Student: Garifalia Milousis
University : University of Ottawa
Let’s Proactively Talk About Prevention:
An Effective Approach to Preventing Mold
It was the summer of 2014, and I was about to head off to university. My parents had just purchased a new home about an hour north of Toronto, and my family moved into it in August, weeks before I moved out. The house was my mom’s pick; being a woman who paid attention to detail, it had been the little things—the thoughtful placement of red accents here and there, the elegant light fixtures, the colour of the walls—which had drawn her in and made her fall in love with the 50+ year-old home. My dad, however, was remained stoically skeptical. He too had an eye for detail, but he was looking for details that mattered—the planning of electrical circuits, the quality of the bathrooms, the slightest sign of mold or water damage. He had just narrowly avoided buying my mom’s previous pick of house, which turned out to be filled from top to bottom with beautifully manicured walls that covered massive amounts of water damage. He had been even less pleased with his house, but love won out—or gave out, rather.
My mom and my dad come from different backgrounds: my mom has multiple university degrees and is a Chartered Professional Accountant (CPA) by profession. My dad, on the other hand, is a skilled plumber and tradesman. And while intellect and knowledge have begun to be quantified based on the numbers of expensive degrees and pieces of paper you own, my dad matched my mom in intellect, albeit in different ways. This house provided the perfect illustration of that.
Shortly after moving into their newly purchased home—and shortly after I had left to Ottawa for my first year of university—my mom began to suffer from severe allergic reactions. Her nose itched. Her eyes watered. And her symptoms all pointed to an issue of air quality. My dad has suspected that there was mold in the home, of course—the garage, which suffered from extensive water damage, reeked of the smell of mold and mildew. His hope had been, though, that the mold would be isolated. But he was a skilled tradesman, and he knew that his hope was foolish. Mold is rarely isolated to one location in an infested building.
It was when my dad began renovating the basement of this new house that he discovered the problem. Initially, his plan had been to just replace the floorboards, since he was not particularly fond of laminate flooring. However, when he pulled up the laminate floor, he found the source of my mom’s allergies. Whoever had built the home was evidently unfamiliar with the basic rules of building construction. To my dad’s horror, rather than pouring a solid concrete foundation, the builders had laid thick beams of wood directly on top of the hard dirt underneath the building’s foundation. They had then poured the cement in between these planks of wood, creating segments of cement, lined with planks of now moldy wood. The result was that the entire foundation of the home was filled with mold, since the mold from the planks of wood had spread and infiltrated the concrete sections. Remember: When mold is present, it is rarely isolate to one location.
To make a long story short, my dad spent the next two years breaking up the foundation of the house segment by segment and replacing it with concrete. Of course, this had to take place while my family still lived in the house. It also had to happen during the winter, which is never a fun time for renovations. And, since the foundation could not be demolished all at once without risking the structural integrity of the building, my dad had to hire men to fill wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow with cement and cart the cement into the house by the back door.
Why is this story important?
This story is important because it illustrates the importance of prevention and proactivity. All of the work that my dad put into the home was, realistically, unnecessary. All of the allergies and the health complications that my mom faced could have been avoided. All of this was preventable. But because the building was constructed without the proper information—and because too many people don’t know what signs to look for when purchasing a home or choosing an apartment—this litany of problems ensued.
When it comes to the issue of mold, there are an endless number of important steps that need to be taken to combat this problem. First, there needs to be more awareness and emphasis placed on educating individuals, especially young people who are the next generation of home owners. Second, there needs to be more funding given to conduct research, both to fully understand the effects of mold on the human body and to discover new ways of resolving these problems. But I would argue that one of the most important steps that must be taken to prevent mold from continuing to fill our homes and torment families like mine is to train all individuals—whether they are people like my dad who study trades or people like my mom and I who studied abstract ideas in university—to know how a building should properly be constructed. It is self-evident that mold is not a good thing. But knowing that information is useless if we are not also equipped with information about how to prevent mold and identify it in the buildings we frequent.
As someone who will be looking to purchase a home for the first time is the next five years, I am struck by the daunting nature of the task set before me. At this point in time, I know for a fact that I am ill-equipped to identify whether or not mold is present in the homes I will be looking at. In fact, up until now, my plan has been to ask my dad to come with me and inspect each home. While I am blessed to have a father who has that knowledge, most people do not have that luxury. And the reality is that, despite the fact that I am now in the middle of completing my second degree, I do not have the skills I need to protect myself, my health, or my family from the negative effects of mold. This needs to change.
So I say: we need education. We need training. We need to be equipping every man, woman, and child with this type of information. We need to make this information accessible, especially to those who are still in academic institutions. By the time they graduate high school, every young person should have these skills, which are vitally important to maintaining optimal health and maximizing individual and collective wellbeing. We need to be prioritizing this information so that our families can thrive, not just survive. But how can we do this if we do not have the basic information about how buildings should be properly constructed, insulated, and maintained?
Education on mold and air quality must be made a priority. This information can dramatically improve lives. So we must create programs to train people and share this information. Our health depends on it.
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