Mold – An issue in the winter?

Mold has the potential to be a major IAQ issue in the winter when frozen pipes burst.

A frigid winter filled with multiple arctic blasts not only puts a damper on our commutes, but places a great deal of pressure on our facilities HVAC and water systems. A wintry mix of wind and snow can make a cold winter day feel as though temperatures are in the single digits. Then add the Polar Vortex into the mix and those single digits become a reality. Below freezing temperatures can lead to Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) problems we’re used to seeing in the humid months of summer – Mold! Near zero temperatures can penetrate deep into the structure of a building, especially into exterior walls and uninsulated spaces leading to frozen pipes. Since water expands as it freezes it can cause pipes to burst. The colder the temperatures, the harder the freeze and the more expansive the force on the pipes. Pipes that burst, whether they are inside a coil unit of an HVAC, a potable or sanitary water line or part of the fire sprinkler system, can lead to flooding, water damage and eventually mold growth and other IAQ issues. In the winter months, preventative maintenance is essential to avoiding frozen or burst pipes especially when temperatures drop below or near zero (0°Fahrenheit) even for short periods or below freezing (32°Fahrenheit) for extended periods.

How to Prevent Frozen Pipes:

  • Insulate pipes, especially those found in crawl spaces and attics that are more vulnerable to freezing.
  • Seal spaces and openings that allow cold air to seep in around pipes.
  • Keep your thermostat running at a moderate temperature at night or when you’re away for the day.
  • During the evening or when away from the building, keep cabinets with plumbing inside (under sinks, etc.) open so warmer room air can enter. This is especially important for plumbing in or against an exterior wall.
  • Use a space heater near pipes where cold spots are present.
  • Turn off the water supply to any exterior faucets and leave them open so residual water is able to drain out before it can freeze.
  • Leave a faucet open, allowing the water to drip or trickle slowly when no other options are available.

If a pipe freezes:

  • Thaw a pipe that is visibly frosty or is slightly bulged by opening the nearest faucet in that line to release any built up pressure. Then add heat using a portable hair dryer or a non-flame heater. Avoid combustible materials around the pipe.
  • Once water trickles out, leave the faucet open until full flow returns and then slow to a trickle to prevent refreezing and blockage.
  • Call a plumber if the pipe remains frozen and check the area frequently until the frozen pipe is corrected (frozen pipes can burst at any time).
  • If the pipe does burst, turn off the water supply at a shut off as close to the leak as possible and leave the faucet open to drain off pressure.
  • Use wet/dry shop vacuums or extractors to get up most of the water from floors and carpets and mops for the remaining water.

When Mold Becomes a Problem:

Mold can start to grow within 24 hours, so try to dry out the area as soon as possible. If some areas cannot be dried in 24 hours, mold growth is a strong possibility and may not be visible to the casual observer. If there are concerns about mold due to delayed or extended drying times, a professional experienced and trained in IAQ/IEQ evaluations such as a Certified Industrial Hygienist (CIH) can inspect and test the area for mold spores from suspected or hidden mold growth. Moisture of any kind creates an indoor environment conducive to negative health effects such as allergies, asthma and other respiratory diseases. These health effects are usually the result of mold growth, dust mites or several other less common allergens but other possible causes may need to be evaluated. Removing mold before it can potentially impact building occupants’ health will help produce a high indoor air quality environment that promotes greater comfort, productivity and learning. If you have water damage from frozen or burst pipes (or any other source) Element Environmental Solutions can help you determine the nature of the contamination, the extent of damage and develop a plan to remediate the allergen source or the causative issues as well as help prevent future occurrences.

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