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Healthier Home Renovation

By Erin S. Ihde, MA
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Being healthy during renovation includes protecting yourself from a variety of indoor toxins, including mold, asbestos, lead and VOC’s (volatile organic compounds).  The EPA covers the basics in "Good Work Practices During Remodeling", a must-read before starting any home reno project.  Before starting work in my own home, my first trip was to the hardware store to get "outfitted" with protective goggles, face mask, and heavy-duty gloves.  Be sure to carefully read the packaging of safety products, masks especially, as there are versions for different types of jobs. Choose the right equipment and ask questions at the retailer or call the manufacturer if needed.


Children need special protection from pollutants exposed in homes during renovation.  Pound for pound of body weight, kids take in more air, consume more food and drink more water than adults do, according to the Alliance for Healthy Homes, an essential resource for parents.  Kids also tend to play close to the ground, where toxins such as lead often settle.  Frequent hand-to-mouth activity also places children at greater risk than adults. What can harm children the most may not even be visible:  lead dust can be so micro-fine that it can’t be easily seen, while mold and other toxins can also be difficult to detect.  Work with your child’s doctor to address any potential concerns about possible exposures.


As a basic rule, kids should not come in contact with any remodeling or construction work area.  Despite their curiosity, they need a safe space until both the work is done and completely cleaned up, whether that means living with family or friends temporarily, or sealing away the work area according to EPA standards.  Ensure contractors are state-licensed for the specific work to be performed, from plumbers to carpenters to electricians.  Specific high-risk jobs require additional certifications.  For example, asbestos must be remediated by a certified firm which will also provide documentation of the job. 

 

When choosing a contractor for lead abatement or any work that may potentially disturb lead-based paint (which can be present in any home built before 1978), the company must be licensed and have a good reputation...to avoid surprises.  Contact your state health department to find out about certification requirements.  Ask a trusted expert for a referral and ensure the name is on the list of EPA-certified firms in your state.  Doing your homework on the front end can save untold headaches down the road. 

 

Once the project is complete, consider hiring a professional environmental services company to properly clean the area and conduct environmental testing to detect any traces of lead, mold or other contaminants, ensuring they’ve been removed prior to returning to the living space.


While the most fun of a remodeling project may be enjoying the new space, the time it takes to ensure a project goes well may lead to the healthiest outcome for everyone.

 

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This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice, nor to diagnose or treat any medical condition.  As always, consult a qualified health care provider with any health concerns. 

 

This article was adapted from The Healthy Home Project blog.

 

 

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Erin S. Ihde is Research/Project Manager at The Deirdre Imus Environmental Health Center at Hackensack University Medical Center.  She specializes in children's environmental health research and education, particularly on eliminating exposures to everyday toxins.  Research concentrations include a pediatric multi-site clinical trial on a non-toxic treatment, and the environmental factors associated with autism and other chronic illnesses.  Ms. Ihde helped establish HackensackUMC’s Integrative Pediatric Oncology Group to research new adjunctive modalities in the integrative treatment of children's cancer, and is a member of the International Society for Complementary Medicine Research.  She enjoys presenting on healthy, green living and greening the home to school groups and adults alike.  Erin Ihde has an MA in Environmental Education from New York University, where she received a fellowship from the Metropolitan Center for Urban Education, and holds a BA in English from the Honors Program at The College of New Jersey.

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