Not Just Lead Paint: Identifying Toxins In Home Renovation


Green renovations are a great way to transform older residences into sustainable homes, but what happens when the foundations are toxic? Though most people know to beware of lead paint when working on old houses, there are actually quite a few different toxins that lurk within the walls of these buildings, including radon, asbestos, and chromated copper arsenic (CCA).

Before you start any renovations, consider taking baseline measures of all major toxins so that you can assess the impact of your repairs. Ongoing measurement is your best weapon against toxic exposure, but you need to know where you began.

Natural Radon

Most people experience some degree of radon exposure as it’s the result of environmental uranium decay, but some parts of the country experience higher levels of exposure than others. For those in high exposure areas, though, radon can enter the home through cracks in the walls or foundation, utility panels, sump pumps, and other access points.

Radon home tests are available at hardware stores, so pick one up before your next renovation project. All you’ll need to do is leave out a container of charcoal, which will absorb the radon. Then you send it to a lab for analysis.

After your initial tests, the EPA recommends further radon testing every two years after major renovations. Any alterations you make to your home’s structure can open up new points of vulnerability, which is why these follow-up tests are important.

Insulation Issues

Insulation is one of the most hazardous materials in older homes, and it’s also an area you won’t be able to ignore in the course of renovations, as older insulation is less efficient. Left in place, you are likely to face escalating heating costs and an unacceptably high carbon footprint.

Before you open up the wall or ceiling, it’s important to find out what kind of insulation is inside your walls. Many kinds of insulation contain asbestos (blown-in insulation and calcium silicate insulation, among others), but you’ll more commonly encounter fiberglass. Unfortunately, both are toxic and can cause serious health effects, and you’ll need to have the right tools to deal with them if you don’t want to encounter constant residues in your living environment.

Cabinets, Carpets, And More

Unless your home’s cabinets are very old or very expensive, they are almost guaranteed to be made of engineered wood, such as plywood, fibreboard, or particleboard. These products are cheap, but they are also toxic, and if you tear them out you may be exposed to formaldehyde and other chemicals from the adhesive.

As for carpeting, though most eco-conscious homeowners primarily worry about volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and off-gassing, when tearing them out, the key problem is one of mold. Carpet pads can begin to grow mold within 24 hours of a liquid spill and tearing up old carpeting can aerosolize mold particles. Wear a mask and use an air filter to avoid breathing them in.

Finally, even if you are ready to avoid the VOCs in carpeting and fake cabinets, the walls probably need a new coat of paint to give your home that final polish. Luckily, several companies make high-quality, low- or zero-VOC wall paints, including Behr and Benjamin Moore. There’s also the charming YOLO Colorhouse, a small paint brand that is VOC, formaldehyde, and carcinogen free. You’ll be able to embrace the rainbow without all the toxins.

Renovating older homes is a great way to increase the amount of eco-friendly housing without building on our remaining green spaces, but it’s not without its hazards. So before you touch a thing, prepare yourself. You don’t want to risk toxic exposure in pursuit of a greener lifestyle.

Article Submitted by Community Writer.

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