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From Famed Arenas to your Living Room: Three Common Renovation Dangers

Home renovation is a process involving many steps, especially if that home is older. Planning becomes especially important in older homes that might contain structural inadequacies, outdated materials and hazardous substances. This November the famed sporting arena, Madison Square Garden, was completely shut down due to the exposure of asbestos insulation. This incident of a world-renowned facility accidentally stumbling upon this carcinogen highlights the dangers present in any structure, whether it is a building that seats countless fans or a home that has sheltered the same family for 15 years. That is why planning for the presence of hazards is particularly important when homeowners take on renovation projects. Below is a list of three of the more common, and potentially devastating, hazards renovation might expose:


A natural mineral once popular in the 20th century for many construction purposes, asbestos is a huge risk to those exposed. Once a popular insulator because of its resistance to heat, chemicals and electricity, this material is now known to be a carcinogen. It poses a serious cancer threat when broken, jagged or shredded, allowing its release into the air and inhalation into the lungs. Although asbestos has received much attention because of its dangerous nature, its commonness in past construction makes it an ongoing problem, especially as older homes are renovated and the aged mineral is exposed. Mesothelioma, the name of this disease, is a cancer that results from exposure to this chemical. The worst part about mesothelioma symptoms is that they usually don’t show up until 20 to 50 years after asbestos exposure and resemble other illnesses, making early diagnosis and treatment nearly impossible.

Outdated Wiring

Older wiring is a major problem in homes because newer appliances demand a higher electrical current. As families replace their old appliances, outdated electrical systems often struggle to provide the required power, which can lead to frequent breaker tripping. In addition, many homes contain ungrounded, two-pronged outlets which need to be replaced with the three-pronged, grounded variety. Worse still, electrical fires resulting from outdated electrical systems generally begin in walls and attics and vent to the outside, which means families remain unwarned. As this fire rages, the attic support structure becomes weakened to the point that ceiling collapse often occurs before smoke ever reaches the smoke detectors. Electrical fires are particularly lethal and account for numerous fatalities each year.

Heavy Metals

Heavy metals are another continued risk to homeowners, with one of the most widely-known of these chemicals, lead, posing a major threat even today. Although recognized as a serious threat in older, deteriorating paints since 1991, it continues to be hazardous because it was also used in many household products. Gasoline, furniture and water-carrying pipes all historically contained lead, making its recognition difficult because it was such a common component. Devastating impacts to mental, physical and behavioral health are common with exposure to this chemical, especially in children because it’s more easily absorbed into growing skin. In addition to chipping paint, lead exposure can occur through the air, in the form of lead dust, in drinking water, in food or even in contaminated soil. Arsenic, cadmium and mercury are other common heavy metals found abundantly in older homes that can lead to serious effects like organ failure and neurological degeneration.

Removal of Chemical Threats

With so many appearances these toxic materials can take, it’s important for homeowners to consider carefully whether to remove these chemicals themselves. Since their recognition as a threat, many independent companies have been created that specifically deal with the removal of these toxic materials. Therefore, many options for homeowners exist, including home loans specifically for renovation. However, individuals that do attempt to remove these materials without professional assistance should do so with great care and planning. Because these materials are most dangerous when in a deteriorating state, homeowners should be careful not to damage materials further.

Asbestos remains the greatest threat to homeowners today, based on its serious consequences and frequent use in the past. Therefore, many homeowners taking on independent renovation that involves toxic material removal will need to address the presence of this insulator. After identifying this material, the section of the home containing dangerous fibers should be sealed off. Negative pressure air machines fitted with HEPA filters should then be utilized to prevent any chance of material escape into other parts of the home. An industrial dust filtration mask should be worn to ensure that none of the particles are inhaled. After removing the material, homeowners should meticulously search for any remaining traces to ensure its complete elimination. Special vacuums specifically used for this material’s removal also need to be purchased because ordinary vacuums will still expel the fibers into the air.

In addition to direct exposure, many cases of mesothelioma occurred secondhand, when individuals working with the material brought it home on their clothes and in their hair. Because we now realize asbestos fibers can attach to cloth and hair, the clothing and materials used in asbestos removal should be thoroughly cleansed after. Individuals should also ensure its complete elimination from their bodies and hair.

Few sports complexes hold the same longevity or renown of Madison Square Garden. However, when a public structure that ushers thousands through its doors every night unknowingly houses dangerous chemicals, we see how easily such an incident can occur anywhere. This asbestos incident also illustrates the danger inherent in older, established structures. While we can grow to love our homes, especially if we have a long history with them, it’s important to realize they might have been containing these dangers all along. Renovation, therefore, needs to include planning for the professional help needed to amend these frequent home dangers and ensure the continued comfort, safety and peace older homes provide.

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