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Overview

Playing it safe

How to keep your family out of danger during a remodel

Last reviewed: March 2009

Lumber, cinder blocks, dirt piles, and holes. To children, a construction site can seem like a playground—even when Mom and Dad have warned them about safety issues.

These tips will help keep your family safe—and your project running smoothly.

Keep children safe

Home-remodeling expert Danny Lipford, owner of Lipford Construction in Mobile, Ala., knows how attractive construction areas are to young children. With 28 years in business, Lipford is the host of the syndicated series "Today's Homeowner With Danny Lipford" and a contributor to "The Early Show" on CBS and to the Weather Channel. He says children often hang around work sites, "asking carpenters one hundred questions." To keep the area safe, Lipford says, "my crews are very careful to try to restrict access to the area, and we talk to kids and ask them not to pass the yellow tape." He also stresses that homeowners need to take an active part in keeping children safe.

The National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI) recommends designating an area away from the work site for play and toy storage. And be sure to explain to your children which areas are off limits and that they should never mess around with materials or the contractors' tools and machinery.

Communication with the pros is also very important. Before work begins, tell the contractors the number of children in the house, their ages, and whether any are particularly mischief-prone.

Lipford recommends that parents introduce kids to the project foreman, especially if they are at home while parents are at work. If the foreman needs to go into the house, to turn off electricity, for example, the child will know it's OK. Also, Lipford says, "If children need an adult, or need to know which area of the house is safe, they'll know who's in charge."

Be sure to find out when large equipment or orders of building materials are being brought on site. You might consider taking a family outing on those days.

Your contractors are not baby-sitters, says Everett Collier, president of NARI. If your children aren't old enough to be left alone, don't ask contractors to watch them when you are at work or are out running errands.

Control hazardous materials

Before your project starts, be aware of potentially toxic materials on the job site. Lead paint, asbestos, mold, and even dust could pose health hazards during a remodel, especially if the project includes demolition. Keep children and pets out of areas where those hazards exist and away from toxic chemicals, such as paint strippers. Also make sure that work crews are trained and prepared to take appropriate steps to keep those hazards from contaminating your living space.

Building materials—such as adhesives, paints, sealants, and varnishes—can emit volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, even when stored. Exposure to VOCs as well as other pollutants can cause immediate symptoms, including respiratory irritation, headache, dizziness, and memory impairment. Some organic compounds may pose a cancer risk.

Take steps—or ask your contractor what steps he or she will take—to avoid creating indoor pollutants, and contain those that can't be avoided.

More safety guidelines

Assign separate doors

If possible, designate one entrance through which work crews carry tools and materials and another for you and your family to use exclusively during the project.

Protect your pets

A dog or cat underfoot is a hazard to both you and your pet. Keep pets away from work areas, preferably in a closed room away from the supply-door entrance. You don't want Sparky to run out an open door or for Felix to get crushed during demolition.

Safely store tools and materials

Be sure your contractor keeps dangerous items, such as tools, ladders, and hazardous materials, out of children's reach at all times, especially at the end of the workday.

Secure the work area

Ensure that you or your contractor secure any holes or pits in the wall, floor, or yard at the end of the day.

Hang plastic sheeting or tarps around the work area

This simple step helps prevent pollutants, dust, and debris from traveling throughout the house.

Look for lead paint

The older your home, the greater the chance it has lead-based paint, a threat even if you've laid lead-free coats over it. If you scrape, sand, or heat lead paint, lead can become airborne and make it into your body or contaminate the soil around your home. Children are especially vulnerable to dust that can get on toys and hands and, eventually, in the mouth, and suffer among the worst effects. Anyone in contact with lead, however, is at risk.

Your first step is having the area tested for lead-based paint. The Environmental Protection Agency does not recommend home-use testing kits. Instead, it suggests hiring a trained inspector to either test surfaces on-site or send samples to a lab. If lead-based paint is present, the agency recommends hiring a professional to prep the surface. The EPA's brochure "Reducing Lead Hazards When Remodeling Your Home" offers suggestions on finding an inspector as well as information on what to look for in a remediation contractor. If there are no qualified pros in your area or you're determined to do the job yourself, the brochure offers tips on steering clear of hazards when you're preparing a surface for repainting.

Mist surfaces

A fine coat of water sprayed on surfaces before sanding or scraping keeps dust from becoming airborne.

Work outside

When possible, paint, stain, and finish building materials outside and bring them into the house after they're dry.

Control carpet VOCs

Unroll and air carpets before installation, and use low-emitting adhesives if needed.

Ventilate

Air out the work area and the rest of your home during and after a remodel. Position window fans so that they exhaust (blow out instead of in). If your home has central air conditioning or heat, do not run the system when workers are sanding. Also change the filters as often as once a week to keep dust from spreading throughout the house. The NARI also suggests that you plan a short getaway while the home airs out. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency offers guidelines on indoor-air-quality concerns during remodeling.

Be wary of rodent droppings

They might be exposed during demolition and can spread the deadly hantavirus. Be sure to eliminate all of the droppings, taking proper precautions when doing so.