Investigating Homes for Mold

We spend more time at home than anywhere else, which can be a problem if your own home is making you sick and you don’t even know it.

South Florida has high temperatures and humidity all year round, making it a great destination to live and play. But it also makes it a perfect breeding ground for mold. Mold you can see, and mold you can’t.

A Miami researcher believes there’s something everyone in Florida has in their homes that can be the root of the problem – your air conditioner.

Silvia Quiles of Miramar is a homebody. She loves where she lives, but when she’s at home, she’s never far away from a box of tissues. She continuously blows her nose and scratches her eyes.

“There’s something in the air inside the house,” said Quiles.

She has to go outside to get fresh air to feel better. She visits the doctor for her itchy eyes, but hasn’t gotten any answers. She also, has been searching for dust and hasn’t found any.

“I worry about that, but I don’t see any indication,” said Quiles.

Patients, Homes Studied

After two years of feeling like a patient in her own home, help rolled into her town home. Researchers with the University of Miami are swabbing their way through her house and testing the quality of her air on a regular basis After taking a mold sample this winter, researchers found mold in her home. Professor Naresh Kumar, PhD,  doesn’t believe Quiles’s mold is harmful in low quantities, but he’s trying to determine where it came from.

“Some types of molds are bad, like black mold,” said Professor Kumar.

He’s testing hundreds of homes like hers and he has a theory that points to a place people can’t easily see – behind the air conditioning vent.

Air Conditioner Concerns

“The air conditioning systems that we use in Miami, they were not designed for Miami environments,” said Kumar.

Most air conditioning units in South Florida aren’t lined with metal, they’re lined with fiberglass. With the humidity and moisture, it can be a breeding ground for mold.

Mike Dexter has seen moldy air ducts repeatedly over the years. He’s in the business of cleaning them.

“By the time you see it on your ceiling or vents, it’s already too late,” said Dexter. “It spreads like cancer throughout the system, once it takes root it’s easier to distribute through the system.”

You’ll find fiberglass in most Florida homes because it’s cheaper than metal, it doesn’t rust and it’s easier to install than metal.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) admits there’s “substantial debate” about the type of air duct to use, but doesn’t recommend one over the other. It’s up to the builder to decide.

Researchers don’t know the cause of Silvia’s mold yet but they’re giving her recommendations to improve the quality of her air and they’re watching closely to see if her health improves.

“I think it’s going to benefit me and lot of people out there, that have the same problem,” she said.

Things you can do at Home

There are test kits you can buy from hardware stores for less than ten dollars to test for mold in your own home. If it comes up positive, you can then send then sample to the lab for an additional cost to determine what type of mold it is. But cleaning up mold can be an expensive task, so can trying to prevent it in the first place.

Professor Kumar recommends keeping your air conditioner set at 72 degrees or lower and your humidity under 60 percent. He says even though it can be costly, the cooler conditions will help prevent mold from growing in your home.

As part of the research study, hundreds of homes will be tested in South Florida over the next few years. Patients will be checked in on continuously to see if the conditions in their eyes improve. Researchers are focusing on the patients’ eyes, because they say they will be most affected by mold and allergens. Plus, eye health can be indicative of other problems throughout the body.

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