Renovating in a Safe and Healthy Way


There are three areas of safety you will want to know about before you start renovating.  They involve:

  1. Asbestos in Homes
  2. Health and Safety when Renovating
  3. Indoor Air Quality


As you can imagine, each of these areas could be an in-depth study and covers a wide field of research. To make things easier, we’ll look at the essentials of health and safety that you should know.


So, you own your house, and you are thinking to yourself that you want to renovate. You want to update your home so that it is a better living environment.


You want to have more of a connection to your garden and your back yard. You want to get rid of all the clutter that fills your home. And most of all, you want a beautiful home.


You may already suffer from hay fever or allergies.  And you could suspect that somewhere in your house, there is something that is causing them. And your partner might not be suffering at all, which doesn’t help your cause to make your home allergy-free.


The first word that your partner says about renovating is ‘budget’. And the second is ‘cost’. That is, keeping the cost of renovating down is the most important thing, even before you start.


Well, I would say that there are more important things to keep in mind when it comes to your home renovation.


And at the top of the list is your health. Next on the list, as a close second, is your family. And then by the type of home you and your family want for your home life.


I’m not saying that managing the cost of your home renovation is not essential. It is.


But we all take our health for granted. That is until it is not there anymore.


And then we would pay anything to have it back.


Asbestos in Homes


So let’s look at the home renovation mistake of risking your health. And what you should be aware of can harm your health, both in the short term and the longer term.


When you think of health and buildings, asbestos is not far from that correlation.  The heading for the article‘This house killed me’ says it all. Written by the investigative journalist Mario Christodoulou, and published in The Sydney Morning Herald.


Christodoulou talks about young people renovating their homes. Where money is tight, and you DIY your home renovation. Sounds familiar?


He goes on to talk about the ‘third wave’ of asbestos-related disease. This ‘third wave’ is coming from DIY home renovators—people who exposed themselves to asbestos when they renovate their homes.


He states that six out of every ten people with mesothelioma have renovated homes that had asbestos.


You could say to yourself that would only happen to someone else. Not me. Well, that like putting your head in the sand and leaving it there.


Dr Moon from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare said that.


Australia has one of the highest incidence rates of mesothelioma in the world, with between 700 and 800 people diagnosed each year.


Every day, two people in Australia find out that they have mesothelioma.


So don’t become a statistic.


You are renovating your home so that you can enjoy it for years to come.


If you have asbestos in your home, have it removed by a reputable asbestos removalist. And when you are having the asbestos removed, don’t stay in your house.  During asbestos removal, this is when exposed to the asbestos fibres is high.


My brother asked me about a house clad in an asbestos sheet that he was thinking of buying. He asked me what I thought. And after a brief silence from my end, he said: “I know what you are going to say”.


So I told him that in the UK, they removed asbestos from school buildings.  After they removed the asbestos, the levels of asbestos fibres in the air were much higher.


And external asbestos cladding will weather.  This weathering of the asbestos sheet will make the cladding friable.  Resulting in fibres of Asbestos breaking from the cladding over time and exposing you to asbestos.


That nobody knows how much asbestos exposure will cause asbestos-related diseases. Who would want to find out this?


That asbestos fibres are sharp tiny fibres.  That find their way down your airways.  You can end up with asbestos fibres in the air sacs of your lungs and the membranes around your lungs.


So why start with a house that you know has asbestos?  If you want a safe home for your family?


So the choice is yours to make. But you know that the risk of asbestos exposure is a considerable risk. Not only to yourself but your family and occupants of your home.


That mesothelioma won’t come knocking on your door tomorrow.  But it may in 40 years when you are ready to enjoy your grandchildren and the life you have worked hard.


You have to assume that your home will have asbestos if built before 1970.


And your home is likely to have asbestos if built before the mid-1980s


Why assume this? Australia only began regulating the use of asbestos products in the late 1970s, and a ban on Asbestos was introduced in 2003.  The Mesothelioma Centre states


From the 1950’s to the 1970’s, Australia was one of the largest consumers of Asbestos in the world.



Approximately one-third of all homes built in Australia contain asbestos products and any home built before 1991 could contain asbestos products.


It could be in the wall linings; it could be in the roof; it could be in your eaves linings. It could be in your flooring.


You have to take precautions if you are removing anything that looks like it might have asbestos.


Removing asbestos products is not a DIY job. You have to get a professional asbestos removalist to remove the products. Why? For yourself, that’s why.


