For allergy sufferers, remodeling a home is not simply a matter of deciding what improvements to make, allocating funds, and going through the hassle of inhabiting a half-constructed living space. Rather, home renovation can lead to allergy and asthma attacks and the aggravation of multiple chemical sensitivities.
However, because many aspects of a home's construction can either cause allergies (lots of wall-to-wall carpeting, for instance) or help prevent them (hardwood flooring), home renovation could actually improve not only the home itself, but also the health of its occupants.
Taking precautions and following the suggestions made by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America ensure that an allergy sufferer's remodeling projects do not compromise efforts of allergen avoidance.
When choosing flooring, stay away from wall-to-wall carpeting which traps allergens such as dust mite allergen, pollen, and pet dander. Bare floors like hardwood, laminate, tile, slate, linoleum or vinyl are better choices for allergy sufferers, because they can be thoroughly washed. There are no places for allergens to hide!
When installing hardwood flooring, be aware that certain finishes can trigger chemical sensitivities as well as asthma and allergies. Many stains, varnishes and sealants are quite toxic and their fumes can linger long after they have been applied to the flooring. Breathing these fumes is not healthy for anyone, allergy sufferer or not. Choose pre-finished hardwood floors or use low VOC products if they must be used. Do not remain in the house while these products are being applied, and don't return until the odor is gone. Ventilate thoroughly and use anair purifier fitted with carbon filtration to help adsorb any remaining VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds).
VOCs also are an issue with plywood wall paneling, particle board, fiberboard, and insulation. Chemicals used during the making and installation of these materials can irritate your skin and respiratory tract. Products such as glass-mesh cement "backer" boards can lead to excessive debris when they are installed and should be avoided, if possible, to forestall inhalation hazards. Arespirator or mask as well as goggles should always be worn when working with these materials, especially if sanding, sawing, or tearing them down. Again, ventilation including a fan or air mover blowing toward the outside, and use of an industrial air purifier is important in clearing out dust and fumes.
The following wall-related materials can release VOCs into your home environment:
- Plaster and drywall
- Manufactured wood products, including particle board, plywood, and composite board
- Paint, resin, and varnish
- Organic or rubber solvents
- Putty, sealants, and caulks
- Vinyl floor coverings
- Synthetic carpeting, padding, and adhesives
- Cleaning products
When working on older homes, its very important to be aware of the additional hazards posed by buildings built before certain health concerns were noted. Asbestos and lead are two of the most common health concerns when working with homes built before or around 1970.
Asbestos was often used to insulate pipes and to make ceiling and floor tiles. If you suspect your home may contain asbestos, DO NOT attempt to remove it yourself. Instead, hire a professional to remove the asbestos.
If your home contains lead paint, this should also be removed especially if young children live in your home. Chips from lead paint pose a hazard to small children who may eat them. Dust from lead paint is also hazardous. Prolonged exposure to lead can cause brain damage. As with asbestos, consult a professional. Do not attempt to solve the problem yourself.
Minimizing Dust and Fumes
Dust and fumes are the two major concerns for allergy and asthma sufferers remodeling their homes. Take the following steps to reduce their impact:
- Hang plastic sheeting over the doorways of the areas being worked on in the house. Leave this barrier in place until the remodeled area is completely finished. When you remove it, don't carry it through the house which will introduce particles into your indoor air; rather, make a chute through a window and toss the sheeting outside.
- When entering the area being worked on, wear protective clothing, a HEPA mask or respirator, and goggles. This will minimize your exposure to dust, fumes, and particles that could aggravate your symptoms.
- Once your project is finished, ventilate for at least three weeks. It can take a long time for dust to settle and for fumes to fade. Leave windows in the area open at least a crack. Plan to perform remodeling tasks during times of the year when its not too cold or too hot to leave windows open. Set up fans blowing toward the outside to help air out the space.
Home renovations, especially those with the aim of removing hazardous materials from your home or replacing allergy-causing materials such as carpeting with more allergy-friendly choices like hardwood flooring, can be of great benefit to allergy and asthma sufferers. And when the proper precautions are taken to prevent undue exposure to fumes, dust, and other symptom inducers, remodeling projects can be safe even for those with allergies, asthma, and multiple chemical sensitivities. In all your undertakings, education and preparation will keep you breathing better.