Last updated: Mar 02, 2016

“Do-it-yourself-renovation dangers are two-fold,” says David O. Carpenter, MD, director of the Institute for Health and the Environment at the University at Albany, State University of New York. “Theres the release of dangerous things that were mobilized by the renovation”—a nasty cocktail of who-knows-whats-in-it toxic dust—“and the dangerous things being added by the renovation, such as oil-based paint.”


Two of the most hazardous materials that can be knocked loose are asbestos insulation and lead, says Philip J. Landrigan, MD, chairman of the Department of Community and Preventive Medicine and professor of pediatrics at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City. In fact, about one in five lead-poisoning cases in the United States is from DIY renovation. “Weve also had cases of lead poisoning when families who were pregnant did renovations and sanded off paint that happened to contain lead,” Landrigan says.

Renovations shouldnt be considered a weekend hobby or time to save a buck. Vacate the house for the duration, if possible. Cant leave for the whole time? Get out during the initial demolition (when mold, mildew, and dust are being stirred up) and in the final phase (when liquid-chemical products like paint and wood finish are being applied), advises Paul Novack, the green product and toxicity expert at Green Depot, a supplier of environmentally friendly building supplies and services.

If you have a half-renovated project, seal off the construction site ASAP (plastic tarps and tape usually do the trick), then have a home inspector test for lead paint and other environmental hazards. Depending on what he finds, you may need to hire a lead-abatement expert or ecofriendly contractor to finish the job and properly clean your home. Other musts: Vacuum with a high-efficiency particulate air, or HEPA, filter, which traps very fine particles; leave windows open; and “keep people out of the room even after its finished for a few days,” to give chemicals time to dissipate, Carpenter advises.