Craig Whittaker founded Environmental Solutions Group in 2002 to provide impartial evaluation of properties relative to environmental health and safety. He has assessed thousands of properties for a variety of health hazards. Many of these properties were contaminate-free until a remodeling project took place.
Are you planning on redecorating or remodeling this summer? If you’re like most people, you have concentrated on choosing colors and materials and trying to find a contractor who can create your out-of-this-world space at a down-to-earth price. Have you also thought about the dust, odors, mold and bacteria spores, and emissions from new finishes that will undoubtedly accompany your project?
Consider the case of Mary, who had our company collect air quality readings after having her kitchen cabinets refinished in white. The painting contractor did beautiful work on the cabinets, Mary said, but she complained of a layer of white dust all over her house. Even though the contractor hung up plastic around the kitchen, he did not seal the plastic or turn off the air conditioning. Mary could even see white specks inside their ductwork and was concerned about her family breathing all this dust until they could have it cleaned up.
Although the painting contractor scored an ‘A’ for the cabinet finish, they failed miserably on controlling the overspray. To make matters worse, they did not carry insurance to pay for the thousands of dollars in necessary cleanup costs. Mary was left with no option but to hire a crew herself and then sue the contractor, who happened to be a friend, for the cost incurred. Kind of spoiled the new cabinets for Mary’s family.
The EPA makes the following recommendations when remodeling, and I heartily agree with all of them:
1) communicate your concerns about preventing indoor air quality problems to everyone involved with your remodeling project;
2) specify products and processes that will minimize emissions and odor. Ask for the MSDS sheets for all glues & varnishes;
3) ask the contractor to schedule sanding, varnishing or other dusty activities for when the family will not be home;
4) seal return grills so that contaminants are not re-circulated from the construction area into adjoining areas, and install temporary plastic barriers to confine dust and noise. Barriers should be tightly sealed so that very little can escape from the construction area;
5) temporarily install exhaust fans in areas where VOC-producing finishes or glues are used;
6) ask suppliers to store new furnishings such as cabinets in a clean, dry & ventilated area for several days prior to installation in your home. Minimize the use of glues and specify low-emission products (see #2 above). Once furnishings are installed, increase ventilation to flush with outdoor air and dilute the VOCs. Odors that linger can attach to soft goods in the home and remain an unwanted guest for weeks.
I hope these suggestions will spare some homeowners the inconvenience and expense of having to clean up a mess left by a well-meaning contractor.