When we gutted our home four years ago, the house was basically open to the humid, Chicago summer air for about three or four months.

In the fall, while we were cleaning up from the renovation, we noticed that mold had begun to grow on an old wood door in the old part of our basement. So, we hired someone to wash it away with bleach and water.

“That’s not a bad way to go as long as you don’t have a really large spot of mold, say an area no bigger than 10’x10′,” says Josh Appleman. “But I wouldn’t advise doing it yourself if the area is any bigger.”

Appleman, a certified environmental health specialist based in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, spends his days tromping through homes looking for signs of mold infestation. His company, Alan Environmental, tests homes for mold. Since the summer has been one of the wettest on record in the Midwest, Appleman has been rather busy.

“The rivers are cresting at 26 feet in some area. Some homes that have never had a flooding problem are now showing signs of extensive water damage. I’m concerned that if you can’t live in your house, you’ll shut it up and secure it. You may not get back in time to clean out your home in time before mold starts growing,” Appleman warns.

Every house contains mold spores. You’ll find mold on dogs and kids. According to the Centers for Disease Control (www.cdc.gov) and the Environmental Protection Agency (www.epa.gov) websites, mold starts growing within 24 to 48 hours of being exposed to water or an extremely humid environment.

“If a house has a history of water problems, it could have a mold problem as well. If building materials (at a new construction site) stay damp and conditions are right, mold could start to grow. If the relative humidity of a home is above 60 percent, or if the house is closed up with no air conditioning, mold can begin to grow,” Appleman explains.

Mold removal (or remediation, as it is known) has become a big business. So big, not to mention expensive, that many insurance policies have excluded mold removal from the items that are covered if a pipe breaks and your home is flooded.

While there are some forms of mold that are extremely dangerous or even toxic, including stachybotrys chartarum, also known as black mold, most mold spores are relatively harmless. If you have allergies or asthma, you may be more sensitive to mold.

“Mold today is like asbestos was twenty years ago,” says Lawrence, a professional home inspector based in Chicago who asked not to be fully named. “n the property inspection business there is always the problem de jour. And, consumers are being taken advantage of because of it.”

Lawrence says while some cases of mold are life threatening, most aren’t. But “mold remediation companies are in the business of scaring consumers into doing more (and spending more) than they need to.”

“With asbestos, removal caused more problems than good. But asbestos and mold are very emotional (buzzwords) today,” Lawrence says. “If you think you have a problem and someone scares you enough, you will sign a contract for remediation services.”

Which is why Appleman offers an inexpensive, but effective, do-it-yourself mold test for $12.95 through his website (www.allencountymold.com). Each kit is sent with a brochure explaining the hazards of mold. He adds that other tests ranging in price from $7 to $90 should be available through your local home improvement store.

Appleman says using the kit is easy. “You basically swab a surface and wait two days to see if mold grows on the dish. If you want to find out what kind of mold it is, you have to send the kit to the lab. That’ll cost an extra $30 plus overnight delivery charges.”

Who should test for mold? If you see spores clinging to your walls or ceiling in the basement, then you should find out what kind of mold is growing in your house.

“In one case I just evaluated, a gentleman was living in the basement and thought there was spray paint on the walls. It turned out to be mold. He had to cover his nose and mouth with his shirt when we went down. I had on a respirator,” Appleman recalls.

Appleman says you should also test your home for mold if there is a persistent musty smell, you’re having trouble breathing or if your eyes are itchy.

If you have a leak, if your home floods, or if you get water in your basement, you can expect mold to grow unless you dry things up quickly. Don’t worry about saving money. Control the humidity in your house by using your air conditioner or dehumidifier in the summer or on humid days.

As Appleman points out, it’s far less expensive to keep mold at bay than do any remediation work. Although his company does not do remediation at all, he estimates that it would cost a homeowner at least $1,000 to start with mold removal. Remediation costs can run as high as several hundred thousand dollars.