Anyone who has had serious water damage in their home as a result of flooding knows the smell of mold. Mold and the spores it deploys are toxic.

There are hundreds of different species of mold. The two most well-known are Stachybotrys, generally referred to as toxic “black” mold, and Aspergillus, a common type of fungi — sixteen species of which are known to contain mycotoxins, which are highly toxic.

Worried you may have mold in your home, but not quite sure? Here are 4 red flags you should be looking for:

1. A recent water issue

Mold needs four things to grow — food (starch or sugar), a temperature between 41 and 104 degrees, oxygen, and moisture. It’s not uncommon to hear about mold in a home that had a leaky roof or a flooded basement. If you’re currently managing a water issue in your home or recently dealt with one, that liquid/moisture may have been the final ingredient that mold needed to start growing.

2. Visible dampness or damage

You may not think you had a recent water issue, but look for signs of water damage anyway. The red flags can include warped surfaces, peeling paint, or stains/discoloration on the walls, floor, or ceiling in your basement, attic, or other rooms in your home.

3. That smell

Remember that mold may not be visible. It could be behind a wall or above ceiling panels. And, while it may be hard to describe, most of us know that musty mold smell.

4. Allergy symptoms

One of the most significant ways mold is detected is through an allergic reaction. Coughing, sore throat, watery eyes, sneezing, runny nose, nasal congestion, difficulty breathing, and other hay fever like symptoms may all be the result of breathing in toxic mold spores. If unchecked by a doctor or allergist, mold can lead to both skin and lung infections.

If you have any these signs of mold there are two important questions you need to be able to answer:

  • Where is the mold growing?
  • What is the water problem which caused or is causing it?

Mold inspection

Prior to testing, have a thorough mold inspection done of your home. If mold is discovered, you can usually forgo mold testing and proceed directly to the removal stage. If no mold is found and you still think you have a mold problem, or if mold was found and you believe there may be more, it’s time to test.

Mold testing

There are two way to get mold tested. The first option is to do it yourself by purchasing a kit to collect a sample of the mold and send it out for analysis.

Or better yet, hire a professional mold inspector. An inspector will do a culture test to identify the species of mold and determine where it’s growing. An inspector will measure the amount of spores in your home by testing the air quality. He or she can also conduct surface tests by swabbing samples or perform a bulk test using actual materials from your home.

Once you have had the mold removed and addressed the source problem, the inspector will retest to verify that all of the mold has been eliminated.

The bottom line

Mold is a serious problem that may result in real medical problems for you or members of your family. Mold can be particularly harmful for the very young and the elderly.

If you come across what you believe to be mold — don’t touch it. Doing so will only release more spores into the air. Hiring a professional mold inspector and tester who is experienced at collecting samples, analyzing, and removing mold will most likely lead to a more positive outcome.