Blog Update!
For those of you not following me on Facebook, as of the Summer of 2019 I've moved to Central WA, to a tiny mountain town of less than 1,000 people.

I will be covering my exploits here in the Cascades, as I try to further reduce my impact on the environment. With the same attitude, just at a higher altitude!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Fighting the mold monsters

The following is an excerpt from my book, The Non-Toxic Avenger: What you don't know can hurt you, that is coming out November 2011 from New Society Publishers.

Living in Seattle means there is a constant battle between good and evil. And by evil, I mean mold. And mildew and, just for kicks, you can toss in mushrooms as well. In every modern home that I’ve lived in here in the Pacific Northwest, we’ve always had issues with moisture. The combination of relative humidity and lack of sunlight means that nothing dries out for nine months of the year. There have been only two places that I lived that didn’t have issues with mold and they were homes built over 100 years ago. In other words, they were drafty. They didn’t have that airtight, energy-saving, heat-keeping tight frame you see in buildings built in the last 50 years or so. The end result is the newer the building, the worse the mold.

When I was growing up in the 1970s, our house (built around 1968 or so) was not just damp, it was cold. I remember always freezing in that house and it wasn’t because my parents were doing some sort of blog challenge, they just kept the heat down. Couple that with the fact that the house was situated on top of some natural spring or stream or something and the end result was a lot of moisture inside. My childhood home is a bad example regarding moisture because we had, for a good portion of the year, a river of water literally running through the unfinished portion of our basement. You could open those wood louvered doors at the end of the family room and step into Ferngully down there with its strategically placed bricks, boards and other contraptions to get you from one end to the other without getting your feet too wet. Kind of like stepping stones through a stream but the hills were made out of black plastic tarp.

It was always my dad’s fantasy to finish that end of the basement and he’d spin images of a giant playroom with a pool table and other such things. I’m pretty sure a wet bar was mentioned once or twice. Something the resident mice and other critters could really get into. The closest he got to any kind of drainage was building a sump pump in the front yard that never really took the edge off the flow. Any time there was a heavy rain, the laundry room got a deluge of water pouring through it. The basement smelled like a mix of must and mold which did wonders for my older brothers’ asthma and allergies.

These two brothers, who still haven’t let me live down the fact that I got the biggest (and, surely, the driest) bedroom in the house, were relegated to living in two of the three bedrooms that were in the “daylight” basement. We moved into this house right before I was born so I don’t exactly recall all that went into their banishment to the basement, but suffice it to say that my dad did go so far as to finish two bedrooms and sort of a bathroom. Being more or less underground just meant that their bedrooms weren’t exactly in the Sahara. And, because of the high moisture content down there, my brother Darryl routinely had interesting flora — of the fern kind — growing in his carpet.

That wasn’t the last time I bore witness to things growing in the carpeting around here. When my husband and I were going to the University of Washington, we lived in an exceedingly cheap apartment in the University District in Seattle. This apartment was partially underground, so that when you looked out our bedroom window, you had to look up in order to see out. We didn’t have much in the way of furniture in our living room, just a futon and an old heavy desk that Hank’s father had managed to fashion out of what must be the heaviest wood found on planet Earth, or rather a mix of lead with a little plutonium. But the most offending object in that room was a television that we never watched and that was stuffed in the corner over by the sliding glass door that opened onto a one-foot-wide balcony.

Since these apartments were built on a slope, on one side we were underground and on the other we overlooked the street. Our balcony also overlooked the extremely noisy Knarr Tavern, which never had the door closed no matter the weather. The combination of jukebox and drunken pool table noise meant that we never had our sliding glass door open. This also meant that the air flow in that apartment was abysmal. We couldn’t really afford to keep this place heated and visitors (of which we had few) complained that we could hang meat in there. Even though we didn’t have too much of a mold problem, when we moved out after we graduated we noticed that we had created a bit of a terrarium in there by the glass door. As my husband went to move the television, he found a bumper crop of mushrooms growing under it.

I point this out only to show that Seattle, under the right conditions, can breed all sorts of internal plant and spore life if left unchecked. We didn’t have anything spectacular going on in our current house even after the basement flooded a few years ago. A few hours with a wet/dry vacuum and some industrial fans for a few days cleared us of any problems. But we did have the classic windowsill mold in this house, just because they seal up tightly. Our last house had old, double-hung wood windows and we never had an issue with mold. Here, however, it was a constant battle. The other constant battle against mold was in our master bathroom. There’s a window, but no fan.

The way the shower was constructed, it locked the moisture in the bathroom fairly well and did a slow release throughout the day. Our options were to leave the window open all day (which wasn’t too pleasant in the winter) or get a fan installed. I’m sure you can guess by now that we haven’t gotten around to getting a fan installed. It always got caught up in the whole, “let’s remodel the bathroom if we are going to do that,” which meant replacing the tiles, fixing the shower drip, installing the fan, replacing the vanity and getting new cabinets. The project always spun out of control and nothing ever got done, particularly since my husband got sick. And the last thing we wanted to endure was a bathroom remodel.

So, in order to assist the open window, I got a dehumidifier for the bathroom. It helped out immeasurably and I didn’t need to deploy evasive mold tactics as often as I used to. But we still had mold both in the shower itself and on the walls. The only thing that worked on the tiles was bleach or some derivative product, like the heinous X-14. I’m fairly certain that I’ve shaved several years of lung and eye health off my life by using that stuff. You really do feel poisoned when you use it, but by gum, it works like a charm. As do most toxic products. I’ve tried a bevy of more natural solutions on the tiles like vinegar and hydrogen peroxide and borax and baking soda and tea tree oil, ad nauseum, but they all, frankly, don’t do a damn thing. I’ve scrubbed and scrubbed and it’s all for naught.

To find out what we ended up doing to keep the mold in our house in check, you'll have to check out my book. I know, I know - very sneaky.

What do you do to manage the mold in your house?


Rachel said...

I could never survive living up there because I have SEVERE allergies to mold which induces asthma. We got a lot of rain this year so it was bad here. I can't imagine it up there.

Jeannette Bedard said...

I live near by in Victoria and constantly have a pink mold growing in my bathroom - it really likes to flourish on the inside of the shower curtain. I use bleach to remove it, but it always comes back within days.

Anonymous said...

Wow. So I take it it's damp up there in the winter as well as in the summer, which I was sort of wondering about. I could not take all that mold either, I'm SUPER sensitive to it (I will often smell mold/mildew in areas where other people can't) and badly allergic. And if I ever buy a house, it can't have a basement b/c they are *always* musty, I just can't deal with it.
It gets pretty humid here (kansas) in the summer but the only time I've had a mold problem indoors was in apartment with unventilated (or underventilated) bathrooms.

Anonymous said...

Oooh - you are sneaky! I've been considering a pumice stone for my bathroom, but wondering if that will just grind out the ground instead of clean it. ???

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Lisa said...

Tea tree oil doesn't get rid of the stains but it does kill the mold. We had toxic mold in our house, tested before we started clean up, cleaned everything with tea tree oil and killed it all. There was less mold inside than the control test we had outside.