What is mold?
A "Mold" or "mould" is a fungus that grows in the form of multicellular filaments called hyphae. Molds are a large and taxonomically diverse number of fungal species in which the growth of hyphae results in discoloration and a fuzzy appearance. Molds cause biodegradation of natural materials, which can be unwanted when it becomes food spoilage or damage to property.
Mold effects on our health
When mold spores are present in large quantities, they can present a health hazard to humans, potentially causing allergic reactions and respiratory problems.
Some molds also produce mycotoxins that can pose serious health risks to humans and animals. Disease may result from allergic sensitivity to mold spores, from the growth of pathogenic molds within the body or from the effects of ingested or inhaled toxic compounds (mycotoxins) produced by molds. Some studies claim that exposure to high levels of mycotoxins can lead to neurological problems and, in some cases, death. Prolonged exposure or daily home exposure may be particularly harmful.
Symptoms caused by mold allergy include: watery, itchy eyes; chronic cough; headaches or migraines; difficulty breathing; rashes; tiredness; sinus problems; nasal blockage, and frequent sneezing.
How did MOLD STOP’s story begin?
The idea of mold prediction goes back a few years when a friend of mine and her boyfriend moved to a beautiful old house by the beach. Then suddenly she was showing symptoms of an ordinary flu, but after months the symptoms like coughing never resolved.
Faced with concerns about allergens in the home, first suspect was the fabric of their new furniture. Once ruled out, suspicion moved to the plants in the garden. And finally, they tried relocating her cat to a temporary home to see if that was the issue, but the problem didn’t solve. Although she knew about domestic mold at the time, she assumed that it couldn’t be as her boyfriend wasn’t experiencing any respiratory problems or showing other symptoms. In a final desperate attempt, they hired a professional building inspector to inspect the house. He discovered a massive amount of mold in the attic. The story ended with them living in temporary housing for almost 6 months as both the attic and ceiling of their beach house had to be rebuilt.
At that time, I was involved in sub-metering and heat cost allocation. As a type of data acquisition, energy metering involves the constant measurement and tracking of variable parameters. I obviously knew that like any other living organism, mold growth demands specific environmental conditions. So, if we could model the mold growth mathematically, with the help of new technology, monitoring the effective parameters should be possible.
Is it predictable?
For many years, biologists have studied the growth patterns of mold on different building to formulate the life cycle of mold. As a result, mold growth potential has been formulated into a differential equation.
The equation can predict mold growth potential by taking time, ambient temperature, relative humidity, surface material and texture into account. Depending on these parameters, the pace of mold growth can accelerate, slow down or even be reversed.
By feeding the mathematical model with enough environmental samples, formation and growth of mold can be simulated and predicted.
Can I predict it myself?
Environmental conditions in some places are quite steady and far from risky levels. In this case, monitoring the temperature and RH can help you detect the problem. But in some environments with lots of fluctuations in temperature and humidity like bathrooms, it is difficult to do so. In our experience, you have to monitor the changes in humidity and temperature every half an hour or shorter periods. So, you do need a temperature and RH recorder. Also, you need to retrieve the data and do the calculations once a week and it takes a lot of constant, repetitive work to keep track.
The pictures below show a MOLD STOP prototype installed in an old building’s garden floor bathroom after recent restoration. The device was installed in a space between two walls, before sealing the wall. Because of the fluctuations in RH and temperature, it was impossible to tell if mold grow would return after the restauration. With MOLD STOP, it is possible to measure that for now the restoration was effective. MOLD STOP notifies the owners in advance should conditions for mold growth improve.
In other environments, like this laundry room (left picture), good ventilation can prevent mold growth. In some cases, like this fridge in a grocery shop (middle picture), it is obvious that mold will grow, but in another fridge (right picture) it is not easy to predict what will happen. Using MOLD STOP we can see that mold will eventually grow there and the shop’s staff confirmed this based on their experience.
What is “Mold STOP”?
‘Mold stop’ is a mold growth prediction system which consists of a small ‘internet-enabled gadget’ (a.k.a ‘data logger’) and a web-based smart application.
The data logger needs to be positioned in vulnerable spot(s) throughout the building and will constantly record humidity and temperature, sending this data to the web-based application. The application monitors changes in parameters and spots trends like EMC (equilibrium moisture content) and ‘mold growth indicator.’
In buildings and construction possible areas where mold grow is to be expected are usually hard to access. Therefor the data logger has been optimized to function on a single battery for about 15 years. The device can store recorded temperature and humidity data every 20 minutes for more than 7 months in case of temporary Internet access restriction.
