6 diy dangers to avoid

6 DIY Dangers to Avoid

Nothing tops the satisfaction of doing it yourself. That feeling (and the next generation of Martha Stewarts) has fueled a do-it-yourself (DIY) movement that has many people pushing up their sleeves for some big home-improvement projects.

For Kate M., that has meant a head-to-toe home-remodeling project that she and her partner have done with almost no professional help. The fact that she’s an interior designer and he’s a builder does help, but even she notes that there’s a limit to what they could do when it came to the potential health hazards of remodeling a home. “Designers can be pretty ignorant to the protocols of stuff like that,” says Kate. “It’s mostly the contractor’s job to take on.”

When fixing up older homes, aging walls and floorboards may conceal dangers such as lead paint and asbestos. Virtua occupational medicine and preventive medicine specialist Evamaria Eskin, MD, explains that some common building materials can release airborne toxins that can lead to upper respiratory irritation and lung damage. These materials include asbestos particles, lead paint dust or fumes, formaldehyde vapors from particleboard, concrete dust, fiberglass, and fumes from solvents in paints, stains, and varnishes. Certain solvents and oil also can lead to skin irritation.

Another risk is exposure to high levels of volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, found in paint, paint strippers, adhesives, cleaning products, acetone, alcohols, particleboard, and carpet, which may have cardiovascular effects, such as arrhythmias. Neurologic symptoms such as headache, nausea, lightheadedness, and irritability can stem from exposure to lead, formaldehyde, paint, and other solvents.

The potential dangers of home building materials may be enough to scare us back into wood cabins, but Dr. Eskin, medical director of Virtua Occupational Health, notes that with new construction you don’t need to get a home checked for certain materials. “Use of lead paint and asbestos in home construction has been banned since about 1978,” she explains, but “assume a house built before then has lead-based paint.”

The Environmental Protection Agency has plenty of information available on their website for those looking to remodel their home safely. But for the DIYers looking to renovate an older home, leave the lead paint and asbestos removal to the professionals says Dr. Eskin. Everything else can be DIY. Whether this is a good idea depends on the hazards identified and how willing and able the homeowner is to use good work practices while remodeling.”

Dr. Eskin offers these tips for minimizing DIY dangers:

  • Stock up on protective equipment such as masks, goggles, and gloves for projects generating dust and fumes.

  • Contain any dust in the work area or make sure it’s ventilated to the outside.

  • To ensure the rest of the house doesn’t get contaminated, clean and sweep daily.

  • Spray surfaces with water before starting demolition to help keep down the dust, and hang plastic sheeting between the demolition area and other areas of the house.

  • Close air-conditioning vents in the work area to prevent circulating the dust through the house.

  • When using solvents, paint, adhesives, or when installing materials that may off-gas formaldehyde such as pressed wood cabinetry, make sure to have good local ventilation using fans vented to the outside.

A good rule of thumb is to do it right – or don’t do it yourself!

Updated March 15, 2017

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