10 Years of Blog Archive

Friday, May 04, 2012

Health Risks (Mold In Cuenca) of Moving to Cuenca Ecuador

There is a health risk to moving to Cuenca.  This assessment comes from not just our personal experience but also the experience of other expat friends and other information gathered from other sources. It's a respiratory issue.  

It's not something that's talked about much, but after living here for a period of time it becomes evident. Well, one thing you notice is that the construction of the homes and apartments of friends, although, it is to a high standard in other respects, is faulty in one thing. It's not evident right away. But then, you start noticing it. 

 It's just a little bit at first. But then it spreads.  It's mold! Green mold and some black mold.  You clean it, and you clean it, but it keeps coming back. Why is this happening? After several conversations with landlords, the solution that keeps cropping up is "open the windows".

This is mold in our home in the kitchen cupboards and drawers just a few weeks after we cleaned it with bleach! And it came back that fast! Click on photos to get a better view.

As long time followers of this blog know, we're not hot enough here in Cuenca to open the windows on a regular i.e. daily basis. Well, we cleaned up all the mold and have been opening the windows almost every day.  It's easy to do when the sun is shining and it's warm out. But those consecutive days without sunshine are the hardest to do.  Even with the windows open the mold comes back, just not as fast, so having the windows open does help to keep the mold at bay a bit longer. 

After a bit of reflection it is apparent that the issue is in the construction plan.  And here is where it is faulty. There is no allowance for a natural ventilation of the homes.  If you don't open the windows, you're stuck in a vacuum.  No airflow, at least, not enough to curtail the spread of mold.  And this is the source, we believe, of the beginning of health issues.

Again, if it was just us we wouldn't write about it.  But it's our friends too.  They also notice the constant nasal irritation, and the throaty irritation that just won't go away. None of this ever happened on a chronic basis before moving to Cuenca. Actually it didn't occur at all with us as we're very careful about our health.  It's a Cuenca thing at this point, since we've lived here. 

However, we have read that respiratory ailments are also an issue at some southern coastal points of Ecuador where apparently it rains all the time.

We're guessing that under very wet conditions and no proper ventilation, the  mold issue is too strong to conquer and that's how it causes chronic irritation. This is potentially a very big health risk, especially for older folks and very young children.  If you're healthy and strong it's just a chronic small "cold symptom" type of irritation.  But for the above mentioned groups it could spread to other parts of the body such as your lungs and become pneumonia. This can potentially become fatal.

Understand we are not trying to discourage anyone moving to or visiting Cuenca. Don't you want to know about the new city you will be living in, even if it is negative? I know that I would want to know everything, not just the good stuff. It's an important issue that people need to be aware of when considering moving to Cuenca or other parts of Ecuador. See it for yourself, when you come even just to visit, take a look at the construction.  See any vents in the ceilings, or any attic areas with vents in the walls?  Nope and nope. 

We understand every one's situation is different, and we think that simple solutions would be very effective, such as:

1. having a wood stove
2. having a fireplace
3. having lots of gas heat
4. having an industrial sized de-humidifier
5. open the windows even though you're cold

This would have the effect of drying out conditions so as to prevent mold coming back again, it's our experience, not an opinion or a guess. Thought you might want to know. We welcome your feedback and questions.


  1. These concrete boxes are always going to be cold and damp, not unlike basement apartments.

    As a result, one is always sick or generally 'under the weather.'

    It's one thing to adjust to the altitude, like you all have done already. However, a cold damp home might be more of a strain on your health, than it would be for the natives.

    Frugality is great, but I wouldn't compromise your everyday comfort level so much so -- that it affects your health.

    I continue to learn a lot from all of you -- and I really enjoy your information -- but it would be a shame to want to leave Cuenca over feeling cold -- when maybe all you need is something with a bit more comfort.

  2. Try tea tree oil, it works like a charm to kill mold. Dilute some in water in a spray bottle and spray it all over the mold. We had mold in our basement and this really works great!

  3. Thanks for the suggestion Pam. Will seek out Tea Tree Oil, now, how do you say that in Spanish? LOL

    Hi Nick.
    Thanks for your encouragement. We will keep looking for "more comfortable" solutions.

    On the frugality side, to us, frugality usually means abundance, i.e. we used to get free wood for our wood stove and made the house as hot as we wanted, in winter, didn't worry about--oops--hurry up and shut the door the heat is on, type of attitude. Haven't come up with an abundant solution yet. !!

  4. What do the locals do to prevent the growth of the mold/funugs in the first place?

    I did a google search and found an article that referenced this study... Decock C, Hennebert GL., 1997 A new species of Chaetomium from Ecuador Mycol Res 101:309-310

    Link to the article http://www.mold-help.org/content/view/412/

    This is a little concerning since I'm planning on visiting later this year to check things out for a possible move/retirement.

  5. Thank you for for the link to the article.

  6. This does concearn me. I am considering moving there. but I have asthma. Mold especially does not do me any good.Is it ever possible to find a home with decent ventilattion. How about the condos? I cannot have a wood stove or fireplace because wood smoke is bad for asthmatics. here in calif my asthma is under control. But I wonder about if I move there if it might get out of hand with these conditions. Ahhh!But it is such a beautiful city Cuenca.

