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Spring is the prime time for home improvement projects. Many take the opportunity to clean out their closets, upgrade decor, and tackle a deep cleaning. Others also take advantage of the better weather to take on bigger projects, like renovations.
Before beginning such home improvement projects, homeowners should keep in mind some potential health hazards that could be lingering in their home. For those with older homes, asbestos and lead can be a serious and dangerous problem, causing health issues from cardiovascular problems to even mesothelioma cancer. Mold is also a concern for many homeowners, and can become a big problem depending on where it grows.
In observance of National Home Improvement Month, we’re highlighting some of the toxins to watch for during renovations and how to remove them properly.
Asbestos was heavily used in construction through the 1970s, so homes built before 1980 are likely to have asbestos-containing materials somewhere. It was used in all kinds of building materials from concrete and caulk to insulation and roofing shingles. This means asbestos can potentially be anywhere in the home.
Asbestos becomes dangerous when disturbed in some way. If materials containing asbestos are old and crumbly or these materials are damaged during a renovation, the dangerous asbestos fibers can fill the air. These fibers are invisible, so can be inhaled without even noticing. The fibers are durable and the human body can’t defend itself against them.
Asbestos fibers stick to the linings of the lungs, abdomen, or heart and cause great damage over time. Exposure to the toxin can lead to lung cancer, asbestosis, and mesothelioma. Mesothelioma in particular has a rather dire prognosis. Symptoms aren’t typically realized until 20 – 50 years after exposure, and even then the symptoms can easily be confused for other illnesses.
Prevention is crucial when dealing with asbestos, meaning homeowners should take extra precautions when planning renovations. For those with older homes, an asbestos inspection is critical before beginning any construction work. A qualified inspector will examine the home to determine where asbestos is present and if any materials containing asbestos require repair or removal.
If removal is necessary, there are steps homeowners can take to ensure the asbestos abatement company safely removes the asbestos. The toxin is very dangerous and needs to be removed and disposed of properly to prevent exposure. Removal should not be attempted by homeowners or anyone not properly trained to handle asbestos. There are strict federal and state regulations around how asbestos must be handled, so be sure to follow these appropriate measures before beginning home improvement projects.
Lead is another danger in older homes especially. While lead-based paint was banned in 1978, it still remains in millions of homes. Though it’s most common in paint, lead has also been used in ceramics, pipes, plumbing materials, and other products. Similarly to asbestos, lead becomes a danger when lead-based materials become damaged through general wear on the home, renovation, or even improperly re-painting any of the contaminated surfaces.
These damaged materials can create paint chips as well as a dangerous dust. Lead can cause an array of health effects, especially for children who are exposed. Children can have behavioral problems, lowered IQ, slowed growth, and other issues. Adults also face health risks from lead exposure, like cardiovascular problems. Pregnant women especially face serious issues for themselves and their children.
Having lead properly removed can prevent exposure. Before beginning renovations, homeowners with older homes should have a certified lead contractor who can determine its presence and the best removal method. Like with asbestos, lead can be encapsulated or removed and replaced entirely. This will depend on where the lead products were used and their extent.
In both new and old homes, mold can be a serious problem. Unlike asbestos and lead, mold will appear on its own in the right conditions. Moisture and a warm environment form the ideal breeding ground for mold. It can develop anywhere in the home with sufficient moisture, including in drywall and insulation, flooring, and even on furniture.
Mold can cause a variety of health problems. Exposure to the toxin can cause irritation to the nose, skin, eyes, and lungs. Many people experience allergic reactions to the mold, which may come across as hay fever or cause asthma attacks. For anyone with immune deficiencies or a chronic lung disease, exposure to mold can cause greater problems, such as infection. Reactions can greatly vary based on an individual’s sensitivity and the type of mold present.
Preventing mold can save homeowners thousands of dollars. Depending on where it grows, its removal could cause the replacement of important structural components of the home. Reducing the humidity in a home by using exhaust fans and de-humidifiers, and improving ventilation, can decrease the indoor moisture from 30-60%. Any wet materials or furnishings should be dried within 48 hours to prevent mold from growing on them.
Homeowners can handle mold cleanup in most cases, depending on its extent and location. Mold on hard surfaces can be scrubbed clean with water and detergent or bleach, and then should be dried completely. Mold should not simply be painted or caulked over, but should be thoroughly cleaned first to avoid any safety hazards. While tackling such projects, homeowners should make sure they take the appropriate precautions by wearing gloves and a mask.
Staying Safe During Home Improvements
Renovating the home should be an exciting time, not a health nightmare. By taking the proper precautions before construction begins, homeowners can protect their families from these and other health hazards.
Home improvements are all about bettering the home and improving the living environment. So when tackling these projects, make health a priority. Being aware of potential toxins and having professionals assess your home can prevent years of serious health problems and diseases.