9 Tips To Find A Mold-Free Apartment

The hardest part of recovering from mold illness is finding a suitable place to live. Many apartments and houses have at least low levels of mold that may be problematic for genetically sensitive people. Healing from mold illness while still living in moldy housing is just not going to happen – it’s like trying to heal from a broken leg while still walking and putting weight on it.

The best way to decide if a building will work for you is by unmasking to mold with a mold sabbatical. This involves going to a wilderness area free of mold toxins for several weeks, letting your body experience what mold-free air feels like after years of being mold exposed and ill, then coming back into civilization. It’s like if you are in a kitchen where lots of garlic is being used. At first, you may not really notice the smell. But if you left the kitchen for a while then went back in, the garlic smell would hit you right away.

While this is a powerful healing method, people may unfortunately have difficulty with this option for various reasons. The next option is to do environmental tests (such as the ERMI) on prospective housing. Ideally you’d test every place you’re seriously considering. But the ERMI costs over $200 and multiple tests add up fast.

Therefore, it’s helpful to rule out places as being moldy without having to test them. That way you can save your money on testing only the best options. Here are 9 tips to tell if an apartment or house has a mold problem before testing:

1. Have some level of unmasking

It doesn’t have to be the hyper-sensitive extent you’d get after spending months camping in the desert. But even some time in a relatively non-moldy building will be helpful here. Even with only moderate unmasking I found I was able to tell apart buildings with very bad mold problems very quickly. By this point I had left my moldy apartment and was living in a hotel. The hotel, while in retrospect did have some mold, was much less moldy than my original apartment which lead to improvement and better ability to sense severe mold.

Do not embark on the housing search while you yourself are still living in a very moldy house. Try to get a temporary break in a hotel or family/friend’s place where you feel better with less symptoms.

2. Building history

When was the building completed? Did construction occur during a humid or rainy time of year? Has there been any history of water damage? If yes to the last one, then pass.

Please remember: new does not equal no problems. Water damage can happen during the construction process. But new does mean there has been less opportunity for water damage to happen since the building was finished, which may improve your chances.


3. Visual inspection

Take a good look around the house. Are there dark stains or odd bulges in the ceiling drywall? Are there dark dots or spots on the AC registers? If yes, then hint: these may not “just be dust”. Is there any black in the bathroom grout? Also make sure to have a look in the dishwasher and laundry machines.

A side note – front-loader washing machines are notoriously susceptible to mold problems. Avoid them if possible. If not, be especially careful about maintenance and drying out the inside of the door after done washing.

Keep in mind, many buildings may have mold problems without visible mold or water damage. This step is just to rule out the worst places.

A qualified home inspector can also be very helpful for this type of assessment, and I would recommend hiring one if funds allow. This leads us to the next point…


4. Home inspection

A qualified home inspector can find less apparent sources of high moisture, leaks or water damage. Also have them look around in the attic and crawlspace or basement. This is useful to do if a place checks out in the other steps listed here.

This has saved me many times from choosing moldy or water damaged housing that looked fine at first glance.


5. Smell

Smell is not the best indicator but can be a valuable tool. Does it smell musty? Other apt descriptors I’ve heard for moldy building smells are “wet socks” and “cat piss”. I also notice in moldy places the air seems to feel really ‘thick’ or ‘heavy’. If there is heavy usage of artificial scents in the hallways, lobby, etc. then that may also be a bad sign they’re trying to cover something up.

But keep in mind, very serious mold problems can exist without an obvious smell as well. Smell is for ruling out a place as bad, not ruling in a place as good.


6. Physical sensations

For me a classic mold reaction includes the following: breathing becomes automatically shallow, heart rate shoots up (often audible within my head), sinus pressure, headache, cognitive dysfunction. It feels as if my brain has stopped working.

Breathe deeply. If you feel anxious, jittery, or stupid, then that’s a bad sign.


7. Bedroom design

Make sure the bedroom is actually closed off on all sides by walls, and that the windows are not the huge type where they make up an entire side wall. All that environmental light (especially artificial blue light from a city environment) is going to drive you mad as you try to get a modicum of restful sleep.

Many people with mold illness report light sensitivity while sleeping or develop this during the healing process. At my worst stage even a pinhole of light coming into the bedroom would have me waking up throughout the night.


8. Surrounding environment

In order to heal from biotoxin illness, you really need an all-around optimal environment. This includes elements such as light, noise, other pollutants, EMFs, etc.

Is the place right next to a noisy major road or highway? This is going to drive you mad when you try to get the restful sleep you desperately need.

Is it next to a power line (less than 500 meters away)? Or near a cell tower (0.5-1 miles away)? Is it equipped with a smart meter? Any of these is going to bring about all the negative health effects of EMFs like oxidative stress. Your body is already under massive amounts of oxidative stress from mycotoxins; it doesn’t need more.

Many people recovering from mold illness who are also dealing with infections, such as fungal infections or MARCoNs, also notice that EMF exposure will make these infections much worse and more symptomatic. This could be a result of oxidative stress from EMF aggravating infections and causing them to produce more toxins.

If funds allow, it’s helpful to buy quality EMF meters to further assess buildings.


9. Price

Chronic illness is expensive. I wish it weren’t that way, but at least in the world at this moment, it often is.

One of my worst ever exposures was from an apartment I found within two days after being kicked out of a nice AirBNB while having to stay in Baltimore for an internship. It was $900 for 5 weeks – seemingly too good to be true. Alas, it was. When I happened to peek into the basement, the walls were sprawling with gray and black mold. Of course this was before I knew anything about the health effects of mold. Those 5 weeks were some of the sickest of my life.

Pricier places are more likely to have had better construction standards along with more caring and responsive maintenance teams. On the other hand, cheaper places are cheaper for a reason, whether it be a less desirable part of town (more air pollution, nearby power lines), old age, a hidden problem with the unit (such as mold). But keep in mind, just because a place is expensive doesn’t mean it will be mold-free.

I hope these tips help you in your journey to healing from mold illness. If you think they could help anyone you know, please share!

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