Indoor Air Quality, Part 3: Avoiding Remodeling Pollutants

Jim Mallery

Part 3 of a four-part series, Green Renovation: Indoor Air Quality

In Parts 1 and 2 we looked at the sources of indoor air pollutants during remodeling projects. While deadly asbestos requires professional intervention to remove, there are ways to prevent other less perilous pollutants from permeating your house while remodeling.

Reducing Exposure to Remodelling Pollutants

Here are the two most basic ways to protect your health:

  • Wear a dust mask

Make sure you are buying a dust mask, and not a paint mask. The inexpensive masks at a big box store do an okay job, meaning they keep out 95 percent of the non-oil related particulates--if you have them sealed properly around your nose. In reality, a proper seal is difficult; plenty of debris can get past these masks and into your airways. Plus, they fog your glasses when you exhale.

For a little more money you can find a particulate mask at a builders' supply store that seals around your face better. And as a do-it-yourselfer, you should consider buying a form-fitting, rubber mask with filter cartridges--you'll have plenty of use for it in the future.

  • Cover up head to toe

Even if you are working in a hot climate, it is important to cover your body--long sleeves, long pants, cap--to keep the pollutants off your skin. And when you are done for the day, shake and brush to get debris off yourself; then take a shower.

Sealing off the Room You're Remodeling

Maybe in previous remodels you have tried to seal off a room with plastic over the door to contain the dust in the work area, only to find dust still permeating every inch of the rest of your house. If at all possible, seal off the entire room and enter it only from the outside--either through an exterior door or a window. While less convenient, it effectively keeps pollutants out of the rest of your home. However, if you need to enter the remodel room from inside your house, you can build an effective barrier. Here are the steps:

  • Use a double layer of plastic over the doorway--6 mil plastic works fine. The first layer should be bunched a little at the top and bottom so that the plastic has slack over the door. Tape the plastic to the perimeter of the door.
  • Next cut a slit in the plastic to within several inches of the top and bottom to walk through.
  • Drape a second layer of plastic over the door so that it just comes to floor level, taping at the top. This double layer provides a fairly effective dust shield to protect the rest of your house.

But you still may have problems if you don't control the airflow. If your plastic poofs out toward the rest of the house, you have air flowing out of the remodel room carrying pollutants with it.

  • Seal the furnace ducts. Stuff towels into them and tape plastic over the duct opening. This keeps dust out of the ducts and reduces airflow out of the room.
  • As a final resort, you can put a fan in a window or door, sealing it with plastic so that it sucks air out of the room to the outdoors. This "negative pressure" method will keep virtually all dust out of the rest of your house. Make sure to secure the box fan so that it doesn't drop out of the window onto an unsuspecting head. And if it rains, avoid electric shock by making sure it doesn't get wet.

Dust is always a problem with home remodels. These are some basic steps that will minimize the problem. Next, you will read about some special concerns regarding indoor air pollution when you finish up your remodeling.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

About the Author

Jim Mallery, a semi-retired journalist and onetime registered contractor, has extensive experience remodeling, repairing, and rebuilding homes.

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