With the continued housing slump across the nation, many families are choosing to build on additions or renovate their old homes instead of taking on the financial burden of a newer, costlier dwelling. While many of these projects can be taken on by the home owners themselves, involved renovations including additions or converting unfinished spaces to rooms for occupancy require greater project and hazard knowledge. These heavily-involved renovations may require specific technical knowledge of construction like insulation, plumbing, structural integrity and outdated, dangerous chemical recognition. For that reason, some families should concede where their experience ends and hire professionals for their home upgrades.
Some of the more mundane renovations that might be needed, especially with an older home, are the updates and removal of structural and interior dangers, like mold, inefficient insulation and outdated wiring. While apparently not as crucial as other aesthetic aspects of a project, like a room addition or ramp for an elderly relative, these initial considerations are in fact of the greatest importance.
Home Remodeling Considerations
One serious consideration, especially in warmer, humid climates is mold. While most forms of mold are not toxic, some indeed are and can cause serious health consequences. It is therefore necessary to address this concern quickly when beginning a project. Because the presence of mold indicates water leakage, home owners first need to identify the source of this water and address that concern. Then the mold can be killed with a biocide and encapsulated. Encapsulation means completely sealing the mold to ensure it cannot continue to grow.
Another, far more serious threat to homeowners is the presence of lead, which is especially prevalent in older homes. Although, dangerous for everyone exposed, lead is especially threatening to children because it is more easily absorbed through growing skin. This damage to young children, even unborn babies, can be severe. Specifically, lead can inhibit mental and physical development in children. Decreased IQ levels, increased behavioral problems and shortened attention spans are also common effects of lead exposure.
Commonly recognized as a threat in older paint, lead had a variety of applications in the past, including acting as an ingredient in gasoline, furniture and water-carrying pipes. For that reason, there are several ways homeowners, especially children, can risk exposure to this chemical if it is not properly removed. In addition to chipping paint, lead exposure can occur through the air, in the form of lead dust, in drinking water, in food or even in contaminated soil.
Another chemical commonly found in older homes that poses a threat to families during renovation is asbestos. This chemical, a naturally occurring mineral used heavily in the 20th century for construction, should, like lead, be properly removed from homes to ensure the safety of all occupants. Once popular as an insulation, based on its fireproof qualities, heat resistance, chemical resistance and electrical insulation, this material has since proven to cause serious health consequences. Used in a variety of household and industrial applications, this material poses a serious cancer threat when broken, jagged or shredded, which allows it to be released into the air and breathed into the lungs.
Like lead, this chemical has received much attention based on its dangerous side effects. However, its pervasive use in past construction makes it a continuing problem. Its danger is even amplified as older homes are remodeled and the aged material is exposed. Mesothelioma disease is the cancer that results from exposure to this chemical. If exposure occurs, four different types of this disease might occur, with the most common developing in the lung lining. Mesothelioma symptoms typically do not even appear until 20 to 50 years after initial exposure to asbestos, making it even more vital to avoid this chemical because the recognition, and subsequent treatment, of this disease is so difficult.
Safe Home Renovation
Obviously, highly dangerous chemicals like lead and asbestos need to be identified and properly removed by professionals to ensure the safety of a household. The actual process of renovation can disturb these previously-contained chemicals, so it’s important to determine a home’s age to figure out which chemicals might have been present in its construction. While the added strain of a poor economy and elderly relatives might lure some homeowners to cut corners and take on difficult projects, it remains important to recognize one’s limitations, ensure family safety and hire professionals that can help carry out these difficult renovations.
Article by Eric Stevenson
photo by Abby Lanes