Protecting Against Air Pollutants When You're Remodeling
Harmful substances can be disturbed and released into the air during remodeling. Find out how to protect yourself from these contaminants.
By Diana Rodriguez
Medically Reviewed by Christine Wilmsen Craig, MD
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Remodeling can give an old home a fresh new look. But while your home is getting its facelift, dangerous substances in older building materials may be lurking beneath floors, behind walls, and above ceilings. So before you take a sledgehammer to your kitchen, bathroom, or any room for remodeling, investigate your home's history.
Home Air Quality: What Lies Beneath
When you remodel an older home and rip out drywall, floors, and ceilings, or strip and sand paint, you never know what you may find underneath. Many older homes were built with materials that are no longer used because they were later found to contain air pollutants and cause health problems.
Some common harmful substances that may be uncovered during the remodeling of an older home include:
These substances may be found in and around:
- Pipes and plumbing
- Wall and attic insulation
- Fireproofing materials
- Compressed wood (particle board)
Though they may not present a problem if left undisturbed behind your walls or under the floorboards, these harmful substances can disperse fibers and chemicals into the air in your home if they become displaced. They materials should be safely and properly removed or completely sealed by a professional, to prevent contamination and health problems.
Remodeling and Your Health
The health problems that have been linked to asbestos, lead, and other materials that can be released during the remodeling process include:
- Lung cancer
- Lead poisoning
- Central nervous system problems
- Irritation to the eyes, throat, and nose
- Frequent headaches
- Liver and kidney damage
- Difficulty breathing and wheezing
- Frequent cough
- Skin rash
- Problems with balance and coordination
Some of these health problems can be serious and chronic, so approach remodeling projects with caution to figure out what possible air pollutants could be lurking inside your home.
Planning Ahead to Maintain Good Air Quality
You can take certain steps to see if you have a problem with either existing or new materials in your home:
- Look to see if any existing materials are labeled as containing asbestos or other harmful substances, and check for any other important information such as removal instructions.
- Before remodeling starts, have a contractor inspect and test your home air quality for potentially harmful substances that could leak into your indoor air supply. Hire professionals to take the appropriate steps to contain the harmful air pollutants and protect your health.
- Take care of any mold or mildew problems that have been exposed during the renovation. Replace moldy materials and give everything a good cleaning.
- Take care when installing new products and applying new finishes. Paints, varnishes, stains, and thinners can all release harmful chemicals, so take all precautions suggested on the label. Always work in well-ventilated areas — open windows and have fans blowing or turn on air conditioning to get air pollutants out of your home.
- Sealing off all vents and ducts in your home will also keep air pollutants from getting into your heating and cooling systems and circulating throughout your home.
- Use the renovation as an opportunity to make sure you have good ventilation throughout your home, both during the renovation and afterward, to protect against the harmful effects of unwanted gases, allergens, mold, mildew, and other irritants.
Home remodeling offers a good opportunity to take inventory of the overall health of your home, and fix any potential problems. When dealing with dangerous substances that can cause serious health effects if not handled correctly, safeguard your family by calling in experienced professionals.
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