photo With autumn approaching, mold spores that have grown and prospered in the summer humidity are wafting along on the breeze, just waiting to be trapped inside your home as you close windows and vents in preparation for cooler weather.

We know to check the batteries in our smoke detectors, to change our air filters, to clean out our gutters and rake our leaves, but no one talks to homeowners about the dangers of household mold, says Jeff Dudan, CEO and founder of AdvantaClean, a mold remediation.

Mold is further evidence that not everything that's "natural" is good for us. In fact, common household molds can cause asthma, sneezing, runny nose, red eyes and skin rashes. Infants and the elderly are most the at risk, because they often have weaker immune systems.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has estimated that the air inside the average American home can be more than 100 times more polluted than the air outside. New homes usually have poorer air quality than older homes because theyre air-tight, so spores cant escape, providing a perfect breeding ground.

Mold requires moisture to grow, so reducing moisture in your home will reduce mold growth. Common moisture-reduction practices include:

• Use air conditioners and dehumidifiers regularly.
• Keep relative indoor humidity low, if possible below 60 percent. Humidity is measured most accurately with a moisture meter, a small $10 - $50 instrument found at most hardware stores.
• Run the bathroom fan or open the window when showering and up to 10 minutes afterward.
• Use exhaust fans or open widows whenever cooking, running the dishwasher or even washing dishes.
• When water leaks, act quickly. If you dry wet materials 2448 hours after a leak or spill, mold will not grow in most cases.
• Clean and repair roof gutters and leaky roofs regularly.
• Point sprinklers away from the home and siding.
• Make sure landscapes slope away from your homes foundation so water doesnt collect.

Where it grows

Not surprisingly, mold grows most readily in moist, dark places -- windowsills, closets, wall paper, flooring, in or around showers, dishwashers, washing machines, and even in the soil of potted plants.

Mold can be caused by slow dripping pipes, condensation, standing water on or under carpets and floor boards, leaky dryer vents, broken shingles and wet insulation.

Symptoms

People who are sensitive to mold may experience stuffy nose, irritated eyes, wheezing, or skin irritation. People allergic to mold may have difficulty in breathing and shortness of breath. People with weakened immune systems and with chronic lung diseases, such as obstructive lung disease, may develop mold infections in their lungs, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

If you or your family members have health problems after exposure to mold, contact your doctor.

You can recognize mold both by sight and smell.

• By sight -- Are the walls and ceiling discolored, or do they show signs of mold growth or water damage?
• By smell -- Do you smell a bad odor, such as a musty, earthy smell or a foul stench?