  7. Thanks for the comment Marcie.
    As you know we like to report our experiences so far. This is what we're experiencing,and we do understand your concern, you don't want to just turn your back on such a wonderful place, so see what solutions might work for you. You might find other solutions than what we have already posted. I do remember in Italy years ago we were in a brand new apartment with the same kind of construction i.e. no ventilation other than open windows etc. and it eventually had mold on the ceiling, but I don't remember the cold symptoms. I was a lot younger then. Maybe the condos are different. Again though, lots of gas heat and keeping the place toasty and adding a dehumidifier just might do the trick too. These are things we aren't doing yet...

  8. After having lived here in Cuenca for almost a year, one thing I have found from talking to people is that if you want a solution and are willing to pay for it, i.e. ventilation, owners or landlords are willing to bring in the maestros to do the work. Money talks in Cuenca, and often it doesn't take a lot of talking to get a solution, getting it done "tomorrow" is not the Cuenca way however, and it can be frustrating waiting for "tomorrow" to come.

  9. Tom Feb. 14 2013
    I live in Florida about 6 years ago we had problems with Chinease
    dry wall
    Very simular results

  10. A product available in the U.S. that works for a longer period contains Sodium Carbonate(Na2Co3). The reason clorox or vinegar don't have staying power is that the active ingredient evaporates allowing the mold to come back. Sodium Carbonate is a stable solid that remains on the surface after the water in which it is dissolved evaporates, thus continuing to kill mold. If the product is not available, it could be made if you can find the chemical. Look for a chemical supply. it is a 1% solution. Anyone with a chemistry background could tell you how to make the solution. Be aware the chemical is Sodium Carbonate, not Sodium Bicarbonate(baking soda). Sodium Carbonate is a caustic base, so you need to be careful handling it. When looking for the solution, look at the contents label for the chemical.

    We stayed in a high rise condo in Cuenca and had no mold problems, probably as a result of ventilation. The bathroom had ventilation, which is where most of the moisture originates.

    Woody Clagg

  11. I found your blog because I was doing a search on moving to and living in Ecuador because I am considering moving there. When I clicked on the link to read this post I was surprised to hear the health problem was mold. I was expecting it to be something else.

    By the way, your blog has been very helpful, thank you for the time/energy you put into it.

    I don't want this to sound like I'm promoting a product I sell (which I do) but after thinking about it I thought I should say something because it could help everyone here learn how to use the essential oils effectively.

    I, and others, have found it's so easy to prevent mold once you get rid of it or before you get it.

    I sell essential oils and the best ones for toxic molds are: a combo of Thyme, Lemongrass, Cinnamon Bark -or- use an essential oil blend called "Thieves". Yes, these oils have been studied for mold issues and below is 'how' to do it and get good results.

    I learned about this long before I began selling essential oils and recommended it to friends back then too, they agreed it made a huge difference.

    Here's how to treat mold: in a cold-air diffuser, diffuse any of the oils I mentioned above at the highest speed setting for a minimum of 24 hours. The diffuser I use and also sell is called TheraPro Premium Diffuser, I've found it to be the best. The speed at which the essential oil gets into the air is very important - you must get a full 15ml bottle of it into the air within 24hrs. And, using the TheraPro diffuser on the highest speed the full bottle will will be used within 24hrs and treat a 1,000 sq.ft. area. This point is vital in order to obtain good results.

    Other points to consider: while this 24 hour diffusing is taking place you and any pets (fish and birds included) will need to leave the house. While the essential oils are not toxic they are still 'hot' (meaning spicy hot) and can cause mucous membranes to become irritated.

    Another important point is the quality of the essential oil. Since most are adulterated (meaning they can also be very diluted with cheap carrier oils) it is also important that they are higher quality than those labeled "pure" or even "organic" since those labels do not guarantee that they are not diluted down with a carrier oil rendering them ineffective/less effective regarding mold.

    By the way, the EPA (USA - Environmental Protection Agency) no longer recommends using bleach due to its toxicity (to people and the environment) and because it is ineffective at getting rid of mold. Mold will grow back within 24 hours of using bleach - so it is a waste of money.

    Maintenance to keep mold from coming back: diffuse the essential oils (mentioned above) for a total of 8 hours a week. And, in a 32oz. spray bottle filled with water add a total of 35-45 drops of those same essential oils and use that spray bottle as the spray you use to do your weekly cleaning. Yes, that spray is very effective to clean all surfaces. To clean tubs/sinks/tiles - spritz until wet with the spray mixture, then sprinkle baking soda, scrub, rinse. I like to give mold-prone rooms a spritz of this mixture after I finish cleaning as I'm walking out of the room and let the mist that falls onto surfaces air-dry. By the way, this spray mixture is the only household cleaner I have used for nearly 30yrs and I swear by it, I can never go back to using or buying any other household cleaner again.

    Note: the blend called Thieves does not kill the toxic mold Aspergillis penicillian, Lemongrass or Thyme does though. I like to play it safe and always include some Lemongrass or Thyme to any combination I use. Thieves has been shown to kill all the other toxic mold species.

    I hope my comment doesn't offend anyone as it is only my intention to provide some information that can help others.


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