As the holidays approach, with all the holiday prep, it’s important to be mindful of the air in the home, and moisture available in the air. Unlike the Spring, Summer and Fall, when we might open our doors and windows to allow more air and exterior humidity in the home, during Winter months we typically keep the home tightly closed to reduce heat loss.
Unless we take steps, this can have a tendency to create a potential for moisture buildup, especially where we might not be able to easily control it. Monitoring the situation to ensure this doesn’t happen will keep your air moisture regulated during the dryer colder weather.
There are over 10,000 types of mold that can be present in the air, and most require moisture above 50% in the air to thrive, so, it’s important to maintain control of the levels and location of moisture in the home.
Minnesota homes typically have basements, and, since MN is well known for having high Summer humidity levels, many home inspectors recommend a dehumidifier in every basement to cut down on mold potentials. Also, inspectors typically suggest a dehumidifier is kept running all year long and regularly emptied.
During Summer we typically also use the air conditioning system to manage the humidity level, whereas in Winter, humidity can come from washing clothes, taking baths or showers as well as cooking. Anywhere that condensation can form around those areas of your home should be monitored to cut down on condensation, which could potentially be a site for mold buildup.
Some homes have in-furnace humidifiers meant to balance out the humidity in the interior air to prevent the home being too dry, however, most home inspectors will recommend you shut this function off and not use it, because most homeowners do not properly monitor the humidity levels, or, change the level of humidity required as the temperature fluctuates.
Windows and walls are susceptible to condensation, and, it is important to ensure this doesn’t become an ongoing issue. Where you notice consistent buildup of condensation on windows, it’s important to correct, monitor and prevent future occurrences. Excessive moisture can damage or decay the woodwork, or, allow moisture to seep or migrate into the wall under the window creating a potential mold situation that can’t be seen visually on the wall.
Potential areas where condensation could become a bigger issue is the exhaust fan from the bathrooms, especially if the exhaust is pushed directly into the attic. Bathroom vents, if not vented properly to the roof and outside the home, can cause bigger issues. Mold can grow in the insulation, on the wooden studs, timbers and on roof decking if vents are not properly installed and sealed. This also applies to the laundry and kitchen area if not properly vented to the exterior of the house. Not all kitchens have exterior vents.
To ensure you home doesn’t have these types of issues, it’s key to keep the dew point low enough. To monitor this, you can purchase a humidistat for under $25.00 and test the air humidity to keep it at or around the preferred 20% level in the Winter and a safer 45%, or lower, during the Summer months. Using your dehumidifier all year long, or air conditioner during the high humidity months, will help you maintain correct levels of humidity.
To keep an eye on the situation as you use different areas of the home, and ensure the humidity is kept low, the following suggestions will help you take control of this and keeping consistent will cut down on mold potential.
In Winter, keeping the curtains and/or shades open during the day will allow the humidity to dry around windows. Keep bathroom fans on after baths or showers for at least 45 minutes to get rid of all excess moisture. Check the attic to make sure your bathroom vents out to the exterior, not just to the attic, and check for any potential mold or moisture around roof vent seals to ensure there is no sign of condensation. Proper venting of kitchens, laundries, and bathrooms is essential.
Keeping the kitchen fan on while cooking on stovetops, if the fan vents to the outside, is also smart. When boiling liquids generates a lot of steam, this can create condensation. Some older kitchens have vent fans in the ceiling, others might have it above the stove hidden in a cabinet, either way, it’s important to leave it on during cooking so steam escapes to the exterior of the home.
It’s also smart to regularly check for any potential leaky faucets, looking under sinks and tubs to ensure that no leaks are occurring, and, if leaks are found they should be fixed as soon as possible.
One of our past clients noticed a bad odor coming from an unused bathroom and finally checked under the sink to identify the source of the smell. They were shocked to find mold growing on every surface inside the cabinet. The entire cabinet and wall area was removed by mold remediation, as well as all the flooring. All new flooring, drywall, cabinet and sink were installed after air quality checks to ensure no further mold issues could be present.
Monitoring these potential issues is the best way to prevent them and save you money in the long run, keeping your home healthier for you all.
Written by Claire Bastien for FindYourMinnesotaHome.com