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Many older homes in the Baltimore and Manassas area are even more enjoyable places to live after a few upgrades. The products that go into remodeling, however, can put a lot of contaminants into your air and seriously reduce your indoor air quality (IAQ). To maintain good IAQ while remodeling, you’ll need to take precautions both before and during your work.

Start Preparing Early

Breaking open walls and floors, pulling out insulation, working around plumbing, sanding, sawing and other common remodeling jobs can stir up air contaminants that were previously tucked away where they couldn’t do much harm. This includes mold, radon and formaldehyde, and in older homes, asbestos and lead dust.

Moisture-damaged parts of your home may have become a breeding ground for bacteria, in addition to mold. Debris from insect or rodent infestations is another risk to look out for.

The dust and chemical fumes floating around while you work do more than smell bad and make you cough. Many contribute to short- and long-term health problems, such as:

  • Eye, nose and throat irritation
  • Fatigue
  • Chronic headaches
  • Nausea
  • Neurological problems
  • Organ damage
  • Lung cancer

If harmful contaminants are present in your home, you’ll need to take time for remediation before you begin work in order to maintain good IAQ while remodeling.

Pre-inspecting the space you plan to model helps you spot potential sources of contaminants. If you’re planning to enter the attic or crawl space, wear a dust mask and clothing that completely covers your skin.

Asbestos is a particular concern in older homes. This material was used in a wide variety of building materials, but it’s now known to pose a serious threat to respiratory health. Materials containing asbestos shouldn’t be disturbed; they will require professional removal. To protect your health, get in touch with a contracting professional if the area you want to remodel contains:

  • Insulation installed between 1930 and 1950
  • Vermiculite insulation, which looks like fine gravel
  • Textured paint applied before 1977
  • Roofing, siding shingles or vinyl flooring
  • A wood-burning stove or gas fireplace
  • Old hot water pipes or steam heating system pipes

If your house was built or decorated before 1978, lead dust is another harmful contaminant to be aware of if you want to maintain good IAQ while remodeling. Breathing in the tiny particles of lead often present in older homes increases your risk of lead poisoning. Children and pregnant women are at increased risk. While inspecting your home, be on the lookout for:

  • Paint applied before 1978, especially if there’s chipping paint
  • Ceramics and crystal
  • Dust, which can include particles of lead paint that can accumulate in ordinary household dust

While you’re in the planning phase, have a contractor inspect your home and test for common contaminants. You may be able to clean up small areas of mold or certain pest debris yourself, but more widespread contamination and potentially harmful contaminants require a professional. Rodent droppings, for example, can carry disease and should be removed by a professional.

If radon is found in your home, you may want to have a radon mitigation system installed before you begin remodeling. Radon is a natural yet cancer-causing gas found in the ground in some locations, and it can enter through the foundation or water supply. Steps should be taken to limit the amount of gas that gets in.

Choose Healthy Remodeling Supplies

Another effective way to maintain good IAQ while remodeling is to choose supplies that contain as few contaminants as possible. Among the biggest threats to look out for when you’re buying new building materials, furniture and other supplies are volatile organic compounds (VOCs). These are chemical fumes such as formaldehyde, xylene and benzene that contribute to cancer and neurological damage. They’re commonly found in a wide variety of household products such as paint, varnish, caulk, new carpeting, vinyl flooring, particleboard and upholstery.

VOCs aren’t just a problem during remodeling. Products containing VOCs continue to give off, or “off gas,” chemical fumes for months after you apply or install them. To maintain good IAQ while remodeling and afterward, choose products labeled “low-VOC” or “low chemical emissions” whenever possible.

Some building material and decorating supplies are particularly likely to be sources of contaminants, so take special care when choosing these. These include:

  • Drywall
  • Flooring, including hardwood, laminate and vinyl
  • Carpeting
  • Paints and sealants
  • Insulation
  • Furniture, particularly wood and upholstered items

Building and decorating supplies aren’t the only things you’ll need for your remodeling work. While you’re out buying what you need, make sure you also pick up protective gear, including gear that will keep contaminants out of your lungs. Ideally, invest in an N95 respirator for everyone who’ll be helping with the renovation work. These disposable white masks cover your mouth and nose, reducing the amount of harmful particles, dust and fumes you breathe in. These masks aren’t airtight, though, so you’ll still need to take steps to maintain good IAQ while remodeling.

Keep Your Air Clean While You Work

Good ventilation is your best defense against the particles and fumes released during renovation work. Open the windows and, if possible, place a small box fan in one window positioned to blow outward so it draws contaminated room air outdoors. If it’s raining, take care that the fan cord isn’t exposed to water. Having other fans going in the room further helps get rid of dust and fumes.

Keep in mind that exhausting large amounts of air without allowing for replacement air can depressurize your house. When negative pressure is created indoors, fumes from fuel-burning appliances, such as a gas furnace or water heater, can be sucked out of the appliance vents and into the house. To reduce this risk, keep at least one window in the room your remodeling open without a fan in it.

Ventilation alone usually isn’t enough to keep particles and fumes from seeping into the rest of your house. To prevent this, seal off the space you’re remodeling. Reduce the amount of debris that gets into your heating and cooling air ducts by sealing the registers and vents. Lay a sheet of 6-mm polyethylene or other heavy plastic over the registers and vents and completely seal the edges of the plastic with tape. Because this step won’t keep all construction debris out of your air ducts, schedule a professional duct inspection after you finish remodeling.

Reduce the amount of debris that escapes through the room’s door by creating a plastic barrier over the door. Cut a piece of 6-mm polyethylene to fit over the door and tape it down around the whole perimeter of the door, leaving plenty of slack on the bottom. Cut a vertical slit down the center of the plastic sheet to allow for entrance. Inside the room you’re remodeling, attach a second layer of plastic sheeting to the top edge of the door and cut it to end just slightly above the bottom edge of the door. If the room has another door, keep it shut and cover it entirely with plastic.

This barrier works well for most renovation jobs, but if you’re planning on breaking down walls or doing other work that creates large amounts of dust, talk with a contractor about isolating the room.

It’s also a good idea to let the newly renovated area air out for a while after you finish your upgrades. All you really need to do is leave the windows open and set a few fans going to blow out lingering dust and chemical emissions. Aim to do this for a day or two, but even a few hours is better than nothing.

If you need to use the space soon after remodeling, consider investing in a portable air cleaner. Look for a model that includes a HEPA filter to trap even the tiniest contaminant particles and a gas-phase filter than absorbs VOCs.

For more information on how to maintain good IAQ while remodeling, check out Griffith Energy Services, Inc.’s indoor air quality solutions or call today.

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