Dear Barry,

I’m selling my home and am concerned about black spots on the ceiling of my stall shower. Could this be mold? If so, what could be the cause, and could this mold be the toxic kind? –Betty

Dear Betty,

As reported in numerous articles, mold infestation has become the leading environmental concern involving indoor air pollution. Mold typically occurs where materials are exposed to a continuous moisture source or where lack of ventilation promotes prolonged moisture conditions.

In all likelihood, the black spots on your shower ceiling consist of mold – probably the result of inadequate venting of your bathroom. Required ventilation consists of an openable window or an exhaust fan. Even when these means of venting are provided, some bathroom windows are too small, some exhaust fans provide insufficient air flow, and some fans, although adequately sized, are simply unplugged. In bathrooms where adequate means of venting are installed, windows may remain closed, fans may never be turned on, or the occupant might be enjoying long steamy showers on a daily basis.

Whether the spots in your shower includes some of the toxic varieties of mold is a matter that can only be determine by submitting specimens to a certified environmental testing laboratory. For mold testing services in your area, check the mold-related listings in the local Yellow Pages.

Dear Barry,

Your column has made me acutely aware of the many defects that can be found in homes of all ages and conditions. I’m not likely to purchase a home any time soon but am considering an inspection of my current home to ensure general safety and to anticipate needed maintenance. How often should homeowners obtain this kind of inspection? –Kathy

Dear Kathy,

Hiring a home inspector for maintenance purposes, rather than for real estate disclosure, is a prudent but rare practice. As often stated in this column, all homes harbor unknown defects of one kind or another, many of which involve serious safety issues. Anyone employing a home inspector for maintenance purposes is likely to thank himself/herself for having pursued this wise course of preemptive action. However, a guideline as to how often such inspections should be performed is subjective and is likely to vary from one property to another, depending upon age, quality of construction, weather conditions, and levels of routine maintenance. In most cases, five-year intervals would be a reasonable minimum span.

To ensure the safe operation of gas burning fixtures, such as furnaces, water heaters, and kitchen ranges, an annual review by the local gas company is also recommended. Fortunately, this is a free service provided by most gas utility companies. In many cases, they are able to identify life-threatening defects, such as leaking combustion exhaust.

To write to Barry Stone, please visit him on the Web at


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