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So, you've found mold in your attic. First things first: don't freak out. Attic mold, though a big deal, is treatable with the help of a professional and totally preventable down the road. Now, it's time for a deep breath, as there's little to no evidence to suggest that the presence of attic mold will cause serious health problems for you and your family down the road.
With that out of the way, it's time to uncover how mold makes a home in your house and how to stop attic mold from spreading in the first place.
Meet the Expert
What Is Attic Mold?
Did you know your attic is one of the most common areas for mold to be in your home? It's dark, warm, and often has very little air circulation, making it the perfect place for mold to grow. Attic mold looks like other molds you might find in your home—it presents as discolored and splotchy patches on wood.
Attic mold is usually caused by poor ventilation due to blocked vents or windows leading to excess moisture in the space. This moisture condensates and sits upon the wood, causing mold. This can happen more easily in the wintertime, where the hot air of the heated home meets the cold roof and condensates.
Another common reason for attic mold to form is "a roof leak, especially a smaller leak that goes unnoticed due to the infrequency that most people enter their attic," Michael Rubino, president of All American Restoration and author of The Mold Medic, says.
If you find attic mold in your own home, don't worry: attic mold is very treatable and discovery of it doesn't spell the imminent end for your attic or roof.
How to Identify Mold In Your Home
In order to clean or prevent attic mold, you first need to know how to identify it. A sign of poor ventilation—a precursor to attic mold—is an unusually hot and stuffy feeling in the attic. Wet insulation or dripping water on the ceiling below the attic is another telltale sign that mold may abound in your attic.
"Another sign you may have mold in your attic is a musty-like odor presenting itself as you make your way into your attic space," Rubino says. Additionally, if you've started to experience more health problems after moving into a new place—think allergies or more frequent asthma symptoms—your new home could have mold.
Looking to be extra sure that what you're seeing in your attic is mold? Purchase a mold test kit to check for yourself.
Of course, the greatest proof of an attic mold problem comes from seeing it with your own eyes. Attic mold appears on wood and is differently colored, spotted, and patchy. The different colors of mold often mean different things.
Lightly colored molds, like white, orange, or pink are slower spreading than darker molds. Gray and black mold spread quickly, while greenish-black mold could be a sign of the infamous "black mold" (Stachybotrys chartarum), which, though scary looking, has proved to be no more dangerous to your health than other molds.
How to Clean Attic Mold
Leaving your attic mold be can lead to health problems, like allergies or asthma, as the mold releases its spores into the air and they are breathed in by the home's residents. Additionally, if you're looking to move soon, some states require the mold to be disclosed when selling a home, meaning that it's something you'll need to take care of before your home hits the market.
However, you probably shouldn't worry about serious health problems stemming from attic mold. As the CDC says, "There are very few reports that toxigenic molds found inside homes can cause unique or rare health conditions such as pulmonary hemorrhage or memory loss. These case reports are rare, and a causal link between the presence of the toxigenic mold and these conditions has not been proven." Additionally, remember that mold develops in the presence of excess moisture, and excess moisture plus wood can lead to rot.
Unfortunately, cleaning up your attic mold is no easy process. In order to DIY it, you'll need protective gear, a negative air machine, polyethylene sheets, a dry ice blaster, a wet/dry vacuum with a HEPA filter, and a mold-resistant coating.
According to This Old House, here's what you'll need to do: while wearing your protective gear, cover the attic floor with the sheets and turn on the negative air machine to filter the air while you work. Next, use the dry ice blaster to blast the mold off of the surface of the wood. Then, vacuum up the mold dust that has fallen onto the sheeting and discard the sheeting. Finally, you'll apply the mold-resistant coating to prevent future attic mold.
Does this process seem a bit intense to you? Us too. That's why most mold experts recommend hiring a professional to do the work for you.
"Mold problems should be mitigated by experts because they fix the root cause of the mold," Charles Leduc, chief operating officer at Mold Busters, says. "Without solving your moisture problems, cleaning the mold up yourself will be a very temporary solution."
How to Prevent Attic Mold
There's one good way you can avoid cleaning up attic mold entirely: preventing it in the first place. With a little hard work and diligence, you can ensure that mold can't find a home in your house.
First things first: good attic ventilation is key to preventing mold. Make sure none of your vents are blocked or closed, including your gable vents, your vents along the eaves (soffit vents), and your vents along the ridge of your roof. The airflow keeps moist air moving and out of your attic.
Additionally, double-check that no hot, moist air—like from a dryer—is venting into your attic, as this is another easy way to make a home for mold.
If you live in an especially moist and damp area, consider installing an attic vent fan, which provides extra protection against moisture.
Another preventative measure to take against attic mold is to spray a mold barrier in your attic, which prevents mold growth on surfaces. Finally, inspect your attic seasonally so that if you do find mold, you'll find it before it spreads.
"A periodic look around and a sniff in the attic will save you from mold spores affecting your health and paying to remediate an infestation," Leduc says.