The Dangers of Renovating Your Home

By: Brian Turner

Renovating your home is a great way to improve both its appearance and its market value. Many popular home renovations include updating the bathroom and kitchen, finishing the basement, replacing flooring or simply adding wallpaper. While many people think that these tasks make their homes a more appealing place to live, they fail to consider the sheer volume of extremely dangerous substances they expose themselves and their families to in the process. Here are some of the hazards you face when renovating your home.


Just because your house was built after 1978 doesn’t mean that you’re safe from lead in your home. According to one study, 74 percent of vinyl floor materials were found to contain levels of lead exceeding 1,900 ppm (parts per million). By contrast, the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission limits the amounts in to a mere 300 ppm. The substance is often used in plastics to improve their texture and make them pliable. Wallpaper is another common source of lead. Lead is known to cause damage to the brain and nervous system, seizures, reproductive dysfunction, miscarriage, behavioral problems, digestive disturbances and kidney damage.


Like lead, phthalates are widely used in plastics, vinyl and PVC to make them soft and flexible. However, although the United Stated government itself is aware of the dangers these substances pose, phthalates are still allowed to be used in a huge array of everyday items. Unfortunately, this includes home improvement materials such as PVC flooring, vinyl flooring and wallpaper. Phthalates are recognized as endocrine disruptors, chemicals that cause hormonal disturbances even in low doses. They are capable of causing reproductive damage, birth defects, respiratory disorders and behavioral problems. In fact, a 2009 study noted a strong link between autism, asthma and PVC floors. It also showed that children from homes with such floors were twice as likely to have autism or autism spectrum disorders.


Few people have even heard of cadmium, so if you don’t realize the threat it poses to you and your loved ones, don’t feel bad. However, this is yet another in the long list of hazardous substances that you can be exposed to during home renovations. Cadmium is primarily found in wallpaper and tile. This chemical can cause cancer and damage to the kidneys and respiratory system.


Asbestos may be the scariest home improvement risk of all. Even though there have been many bans put in place, this substance may still be present in many homes. Old insulation, tiles and ceiling panels may have been made with it, so when you tear these things up, you might release asbestos into the air. This substance is know for causing lung cancer, asbestosis and mesothelioma.

Exposure to these substances should not be taken lightly. Before renovating your home, you should have it inspected for one or more of the above chemicals, especially asbestos. If they’re found in dangerous levels, take steps to prevent exposure. Use a respirator and eye protection when working, wear long sleeves, gloves and long pants and make sure to use adequate ventilation. If necessary, call a professional company to clean up the hazardous materials for you.
Brian Turner has been working with the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance as an environmental health and toxic substance safety advocate since June of 2007. Brian brings a tremendous amount of research and awareness experience in environmental health risks, environmental carcinogens, and green building expertise. Brian is very interested in all types of cars; his favorites are classic, muscle, and imports. Brian is commonly found playing and watching various sports with his friends.

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