All you need to do is to connect the data logger to your preferred Wi-Fi network and simply place it into the vulnerable spot where mold is to be expected. The application takes care of the rest. You don’t need to worry about it, think about it or even check on it. You do not even necessarily need to install an application on your smart device!
You will receive a text message (SMS), email and/or app notification as soon as any potential mold hazard is detected. If you need to dig deeper, you always have access to detailed readouts, graphs and monitored parameters using the web-based application.
How did we create MOLD STOP?
Practice makes perfect: MOLD STOP’s story
The design process started early 2017 and building prototype after prototype, we made it better and better. We needed to make sure that the device would be reliable in the toughest environmental conditions, from -20 to +75 degrees Celsius (-4 to 167 °F) and from 0 humidity to saturated conditions.
It started with testing 3 devices and then moved on to larger numbers. It took more than one and half years to reach the point that we could claim MOLD STOP was able to function up to 15 years on a single 3.6V (or a pair of 1.5V) battery (in specific conditions). As soon as the data logger reconnects to Wi-Fi, all readouts would be synced with the web application automatically.
The heavy lifter: Web-based application
The main load on our shoulders is the web-based application. The application calculates and updates the mold growth potential after receiving every single readout. Although ‘mold growth indicator’ is a number that represents the accumulated mold condition, it is still not enough to predict mold growth correctly. To avoid false alarms and increase the precision of the trend in mold growth the indicator should be monitored constantly and trends should be compared with the same period of time in the last week, last month and last year. By taking all parameters into consideration, MOLD STOP improves its precision and informs users before it’s too late.
In the future, we will be feeding the inputs to artificial intelligence for machine learning. As the system gains enough experience, we are hoping that the prediction of mold growth evolves to another level.
What can I do after receiving a mold alarm?
Sometimes a small change in behaviour can fix everything, but in other cases it requires serious action achieve change. In both cases, it is far safer and cheaper to prevent mold than dealing with unmitigated damage.
We categorize three necessary action levels:
Level 1) You have daily access to a risk area (e.g. living room): if there is a chance of mold, you might need to heat up your place a little more. RH and temperature have a reverse relationship. So, you can control the RH level and reverse mold growth by controlling the temperature. Some simple actions could solve the same problem, like leaving the bathroom door open after showering, opening or closing a window to vent the room and you can trace the effect of your involvement. MOLD STOP presents the ‘mold growth indicator’ visually in a graph, so you can see if the mold growth condition is improving or worsening.
Level 2) If the mold problem can’t be solved by changing habits or you don’t want or can’t change your habits, then a permanent treatment can solve the problem in many cases. Adding a timer to your fan, installing a thermostat or using a dehumidifier and a timer could eliminate the problem.
Level 3) Permanent structural problems: this could be as easy as fixing a hole in the kitchen hood’s duct in the attic, renovating the insulation of the roof or constructing a ventilating window in the basement. Either way, making a permanent change can prevent mold growth in the long run.
In all 3 categories, it is important to continue monitoring the conditions. If everything is all right now, it doesn’t mean that it this will always be the case. The vigilant monitoring of MOLD STOP will ensure you are never caught off guard.
Where should I put the MOLD STOP device?
Mold in the home can usually be found in damp, dark or steamy areas like bathrooms or kitchens, cluttered storage areas, recently flooded areas, basements and cellars, attics, plumbing spaces, areas with poor ventilation and outdoors in humid environments.
We are two brothers with very different professional backgrounds. Arash is an industrial designer with 10 years experience in metering and remote reading and Ebrahim studied pure mathematics becoming a software magician although he never quit working on topological space mysteries. The exciting idea of MOLD STOP brought us together and with the help of a super wonderful team of a techwiz mechatronic engineer, an enthusiastic electronic engineer, a super talented and mathematics loving computer science student, a wonderful physics PhD who develops software and 3 cool front-end developers, we created MOLD STOP.
With your support, help us stopping more kids’ coughing, more men snoring, more women sneezing, more people suffering, we aim to feed more data to our Artificial Intelligence system to make your living environment a little bit safer through responsible and wise usage of AI.
So, we just want to say thank you!
Risks and challenges
MOLD STOP works based on some fixed algorithms at the moment, we designed machine learning core software and are feeding the data to AI . We hope that AI becomes even smarter than current algorithms; having an efficient reliable smart AI system demands tons of credible rough data. We hope that our system gains enough experience overtime and AI could replace the current algorithms. This is something that only time can reveal.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
- (60 days)