Healthy Home Construction

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Spring is right around the corner; which for many means the start of allergies again, along with the sneezing, running noses, red eyes, and headaches. The side effects of allergies can be similar to those when you have construction going on in your home. The fumes of paint and flooring finishes can induce headaches, the excessive dust created from demolishing walls or sanding floors can cause sneezing and coughing as harmful pollutants are released into the air, and the influx of different people performing work in your home can introduce germs and spread illness, especially during the winter months when the flu season is in full swing. These common issues during remodeling and construction jobs can be more complicated for our senior population undergoing renovations to help them “age," or "live in place", especially since so many of them will be remaining in their home while the renovations are taking place. 

Here are some strategies to discuss with your contractor before beginning work in your home to help prevent and reduce the most common health issues during renovations.  It’s important when selecting your contractor, to discuss and understand how they handle dust and related health risks to ensure they are kept to a minimum. Contractors that use some of the equipment referred to, may also come in with higher bids, so balancing the cost and benefits during the contractor selection process should be performed. 

1. Forbid the Fumes: 
Most paints and floor finishing products contain chemicals that evaporate in the air. As with any chemical, the likelihood of a reaction and the extent and type of health effects will depend on many factors. These factors include the number of compounds in the indoor air, the length of time a person is exposed, and a person’s age. Eye, throat or lung irritation, headaches, dizziness, and vision problems are among the immediate symptoms that some people can experience soon after exposure. When picking paint for your home interior, make sure you select one that is for indoor use only.  There are two categories of interior paints:

  • Water-based: referred to as “latex” paints
  • Oil-based: referred to as “alkyd” paints

In general, water-based paints will emit fewer chemicals and lower levels of chemical vapors. Select primers and paints with low-volatile organic compounds (VOC) as these products release fewer fumes. Low-VOC materials are applied the same way as conventional paints and primers and cost about the same as most manufacturers' top-of-the-line paints. They can also be cleaned and disposed of easily without the use of active solvents; which is always a plus! As paint dries, harmful VOCs are released into the air at high levels, so this would be an essential time for seniors to open all windows, place fans around the house to direct the fumes outside, or better yet, get out of the house for a few hours or overnight. 

Another paint or finish option is to look for products that carry the “Green Seal.”  These products are guaranteed to meet precise environmental standards and contain VOC levels even below those of already low VOC products. Green Seal products are forbidden from using a long list of toxic chemical compounds and must meet specific performance requirements; so ask your contractor about selecting products with this certification, and to understand how best to incorporate these products in your project.

2. Defeat the Dust
Dust is everywhere on construction sites and will always exist. From cutting and sanding materials to excavation, drilling, and demolition, it’s an impossible substance to avoid. However, dust is an unnecessary health risk that can be efficiently managed on every construction site. 

The two most common and effective ways to reduce the risk of dust when performing standard tasks on construction sites are:

  •   Water dampening
  •   Extraction and filtration 

Water dampening is an effective method,  but can be challenging to manage. It requires the site to be thoroughly soaked before the work starts and a constant flow of water to be maintained during the task to prevent dust particles becoming airborne. A  sufficient supply of water and access to it are crucial elements. The second method is using specialist extraction and filtration units. Power tools and air scrubbers use dust extractors and collect dust as the work is performed and can reduce the dust that is emitted into the air by almost 90%.  Air scrubbers capture dirt before it circulates through your home.

Additional tips to reduce dust and dirt in your home include:

  • Place plastic dust barriers with zipper openings at all entry points to a room or space under construction and seal them tightly.
  • Review how debris will be eliminated from the home.  Will it be brought in and out through the central space, or can it be removed directly from the room in which it was created? 
  • Contractors should only walk through areas of the home where work is occurring.
  • Place sticky mats outside the doorway to pull the dust off shoes, and place floor paper from the construction area to the exit door to capture additional dust. 
  • Dust generating tasks should take place outside.
  • Adequate clean-up at the end of the workday including vacuums and sponge mops should be used to gather dust that has settled in. 

During the work, vents should be blocked off with plastic, and if there is a return vent in the room in which work is performed, that’s a bit trickier, so it may be easier to schedule the task at a time when the unit can be turned off.  Once the work has is completed, clean the HVAC system and air vents to ensure that you aren’t continuing to breathe in the dust. With the right dust extraction and filtration systems in place, along with barriers and enclosures, construction dust can be efficiently managed and contained.

3. Get Rid of the Germs

With contractors and others in and out of your home during a renovation, the post clean-up is another critical component to remaining healthy. For those aging in place, we would recommend hiring a professional to get rid of all the germs (and dust!)  living in your home. So after any renovations be sure to:

  • clean your walls (including all moldings).
  • vacuum all floors (if carpeted go over them a few times, and if they're wood, tile, or linoleum, follow your vacuuming with a quick mopping).
  • vacuum all upholstered furniture (couches, chairs, and even mattresses).
  • take down and clean all light fixtures and window treatments.
  • unscrew and clean your vents.
  • check and change all air filters. 
  • Use disinfecting products to wipe down all surfaces (countertops, hand railings, toilets, vanities). 

It's important when planning a home renovation project to review health and safety concerns, and build these strategies into the project before the work begins to remain healthy, happy and ready to enjoy your new home!