Australia's humid and warm climate means that mould should be a well-publicised issue, however, its impact on our health is only starting to be fully recognised. Mould can be a source of respiratory problems, allergic reactions, fatigue, and while some moulds are simply minor irritants, others can be highly toxic. Recent research has revealed that 24% of the population does not have the genes required for immune response antibodies to biotoxins produced by mould (Bijlsma, 2018). Healthy Homes expert Nicole Bijlsma outlines how this can affect individuals in her book 'Healthy Home Healthy Family'. Keep your home healthy, low tox, and happy with our comprehensive guide by local expert Building Biologist Joachim Herrmann.
Mould spores are air-born and omnipresent
... maybe with the exception of Antarctica.
Mould spores have a keen appetite and will happily feed on dead materials to fulfil their important role as nature's decomposers. The problem is that these spores are not very discerning, and will grow their eager little hyphae (tiny hair-like fibres) into anything and everything. Add a little moisture and warmth to their environment and they will quickly proliferate. Perfect for nature - not so much for our homes!
Don't want to sleep with mould?
A healthy bedroom is vital to preventing the respiratory issues, allergic reactions and fatigue associated with exposure to mould. After all, we spend one-third of our lives sleeping.
Some hundreds or thousands of naturally-occurring mould spores will live in the air of your bedroom. Only some of these spores will be 'lucky' enough to land on a surface of your bed, carpet or anywhere else that is just moist enough after a warm summer night to allow them to grow. If this moisture persists, mould can quickly grow into an unstoppable and unwanted guest in your home.
To avoid the spread of mould, simply make sure to air out your bedroom, keep it clean and allow your mattress to dry out during the day. It is also important to keep the space underneath your bed clear for airflow and vacuum the mattress when changing the sheets. Naturally mould-resistant latex mattresses can be an excellent solution, but will also eventually succumb to mould if left moist for too long. Flipping your mattress regularly is recommended for all mattresses and can also help prolong their lifespan.
A Whole-House Approach
Tackle the rest of your home by carefully checking for visible signs of mould. Pay close attention to spaces such as the bathroom, air conditioning ducts and wardrobes.
Other areas of the home that are often overlooked are moist sub-floors and spaces underneath the house. Mould spores are carried into the home through cracks and in the flooring and walls, so it is important to have excellent sub-floor ventilation.
Bathroom vents are commonly neglected but need to be regularly cleaned of lint and dust that may collect on the grid. Windows can also be a source of moisture as cold surfaces encourage condensation. Those placed on the southern side of the house are particularly prone to mould growth.
When cleaning these areas, ensure you are using HEPA grade vacuum cleaner and empty the bags into a rubbish bin outside, as mould spores may otherwise escape into the house.
As well as humidity, mould can be fed by rising damp. Where the damp course of the home has been damaged, gutters overflow into the ceiling, plumbing is faulty or there is a leak in the roof, mould has the potential to grow. The causes of mould in the home need to be quickly addressed, or the cost of damages and repairs will escalate.
It is widely understood that older buildings tend to have issues with dampness, however, a recent report has also estimated that 40% of newly built Australian homes have condensation issues due to poor water vapour ventilation (Bijlsma, 2018).
If you suspect mould may be an issue in your home, visit your local Building Biologist to organise professional testing.
Organise an inspection of your home: https://www.buildingbiologyservices.com/contents/en-us/d65_mouldinspection.html
Learn how to easily turn your mattress: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zYoU28Xzfpo
Bijlsma, N. (2018). Healthy Home Healthy Family. 3rd ed. Warrandyte VIC: Australian College of Environmental Studies, pp.66-67.
Author: Joachim Herrmann, Masters of Education in Science and Social Studies
Building Biology Services