A Musty Smell Where I Work – Mold or Mildew in My Office

If you need assistance with musty smell-mold – mildew in your office as discussed in this article call us at 1-800-344-4414 or email us at info@atlenv.com for details and a free estimate.

 

Written by Robert E. Sheriff, MS, CIH, CSP, President and Henry P. Shotwell, Ph.D., CIH, Vice-President

November 5, 2018

It is not unusual to have a musty/moldy odor in an office—even when there is no visible evidence of mold (those black/green/white circular colonies growing on a flat surface).

The source can be in a carpet, behind a wall, or in the heating/AC system. Another problem is that the HVAC system is cycled down at night and weekends allowing a better environment for microbial growth.

Many people use the terms mold and mildew interchangeably, but they are actually different: mold is something that grows on aging, stale or rotting foodstuff. Mildew thrives on products made out of animal or plant material.

Truthfully, they have more similarities than differences. Mildew is a type of mold. There is no way to differentiate them by smell—they both tend to have a musty or rotten smell. They both love moisture and heat. Since both exist outdoors, they can also be indoors since few building filtration systems are capable of stopping such small particles let alone open doors, windows and carried in on clothing. One important difference is that some molds have positive uses, such as the mold Penicillium, which produces penicillin. Mildews have no such constructive uses.

In an office building, mildew tends to be in predictable locations and eventually the musty smells appear. These locations are:

1.       The Heating/Air Conditioning System

An HVAC system that is not regularly inspected and cleaned can accumulate dirt and moisture creating ideal conditions for mold growth.  Drain pans, low points in ductwork, diffuses can collect debris. Often the system is turned off or scaled down at night and weekends increasing the optimum mold growth conditions.

2.       Basement/Below Grade Spaces

Moisture from condensate on the inside of exterior walls is a common source. Flooding is always a possible culprit that even if cleaned up rapidly, can still be inside walls and under flooring and even in concrete. Leaking from above often reaches the basement from roof leaks, sweating pipes, drain overflow, water leaks and more.

3.       Stairwells

Often, stairwells are unventilated, allowing moisture to build up. They also tend to be hotter than occupied spaces and molds/mildew love heat.

4.       Storage Areas

Same as stairwells—no ventilation and also a good source of food—paper, wood, etc.

5.       Kitchens and Bathrooms

Here, the culprit is water and moisture. Leaks, spills, foods, heat, condensate on freezer/coolers make yummy places for molds and mildew to prosper and soon the musty smell will follow.

The musty smells are due to the byproducts of their growth and the dead fungus themselves. The best solution is prevention!  Killing them just leaves the dead fungus-thus the smell continues dead or alive!!

Prevent moisture condensation.

Prevent water intrusion and leaks.

Provide ventilation which includes outside air.

Inspect for possible sources of moisture/water.

Most often you can see the mold or mildew: black, green or white circular colonies especially where there is visible water damage. This can be on walls, ceilings, wood floors, carpets, bathroom tiles or stored materials such as paper products and foodstuffs.

Less often you see no visible evidence of mold or mildew but the musty smell is there. This could be from fungus behind walls, embedded in carpets, in the HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning) systems.

As Indoor Air Quality Professionals, we recommend inspections and testing/sampling to determine the source of the musty smell or the cause of the mold/mildew and likely a qualified and experienced remediation contractor to carefully deal with the problem rather than spreading it throughout the building.

Our primary service areas for Mold/Mildew Sampling/Testing and Consulting are: NJ, NY, NYC, PA, CT, DE, (Boston) MA, RI, Wash DC, WI, MD, MI, (Chicago) IL, VA, IN, (Atlanta) GA, AL, NC, SC, TN, (Dallas, Ft Worth) TX, OK, DC, AR, we can service most other areas of the U.S. but with some added travel charges.