Giovanni Valle is a licensed architect and LEED-accredited professional and is certified by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB). He is the author and managing editor of various digital publications, including BuilderSpace, Your Own Architect, and Interiors Place.
Affiliate Disclaimer: Some of the links below are affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.
Summary: Remodeling can be risky due to lead paint, mold, carbon monoxide, and asbestos. Prevent by testing for lead, using pros, installing detectors, ensuring ventilation, and following safety instructions. Seek medical help for severe symptoms.
Remodeling is challenging work, no matter the size of your renovations. With all the supply costs, project management, and hard labor, it can be hard to tell if you feel ill because of the stress or something more serious. When remodeling an older home, you may wonder if the renovation is making you sick.
You can get sick from remodeling a home if exposed to harmful chemicals or substances, such as construction dust, mold, mildew, or lead paint. Inhaling these materials can damage your lungs, and eventually make you sick.
In the rest of this article, I’ll talk about some of the most common ways renovations can make someone sick. I’ll also talk about preventing these illnesses and steps you can take to ensure you’re following proper protocol. If you feel severe, persistent symptoms, it’s essential to check in with your physician regardless of the cause.
Health Risks of Remodeling a Home
Remodeling a home can be time-consuming, and it’s understandable to want to get everything done as soon as possible. This is especially true if you feel like you live in a construction zone and don’t want to be bothered with tedious tasks.
Inadequate remodeling preparations can lead to illnesses like lead poisoning, airborne debris like mold or mildew, or carbon monoxide poisoning. Therefore, it’s essential to take the proper precautions when doing any project, especially those that involve cutting into walls or messing with gas lines.
Here’s a breakdown of the common health risks associated with remodeling a home:
If lead-based paint is sanded, heated, or cut into, there’s a high risk for illness from the lead. This is especially dangerous to children and unborn fetuses, and there’s a higher chance of lead-based paint being used in your home if it was built before 1978.
The Environmental Protection Agency has regulations for homes built before 1978 because of the possibility of lead being in the walls and paint. The regulation requires that certified contractors go into the home to do renovations as they’re trained to reduce lead poisoning risk.
So, how do you know if the original builders built your home with lead-based paint? Usually, you sign a lead-based paint disclosure when buying or selling a home.
To avoid lead poisoning, you should:
- Test the paint in your home for lead levels before doing any renovations. This can be done with a test kit such as the 3M LeadCheck Swabs (available on Amazon.com) that provide instant results or by a professional contractor.
- Ensure a certified contractor works on any walls that do have lead-based paint. Not all contractors are trained to do this.
- Cover up walls that have been found to have lead. You should do this before a contractor comes in if you’re waiting for the renovation to begin.
- Be cautious with children during renovations, especially with lead-based paint. Always supervise children and ensure they don’t get too close to or consume any lead-based paint.
Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
Another invisible risk is carbon monoxide poisoning.
Carbon monoxide is a colorless, invisible gas that can fill the home if you accidentally leave a gas appliance on or keep your car running in a closed garage. Carbon monoxide poisoning kills about 137 people per million people worldwide yearly. Exposure to carbon monoxide for a prolonged time will begin with nausea, dizziness, and headache and can be lethal.
To prevent carbon monoxide poisoning, you should:
- Install carbon monoxide detectors inside the home.
- Always be cautious about gas lines when cutting into walls.
- Make sure there are no leaks in the home when you’re renovating.
When you paint, you should ensure that the area is well-ventilated and that you’re using the right paint for the project.
Outdoor paints are explicitly made for use outdoors because they often have fungicides. Breathing fungicides over an extended period, especially when not in a well-ventilated area, can be harmful and cause illness.
In addition, using paint thinners without a mask can make you feel unwell. It’s always a good idea to wear a mask and open a window to ensure the chemical scent doesn’t go to your head.
When you cut down walls and start to sand down ceilings, you’re also at risk of getting ill from mold or mildew. This is especially true in humid climates. Mold can make you sick just by breathing it in. To avoid this, wear a mask when dealing with an area of the home you know has mold or mildew.
You can also get sick from breathing into much wood dust or dust from the walls. Inhaling these materials can make it difficult to breathe or cause lung sickness. It’s a good idea to wear a mask and goggles when cutting into walls or sanding things down.
Asbestos is another risky substance that was once a popular building material. It can be found on roofs, walls, or ceilings. It can cause cancer and a range of other illnesses.
It’s now banned, but some old homes may still have asbestos lingering in them. If you are concerned, you should get the materials in your home tested.
Tips To Avoid Getting Sick When Remodeling a Home
With some remodeling projects, you may be looking for ways to cut corners to save money or time. Safety isn’t the right corner to cut.
But by taking the right precautions, you can minimize exposure to harmful chemicals and reduce your risk of illness.
Here are some safety tips to follow when remodeling a home:
- Always wear a mask to prevent asbestos, mold, and other airborne pathogens from entering your lungs.
- Call in a professional if you are going to be tearing down walls or moving wires.
- Have a professional test for asbestos.
- Install carbon monoxide detectors and smoke detectors on each level of your home.
- Have your paint checked for lead content and take proper precautions (which usually means calling an expert) if you will sand or remove it.
While these recommendations will surely help you stay safe during your remodel, this list is not exhaustive. Most remodeling products, such as paints or adhesives, also have safety instructions on their packaging that you should read and follow thoroughly.
You can get sick from renovating a home, but it doesn’t mean that you inevitably will. Failure to ventilate your workspace can cause airborne pathogens, such as dust and mold, to spread inside.
But, following the tips in this article, you can reduce exposure and protect your health during a home remodel.
- Poison.org: Planning a Home Remodel?
- US EPA: Lead Renovation, Repair and Painting Program
- Duke Today: Lead Exposure In Childhood Linked to Lower IQ, Lower Status
- National Institute of Health: Lead in kids’ blood linked to behavioral and emotional problems
- National Kidney Foundation: Lead Exposure and Kidney Function
- NIH: Worldwide epidemiology of carbon monoxide poisoning
- Everyday Health: Protect Against Air Pollutants When Remodeling – Healthy Home Center
- CDC: Mold
- Asbestos.com: What Is Asbestos and How Does It Cause Cancer
- NIH: Lung function: occupational exposure to wood dust
Share this Post