Tips: Addressing Indoor Environmental Concerns During Remodeling, Part 1

Good Work Practices During Remodeling

EPA offers a list of good work practices that you can use to help minimize or prevent indoor air and other indoor environmental problems.

Correct the underlying cause of any problem. For example, if you are repairing a damaged paint surface, look to see what might have caused the damage, e.g., moisture from the inside (such as condensation), or from the outside (as with roof leaks), rubbing or impact of painted surfaces, or structural damage.

Assume Paint in Homes Built Before 1978 Contains Lead. Unless a lead-based paint inspection shows otherwise, you should treat paint in homes built before 1978 as if contains lead. Exposing anyone to lead dust, especially children, is harmful.

Do Not Disturb Asbestos. If a project requires disturbing areas that contain asbestos, use an asbestos professional or contact your health department for advice before proceeding.

Avoid Exposure to Mold or Bacteria. Potential health effects and symptoms associated with mold exposure include allergic reactions, asthma, and other respiratory complaints. The key to mold control is moisture control. It is important to dry damaged areas and items within 24-48 hours to prevent mold growth. If mold is a problem in your home, clean up the mold and get rid of the excess water or moisture. Fix leaky plumbing or other sources of water. Wash mold off hard surfaces with detergent and water, and dry completely. Absorbent materials (such as ceiling tiles and carpet) that become moldy may have to be replaced. If a project is likely to expose large areas of microbial growth, consult with an environmental professional about adequate protective measures.

Avoid Creating Dust (and Contain Dust That Can't Be Avoided). Many remodeling activities, from demolition to removing wood casings, have the potential to create dust. Use low-dust work practices (for example, mist surfaces with water before sanding or scraping). Cover the area under work with a durable protective sheeting (e.g., a plastic or poly tarp). Use barriers to keep dust contained to immediate work area.

Provide Ventilation. Exhaust ventilation (e.g., a fan blowing out) from the work area will help remove dust and other pollutants and, by creating a pressure barrier, will help keep pollutants from spreading to other parts of the house. After applying paints or finishes, installing flooring (such as carpeting), or other activities likely to "off-gas" pollutants, continue to provide maximum ventilation to the space. The typical recommendation is to provide maximum ventilation both during installation and for at least 72 hours after installation is completed.

Protect Occupants from Exposure to Odors and Pollutants. Keep occupants, especially children, away from the work area. Clean up the work site before they return. (Workers should wear proper protection, keep clean, and avoid taking dust home with them!) Use barriers (e.g., taped plastic sheeting over doors and other openings) and local exhaust ventilation to prevent pollutants from spreading through the home. When possible, allow materials containing volatile organic compounds to off-gas outside before bringing them into the home. Likewise, when possible, apply finishes such as paint and sealers to building materials outside, and bring them into the home after they are dry.

Use Appropriate Storage and Disposal Practices for Paints, Solvents, Cleanup Materials and Asbestos-Containing Materials. Seal containers carefully after use. Keep paint containers in storage areas, preferably equipped with exhaust ventilation, but not near heating, ventilation, or air-conditioning equipment rooms. Use an appropriate waste disposal method to dispose of any paints containing lead or mercury. Follow appropriate regulations for disposal of asbestos-containing materials.

Follow Manufacturers' Instructions. As a minimum, follow the manufacturers' recommendations regarding proper use, ventilation requirements, and other health and safety guidelines for all products and materials, including paints, sealants, adhesives and appliances.

Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) -- which are intended to provide both workers and emergency personnel with the proper procedures for handling or working with a variety of substances -- are available from manufacturers. MSDSs include information such as toxicity, health effects, first aid, reactivity, storage, disposal, protective equipment and spill/leak procedures. These are of particular use if a spill or other accident occurs. MSDSs are also a possible starting point for evaluating a manufacturer's health and safety claims.

This article originally appeared in the 07/01/2005 issue of Environmental Protection.

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