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Protecting Your Family from Lead & Asbestos When Remodeling

While there are plenty of fun and glamorous aspects to home remodeling, if your home is over 40 years old you’ll need to proceed with a bit of caution. That’s because most homes built before 1980 contain lead paint and/or asbestos. Protecting your family from the potential health risks of these materials is typically the very first step in the remodeling process. Below we discuss the reasons you should be cautious of these substances, how remodeling can cause exposure, testing procedures, as well as professional removal. If you think your home may contain lead or asbestos, and a remodel is in your future, we highly recommend you call a professional Seattle contractor or abatement company to test for them before proceeding with your project.


What is Lead?

Lead is a naturally-occurring heavy metal found within the earth’s crust. It is sometimes present in soil, water, pipes and older buildings. Lead was widely used as an additive in industrial materials, house paint and gasoline. By the mid-1970s researchers linked lead poisoning to various health problems. The United States government banned the manufacturing of lead-based house paint in 1978, and additional restrictions were made in 1986 regarding pipes and similar construction materials.


Health Problems Caused by Lead Poisoning

Lead can accumulate in nearly every organ of the human body and induce lead poisoning. Young children and pregnant mothers are the most susceptible to lead poisoning. Even trace amounts of lead in a child’s bloodstream can end up causing problems such as hearing loss, anemia, behavioral and learning difficulties, low IQ and hyperactivity. Lead can also be passed from a mother to her baby while it’s still in the womb or during breastfeeding.

During construction, lead can get into your body by breathing fumes or dust that contain lead, or by accidentally digested lead-containing material. According to the National Institute of Health, “children under the age of 6 years old are at an increased risk for lead exposure, due to their rapid rate of growth and their tendency to place toys and other objects in their mouths that could contain lead or leaded dust.”


Does My Home Contain Lead?

Any home built before 1978 could contain lead-based paint. If yours was constructed prior to 1940, the odds are very high.

Lead might be found in these areas of an older home:

  • Painted areas that are now chipping, cracking or peeling
  • Exterior house paint
  • Windowsills
  • Doors and door frames
  • Stairs, railings and bannisters
  • Household dust particles, including any tracked in from the outside


How to Prevent Lead Poisoning

Keeping an older home clean and well-maintained helps prevent lead poisoning. Inspect and maintain all painted surfaces regularly, being sure not to chip paint or release paint dust. Also be sure to keep children away from old windows or other lead-painted surfaces.


Lead and Lead Paint Removal Process

During construction, lead can be disturbed during demolition, sawing, nailing, etc. Before starting a large home renovation project, such as a home addition, it’s best to have a qualified contractor or abatement professional inspect the premises first. Improper lead removal can result in the contamination of nearby surfaces, or (if your home exterior has leaded paint) the soil outside your home.

At Model Remodel, we assume any home built before 1978 is going to have lead. Our Client Services team can preform a quick on-site test to determine is lead is present. If it is, we’ll typically do more testing to find out how much lead is in the material and make sure we’ve found all the sources. Just like with asbestos, lead removal and disposal is governed by local and federal regulations. A certified professional will come out to complete the abatement process.

Projects such as home additions and siding replacements often require exterior lead paint removal before the project can begin. In these instances, the ground is completed tarped off so that all paint residue falls on a tarp, which can then be properly handled and disposed of. The abatement professionals will wear full body PPE and safety respirators.


What is Asbestos?

Asbestos is a naturally-occurring mineral substance composed of thin fibers. It is mined from the ground. Until 1989 asbestos was widely used in building materials, particularly insulation, because of its tensile strength and resistance to heat, fire and electricity. Researchers later discovered that when tiny airborne asbestos fibers were inhaled, they eventually caused serious health problems such as persistent wheezing, asbestosis, mesothelioma and lung cancer.

Eventually, new standards and laws were put in place, and the most common asbestos products were banned in the 1970s. Now a variety of insulation, siding and paint alternatives have taken over the market as safer options. However, while asbestos is restricted in the United States, it is not yet fully banned.


Does My Home Contain Asbestos?

In an older home, typically built before the 1980s, you may find asbestos in:

  • Wall and attic insulation
  • Ceiling and floor tiles
  • Exterior siding (cement asbestos board a.k.a. CAB)
  • Roofing shingles
  • Window glaze
  • Old appliances (stovetop pads)
  • Textured paint, popcorn ceilings and plaster
  • Artificial logs and embers in gas fireplaces
  • Caulking and patching compounds
  • Oil and coal furnaces and door gaskets


Health Problems Caused by Asbestos

When inhaled, microscopic asbestos particles can cause lung scarring, decreased lung functionality and even cancer. Typically symptoms will take many years after exposure to become evident. Frequency and amount of exposure are important risk factors to consider. Not everyone exposed to asbestos develops health problems, but remodeling (especially large projects such as kitchen remodels or basement remodels) could cause heavy exposure when asbestos materials are damaged or disturbed. Existing asbestos material that is in good shape is not much of a concern because it is unlikely to be inhaled.

Before remodeling an older home, you should work with your contractor to test for asbestos and call an abatement professional as needed.


The Asbestos Testing & Removal Process

First, the contractor or specialist will test your home for the presence of asbestos by sending samples to a professionally lab to be analyzed. At Model Remodel, our experienced Client Services team will review the scope of work, determine which materials need to be tested, and send the samples out for analysis. For whole house remodels or tear-downs, we’ll typically enlist a full-service testing company who will come out to the home, collect many samples and perform the tests. If fibers are detected they will then recommend safety protocols for your family, starting with the licensed removal of any asbestos-containing substances.

A DIY asbestos removal is a bad idea because you must wear special personal protective equipment (PPE) and dispose of the hazardous material properly. Federal and Washington state asbestos laws govern removal and disposal. A certified asbestos worker will ensure the proper precautions are taken. If you’re worried about cost, professional asbestos abatement is normally a very small percentage of an overall remodeling budget and should be considered a necessary expense. It is well worth the investment to keep your family safe!


Remediation: The First Step to Remodeling

Testing for mold, lead and asbestos is part of our normal project assessment routine. We let you know right away if your project will require testing, how long the testing may take, and the associated costs. Remediation is often the very first step to a major remodel. When you’re ready to renovate your older Seattle home, contact us. We are a design-build contractor that offers conception-to-completion solutions for all types of major residential projects, from basement remodels to whole room additions.

If any hazardous substances are detected, we’ll schedule our certified remediation experts to come remove the materials, keeping your home and family safe. Creating healthy, happy spaces is what we do best.

Written by Model Remodel

Model Remodel is a design-build, remodeling contractor located in Seattle, WA. For over 20 years we’ve been building with purpose, craftsmanship and sustainability in mind. We are proud to continually make the list of top Seattle contractors for our beautiful interior designs and homeowner-focused remodeling process.

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