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Health Hazards of Home Demolitions and Renovations

Updated on July 28, 2011
The mighty sledgehammer
The mighty sledgehammer

Health Hazards of Home Demolitions and Renovations

Thinking about pulling out the sledge hammer and bashing away? If so, It is extremely important to be aware of the many health hazards involved in doing a home demolition project as well as simple home renovations. This is because a great many toxic materials were used in home building. Even something as common as dust presents a serious health hazard.*

I think of all the times I have stripped wood, scraped paint, been in homes being gutted, and never paid attention to all the dust.

How could dust be a hazard? Dust may be considered merely a nuisance, but that dust could have asbestos - a demolition hazard that is known to be extremely toxic. Older homes were commonly built with materials that we know today to be hazardous to our health. In addition to asbestos, this includes lead, mercury and much more.

Below is a list of some of the hazards to be found in a demolition or renovation project.

1- Asbestos, a mineral fiber, has insulation and fire-retardant properties and was regularly used in a multitude of building projects including flooring, ceiling tiles and roofing shingles. Microscopic fibers from asbestos can become airborne and inhaled into the lungs. Asbestos is now known to cause mesothelioma -- which is a cancer of the lining of the abdominal cavity and chest, as well as asbestosis -- which is a scarring of the lungs.

Warning: If there is any possibility at all that asbestos is in your home, demolition should only be done by an expert. Consult with a licensed asbestos abatement contractor who will explain how the asbestos removal will be done, as well as the necessary steps that will be taken to seal off the rest of your home.

2 - Formaldehyde - is a known carcinogen, but is still widely used as an industrial chemical. In the home, formaldehyde is found in particleboard or the type of pressed wood product used in cabinetry. It is also found in plywood paneling and most types of fiberglass insulation. Very low levels of formaldehyde can cause nausea, difficulty in breathing, watery eyes and a burning sensation in the eyes and throat.

3 - Lead - was used in many painting projects and has long been known to be a harmful pollutant. During a demolition project, the lead found in dust, fumes or vapor, often from paint stripping, will become airborne and get into the lungs. High amounts of lead are known to cause headaches, weight loss, anemia, fatigue, irritability, constipation, stomach pains and nausea.

4 - Polychlorinated Biphenyls are also known as PCBs. PCBs we now know can cause a wide range of health problems. Commonly used in the home in paint, as well as caulking and plastics, you will also find PCBs in older electrical equipment used prior to the year 1977 -- this is the year PCBs were banned in paint. The chemical can cause cancer and also non-cancer conditions in animals - which includes disorders of the reproductive system, nervous system, immune system and the endocrine system.

5 - Volatile Organic Compounds also known as VOCs - VOCs are emitted through paints, paint strippers, pesticides, adhesives, cleaning products, furniture and building materials. VOCs are volatile due to the fact that they evaporate at room temperature, thereby creating a polluted indoor environment that can have a concentration that is 10x higher indoors than outdoors. Breathing VOCs during a demolition, even a small quantity, can damage both the cardiovascular and respiratory systems. (See link to safer paints to use indoors)

6 - Mercury - is found in surprising places. Mercury is in old thermostats, switches, regulators and heating systems. Just one drop of mercury can contaminate tens of thousands of gallons of water. Health hazards from mercury poisoning are liver and kidney damage, mental retardation, life-long learning disabilities, and it can also be fatal.

*General Warning About Dust:

Dust can get everywhere - all through the house, in your clothes, hair, lungs, even outside during a demolition. Because it is unknown what may be in the dust, you must always assume dust is hazardous. Silica, in the form of crystalline silica, is in concrete as well as other rock types of material. If your demolition project includes breaking up, grinding or crushing concrete, the dust can enter the body and cause silicosis - which is known to damage the lungs, cause breathing difficulties and the risk of a lung infection.

For some healthy home suggestions, see links below:


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    • BkCreative profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

      Thank you september girl. We are never ever ever told about the hazards of the products and materials we use. I'm just going to assume it is all toxic - jeez!

      Thanks for the rating too!

    • profile image

      september girl 

      7 years ago

      I found this hub to be very useful and informative. As well as interesting. Things we may not even think about on a daily basis. Wow, thanks for the warnings! Very important stuff to know. I have a friend whom is renovating an old cabin. I will be sure and share this with him! : ) Bookmarked and up!

    • BkCreative profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

      Thanks Coolmon2009. I'm glad you liked the hub and thanks for the rating!

    • Coolmon2009 profile image


      7 years ago from Texas, USA

      Good information for the do-it-yourself-er. I will book mark this one. Rated up.

    • BkCreative profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

      Thank you thoughtforce. I find myself hesitating to do work and have work done. Then I have to think of my new cat. I can't put a mask on her (she'd kill me).

      Thanks for the vote!

    • thougtforce profile image

      Christina Lornemark 

      7 years ago from Sweden

      It is so easy to just go on doing what you planned when it comes to work at home and mostly we are in a hurry and want to get the job done quickly.

      You have done a great job putting this list together and giving me a reminder. I will use a surgical masks for the next decoration job since as you say we don´t know what substances that where used when the house was built! Thanks and voted up of course!


    • BkCreative profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

      Thanks for commenting Veronica Allen!

    • Veronica Allen profile image

      Veronica Allen 

      7 years ago from Georgia

      Excellent reminders especially for those of us who like to "do-it-oursleves".

    • BkCreative profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

      Vigilant is the word. It's become a full time job TheListLady.

      I even backed off doing some work CountryCityWoman.

      Thanks for the comments!

    • CountryCityWoman profile image


      7 years ago from From New York City to North Carolina

      I shudder when I think of all the DIYer work I have done around the home. Thanks a lot for your list. We are up against so many hazards and don't even know it.

