Times have changed since the days of lead paint and asbestos walls. We’re far more aware of what goes into our homes and many of the worst practices have been stamped out. But there are still a lot of choices you can make that will make your new renovation, addition or extension a healthier one.
Your choice of paints, floor coverings and the building materials themselves can have a big impact on indoor air quality, allergens and many other factors that adversely affect health. In this guide we take a look at the main villains – the chemical nasties you and your family want to avoid.
The Old Villains
Before the first hammer gets swung, it’s vital to ensure your existing home isn’t harbouring any nasties like lead paint. Any paint applied prior to 1970 has a good chance of containing lead, so any demolition or sanding of that paint can potentially spread leaded dust about. You can check for lead paint via the very helpful people at The Lead Group, and if lead is present, appropriate measures such as sealing off living areas and use of dust masks by workers can be taken.
A similar rule applies with asbestos. Homes built or renovated prior to the mid-1980’s can potentially have asbestos lurking in walls, floors or ceilings. Again, if in doubt, get it tested by one of the many local labs and ensure your builder knows it is there and takes all necessary precautions.
Be aware that safe removal is a necessity that will unfortunately result in un-budgeted extra cost – but what price peace of mind?
The majority of asbestos we uncover is “fibro” (fibrous cement sheeting) which is not too dangerous as long as it’s not broken. It can be successfully removed without too much disruption if detected by experienced people.
At Addbuild we are very experienced with asbestos and have qualified supervisors and removers both on staff and as regular contractors to identify and remove any asbestos we come across.
The New Nasties
These days the main things to avoid in your home are:
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)
VOCs are emitted by many things from paints to plastics to synthetic fabrics. They are sometimes odourless, but sometimes very noticeable, as in the case of paints or polyurethane floor coatings. They can cause a range of health issues from headache and nausea through to more serious ailments.
Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen that is used in many pressed timber products such as particleboard and MDF, and also in many adhesives. Laminated flooring has also be identified as a potential source.
It evaporates slowly into the air and can continue to do so for up to 20 years. Using solid timber or choosing building materials and adhesives that are low- or zero-formaldehyde is the safest option.
Australian standards limit the amount of formaldehyde that can be released from these timber products. Products supplied according to these standards will have the classification of maximum formaldehyde emitted indicated on the label over four ranges of formaldehyde emission – E0 to E3.
Allergen triggers such as dust and mould spores
Dust and mould can be ‘designed out’ of your home by ensuring adequate light and ventilation throughout the home, and by choice of floor coverings. Hard floor surfaces are easier to keep clean and won’t harbour dust mites, animal dander or other nasties.
Good ventilation also ensures that any VOCs or other air impurities are circulated out of the home as soon as possible.
Healthy Renovation Products
Here are our tips for renovating without creating health hazards:
- Paint – choose water-based paints designated as low- or zero VOC. There are now a wide range of products available including from the major manufacturers, so you won’t have any problems finding something suitable.
- Hard floor coverings – hard surfaces are easier to keep clean, but avoid sealing timber floors with high-VOC sealants such as polyurethane. Alternatives such as plant-based oils have a lovely satin finish and a pleasant smell to boot.
- With any manufactured flooring product check its VOC rating. Many manufactured flooring products are high emitters of VOCs, for example vinyl containing PVC that is a particularly nasty substance that has a multitude of health impacts. Any glues used to affix flooring should also be checked for VOC content or formaldehyde.
- Soft floor coverings – Natural fibres such as wool or sisal are a good choice, but make sure they are not glued down to underlay or the floor as the VOCs in the glue will defeat the purpose. Underlays can also be a source of VOCs, so check with suppliers to ensure the products to be used are low-VOC.
- Building materials – Where timber is being used, choose solid timber or zero- to low-emission pressed timber products to avoid formaldehyde emission.
- Designing for termite prevention is better than relying on chemical treatments as the chemicals themselves are as nasty to humans as termites are to houses.
We hope this guide helps you plan for a healthy renovation! If you have any questions at all about specific products or concerns about certain nasties, feel free to contact us for a chat on (02) 8765 1555.