PROTECT Yourself & Your Team from the Health Risks of Remodeling!
POTENTIAL HEALTH RISKS OF REMODELING AN OLDER HOME
By RE Resources Team
February 10, 2017 at 3:38 PM
If you’ve recently purchased a fixer-upper and a home remodel is on your agenda, beware of potential health risks. Older homes are notorious for harboring numerous hazards like lead, asbestos, radon, and Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC). Mold and mildew are often another problem when opening up walls during demolition, which allows dangerous pollutants to fill the air you and your family breath. Respiratory problems (or worse) can become serious health issues when you don’t manage these pollutants properly. However, if you’re aware of the risks, you can take measures to minimize the effects these hazards might have both during and after your home remodel. Start by learning what hazards to look for and where they might hide in older houses.
Lead paint is one of the two most well-known hazards. Prior to the ban of lead paint in 1978, lead was used as a pigment and drying agent for painting homes. Thus, you can assume any house built before the ban probably has lead paint present, though it may be hidden underneath several layers of lead-free paint.
Lead paint was actually banned in Staten Island and throughout New York City in 1960. NY authorities caution homeowners not to remove paint by dry scraping or sanding in homes older than 1960, because dust from lead-based paint is the most common cause of lead poisoning in children.
Certification by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is required of any firm performing a home remodel where lead-based paint will be disturbed. Each renovator must also be certified and taught by EPA-approved trainers. Rules for properly disposing of lead-based paint debris varies by municipality, so contact local authorities before disturbing old paint.
Asbestos is the other most well-known hazard and another common problem in older homes. You may find asbestos in old insulation, pipes, floor coverings, cement siding, roofing, ceiling tiles, spackling compound, adhesives and more. Again, contractors or renovators must have EPA accreditation and be fully trained and qualified in the safe removal of asbestos.
The greatest danger from this pollutant is when it becomes airborne, which can happen if you disturb it during a home remodel. Inhaled or ingested asbestos particles can cause lung disease and various cancers, and the symptoms might not even surface for years.
Insulation and pipe coverings are often the most likely and most dangerous source of asbestos in older homes, because the dried material crumbles easily and releases asbestos freely. While asbestos in floor tiles and roof shingles is less likely to become airborne, they should still be handled appropriately.
Keep Dust Down
In most home remodel projects, dust isn’t just the biggest nuisance, it’s also one thing both lead and asbestos have in common. Both pollutants become harmful or even toxic when disturbed and their dust particles present the most danger. It’s important you and your contractor have a dust control plan for every project that produces dust. This could include isolating the area you’re working on from the rest of the house, removing or covering furnishings and sealing all doors and air ducts. While dust is a natural part of the renovation process, capture and minimize dust as much as possible to protect you, your workers and family members.
Avoid Mold Growth
Damp or wet conditions can lead to mold growth. Older homes have had numerous opportunities for various water-related incidents. Leaking roofs, busted pipes, broken water heaters, backed up drains and flood water all leave behind moisture. If each drenching wasn’t properly cleaned up, mold could lurk underneath carpets or other flooring, in the attic or basement and/or behind walls.
Removing flooring or opening up walls with mold contamination can release harmful mold spores into the air. The most toxic is black mold, which is greenish-black and typically slimy, but can appear powdery when it dries out. Respiratory problems and irritation to the mucous membranes are common when you’re exposed to black mold, but it could lead to worse health issues.
Many of the potential health risks associated with remodeling an older home can be serious, chronic or even fatal. Hazardous materials you might encounter could cause balance and coordination issues, breathing difficulties, central nervous system problems, eye irritation, fatigue, frequent cough, frequent headaches, lead poisoning, liver and kidney damage, lung cancer, Mesothelioma, nausea, nose and throat irritation, skin rash and more. Approach any home remodel with caution and order appropriate testing of substances you’re unsure whether they pose a potential threat to your health, because you never know what might be lurking in your home.
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