What Allergy & Asthma Fighters Need to Know Before Building or Remodeling a Home
Are you thinking about remodeling your home, or building a new one? If so, there are several things you need to know about the impact this may have on your allergies. The dust, debris, and fumes from remodeling or construction can wreak havoc on your eyes, nose, and skin. Knowing about some specific hazards, however, can help you minimize the impact on your allergies.
If you are putting in new floors, consider using hardwood, vinyl, linoleum tile, or slate instead of wall-towall carpeting. The carpet is an ideal home for dust mites. These tiny insects are one of the worst enemies of people with allergies. Too small to be seen with the naked eye, they live inside carpeting, cushions, and bedding. There, they excrete waste products that cause allergic symptoms. Bare floors with small, washable area rugs are much easier to keep free of dust mites than carpeting.
Before you install new flooring, talk to your contractor or salesperson about the type of finish that can be used if your symptoms are triggered by fumes. Hardwood floors are an ideal type of floor for people with allergies & asthma. Still, finishing products can cause a temporary reaction to the chemicals used in the process. To lessen these effects, choose varnishes and waxes with low volatile organic compound off-gassing potential (ask your paint dealer to recommend safer products) and leave the house while floors are being finished. Ventilate the house for several days. Wait until the odor is gone before returning to the house; do not just ventilate and stay in the house. If possible, have the house professionally cleaned afterward to remove sanding and dusting residue.
After the project is finished, leave windows in the area open at least a crack. Air out the area for at least three weeks afterward.
Whether you are building or remodeling, be careful of plywood wall paneling, particleboard, fiberboard, and insulation. Consider avoiding wallboard products, such as glass-mesh cement “backer” boards, which can have excessive debris when you handle and install them. Also, certain chemicals, such as urea and phenyls, emitted from these materials can irritate the skin and airways. If possible, use safer, alternative products. If you are sanding, sawing, or tearing out any of these materials, wear a mask and goggles. Open the windows and use a fan – blowing toward the outside, not into the house – to push out dust and fumes.
Chemicals known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs) can be emitted from certain types of materials used in homes. Materials that can release VOCs include plaster and drywall; manufactured wood products (particle board, plywood, composite board, etc.); paint, resin, and varnish; organic or rubber solvents; putty, sealants, and caulks; wallpaper; vinyl floor coverings; synthetic carpeting, padding, and adhesives; drapery; and some cleaning compounds.
Some of the common types of VOCs are aldehyde, benzene and related compounds, xylene, toluene, trichloroethane, chlorobenzenes, and polychlorinated biphenyls. These chemicals can irritate the eyes, skin, and airways. Trichloroethane is often used as a propellant for special wall applications. Polychlorinated biphenyls are thought to cause cancer. They are found in electrical components, waste oil supplies, and a variety of plastic and paper products.
Cutting Down on Dust and Fumes
When remodeling, you can take several precautions to protect both your family and your home. Hang plastic sheeting over doorways leading to the area being worked on. Leave this sheeting up until the cleanup is complete. When you do remove it, don’t carry it through the house. Rather, make a chute in an open window through which you can push out the debris. This way, fine particles will not reenter the room as they float through the air.
In addition, cover yourself with protective clothing, including a mask and goggles. Put these on as soon as you enter the work area and take them off before you leave the room being remodeled.
After the project is finished, leave windows in the area open at least a crack. Air out the area for at least three weeks afterward. Set up fans in windows and exhaust indoor air to the outside. In northern climates, this is best accomplished during the warmer months, rather than in winter. If possible, stay out of the house until the fumes have diminished or disappear completely.
Building and remodeling can be done safely if you know about the hazards and how to avoid them. If possible, plan the work step by step with an experienced contractor who is knowledgeable about construction and its potential health problems. And when you’re done, take the time to celebrate and enjoy the results, knowing that your family’s health has been safeguarded.
Source: Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, www.aafa.org
This article was originally published in Coping® with Allergies & Asthma magazine, Spring/Summer 2010.