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Everything you need to know about mold after an extended power outage

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By Lisa Iscrupe August 27th, 2021
For business

 

 

  • The bottom line. Even a power outage of just 24 hours can kick off mold growth in your home. Be vigilant against mold before, during, and after a power outage to prevent illness and property damage. 

Why you need to be aware of mold

Mold. It conjures up pictures of green and black nastiness. You’ve seen it on your overdue fruit or your forgotten leftovers. You may have seen its cousin, mildew, snaking along the grout in your bathroom. 

Wherever it’s spotted, mold, mildew, and fungus are always unwanted visitors reminding you that it might be time for a scrubbing. But did you know mold can be dangerous too? Mold can breed incredibly fast and thrives in warm, wet environments like the kind you might encounter after a natural disaster

To understand the central issues regarding mold and power outages, we spoke with David Lipton, a Certified Industrial Hygienist (CIH) with the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, who has researched the effects of mold after a natural disaster. As with any recovery effort, Lipton advises homeowners and renters that “when starting recovery, they will need a list of things saved, things disposed of, and any actions or expenses to protect property from further damage.“  

In hurricane season, after a flood, or even a snowstorm, you want to make sure you’re prepared to fight mold before it affects your family’s health and well-being. Here’s everything you need to know about mold during an extended power outage.

Mold can grow in almost any conditions

Mold spores are hearty stock that can survive and thrive in suboptimal conditions. Moisture and warmer temperatures provide the best environment for mold and mildew to multiply. And there is no shortage of mold varieties. There are over 100,000 different types of mold, though not all of them are detrimental to humans. 

Mold grows after a power outage

Lack of air conditioning and proper ventilation after a power outage can provide excellent conditions for mold and mildew to grow. And homes in the warm, humid climates like the southeast United States are prime real estate for the yucky stuff. 

Mold grows super fast

Mold acts quickly. Not only can it grow in less-than-hospitable conditions, mold colonies “can start to grow on a damp surface within 24 to 48 hours,” according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Not only that, but mold reproduces microscopic spores, similar to very tiny seeds, and easily travels through the air, sometimes by several miles.

Prepare for mold before a power outage happens

You may not be able to prevent mold in the aftermath of an extended power outage. However, there are a few home maintenance tasks that can defend your home against mold. 

Maintain a low humidity environment in your home. A humidity level of 50% or lower is recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

  • Ensure indoor exhaust fans are in working order and in use in high-humidity areas such as the kitchen, bathrooms, and dryer vent.
  • Identify and repair any leaks in your home’s structure. This tip is handy because it will save you money on your power bill as well.
  • Keep your home clean and dry. 

Controlling and preventing mold by running dehumidifiers, the air conditioner, and your washer and dryer use a lot of energy. However, there are ways to keep your electricity bill low while still combating allergens.

Eliminate mold after a power outage

Once a building is considered safe after an extended power outage, FEMA recommends using the following guidelines to rid your home or business of mold. Since you may be dealing with building materials, including electrical equipment that has come into contact with water, this process can be meticulous and risky. For this reason, we recommend using a professional restoration service. 

  • Air out: Open all windows and doors, including interior doors, to promote cross-ventilation. Open cabinet and pantry doors in the kitchen and bathrooms, and the attic as well. If possible, use fans to speed up drying time. 
  • Move out: If flooding has occurred, move affected items, especially permeable articles, such as mattresses and couches. For further safety, cover affected items with plastic drop cloths and use personal protective equipment (PPE) such as goggles, gloves, and a mask. 
  • Tear out: Get rid of contaminated building materials such as carpet, vinyl, linoleum, drywall, plaster, and insulation. 
  • Clean out: Wash and sanitize the remainder of the building and items. Commercial mold removers, a shop vacuum, bleach, and a pressure washer are often necessary elements in this step.  
  • Dry out: Even with drying equipment, this part of the process is typically the longest. Many materials can take six weeks or longer to dry out. If items are not given adequate time to dry, mold may return to affected areas.

Mold causes multiple health issues

The number one effect mold has on adults and children is respiratory distress. Mold can trigger asthma and wheezing, and even lead to broader health issues, such as “eye irritation, sneezing, coughing, sore throat, skin rash, and headaches,” according to Healthline. Some studies have even linked mold to persistent health issues like chronic fatigue syndrome and joint pain. 

Furthermore, the ongoing spread of the COVID virus has in some instances been associated with fungal diseases, since both illnesses can affect the respiratory system. And, since COVID has resulted in more people spending time at home, now is a great time to double-check your home’s infrastructure.

Keep your pets safe from mold

And don’t forget to keep pets safe in the heat and safe from mold after a power outage. Pets can encounter similar respiratory problems as humans when exposed to black mold. Like us, our furry friends can encounter mold by breathing in spores but may also endanger themselves by consuming mold. According to PuroClean, an excellent way to prevent mold contamination in pets is to keep your pet’s food in an airtight container and “if your pet begins showing symptoms of toxic black mold poisoning (such as changes in the typical behavior, eating patterns, and energy level), take them to the vet immediately. Tell the doctor that your pet might be affected by mold.”

Bonus mold fact: It doesn’t matter if mold is living or dead

According to the Environmental protection Agency (EPA) “Dead mold is allergenic and may cause allergic reactions and other health effects in some individuals, so it is not enough to simply kill the mold. It must also be removed.”

Lisa Iscrupe is a writer and editor who specializes in energy, the deregulated electricity market, and solar power. Her work has been referenced by CNN, The Daily MBA, The Media Bulletin, and other national sources. Find more of Lisa’s work at SaveOnEnergy.com. Follow her at @lisaiscrupe.

 

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