Renovation Realities of Older Homes
The charm of older homes is undeniable. Classic features like charming brick, wood trim and built-ins add a little je ne sais quoi. As a home owner, you can hit the lottery with these, or you can spend a lot of time and dollars. Modern building techniques have come along way since the 1940s and 1950s. Some materials used in the past, which seemed at the time, to be affordable and safe, were not. So before you lift your crowbar and start modernizing your humble charming, older home, here are a few items to keep in mind.
Things You Might Find Based on the Age of Your House
If you’re renovating an older home, you should consider the following:
Radon is a naturally occurring gas that can leak into your home. It is colourless, tasteless and odourless. Kits are available for DIYers who want to inspect their own houses, but I suggest hiring a professional. Click here for Health Canada’s recommendations.
If you’re working on a home built before the 1990s, you need to take asbestos seriously and test for it before you start your project.
Asbestos-related disease is the leading cause of workplace death in B.C. Between 2006-2015, where 584 workers died from diseases related to asbestos exposure including asbestosis, lung cancer, and mesothelioma, 30% of these asbestos-related deaths were in the construction industry alone.
Some common asbestos-containing materials include:
- Vinyl tiles and linoleum sheet flooring
- Roof felt and shingles
- Loose, blown-in insulation, such as vermiculite
- Gypsum board filling compound, and patching and joint compound for walls and ceilings
- Incandescent light fixture backing
- Deck undersheeting
- The safe removal and disposal of hazardous materials like asbestos is an important part of your demo or reno. So before you start a renovation or demolition project, identify any asbestos in your home. You can hire a qualified hazardous materials surveyor and removal company to properly identify and dispose of any materials that contain asbestos to ensure the health and safety of everyone working on your project.
Toxic Mould Syndrome
Moisture that is trapped in walls, floors and materials can lead to toxic mould.
Where to check: your attic, inside walls and old concrete foundations. If improperly vented, mould can form in the attic. Additionally, if you open a wall in a bathroom where a fixture is leaking, mould can be in there too. Older concrete foundations may not have damp proofing built in.
Generally, mould is bad for anyone breathing nearby, especially children and the elderly. Mould & Your Health provides clean up methods that won’t endanger your family.
Knob & Tube, Aluminum, or Copper Wiring
If modifications are not done to the knob and tube system, it’s probably okay. However, new appliances won’t work without a ground. This opens your house up to lighting strikes or power surges (brown outs and black outs). This won’t be a big deal until you lose your computer or beloved electronics.
Aluminum wiring from the 1960-1970’s don’t mix well with any other metals. If you don’t install it properly with a corrosion-preventative paste, it can arch and cause fires. It’s easiest to remove the wiring since you can not know if it’s 100% safe.
Copper wiring (modern wiring) doesn’t mix well with aluminum and causes corrosion. Consult with an electrician if you are unsure.
Lead Based Paint
Any house that was constructed between 1960-1990 may potentially contain lead paint. Having lead-based paint in your house is okay, as long as it is not cracking or chipping. If it is, it is best if it is removed with specific guidelines in mind. You can read what to do on the Healthy Canadians site. In the past, we have simply removed the drywall board affected in this manner and re-drywalled.
Wear the Gear
In addition to being aware of what to look for when renovating an older home, getting the proper personal protective equipment is always worth the investment.
Invest in tools like air masks to keep you safe from standard construction dust that seems to be a constant during any renovation. Items like gloves, steel toe or steel shank boots, hard hats and ear plugs are standards in the construction industry for a reason.
We took safety very seriously when renovating our first 1950s house as I was pregnant at the time. We were taking no chances! Your health and the health of people working on your project, is worth more than the small delay it might take to identify and remove any hazardous materials.
I hope this list hasn’t scared you off the charm and restoration of older houses. It is incredibly satisfying work bringing these spaces back to life. With proper precautions, you can bring your older house back to life too without endangering you or your family’s health.
This post has been generously sponsored by WorkSafeBC, the opinions and language are my own.