DIY Home Renovations : 7 Ways to Avoid the Dangers

unfinished wall

Considering renovating your home yourself? Have you considered the dangers involved to yourself or your family? Home renovations can be dangerous if not handled correctly. Many people who undertake their own home renovations do not have the experience or qualifications to identify potentially life threatening hazards in their homes, putting themselves and their family at risk.

Home Renovations Television Shows Are Not Real Life

There are a plethora of DIY home renovation programs on television, and a trend for the average person to renovate a home to either sell and make a profit. Or perhaps to increase the home’s value, or rent out at a higher rate.  Are home renovations shows real? Not really. Don’t forget that behind the scenes they have a team of professional trades available to assist and guide them at no cost. This is something the average person does not have available.

Home renovation shows

I recently read an article written by a TV presenter who undertakes renovations to make a profit.  They had renovated a home and the following comment rang warning bells in my head:

“I completely gutted the kitchen, including ripping up the old lino”.

Umm…. from looking at the style of the fittings of the home, this house would have been built in the 70’s or 80’s at a guess.  Maybe even the 60’s.   There was no mention that asbestos is highly likely to be found in this home and no mention of the dangers of disturbing it.   Or that asbestos was used as an underlay for this type of flooring.  I felt this to be a tad irresponsible.

Did you know that figures released from the Western Australian Cancer Registry in 2005 showed that DIY home renovators accounted for a higher number of new cases of mesothelioma than former asbestos miners from Wittenoom?

We know that exposure to asbestos fibres creates a risk of developing an asbestos related disease, such as pleural plaques, asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma.  So what can we do about any asbestos in our homes and how can we avoid any health impacts should we find it?

Home renovations asbestos roof

Find Out the Age Of Your Home

Firstly, it’s important to determine if your house might contain asbestos, so figure out what year the home was built.  Asbestos was widely used in manufacture of building products from the 1940’s to the mid 1980’s until it was totally banned in December 2003.

UNLIKELYHouses built after 1990
LIKELYHouses built between the mid-1980’s and 1990
HIGHLY LIKELYHouses built before the mid-1980’s

Keep in mind however that some houses built after 1990 may still have used asbestos containing materials until the total ban of using these materials came into effect in December 2003.

Caution Asbestos

Friable vs Bonded Asbestos

2.Secondly, there are two categories of asbestos containing materials –  bonded and friable.  Friable are much more dangerous than bonded.

The asbestos fibres are tightly bound into the product and are normally not released into the air.  When these products are undamaged and in good condition, they do not pose a health risk. However, when these products are damaged or badly weathered (including hail damage) areas of the product may become friable. 

In addition, if the material is disturbed through breaking, cutting, drilling or sanding, fibres are released into the air.  Fibres can also be released through the use of high-pressure or water jet cleaning equipment.
 These products are generally quite loose and can be crumbled with light pressure, the fibres being easily released into the air.  These products are dangerous as the fibres can get into the air very easily and be inhaled by people living or working in the vicinity.  In addition, fibres are released from these products as they age and deteriorate.  
Where asbestos is found in a home

Where is Asbestos Found

Thirdly, know where there are asbestos containing products in your home.  If you are not sure if a product in your home contains asbestos, be safe and assume that it does.  It is difficult to identify, even for those trained to look for it. Get advice from an asbestos consultant or have the product tested at a laboratory.

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To give you an idea, some examples of asbestos containing materials include:

Roofing, shingles and siding, exterior and interior wall cladding, eaves, fencing, thermal boards around fireplaces, water or flue pipes, asbestos-rope door gaskets in wood stoves, loose fill roofing insulation, spray-on insulation or soundproofing, low density asbestos fibre board, insulation on hot water pipes, domestic heaters and stoves, backing material on floor tiles and old vinyl and linoleum flooring, carpet underlay, textured paints, decorative ceiling coatings, heat resistant fabrics, brick and plaster sealants, fillers and some adhesive products.

painting and maintenance on your home

Home Maintenance is So Important

Maintenance!!!  I can’t stress the importance of general home upkeep and maintenance.  Maintain any asbestos containing products in good condition by the use of paint or other surface finishes, enclosures and capping.  Replace any damaged or degrading asbestos containing materials. 

I personally recommend that removal of asbestos to be supervised and undertaken by a qualified and licensed asbestos removalist.

Use a professional to deal with asbestos when undertaking home renovations

Use Licensed Asbestos Removalists

If you are renovating a home, use licensed professionals and engage licensed asbestos removalists if there is asbestos. I do not recommend that you renovate yourself, especially if you are dealing with friable asbestos materials. In some instances, you can remove asbestos without being licenced, although it is not recommended.

If you disturb asbestos, you and your family could also be exposed (including pets) and if you are renovating an older style terrace house, townhouse or units, you may also expose your neighbours.  

Renovating your home

Vacate Your Home During Renovations

If you can, vacate the home during the renovation.  If you’ve ever renovated your home, you’ll know how much dust it creates! Definitely make sure that your family leave with all pets during any asbestos disposal.

To avoid asbestos exposure, make sure that during renovations, the workers wear disposable clothing and appropriate face masks, such as a face respirator fitted with a class P1 or P2 filter cartridge, or a class P1 or P2 disposable respirator appropriate for asbestos.  These should comply with Australian/New Zealand Standard 1716.  An ordinary dust mask is not appropriate.

family home renovations

Always take Precautionary Measures when It Comes to Asbestos

Finally, there is a lot of quality information out there on the internet about identifying and keeping you and your family safe from asbestos.  Be aware that it exists, and always take precautionary measures if you are unsure.  I feel is better to have erred on the safe side in these cases.

So when watching those DIY TV renovation shows, understand that they have an army of professionals from all different industries on hand to make sure the contestants and workers are safe.  They make it look so simple – but there are hidden dangers that we need to be aware of when renovating, asbestos being one of them.


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