Summer has finally returned to Palencia, the pool is packed every weekend and the smell of fresh-cut grass and barbecue is in the air. We’re fortunate here on the First Coast that we never get snowed-in and nobody suffers from cabin fever. Still, the warm summer nights are a welcome reminder that the chilly days of winter are behind us and that there are beach days ahead. Another common sign of summer is the whirl of heat pump fans by every house. For me, this occasional yet consistent sound is much like the trains that rumble by our neighborhood every day, background noise that I seldom think about.

When I do think about my heat pump is when it stops working. A heat pump is not the easiest piece of equipment to understand, luckily you don’t have to. All you really need to do is change the filter monthly and schedule a biannual check up and cleaning with a certified HVAC technician. The service life expectancy of a heat pump here in Florida is only 10 to 15 years. Proper care and maintenance may buy you a couple extra years and neglect may shave a year or two off. Although I don’t service heat pumps, as part of a home inspection, I do inspect them. Some of the older units that get regular maintenance sometimes look like they were installed yesterday. And two year old units that have never been serviced can be filled with mold growth.

In nature mold breaks down dead biological matter and returns it to the soil. It can also be used to make Penicillin and cheese. Mold spores are everywhere; they’re in the air we breathe both inside and out, we can’t get away from them. Mold growth in your home is a different matter entirely. Mold growth leads to elevated levels of mold spores. These can have a detrimental health effect on children and others with weaker immune systems. Mold growth can also destroy the structural integrity of some building material in your home. And unfortunately, our homes provide the perfect environment for mold.

Mold needs three things to grow: moderate temperature, moisture, and a food source. Moisture can be in your bathroom, your kitchen or your laundry room. Moisture can enter your house through a leaky window or roof. It’s also created by your air handler, the indoor half of your electric heat pump. If it’s working well, it creates a constant stream of condensation and is internally wet. It is exactly the type of environment that mold needs to thrive. Mold also needs a food source and in your home this is just about anything. Wood, paper and fabric are all suitable food sources as are fruit in the basket and bread in the cupboard. Mold can even grow on dust and the other fine particles that your ventilation system circulates through your ductwork.

What should you do? The proper temperature and food sources will always exist in your house for mold to thrive. To avoid mold growth, you need to control moisture. Always use an exhaust fan when bathing or showering, or when you’re cooking food. Make sure your dryer vent is free of lint and is venting outside of your house. Make sure none of your plumbing is leaking and that all of your windows and doors are well caulked. Make sure any damaged or missing roof shingles are replaced. And make sure to have your heat pump serviced and cleaned regularly.

If you suspect mold is already growing in your house, if you see signs of moisture intrusion or damage, or smell musty odors, or have constant respiratory issues you may want to consider having your home inspected for mold. A mold inspection includes an evaluation of your roof, attic, plumbing, doors and windows for moisture intrusion and laboratory testing of air and surface samples taken from multiple locations within your home. It’s a non-invasive inspection of your home for mold growth and for conditions that are conducive for mold growth. If done correctly it should take about three hours depending on the size of your home. Insist on an inspection company that uses infrared cameras and moisture meters; if they don’t, you’re not getting value for your money.

When you’re certain your home is mold free it makes enjoying those lazy beach days and summer barbeques much easier.