Living in an apartment building comes with perks. But with so many people living in one place, accidents can happen that lead to mold contamination. For example, a rooftop pool can spring a slow leak that trickles down many stories, causing a major indoor mold infestation. Or a toilet or bathtub overflow in one apartment, and the apartments below wind up with water damage, especially if the flood is not quickly contained. Wet walls, ceilings and floors attract mold. And mold can cause serious structural damage, as well as health issues and allergies.
“The main issue in apartment buildings is that water travels downward,” says Robert Weitz, founder of RTK Environmental. “It will travel down through the floors to the ceilings and walls below. When that happens, you are at risk of developing a mold problem,” he explains.
All mold needs to grow is moisture, warmth, and any organic surface (like drywall and floors). Under these conditions, mold begins to grow within 24 -48 hours. Not only is mold destructive, but it is also bad for your health.
We’ve compiled a list of the top causes of mold infestation in apartment buildings:
1. Defective Kitchen Appliances
Defective kitchen appliances are one of the most common causes of mold in apartment buildings. Slow leaks from ice makers, refrigerators, and dishwashers tend to go unnoticed because the water supply lines are usually hidden. By the time you realize there is an issue, usually manifested by an odor or a stain, it’s probably a big problem.
2. Burst Pipes & Defective Plumbing
Pipe breaks are an apartment building’s nightmare. Hundreds, or even thousands of gallons of water can cascade through the halls and stairwells, not to mention walls, floors, and ceilings. One pipe break or plumbing leak can affect dozens of apartments and common areas. Fast action is needed to remove drywall and dry structure and remaining floors as quickly as possible. It’s recommended to treat water like a fire – quick action helps prevent further damage.
3. Basement Laundry Areas
In many buildings, there is a common laundry room in the basement–all well and good. But, what’s also common, are storage areas in the basement that contain boxes and other items comprised of cellulose, which mold loves to grow on. The humidity created from the laundry can cause mold growth in any basement.
4. HVAC Systems
HVAC systems often cause mold outbreaks in buildings, especially during the summer months, when the air conditioning systems create condensation. Where there’s moisture, there’s mold. And since mold spores can travel throughout the building through the HVAC system, you can expect that mold colonies are sure to develop.
5. Steam Pipes
In older buildings especially, steam pipes and old radiators typically spring leaks inside the walls or ceilings, which go unnoticed. The steam leaks are usually hidden, so damage and mold growth can go unnoticed for weeks or even months. But a musty odor signals that there is mold in the vicinity.
6. Terrace Drains
Leaves and all kinds of debris clog drains. When that happens water has nowhere to go but into a nearby apartment. Water will travel to the weakest point of entry, which could be just about anywhere. Without proper testing, it is difficult to determine. If you have a terrace, be sure to keep your drains clean.
7. Pointing & Building Exteriors
Pointing, or the concrete mortar around bricks and windows, commonly found in older apartment buildings, is another way water seeps through. Rainwater can enter laterally through compromised building materials, and get caught in the exterior walls. Mold then grows, and by the time you see something on your apartment wall, it usually means that there is a lot more on the other side of that wall.
8. Flat Roofs & Silos
A flat roof can often spell trouble. Many apartment buildings are built with flat roofs, which can deteriorate and sag. And, if they are not engineered properly they won’t shed water, as they should. Water then goes through the roof and into the apartments below. We have also seen water silos (water storage tanks) on a rooftop leak or burst, causing massive flooding in the apartments below.
What Can You Do About Mold in Your Apartment?
If you suspect you have mold in your apartment, the smart thing to do is have it tested. If you do notice an odor or staining, call in an independent professional who has the technology to detect water behind walls and under floorboards. They can ascertain where the mold is and what needs to be done to remove it.
Conflict of Interest
It is important to get two different companies to do the testing and remediation. Why? When the same company does both it is a clear conflict of interest, and could cost you extra for repairs that are unnecessary. An independent testing company will tell you exactly where the problem is, and provide you with a blueprint for remediation. The remediation company will then do only the work that is necessary, minimizing disruption and cost. In New York State, it is illegal for the same company to do both testing and remediation on the same job.
Who Covers the Cost?
Insurance often covers the cost for mold testing and remediation, especially as it relates to issues with an apartment building. If you rent and are concerned about possible mold, speak with your landlord or the building management. The most important thing is to take care of the potential problem quickly. Live well! Be healthy!