently. The National Air Duct Cleaner’s Association (NADCA) recommends getting an air duct cleaning every three to five years. If you have pets or experience a lot of moisture and humidity, like anyone living in Central Florida, it’s a good idea to stick close to every three years.
If mold is present in your ducts, you should follow your duct cleaning with a mold remediation. You never know how far the mold could have spread throughout your home. Call in a professional to take a look and make sure everything is okay.
Check the Area Around Air Intakes
Your HVAC system doesn’t just recirculate the air inside your house. It brings in fresh, outside air through exterior vents in your house.
If your air intakes are near organic materials like standing water, bird droppings, or trash cans and dumpsters, it could pull all those microbes and bacteria into the system. Organic matter is food for mold, so the more there is in your system, the easier it’ll be for mold to grow.
Check your air intakes to make sure there’s nothing nearby that could lead to mold growth inside your HVAC system. Mold growth aside, you don’t want all those potentially harmful microbes to enter your house either, so make sure everything is clear.
How to Spot Mold
Even with regular maintenance and monitoring, there’s no guarantee that you won’t have a mold problem in your HVAC system. Especially in humid areas like Central Florida, mold is a persistent nuisance that can pop up at any time.
By knowing how to identify the signs of mold, you can call in a mold remediation specialist right away to eliminate the infestation and keep your family and home safe. Here are some of the telltale signs that there’s mold somewhere in your home:
- Visible growth – Obviously, if you can see the mold, you have a problem. In your HVAC system, keep an eye around the unit itself and around vents inside your house. This is where condensation and mold will be most visible.
- Persistent musty smell – Most HVAC mold will be hard, if not impossible, to see. But you can smell it. Mold has an earthy, musty smell. If you can’t seem to get rid of the persistent smell no matter how many air fresheners or sprays you use, you likely have a mold infestation. Call a mold remediation expert right away to find it and eliminate it.
- Worsening allergies – Since mold can cause a myriad of health effects, if you notice your allergies acting up when you’re inside your home, there’s a good chance you have mold. The best way to test is to pay attention if your symptoms are worse inside or outside. If they’re worse when you go inside your house, there’s a good chance mold is hiding somewhere, and you should find a mold remediation service.
The worst part of mold—aside from the potential health effects, of course—is that it’s nearly impossible to identify the source of the infestation. Mold can hide anywhere from your HVAC ducts and vents to cabinets and inside your walls. Just because you see mold on the wall doesn’t mean that’s where it originated. That’s why it’s important to contact a mold remediation expert right away at the first sign of mold.
Contact a Mold Remediation Expert at the First Sign of Mold
You always hope you never find mold in your house. If you keep up with HVAC maintenance and proper mold-prevention strategies, you might be able to avoid a major infestation. Unfortunately, mold is almost a certainty in areas like Central Florida.
When you find mold, or even if you have a vague inkling it could be present, contact a mold remediation expert. Mold grows quickly, and it can easily spread throughout your house if not taken care of right away.
A mold remediation expert will be able to identify the source of the infestation and eliminate it to prevent more from growing in the future. Even if it doesn’t seem like a big deal, you shouldn’t try to remove mold yourself. There’s a good chance you’ll miss some, and it’ll just grow back in greater numbers, with a heftier mold remediation cost.
If you think you might have a mold issue, call the experts at Central Florida Restoration Solutions. We have years of experience helping Central Florida homeowners rid themselves of pesky mold, water, smoke, and fire damage. Let the professionals at CFRS keep your family happy and healthy with mold remediation services.