Be Safe When Remodeling An Older Home: Five Potential Health Hazards

by Bruce Montgomery Ph.D. February 22, 2017

Be Safe When Remodeling An Older Home: Five Potential Health Hazards

 

Are you considering remodeling an older home (built pre-1982)? Remember that when disturbed, some building materials may become hazardous to your health. While trying to improve your home’s safety, functionality or appearance, you or your building contractor will want to take precautions before you start a remodel.

Inspect your home for hazardous materials before you remodel

Along with being a builder, I am also a licensed asbestos abatement contractor. Last year, a couple in Traverse City called me with a concern about popcorn ceiling texture. They disliked the look of the texture which was commonly applied to ceilings in the 1950s – 1970s. They removed the texture in one room but were then informed by a friend that the texture may contain asbestos. They stopped their remodel and asked me to test the material which was found to contain asbestos. The couple was devastated to learn that they had exposed themselves to a common hazardous material in older homes.

The couple could have prevented this problem with a simple first step when remodeling older homes – get your home checked for the following hazards prior to “demo day.”

  1. Asbestos. This hazardous microscopic fiber can be found in a lot of materials in your older home, including attic insulation (vermiculite), wall materials (drywall, joint compound, ceiling texture, transite and plaster), flooring (tile and linoleum and their glue/mastic), siding, and heating cooling systems (pipe wrap, mag on fittings and elbows, duct wrap and furnace/boiler packing). Check out epa.gov/asbestos or my site www.asbservicesinc.com for more information. If your home is older than 1982, hire a licensed asbestos inspector to test the materials so that they can be remediated properly prior to remodel.
  2. Lead-based paint. Per epa.gov/lead, if your home was built before 1978, there is a good chance it has lead-based paint. In 1978, the federal government banned consumer uses of lead-containing paint, but some states banned it even earlier. Lead from paint, including lead-contaminated dust, is one of the most common causes of lead poisoning. Common renovation, repair, and painting activities that disturb lead-based paint (like sanding, cutting, replacing windows, and more) can create hazardous lead dust and chips which can be harmful to adults and children. Home repairs that create even a small amount of lead dust are enough to poison your child and put your family at risk. Here is a link to EPA or state lead-safe certified renovation contractors in your area.
  3. Mold. You may not know whether you have mold in your home until you start tearing down wall materials – especially in bathrooms and other wet areas. If mold is a problem in your home, you must clean up the mold and eliminate sources of moisture. In most cases, if visible mold growth is present, visit epa.gov/mold to learn about mold remediation and prevention. The best way to control mold growth is to control moisture.
  4. Radon. Overall, radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer. Radon is responsible for about 21,000 lung cancer deaths every year. You can’t see radon. And you can’t smell it or taste it. Testing is the only way to know if you and your family are at risk from radon. EPA and the Surgeon General recommend testing all homes. Remodeling may be a good time to test for radon and mitigate
  5. Electric wiring and gas lines. Demo day is touted on home remodeling shows as the most fun day of the project. Before you “grip and rip,” locate electric wires and gas lines. Faulty or damaged electrical wires can cause burns, shocks and electrocution (death). Turn off the power at the service panel prior to demolishing walls or ceilings. If you accidentally nick or cut a wire or notice exposed wires, contact an electrician. Puncturing a gas line can release dangerous fumes and cause explosions. If you suspect that you have a natural gas leak, evacuate the house immediately and call your gas provider from outside the house. Don't do anything else that might create a spark, including flipping any switches. If your remodeling requires digging into the ground around your home, contact your local utility companies to clearly mark the location of underground power and gas lines.

Remodeling is the perfect time to increase the safety of your home by adding grab bar reinforcements to walls, installing grab bars, fixing uneven flooring, and improving lighting. Contact a CAPS professional to help with designing a home that will meet your needs as you age safely and independently in your home. And remember to check for safety hazards first.

 




Bruce Montgomery Ph.D.
Bruce Montgomery Ph.D.

Author

Dr. Bruce Montgomery is a licensed building contractor in Michigan and Florida. He is a Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist as designated by the National Association of Home Builders. He has also achieved an Executive Certificate in Home Modification from the University of Southern California. He has a wide ranging educational background, including a Master of Science degree in Entomology, with a Master of Science degree in Forestry and a Ph.D. in educational administration.