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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

There’s no place like home... when it’s mold-free

Kathleen McQuillan
Posted 2/9/22

When my phone rang one mid-December evening, I couldn’t have imagined the request I received. I’d assumed my son was calling from Minneapolis to announce that, because of the latest COVID …

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There’s no place like home... when it’s mold-free

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When my phone rang one mid-December evening, I couldn’t have imagined the request I received. I’d assumed my son was calling from Minneapolis to announce that, because of the latest COVID surge, he and his family would not be visiting for the holidays. But instead, this was a call for immediate assistance, a rare occurrence since his leaving home at sixteen to attend the Perpich Center Arts High. He adjusted quickly to “life in the big city” and at an early age became surprisingly self-sufficient.
He described his current dilemma. He had discovered mold in his basement that had to be remediated, “asap”. After he shared more information about his circumstances and the daunting process that lay ahead, I knew he needed my help.
I began putting things in order so that I could be gone for an indefinite length of time, feeling fortunate that I had few obligations and that my spouse, John, would be willing and able to hold down the fort. A big concern was how my rescue pup, Duffy, would react. We’d never been apart since his arrival a year ago. But John offered ample reassurance through our final good-byes.
I’m fine with the drive until I’m thrust into that place I call “the heart of the beast”, where I-35 splits in two heading me toward I-94, where I’m really shown how rusty my high-speed driving skills have become. It’s then I begin to feel like the lead character in that now ancient film, “Ma Kettle in the City”. I’m totally “Ma” as she’s hurtling down the highway with folks flying by on both sides of her at a furious clip! I can feel other drivers’ frustration and anger, palpable through the thin sheets of glass and whooshing air that barely separate our vehicles from disaster. When I see a middle finger go up, my muttered apologies and prayers became my meagre means of self defense.
Soon, with a sigh of relief, I am pulling into Corey’s driveway and turning off the key, very ready for his long-awaited hug. No thanks to COVID, it’s been a long time since we’ve shared one.
Corey is quick to fill me in on our project. Through the course of time, his beloved wife Hayley has developed an array of unexplainable and serious physical symptoms. Medical testing has ruled out many possible explanations for her illness leaving them searching for other causes including those labeled “environmental”. A professional inspection and analysis finally pinpointed colonies of “black mold” in their home, very likely the culprit. Thorough decontamination was the only real solution. That would be our mission!
Anyone’s home can become infected with mold growth, commonly after incidents of basement flooding or seepage, roof leaks, excessive window condensation, or anywhere chronic moisture occurs. Many of us live with mold without our knowledge or concern but sometimes our immune systems become hyper-reactive, causing mild to even severe illness. In Hayley’s case, it was severe. Once black mold is detected, elimination becomes the goal.
Black mold is a fungus with a very important function. It breaks down organic matter into nutrients that help sustain other plant and animal life forms. Decomposition is a necessary part of the natural life cycle and tends to cause little or no issue for most humans when encountered in outdoor settings. But once mold moves into indoor spaces, fungal reproduction produces spores that thrive on moist, decomposing wood and other organic materials, releasing toxic fumes into the environment, similar to volatile organic compounds (VOC’s). Both microscopic spores and mycotoxins can wreak havoc with our health. Corey’s basement didn’t smell of must or mildew, nor was there flooding other than the occasional washtub overflow or minor floor drain back up that when discovered were quickly dealt with. But those dusty boxes stored in corners hadn’t been moved in years….
Mold mitigation involves many steps. All exposed surfaces must be thoroughly vacuumed, scrubbed with a concentrated solution of high-powered detergent, rinsed, and scrubbed again with a solution of hydrogen peroxide, vinegar or other anti-microbial agent. Any other exposed vulnerable surfaces must be wiped with peroxide and then coated with an anti-mold/mildew paint. Anything that couldn’t be treated by this process had to be discarded. As we completed the house tour, the magnitude of our mission became very clear. That evening we mapped our strategy and gathered supplies.
For the first four days we targeted the furnace and ductwork. Yikes! After a quick look, we suspected much of the system hadn’t been touched since its installation in 1957. For the next three weeks, we cleaned and treated every available surface, including the inner workings of the washer and dryer, and contents of every cabinet.
In my off-time, I read pamphlets scattered about that explained mold “behavior”, its production of spores and mycotoxic fumes that when released, can enter the lungs and spread through our bloodstreams affecting other vital organs. I began recalling my previous encounters with indoor mold growing on surfaces that I’d given nothing more than an occasional wipe down, with little concern other than its unsightliness — places like the bedroom windows furthest from the wood stove, where warm air hits cold glass and condenses, creating a super-moist environment perfect for mold formation. Never will I look at those spots in the same way again. At first signs, I’ll be out with the scrub brush and peroxide to nip them in the bud!
Finally the day came when our mission was complete. The basement had been transformed from a dreaded unhealthy space to one big open room, with light in every corner, freshly scrubbed, decontaminated, and painted with tender, loving care. Truly livable!
Now, we thought, it’s time to move upstairs for Phase Two. Since no “hotspots” had been found there, my son felt confident that he could handle the main floor on his own. This meant I was relieved of duty. As I packed my bags, we recapped our success and patted each other on the back for a job well done. And with our final good-bye, I reminded him that I would remain on stand-by for further assistance.
As I made my way north, I reviewed our thirty-day sojourn “down under”. There was our “mission”, but it was also a time of getting reacquainted after twenty years living far apart… the memories we brought back to life, the previously untold personal sagas, some unknown chapters from our family history, and a lot of great music! Not once were there cross words. We were a team facing challenges, solving complex problems, overcoming setbacks, and offering mutual encouragement and support. We felt proud of what we had accomplished together, and all in a spirit of love.
Hours later, I pulled into my driveway and turned the key with a sigh of relief. There was my little house intact, surrounded by trees that offered shelter from a stinging wind. After my month away, the cabin was engulfed by snow. I trod through the drifts and stepped inside, met by shadows and a subtle scent of woodsmoke. Oh, John had built a fire for me. Bless his heart. That warm welcome was all I needed to feel loved and happy to walk in that door.
Suddenly, I realized how everything fit together. This trip had shown me that Dorothy was right, but only when our house is safe and free of any threat to our health or well-being. Then, there really is no place like home!

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