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  • Writer's pictureCorey Provencal

Remodeling and Indoor Air Quality

You may not have realized that your remodeling project may be creating unhealthy indoor environment. These 8 questions and answers will help you understand the possible concerns of a remodeling and your indoor air quality.

Q 1: What remodeling hazards should I be concerned about?

A: Asbestos, formaldehyde and other organic solvents, and leaded paint dust are the main ones. These hazardous materials can be released into the air when you remove paint, hang cabinets or disturb other existing products that contain these materials. Paints, stripping and finishing products, and adhesives can also create indoor air pollution.

Q 2: By remodeling with products that don’t include these hazardous materials, won’t that minimize my exposure?

A: Not necessarily. Lead and asbestos were commonly used in home building until the late 1970s. Remodeling or attempting to remove these materials from a building can actually increase your risk of exposure. Often it’s better to leave the lead- or asbestos-containing materials in place, but cover or seal them to reduce exposure. If you suspect these materials are in your home, seek professional help before remodeling. If you remodel, remember that careful clean-up is important to control exposure.

Q 3: What does asbestos come from? Why should I be concerned?

A: Major sources of asbestos are deteriorating, damaged or disturbed asbestos-containing insulation, fireproofing or acoustical materials, and floor tiles. In isolated cases, asbestos could be found in vermiculite attic insulation. Exposure to asbestos in the air during renovation or maintenance on asbestos containin gmaterials may cause irritation reactions. Asbestos can also cause cancer and chronic lung diseases. Smokers are at higher risk of developing asbestos-induced lung doseases. If you need to work on or remove asbestos containing materials, use a professionally certified contractor.

Q 4: What should I do if I have vermiculite attic insulation?

A: According tothe U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s recommendations, DO NOT DISTURB IT. Any disturbance has the potential to release asbestos fibers into the air. Limiting the number of trips you make to your attic and shortening the length of those trips can help limit your potential exposure. EPA and ATSDR (Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry) strongly recommend that: Vermiculite insulation be left undisturbed in your attic. Due to the uncertainties with existing testing techniques, it is best to assume that the material may contain asbestos. Limit trips to the attic,if possible. You should not store boxes or other items in you attic if retrieving the material will disturb the insulation. Children should not be allowed to play in an attic with open areas of vermiculite insulation. If you plan to remodel or conduct renovations that would disturb the vermiculite, hire professionals trained and certified to handle asbestos to safely remove the material. You should never attempt to remove the insulation yourself. Hire professionals trained and certified to safely remove the materials.

Q 5: What does formaldehyde come from? Why should I be concerned?

A: Formaldehyde is an important industrial chemical used to make other chemicals, building materials and household products. It is used in glues, pressed-wood products (such as plywood and particle oard), preservtives, permanent presss fas a preservative or as an adhesive in pressed wood products, such as paneling and particle-board, and furniture. Formaldehyde causes eye, nose and throat irritations; wheezing and coughing; fatigue; skin rashes; headaches; loss of coordination; nausea; damage to liver, kidneys and the central nervous system; and severe allergic reactions. It has been linked to cancer.

Q 6: How can I detect whether myhome has significant concentrations of formaldehyde?

A: You may be able to detect it by its odor. Also, environmential testing firms, listed in the yellow pages of the phone directory, should be able to test for formaldehyde levels. Since such tests are costly, you should learn whether your home has possible sources of formaldehyde. Also, do-it-yourself test kits are available, but there is some question about their accuracy.

Q 7: What can I do to reduce formaldehyde problems?

A: In most cases, formaldehyde does not penetrate completely sealed plastic laminate and is at least partly blocked by coatings. Varnishes and special formaldehyde sealants are also available. Apply these coatings to all exposed edges and surfaces, such as the undersides of countertops, cabinet interiors and drawers. High humidity and elevated temperatures cause formaldehyde release, so you might want to control humidity through air conditioning and properly used and maintained dehumidifiers. Also, increase ventilation, particularly after bringing new sources of formaldehyde into the home. When remodeling and in new construction, select low formaldehyde materials.

Q 8: What about other chemicals used in remodeling, such as paints, wood strippers and finishes, adhesives, waxes and cleaners?

A: The products to watch for are those containing volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are organic solvents that easily evaporate into the air. Some may be flammable. Following are some of the compounds listed on product labels: petroleum distillates, mineral spirits, chlorinated solvents, carbon tetrachloride, methylene chloride, trichloroethane, toluene and formaldehyde. Other remodeling products can be a hazard if they are used improperly.

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