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Quick Tips

Old House Renovation

  • Consider hiring an environmental assessor. Look in the phone book under "Environmental." Test or inspect for:
    • lead in old paint
    • lead pipes
    • asbestos
    • radon
    • mold (by using mold test plates)
    • poorly ventilated combustion appliances, such as stoves and fireplaces
    • nearby high-voltage power lines or towers
  • Draw up nontoxic, environmentally sound specifications for your contractor, including brand names of products. "The use of toxic substances in construction is standard, and unless you [specify otherwise], they will be included," write the authors of the Healthy Housing Coalition'sPrescriptions for a Healthy House. They suggest you:
  • Reject pesticided building materials, such as prefabricated wood frame windows, or let them offgas outdoors before installation.
  • Specify procedures to be taken during the project, such as:
    • no smoking on site
    • use of nontoxic cleaning products
    • thorough cleaning behind new cabinets, flooring and walls before they’re covered up, so that dust and pollutants don't get trapped within your walls.
  • Ventilate and dehumidify. To stave off mold, mildew and asthma-inducing dust mites, your house should be well ventilated. Keep relative humidity at 30-50 percent.
  • Remember that less toxic building and decorating products are available for virtually all renovation needs.
  • Choose low- or no-VOC paints, sealants and glues. These products emit fewer fumes.
  • Choose natural, untreated products over plastics, such as PVC (vinyl), and synthetic carpets.
  • Request Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS), which list health hazards of chemicals, and precautions for use, from manufacturers and distributors of products that bear caution or warning labels. Follow the instructions and recommended safety procedures.
  • Minimize use of pressed-wood products, such as plywood and particleboard, which are high in formaldehyde and other VOCs. Where used, seal them with a nontoxic, water-based polyurethane or AFM Safeseal, available at N.E.E.D.S.
  • Seek energy efficiency. Double-glazed windows and energy-efficient lighting and appliances save money and resources.
  • Use good wood. Assess how to incorporate sustainably harvested woods.
  • Use recycled or reclaimed materials, to reduce waste.

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