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Hidden Dangers of Amateur Renovation


Know the Risks of Aluminum Wiring, Lead Paint, and Asbestos

© 2010 by Eric Stevenson All rights reserved; content may not be copied, rewritten, or republished without author’s written permission.

Drywall finishing tools and compound, photo by Macshack



The economy’s still tight, the holidays are approaching quickly and you want that new kitchen. Unfortunately, cash is tight and you’re looking to knock out this project on a budget.

Well, just because you’ve been religiously watching home makeover shows and learned what a shadow box is, you need a bit more information before you break out the sledge hammer and level a couple of walls.

Homeowners will likely continue to take on these home renovations at an increasing pace based on the continuing housing slump (thanks Barney Frank, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac) and the glut home improvement retailers located right around the corner.

However, doing so without a full understanding of the potential risks might cause problems that run greater than an inflated plumbing bill.

Beware of Dangerous Aluminum Wiring

While fixating on that perfect shade of marble countertop, most amateur renovators fail to consider what might be under those cabinets, like toxic mold or insufficient wiring. Older wiring in particular poses serious fire risk to homes, especially aluminum wiring which has fallen out of favor.

As power consumption for modern non-Energy Star appliances has increased, so too has the strain on these outdated electrical systems. In addition, many older homes still have two-slotted outlets in their walls. These obsolete outlets require replacement with three-holed outlets, which are grounded.

Unfortunately, these relatively benign home dangers aren’t the most serious threats to home renovators. Hazardous chemicals, often hidden and difficult to find without professional training, are very common, especially in older homes.

These chemicals represent the most dangerous threat to amateur renovators because they are a direct attack on the well being of the homeowner, causing detrimental side effects as dangerous as brain damage, cancer and death.

Some Older Homes Have Leaded Paint

Although now widely recognized as a serious danger in older, deteriorating paint, lead remains a major threat to homeowners because of its use in many other products as well. Manufacturers once used the material as a component in many common household items like furniture, paint and even pipes.

Lead remains especially dangerous to young children because of its easy absorption into growing skin. Exposure can lead to serious physical, mental, and behavioral impacts to those exposed. The EPA now requires contractors to have a Lead-Safe Certification when remodeling a home containing lead.

Asbestos and Mesothelioma

Another dangerous chemical of recent note that continues to pose a threat to homeowners is asbestos. Like lead, this organic substance remains dangerous even after its identification as a material to avoid because of its common use in a variety of products.

Once popular as an effective insulator against heat, fire, chemicals, and electricity, asbestos can appear in several different forms, making detection and removal difficult.

The reasons dangerous chemicals like lead and asbestos deserve such special attention from homeowners contemplating renovation are that they often remain dormant throughout home ownership.

Homeowners might be mistaken into believing their homes contain none of these dangerous chemicals because they have yet to stumble upon them. However, when families begin tearing down walls and digging through insulation, they finally do risk exposing these potential threats.

Asbestos, especially, is a fibrous mineral that poses the greatest danger when exposed. The danger is primarily when splintering allows this mineral to enter the air as dust (you’ll encounter the technically misleading term friable for this) and become breathed into the lungs.

The good news is that it is often innocuous when contained in its complete, unharmed state.

Even worse, mesothelioma symptoms, which are the signs of the cancer this material causes, typically do not occur until 20 to 50 years after exposure. This has evolved into a cottage industry for class-action lawyers.

A Popcorn Ceiling may Contain Asbestos

Popcorn ceilings used to be extremely popular, not only because they were trendy, but because they were economical and fast for building contractors to install with a compressor and a texture hopper. Unfortunately, they often contained asbestos.

Now that popcorn texture has fallen out of favor, many homeowners are electing to remove them themselves; it is an easy process. But many self help guides don’t contain the warning. If your home was built prior to 1989, always have a certified lab check a sample of your texture before tackling this project.

Older Homes and Building Codes

When it comes to renovating older homes that weren’t subjected to the same building codes we use today, it’s important to understand the dangers that lie dormant behind walls and under floors. For serious, involved projects, amateurs are often better off deferring to professionals to keep their family safe.

Even though the allure of saving a few bucks by revamping your kitchen might sound appealing, it’s important to weigh the risks and leave serious renovations with serious risks to professionals, and the guys on home makeover shows.

Whether you renovate your home yourself or hire a contractor, always be sure to update your homeowners insurance to reflect the new updated replacement cost of the home.


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