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Health Risks and Home Renovations

June 30 2008


With relocation costs soaring, more and more homebuyers are choosing to stay put and renovate their existing dwellings to both make them more livable and potentially increase their resale value. If your home was built before the late 1970’s however, chances are there may be some health risks looming behind those walls that may pose a threat to you and your family.

Health Issues and Renovations

In 1978, the government banned the use of lead-based paints. Yet before then, they were used to cover nearly every square inch of most American homes. If you’re planning on living in your home while renovating, consider that extensive renovations in older homes could introduce particles into the air that could prove harmful.

If you’re home is old, it’s never a bad idea to hire a home inspector to identify existing and potential problems. When renovating to sell the property, keep in mind that savvy homebuyers will likely request their own home inspection of your property. A near problem-free inspection is a green light in the sale of almost any home.

Please note – If identified, the removal of potentially hazardous materials is best left to the professionals and large jobs should not be considered a DIY project.

Minimizing risk

There are several things you can do to reduce the risk when renovating where lead paint has been applied in past. Given that it is not always practical to hire a contractor, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development in conjunction with the CDC have produced a Lead Paint Safety Field Guide for use by homeowners and professionals alike. While the entire document should be reviewed before taking on even a small project, some of the highlights of this guide includes the following advice;

  • Use heavy plastic to cover doorways, windows, floors, and any furniture that can’t be removed from the renovated area,
  • Always mist or dampen walls before scraping paint.
  • Turn off the heating and air conditioning to reduce air-borne particle movement.
  • Keep those not involved in the renovation as far away as possible and if you do decide to hire a contractor to transform the space, make sure it’s someone familiar with proper handling procedures


While more rare, radon gas seeping up from a tiny amount of harmless uranium in the soil can seep up through cracks and crevices underneath or around lower levels of your home. It’s odorless, tasteless, and difficult to detect. However when released in confined spaces and when exposed for prolonged periods, radon has been linked to incidences of lung cancer. Given that the Surgeon General has stated that radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States, all homeowners should have their homes tested. If if your radon level is confirmed to be 4 picoCuries per liter (pCi/L) or higher, you need to engage a qualified radon reduction contractor and maintain your system. According to the EPA’s Consumer’s Guide to Radon Reduction, the average cost to fix a home is $1,200.00. In addition to these remedies, adequate air exchange in your home (and not over-sealing)  will also help limit radon exposure.


Until the late 1970’s, more than 3,000 products containing asbestos were commonly used in house construction, including materials for furnace duct insulation, deck undersheeting, and roof and wall insulation. So if your home was built before then, chances are you may stir up a little asbestos if doing a renovation. According to the Environmental Protection Agency’s “Asbestos in Your Home”, asbestos in good condition should be left alone. However, if you find asbestos that is crumbling or fraying, it poses a health risk.  Worst-case scenarios of asbestos exposure include respiratory illness, including lung cancer. If you think you have asbestos issues, it can be easily disposed of – simply contact a local professional and have it taken care of before moving ahead with your renovation.

By taking a look around your home prior to a major renovation, you’ll be able to spot (or smell) a few potential health hazards that may slow down a costly home renovation. If you’re unsure, ask your Better Homes and Gardens® Real Estate sales associate for a referral on how best to handle your specific circumstance.