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Prevent Mold in the Basement
By Jim Brown
Basement and crawlspaces present one of the biggest challenges in air quality control. It is usually damp and, in many cases, used as a storage area, providing mold with optimal growth conditions.
Mold prevention in the basement and crawlspace consists of two elements:
- Controlling humidity levels
- Practicing smart storage methods
Controlling Humidity Levels
The first step to successfully controlling humidity levels is to measure them and detect unusual readings. It is important to measure humidity levels at least once every 3 months to keep track of any changes that may occur due to weather changes. Use a digital humidity meter (hygrometer).
If humidity levels are higher than 45%, your basement is most likely going to suffer from mold and you must take action to eliminate moisture sources and lower humidity levels.
Start with inspecting your basement for any water damages that generate visible or hidden moisture sources. (Learn more about preventing water damage in the basement). If you find signs for water damage such as leaks or standing water, fix these problems immediately and dry out the affected areas.
Air circulation has an important role in humidity control. It is harder to circulate air in the basement since usually the basement has either small or no windows. However, you can improve air circulation by keeping your basement tidy and eliminating clutter. It is also recommended to open any doors leading to the basement monthly and leave a fan running for 1 - 2 hours. That will force air circulation, replacing humid air with fresh air.
Another important tool for air quality improvement is the dehumidifier. Installing a dehumidifier in the basement will assist significantly in reducing airborne moisture and lowering humidity levels. It is especially recommended during warm months.
If you detect cracks in your walls or floor, seal them immediately. For basements floors, it is recommended to use ceramic tile set in cement with waterproofing compound and using cement as the tile grout.
Avoid storing papers, clothes, and furnishings in the basement as these materials are used as nutrition for mold allowing it to spread even faster if humidity levels rise above 50%. If you can't completely avoid storing these materials in your basement, do your best to reduce the amount of them and discard badly damaged materials.
If you must store these materials in the basement, make sure to place them away from outer walls, since that is where moisture is most likely to initiate. For the same reason, be sure to raise these stored materials from the floor.
Never store firewood in the basement or crawlspace as it is very likely to become moldy within hours as humidity levels rise. When firewood becomes moldy, it generates airborne mold spores that may contaminate your indoor air quality and in some cases the HVAC system.
If you detect any signs of mold contact a professional immediately. Remember, given the proper conditions, mold will spread fast and will present serious health threats. (More on the hazards of mold.)