Five Hazards to Address When You Remodel an Older Home


Are you a proud owner of a fixer-upper? Plan to revamp your Colonial or Victorian? Before you begin updating your older home, you need to consider the potential hazards that come with remodeling a home.

In older homes, hazards can include asbestos, lead from paint and/or dust, radon and Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC). Moisture within your home can also cause mold and mildew problems, especially when walls are opened up during demolition, exposing hazardous materials into the air. This puts your family at risk of inhaling those harmful pollutants.

If these dangers are not managed or addressed properly, they can lead potential health hazards such as: respiratory health issues, damage to belongings and harm to the overall indoor environmental quality of your home.

By being aware of these hidden environmental health hazards, you can create a plan with the help of your contractor or remodeler to help eliminate some of these problems before demolition.

The good news is, in several cases, a few simple measures can minimize the effects of these hazards. Keeping you and your family safe during home remodeling is essential, especially if you are among the 90 percent of families that stays in their homes during home renovations.

Here are the top pollutants and ways to make sure your family is safe during your next renovation:

Image Credit: Abba Systems International, LLC

Dust. In all home remodeling projects, this is the No. 1 nuisance for both the contractor and homeowner. That’s especially the case in older homes, such as when plaster walls are demolished and sanded. That’s why top contractors have a dust control plan that protects your family and ensures livability. Some general ways to control dust in the work area include isolating the work area from the rest of the house, removing furnishings, covering items you cannot remove, sealing doors and air ducts, and using the latest technology to capture airborne dust from the work site itself.

Lead paint. This is probably the most well-known hazard within an old home, especially when considering young children. If you live in a house built before 1976, you can assume there is lead paint present. You can also run your own test, Instant Lead Testing, to make sure you are taking the appropriate measures to keep your family safe. You can find more information from the United States Environmental Protection Agency for additional tips before your contractor starts work. A good approach is to use lead-safe work practices to minimize contamination and potential hazards. Site protection, as research proves, is more reliable than depending on a good cleanup afterwards.

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Asbestos. Asbestos can be found in many locations such as in pipe, duct and furnace insulation and regular insulation as well as in products such as cement siding, floor coverings, and even spackling compound. It’s important to make sure your contractor is qualified or licensed to deal with asbestos. All necessary permits should also be obtained. If not treated properly, serious environmental contamination can occur in your home.

Mold. Damp or wet conditions, either in the present or past, can lead to mold growth in your home. Opening up walls with mold contamination can cause problems for you and your contractor. Make sure the work is done carefully. If large contamination is present you might need an expert. Although mold can be killed by bleach solution, the dead spores can still be extremely harmful. All mold should be removed before remodeling begins.

VOC. Volatile Organic Compounds are in many chemicals used during remodeling, especially those in aerosol cans and spray form. VOCs are most commonly found in products such as furniture strippers, paints and thinners, wood finishes, glues and adhesives. To help prevent these toxins from entering your home, look for products that are water-based or latex paints with reduced levels of VOCs and pay close attention to your product labels. Do as the instructions say. They are there for a reason!

In all home remodeling projects, your first priority is to improve or enhance your living environment. You’ll also get an added bonus, because most home renovations improve value. For example, a major kitchen remodeling project recoups more than 74 percent of its cost at the time of resale, and adding an attic bedroom returns more than 84 percent, according to Remodeling Magazine’s Cost vs. Value Report. In addition to financial considerations, completed renovations can improve curb appeal and livability.

Keeping your family safe and avoiding these health hazards will make your remodeling experience more enjoyable and bring improved livability to your home.

Brian Paich, Business Development Manager for BuildClean Dust Control System,
A Division of Illinois Tool Works | Brian has extensive experience in the home remodeling market through working alongside his grandfather, a carpenter in Chicago, and through his work at ITW, a Fortune 200 company, and other businesses. At ITW, he leads the team that developed the new BuildClean Dust Control System, a groundbreaking invention that has transformed the way contractors manage remodeling dust in residential projects. Brian has worked directly with contractors and homeowners across the country for several years, learning what is most important to both audiences. He has an MBA in Finance from University of Chicago. Brian is very active in the remodeling industry and its many associations.