      Rated up!

    • TheListLady profile image


      7 years ago from New York City

      So true and with toxicity everywhere we turn - we really have to vigilant and never assume safey.

      Thanks a million and rated up!

    • BkCreative profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

      Thanks Danette West. So many of us have become DIYers without a thought to health hazards. Thanks for the votes too! Yay!

    • Danette Watt profile image

      Danette Watt 

      7 years ago from Illinois

      With so many people doing their own repair work and renovations, this is a great hub with lots of important information. Voted up and useful.

    • BkCreative profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

      Isn't it wonderful HealthyHanna that we can share this information. As I get older I know I don't want to be incapacitated because of a lack of knowledge. I'll be waiting for your hub!

    • HealthyHanna profile image


      7 years ago from Utah

      These are dangers we don't think about. This is a hub I will be linking to when I write my next hub.

    • BkCreative profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

      Thanks Stacie L - seems we are up against so much. I'm not surprised that so many people have respiratory problems. Thanks for commenting.

    • Stacie L profile image

      Stacie L 

      7 years ago

      this is a very important, informative article.

      My dad was always demolishing the house(I mean renovating) and there always seemed to be dust everywhere...

    • BkCreative profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

      Thanks akirchner!

    • akirchner profile image

      Audrey Kirchner 

      7 years ago from Washington

      Great points~

    • BkCreative profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

      I know what you mean lmmartin - I've done many as well. Now I think it's time for me to back off. As I get older I want to remain as healthy as possible. Whew!

    • lmmartin profile image


      7 years ago from Alberta and Florida

      When I think of all the home renovations I've worked on over the years with nary a thought to these kinds of hazards... I guess it's a miracle I'm still alive and breathing. Good information. Lynda

    • BkCreative profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

      You're welcome prasetio30. I'mg lad you found the information valuable!

    • prasetio30 profile image


      7 years ago from malang-indonesia

      Valuable information. I always care with health. You remind us about something dangerous around us. I'll bookmark this one. Thanks for share with us. Rated up!


    • BkCreative profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

      Thanks Hello, hello! I'm glad you like it.

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 

      7 years ago from London, UK

      Very comprehensive and detailed hub.

    • BkCreative profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

      So true Paradise7. So many of us have become do-it-yourselfers. I live in an old brownstone type building here in NYC built in 1851. No telling what may be uncovered.

      Thank you AliciaC. We have all these DIY TV programs and seldom do they mention the very real hazards of demolitions. We also see the workers taking sledgehammers and bashing away without a face mask or any precautions. Toxins abound and so we have to look out for ourselves.

      Thanks for the comments.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 

      7 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Your hub includes excellent and very important information. Many people don't realize - or don't think about - the dangers of home renovations. This is something that we should all be aware of.

    • Paradise7 profile image


      7 years ago from Upstate New York

      Truly and excellent and informative hub. A must-read for the do-it-yourselfer.

    • BkCreative profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

      Hello Pamela99 - I cannot thank you enough for adding this information. It's bad enough that we did not know the dangers but to have incompetent workmen come in and wreak havoc is inexcusable. And we must remember our pets too who are likely to walk through this debris and of course then clean themselves.

      I'd like to have a new kitchen and bathroom done here in my apt. but the thought of living through the debris especially in a building built in 1851 - no telling what may be uncovered. I think I will sell as is. And I too have a cat.

      Asthma is epidemic here in NYC where we are forever living amid debris.

      Your input is appreciated. Thanks a million.

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 

      7 years ago from Sunny Florida

      This is such an important post. We had an addition added to our home so we could move my mother in about 5 years ago. The carpenters were horrible and when they were connecting the new rooms to the house the roof wasn't protected. It rained that night and half of our living room ceiling fell in. There was dust and particles everywhere. My adorable cat got lung cancer and died 2 months later. I also developed an asthmatic condition which may have been caused from all the debris in the air. It is so important to be aware of the dangers and you spelled that out very well.

    • BkCreative profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

      Thank you RTalloni - I think of all the times people do major work and never consider a mask or the dangers. This is so important especially around children. Inside our homes has become very toxic.

      It certainly pays to be informed and prepared timorous and now we are better informed - and know that we must be prepared with the right protective gear. And plastic sheeting is a must. I was appalled when a man came to do some plastering/repair work in my place and didn't put up sheeting at the door. This is required.

      It was never a thought about the dangers dahoglund. We would have done anything to get our hands on some mercury. We loved how it looked. Fortunately, my father, in teaching me about home repairs, warned me of the dangers. And one was the wrapping around the old electrical wires. Isn't it shocking that mercury is so dangerous - yet the new low energy bulbs contain mercury.

      I read an article about what we think is safe now we will find out 10-20 years from now - it was also dangerous.

      Thanks for the comments.

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 

      7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      When I grew up we were exposed to many of these things rather casually, Mercury was something we more or less played with, such as making silver coins more shiny.

    • timorous profile image

      Tim Nichol 

      7 years ago from Me to You

      It's good that you've pointed out these hazards, Bk. Some of them, such as asbestos, can be dangerous. However, depending on the age of the house and the materials used, the danger is a little over-stated. If you wear protective gear such as a full-face respirator (or rent haz-mat suit if necessary), not just a dust mask, your chances of creating physical problems are severely diminished.

      Also, if you're only renovating one or two rooms, you can put plastic sheeting on doorways and windows, to contain the dust, perhaps using a humidifier to force the dust to settle sooner.

    • RTalloni profile image


      7 years ago from the short journey

      Just an excellent and important post, and timely for this seasons renovations. So glad you put it together!


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