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Your Home Environment Resource - University of Nebraska Cooperative Extension in Lancaster County

Household Hints & HELP!

Home Remodeling Safety

submitted by Lorene Bartos, Extension Educator
This article appears in the October 9, 2004 Lincoln Journal Star Newspaper.

Planning to remodel or renovate your home this year? Indoor air quality is important at all times and must be kept in mind when working with the home. This is Home Remodeling Action and Awareness Week.

There can be some hidden environmental health hazards if the work is not done carefully. This is especially true in older homes. The good news is in many cases, a few simple measures can reduce these hazards. Give some thought to the environmental health hazards that might be in or on your walls. A few precautions during the job can keep things healthier for occupants and workers too.

What sort of hazards do you need to be concerned about? One of these is lead paint, common in homes built before 1978. Opening up walls, removing moldings, replacing windows and especially exterior painting, can produce a lot of lead contamination. Even careful cleanup might not be adequate. Tiny amounts of lead dust, or a few small paint chips, if swallowed by young children, can cause lifelong learning and behavioral problems.

If you are working on an older house, you can assume there is lead paint present, although testing can also be done. Using lead-safe work practices provides a good approach to minimizing contamination and hazards. (Research has shown site protection is more reliable than depending on a good cleanup afterwards.) Information on proper work practices is available from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development. This agency also provides an excellent free booklet detailing safe work practices http://www.hud.gov/offices/lead/training/LBPguide.pdf.

Asbestos represents another potential hazard—especially in older homes, where it can be found in pipe, duct and furnace insulation, regular insulation and various other products such as floor coverings, asbestos-cement siding and even spackling compound. If demolition will result in disturbing such materials, state and federal regulations may be involved, so make sure this work is done by qualified persons. Amateur attempts at removal can create serious environmental contamination in the home.

Wet or damp conditions in buildings, either current or past, can led to mold growth. Opening up walls with such contamination can cause problems for workers and occupants, especially the young, the elderly and those with special health problems. Such work needs to be done carefully, and if large contamination is involved—more than 10 square feet—expert assistance may be needed (although bleach solution can kill mold, the dead spores can still be harmful; such material must be carefully removed).

A common denominator for many types of remodeling health risks is dust. So health risks in any remodeling project can be reduced by careful attention to dust control. Some general ways to control dust include isolating the work area from the rest of the house; sealing doors and air ducts in the work area; removing furnishings, etc. from the work area and covering items that can’t be removed; and using demolition methods that keep dust to a minimum.

Another way to reduce the heath impact of remodeling is to choose or specify “friendly" materials, such as “Low VOC" (Volatile Organic Compounds) paints, adhesives and coatings. Ask about certified carpeting having low emissions. It is also helpful if carpeting can be unrolled in a protected location before installation. Such “airing out” can allow most of the new carpet fumes to escape.

While the above measures may involve some extra time, effort and work, the result will be a healthier environment for your family.

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