07April

Air Ducts: A Potential Source of “Sick House Syndrome”

 

Airborne mold spores can cause a number of allergic reactions including watery eyes, nausea, headaches, skin irritation, and fatigue. Sometimes the conditions that allow mold to thrive are temporary. However, if mold gets a foothold in your home’s ductwork, you may end up dealing with a persistent condition known as “sick house syndrome” (SHS).

Here are some things to keep in mind for preventing or remediating mold-related SHS.

  • While SHS (or more broadly “sick building syndrome”) can be caused by other air pollutants from household products, building materials, etc., mold is frequently the culprit—especially in humid climates.
  • Because ductwork is enclosed, it’s much more difficult to detect mold there than in other areas of your home. Since its purpose is to distribute air throughout your house, ductwork is especially problematic when it becomes contaminated with mold.
  • Dust and other particles, when combined with humid air, cling to the walls of ducts and create ideal “soil” in which mold quickly puts down roots. The dispersion of mold spores from air vents then accelerates their contact with other surfaces where a little moisture will allow them to flourish.
  • Effective filtering of the air that is introduced to your HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) system is critical to maintaining a “healthy” home. Check and clean or replace filters regularly.
  • Reducing humidity within your ductwork can help inhibit the growth of mold. The best way to do this is to turn off your air conditioning whenever possible to let the system dry out. Running a dehumidifier in your home can help as well.
  • Leaks in your ductwork, which are common around joints and seams, can allow mold particles to enter the system and proliferate. Check your ductwork periodically and repair leaks.
  • Duct cleaning services vary in their techniques. Some use simple suction to remove debris. Others augment vacuuming with manual dislodging of caked-on dust with brushes, “snakes,” and other devices. In severe cases of mold infestation, a service provider may cut into ductwork to reach problem areas.
  • Cleaning services also vary in their effectiveness, with some only succeeding in cleaning the ends of the ductwork system closest to openings. Also, if a “cleaning” doesn’t capture everything that is dislodged, it may worsen the situation by loosening contaminates that are now free to move through the system.
  • If you are considering having your ducts cleaned, carefully research providers, ideally getting references from people you trust.

Detection is the first step toward resolution

If you suspect your family is being affected by sick house syndrome, get a professional mold inspection that includes your ductwork. This is the best first step toward discovering and resolving issues. Combined with remediation and subsequent prevention measures, this can help you and your family breathe easier.