What scares today’s homeowners? It’s isn’t rising interest rates. It’s mold.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, mold is the leading cause of allergies in the U.S. A microscopic organism, it’s found everywhere – both inside and out of your house.

But your home may be a repository for mold, not to mention lead, radon, and other toxic environmental hazards and you’d never even know it.

Up until the late 1980s, lead was used regularly in paint. If you live in an older home, you may have lead paint in your walls. If your pipes were soldered with lead, you could have lead leaching into your drinking water.

Radon is a colorless, odorless gas that seeps into homes through cracks in your foundation. It can cause developmental problems in young children. Carbon monoxide released from a hot water tank can kill you.

If you’re remodeling an older home, it’s possible that the work you do on your home will release a Pandora’s box of environmental hazards. According to the National Association of the Remodeling Industry, scraping down woodwork can release lead from paint, and pulling off damaged drywall can expose mold to the air in your home.

One way to keep a lid on environmental hazards is to regularly test your home for them. You could hire a specialist, but if you don’t have a problem, it’s silly to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars having your home tested that way.

Instead, you could make your way over to your local hardware or home improvement store and pick up an inexpensive “do it yourself” kit and test for the toxic hazard yourself. Then, if the test indicates there is a problem, you can hire a professional to come in and identify exactly what is wrong with your house.

There are several “do it yourself” kits on the market, covering a variety of different household environmental hazards, such as mold, radon, carbon monoxide, asbestos, water quality, lead in paint and dust, lead in water, bacteria in water and possible pesticides in water.

Pro-Lab makes a line of “do it yourself” kits that cost $9.95 each and are easy to use. The Do It Yourself Mold Test Kit includes a Petri dish, a special vial of material that you pour into the Petri dish and a swab to take a sample of the suspected mold. You can either leave the Petri dish open to the air for 48 hours or use the swab to test a specific spot you think contains mold.

Within 48 hours, you’ll be able to see if something is growing. If something is growing, you have the option to get a professional lab analysis (the cost is an additional $30). This test will identify the exact mold count and which type of mold is present.

Of course, if you can already see black mold spores on your windows or walls, there’s no reason to wait the 48 hours for the mold to grow. Simply scrape off a bit of the mold into the Petri dish and send it off for evaluation.

All of the Pro-Lab products work in virtually the same way. There is a Petri dish, the liquid you pour into the dish that turns into the congealed goo, and a swab. You also receive detailed instructions on how to do the test, and what kind of results you’re looking for after the 48 hour testing period.

A spokesperson for Pro-Lab said recently that in the 9 months since the test was introduced, it had grown to be the best-selling Do-It-Yourself test the company offers. Clearly, enough consumers are worried about the toxic effects of mold to pay $9.95 to test their home.

Whichever “do it yourself” test kit you use, be sure the lab complies with standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA.gov). If the kit offers an option to send the sample to a lab, be sure the lab is a member of the National Environmental Health Association or the American Industrial Hygene Association.

Otherwise, the result you get back may not be worth the paper on which it is printed.

Published: Apr 23, 2004