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Remodeling Hazards

Submitted by Lorene Bartos, UNL Extension Educator

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October is National Home Indoor Air Quality Action & Awareness Month. October 14 - 20 is Remodeling Hazards Awareness Week. This is a week to help make homeowners, builders, remodelers, and anyone working on their home or other buildings aware of the air quality hazards that can cause problems when remodeling, especially older homes.

Planning to remodel or renovate your home this year? 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.

What are some of these hazards? In older homes, these can include things like lead in old paint, as well as asbestos in old insulation and a variety of other products. Any home with a moisture problem, past or present, can have a mold problem, possibly inside walls. This can be a health risk when walls are opened up and mold is released into the air.

One thing most of these pollutants have in common is dust. So dust control is a good start in protecting occupants and workers. Some general ways to control dust in the work area include isolating from the rest of the house; sealing doors and air ducts; removing furnishings; covering items you can’t remove; and using demolition methods that keep dust to a minimum.

Lead paint that is disturbed is a special risk to young children. If you are working on an older house (built before 1978), you can assume there is lead paint present. Testing can 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 asbestos is to be disturbed, special requirements may be involved. Make sure your contractor is qualified or licensed to deal with asbestos and the necessary permits have been obtained. 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 or so) expert assistance may be needed. Although bleach solution can kill mold, the dead spores can still be harmful; such material must be carefully removed.

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 that has 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.


Ask Lorene

(This resource was added October 2007 and appeared in the Lincoln Journal Star Newspaper Sunday edition. For information on reproducing this article or using any photographs or graphics, read the Terms of Use statement)

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University of Nebraska-Lincoln in Lancaster County
Web site: lancaster.unl.edu
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