DIY Home Renovation Health Risks

This guest post was authored by Brian Turner at

Lead and Asbestos: Hidden Dangers in Home Renovations

As the economy slowly recovers, many Americans are taking on renovations to enlarge or remodel their homes. Unfortunately, many homeowners start projects they are unable to finish on their own. Moreover, they are often unaware of the health hazards lurking in their attics, basements, floors and walls.

While do-it-yourself carpenters contemplate the size, shape and color of their rooms, they often fail to consider the dangers behind the walls. Old wiring, old plumbing and mold are just some of the potential hazards. Many older homes contain dangerous chemicals, metals and other toxic materials.

Generally, the blatant and easy-to-spot dangers are not the most serious renovation hazards. The real dangers are usually hidden and impossible to spot without professional analysis. These toxins pose a direct threat to the health of do-it-yourself homeowners and the residential contractors they hire for the job.

Lead Exposure and Lead Poisoning

Lead exposure is a major health concern for American homeowners, particularly for those who live in older homes. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), homes built before 1978 were likely finished with lead-based paints.

In older homes, flaking or deteriorating paint may contain hazardous levels of lead. The painted edges of windows, doors and drawers can create lead dust when they rub against each other. Home renovators may generate dust when they scrape, sand, saw or hammer painted materials. Many old porches and fences contain lead-based exterior paints.

Home renovations, repairs and painting projects can create toxic lead hazards when walls are disturbed or demolished. Other materials may also harbor toxins. Lead pipes, fixtures and solder were commonly used in homes that were built before 1986. Even the lead-free plumbing in newer homes may contain a small percentage of lead. Corroded plumbing allows lead to leach into drinking water and impact health. The symptoms of lead poisoning include high blood pressure, memory loss, mental decline and reproductive problems.

Hiring lead-safe certified contractors is one measure that homeowners can take to protect themselves from lead exposure during renovations. Working safely, using the proper equipment and taking extra precautions will ensure the results.

Asbestos Exposure and Mesothelioma

Asbestos is another dangerous material that homeowners must prepare for when planning a home renovation. Asbestos has received a lot of attention in recent years due to the growing number of mesothelioma cases in the United States. Mesothelioma is a rare and deadly form of cancer that is primarily caused by asbestos exposure.

Like lead, asbestos was used in numerous household products and building supplies. The resilient material was notable for its fire resistance and heat insulation qualities. Homes built before 1977 used asbestos generously in wallboards, insulation, flooring, roofing and dozens of other materials.

Asbestos poses the greatest threat to homeowners during renovations and repairs. When asbestos is torn, cut, sanded, scraped, drilled, hammered or disturbed in any way, microscopic fibers escape into the air. If the particles are breathed into the body, they can embed in the lungs and cause serious respiratory illnesses. Even worse, the warning signs of mesothelioma and other diseases may not appear for 20 to 50 years after exposure.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) encourages American homeowners to contact professionals to sample and analyze suspected asbestos materials. During remodeling projects, they advise renovators to wear protective gear and to shut down the HVAC systems to minimize asbestos particles. Lightly wetting asbestos before handling it may also reduce the spread of toxic fibers.

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