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Mold coverage hard to find in home insurance policies

There's no question about it. If you have a mold problem in your home, you should take of it immediately. While most mold doesn't pose a threat to your health, there are certain types that can. One type of mold that medical experts warn against is stachybotrys. home insurance

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This mold, pronounced "stack-e-botris," is a toxic mold that has been found in areas that are constantly wet. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), mold spores drop on places where there is excessive moisture. Leaking roofs, leaky plumbing, sewer backups and frequently overflowing washing machines can create environments for this dangerous (some say deadly) mold. CDC claims that a link between toxic mold and health conditions such as memory loss or coughing up blood has not been proven. Some health experts disagree and there are a number of lawsuits that have connected mold to health problems, and even death.

In any case, if your home is infested with mold, you may be on your own. Mold, like rot and insect infestation, is generally not covered by home insurance policies, according to the Insurance Information Institute (III). Standard home insurance policies provide coverage for damage that is "sudden and accidental."

Home insurance companies typically consider mold damage to be a home-maintenance problem and it is specifically excluded in a standard policy. However, if mold contamination is the result of a "covered peril," such as a burst pipe, you may be covered. According to a sample home insurance policy, "mold, fungus or wet rot" is not covered. But coverage is available for "loss caused by mold, fungus or wet rot that is hidden within the walls or ceilings or beneath the floors or above the ceilings of a structure if such loss results from the accidental discharge of water or stream within: plumbing, heating, air conditioning, or a household appliance on the premises or a storm drain, or water, stream or sewer pipes off the residence premises."

Policies differ by company and state, so ask your agent if you're not sure what coverage you have.

Mold caused by water from excessive humidity, condensation or flooding is excluded from coverage.

Dangers of mold

A standard home insurance policy does not cover losses caused by "mold, fungus or wet rot."

Mold spores can enter your home through open windows, doorways or heating and air conditioning intakes. While most types of mold aren't hazardous to you if you're healthy, too much mold exposure may cause you to develop problems. Common health concerns from mold include "hay fever-like allergic symptoms," according to CDC. People with respiratory problems may experience breathing difficulty and those with immune suppression can be at increased risk for infection.

According to the CDC, people who are sensitive to molds may experience:

  • Nasal stuffiness
  • Cough
  • Wheezing or other breathing difficulties
  • Sore/hoarse throat
  • Skin and eye irritation
  • Fever
  • Upper respiratory infections, including sinus infections

Even if mold in your house doesn't cause you any medical problems, it can cause serious damage to your belongings and your home. According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, mold fungi can turn into "decay fungi" and weaken the wood structure. Dry rot or "brown rot" may form. Left unchecked, it can cause severe structural damage to your home.

Warning signs

According to the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) and Airspectors Environmental Services, homeowners should watch for:

  • Materials or furnishings visibly affected by moisture
  • Materials that have been wet for more than 48 hours
  • Musty or moldy odors
  • Areas of high humidity, generally above 70 percent

If caught soon enough, mold can be cleaned up before extensive damage occurs. Although any visible mold can be sampled by an environmental consultant and analyzed by a laboratory, these tests are expensive. It is more important to get rid of the mold rather than spend a lot of money trying to find out more about it. The most effective way to treat mold is to correct underlying water damage and clean the affected area.

It is more important to get rid of the mold rather than spend a lot of money trying to find out more about it.

If you plan on trying to clean up the mold yourself, make sure you're free of allergy symptoms and/or asthma. Wear a mask and rubber gloves during cleaning. Mold can be removed from hard surfaces using commercial products, soap and water or a bleach solution (1 cup of bleach in 1 gallon of water), according to CDC. Open lots of windows to provide ventilation.

Apply the bleach and water mix to the moldy surface with a sponge, let it sit for 15 minutes, then dry the surface thoroughly. Dispose of any sponges or rags used to clean the mold.

If the mold quickly returns or spreads, it may indicate an underlying problem such as a leak. Any underlying water problems must be fixed to successfully eliminate further problems. If the contamination is extensive, you may have to seek professional help from a mold-abatement specialist.

Fighting the fungus

Molds can be found almost anywhere moisture is present. There are molds that can grow on wood, carpet and paper. According to III, one way to inhibit mold growth is to reduce indoor humidity by:

  • Venting bathrooms, dryers, and other moisture-generating sources to the outside
  • Using air conditioners and dehumidifiers
  • Increasing ventilation
  • Using exhaust fans whenever cooking, dish washing and cleaning

You can also prevent condensation on cold surfaces by adding insulation to windows, piping, exterior walls, roof or floors. Additionally, don't install carpet where there is a persistent moisture problem, such as bathrooms, or on concrete floors with leaks or frequent condensation. The III also advises:

  • Keep your home's exterior painted
  • Keep gutters clean of leaves and other debris
  • Maintain your roof to prevent water from seeping into your home
  • Keep flowerbeds away from exterior walls so that the soil doesn't touch your home's siding
  • Don't wet walls with lawn sprinklers for a long period of time. This can allow the fungus to form rhizomorphs, so even when the sprinklers are off, the decay continues
  • Fix plumbing leaks immediately
  • Don't pile wood or other debris in crawl spaces or against the sides of the house
  • Have your home inspected if you see evidence of the fungus. Remember: The fungus is tricky. The place where you see the fungus may not be the point of origin
  • Inspect hoses, pipes and fittings. Consider replacing hoses to major appliances like your washer and dishwasher every five years. A typical water hose costs $5 to $10.

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