If you want to find out where your home may have asbestos, you can download the Health house Checklist.  This checklist identifies areas of a house that may contain asbestos materials.


If you want to find out more about asbestos, you can read the Asbestos Guide.  A Guide for householders from the Australian Government Department of Health.



health and safety in Home Renovating


The next on the list of health risks when renovating involves health and safety. We have all heard about people injuring themselves on a building site. Let’s not be one of them.


So when it comes to health and safety in home renovations, you can think about several situations, such as falling off a ladder.  Or something can fall on you, such as a brick.


You could trip over a power cord or develop industrial deafness from loud power tools.  Or get an electrical shock.  And expose yourself to dust and chemicals.


You get the idea. Accidents can happen, so you try and make your home renovation as safe a building site as you can.


Ellie Collier writes about Ten Common Construction Site Hazards, in her article as:


  1. Working at height.
  2. Moving objects.
  3. Slips, trips, and falls.
  4. Noise.
  5. Hand-arm vibration syndrome.
  6. Material and manual handling.
  7. Collapsing trenches.
  8. Asbestos.
  9. Electricity.
  10. Airborne fibres and materials.


Suppose you are going to be doing hands-on work you want to take care of yourself. And also, make sure that the tradesmen who work in your home are also safe in their work practices.


Before you get up a ladder, make sure that it is secure. Make sure that the chimney will not fall on you if you are demolishing it.


Secure all electrical cords and make sure they are safe. Wear safety protection equipment for your body, feet, head, your eyes and your ears. Wear a mask to protect your airways.


Think safety first.


Indoor Air Quality

The last area of risking your health when renovating involves exposing yourself to indoor air contaminants.


These pollutants could be volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that you find from the solvents in glues or paint.  Or formaldehyde found in many building materials.


You could demolish your bathroom wall and find mould on the inside of your walls.   And everyone will react to mould spores.


Or there could be particles in the air, such as dust from sanding back MDF.


CSIRO completed a study on the Indoor air quality in homes that were recently finished. And they found that levels of indoor air pollutants higher indoors than outside.


It states in the study,


The dwellings with renovations, new flooring surfaces or new furniture in Winter/Spring had a significantly higher temperature and PM10 than homes that did not report renovations, indoor painting, flooring surfaces polishing or new furniture. The reason for the difference in PM10, which is also significant when comparing indoor/outdoor ratios, is not known but may be due to residual indoor dust or reduced minimum ventilation rates from the renovation.


PM10 refers to tiny particles in the air that are smaller than 10 micrometres in size.


The size of particles is crucial as we can inhale small or tiny particles into our airways. And they then have the potential to cause health problems.


‘… Once inhaled, these particles can affect the heart and lungs and cause serious health effects’ from NSW Health.


So you want to make sure that when renovating your house, you keep it well ventilated. And that you use products such as low VOC paints or no VOC paints.


That if you use chipboard or MDF (Medium-density fibreboard), it is formaldehyde-free.


Why formaldehyde free? Because formaldehyde is a human carcinogen. And exposure to low doses will irritate your eyes and your airways, and skin.


If you would like to know more about indoor air pollutants in your indoor air, you can read ‘Is the Indoor Air Quality of Your Home Making You Sick?’


And if you want to know what makes a sick building you can read ‘Ways Your Home Makes You Sick’.


So the idea is not to put you off renovating. But to take a safer and healthier approach to have your home renovated to be healthy. And you are healthier for it.


So let me know what you think about a healthy and safe approach to renovating your home in the comments below.


Have you experienced any health issues yourself relating to your home? And how do you feel about what I’ve talked about in avoiding risking your health in your home renovation?


Is this something you have thought about yourself, or is it entirely new for you? Let me know in the comments below.


So we have looked at three areas of health and your safety in home renovating. Why you should identify asbestos materials in your home and what you can do about asbestos if you have it in your home. The health and safety measures you should consider in your home renovation.  And your indoor air quality and how it affects you in your home renovation.


Health is vital to everyone. And a healthy home that you love can transform your life. So with knowledge about the health risks in home renovation, you can stay safe.  And have a better home and a healthier home life.


Happy Renovating

Bridget Puszka


Bridget Puszka designs beautiful, healthy sustainable luxury homes.  You can find out more about her Award-winning houses.

And learn what her clients have said about their homes in their testimonials.