Important Safety Tips For Renovating Older Homes

The season for renovations has arrived. DIYers are eager to get moving on home improvements, but if you live in a house built before 1978, there are a few important safety tips to think about before you start sanding walls and swinging that hammer.

  • Does your home contain lead paint?
  • What type of surfaces and materials will you disturb?
  • Is there chipping paint?
  • Do you have crumbling pipe insulation or tiles that may contain asbestos?
  • Will you disrupt any pipes that may leach lead into your water?

If any or all of the above apply, you’ll need to take some precautions. Why? You may be subjecting yourself and your family to possible health risks, caused by the very particles you’ve disturbed. So, take the proper precautions and renovate the right way. Here’s how:

Tip #1: Test for Lead Paint.

lead paint dangersIf your home was build prior to the ban of lead paint in 1978, you are likely to have it somewhere. When lead paint is kept in good condition, it does not pose a significant risk. If it is disturbed, however, it releases dangerous lead dust into the air, which is the leading cause of lead poisoning. Lead poisoning is shown to cause autism-like symptoms, ADHD, brain damage, lower IQ, and a host of other physical and mental issues.

Fact: A speck of lead dust the size of a grain of sand can cause lead poisoning, and irreversible damage to one’s health.

lead inspectionBEFORE you start the project, have a certified lead risk assessor test your home for lead paint. They can use an XRF spectrometer to look deep into pipes and the layers of paint on walls to determine if there is lead paint not only on the surface, but also underneath.

Did You Know? A lead testing swab will only tell you if lead paint is on the top layer.

If you wait until after you’ve disturbed these materials and discover that you have released toxins in the process, the clean-up can be very expensive. Worst of all, you may have subjected yourself and your family to serious health hazards.

So, Step One: call in an environmental testing company to have your home tested. If the test reveals toxic lead remnants, a lead inspector can tell you the exact locations lead was detected. Be sure you follow lead safe work practices, or hire a contractor certified in lead-safe work practices under the Renovation, Repair, and Paint rule (RRP).

Tip #2: Check for Asbestos.

asbestos survey Before any renovation or demolition, you need to know if you are about to disturb any materials containing asbestos. Asbestos is banned in certain forms because of its toxicity. Inhalation of asbestos fibers can cause serious, even fatal illnesses, including malignant lung cancer, mesothelioma, and asbestosis. Experts state that even a few hours’ exposure to the toxic fibers can be enough to trigger illness from 15–40 years down the road.

Asbestos is common in older homes, and you can be exposed to asbestos fibers through demolition of many items, most commonly:

  • Walls
  • Ceilings
  • Tile
  • Flooring materials
  • Roof shingles
  • Pipes
  • Insulation

Be smart – have an asbestos survey performed prior to your renovation project. An asbestos survey will determine if there are any materials containing this toxic substance that you are about to disturb. Something as simple as installing a ceiling fan, removing a boiler, or updating your bathroom could have serious implications.

Tip #3: Take Proper Precautions.

If a test confirms environmental hazards, take appropriate steps to keep yourself and your family safe. Follow these precautions:

1. Evacuate vulnerable family members.

renovation precautionsWhile you are working, be sure children, the elderly, pregnant women, and pets leave the premises for the day. They can return to the house after the work has stopped and the area is thoroughly cleaned.




2. Contain the offending area.

Close doors leading to the work area. Then use 4-6 mil plastic sheeting and painter’s tape to seal off the work area. Seal all ductwork, doors leading out, and windows with the sheeting. Your goal is to prevent toxins from contaminating the rest of the house.

3. Dress for the occasion.

RRPLook for a mask or respirator with an N95 rating or higher, which filters out very fine particles. And be sure you wear it for the entire time you are working and cleaning. Also, buy a Tyvek suit to protect your clothes. If the work takes more than a day, leave the Tyvek suit in the contained area. Be sure to cover your feet with booties, which also should never leave the contained area. Once you remove the Tyvek suit and the booties, head to your washing machine, strip, and wash your clothes.

4. Avoid sanding.

Lead dust accounts for most of the pediatric lead-poisoning cases a year. Sanding releases fine lead dust particles, which fly through the air, infiltrating the entire house. Unfortunately, these particles remain in the home for a long time. Therefore, sand as little as possible.

5. Clean up well.

First, sweep up as much of the dust and debris as you can and put it into a plastic bag, which you then should seal with painter’s tape. Use a HEPA vacuum to remove any remaining lead dust particles. Then use warm water and clean rags to wash all surfaces. Every exposed surface must be cleaned well. It’s a good idea to have your home tested post-renovation to ensure all toxic materials were properly cleaned.

Make sure your home is safe for you and your family – live well!

Past exposure to lead may be to blame for over 400,000 deaths in the United States every year (The Lancet Public Health.)

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