When the economy is down, homeowners who want to remodel or renovate their home tend to do it themselves to save money. An interesting study suggests that future generations of homeowners will pay for their DIY activities with asbestos-related diseases. Why? Eager weekend handymen uncover asbestos as they are pulling down ceilings, ripping up bathrooms, and navigating crawlspaces, without realizing they are exposing themselves and their families to deadly asbestos fibers.
This situation provides professional contractors with an excellent opportunity to educate and warn consumers about the risks of dealing with hazardous materials, and why it is a job best left to trained professionals.
Homeowners Not Equipped To Handle Hazardous Materials
Though the study cited above was conducted in Western Australia, the results are just as relevant in the U.S. Cash-strapped consumers may take on projects that involve hazardous materials, such as asbestos and lead paint, without understanding the special steps needed to prevent exposing themselves and the surrounding air to dangerous chemical emissions.
In the US, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has issued specific directives about how to handle both the asbestos and lead paint, two once widely-used building materials still found in homes today. There is little risk unless the material is disturbed during normal maintenance, repair, or remodeling. Homeowners may make light of the risks, but professionals know the risks and have the training to handle safe removal. This is the main educational message that needs to reach consumers in ads, website copy, and flyers.
Best Advice to Homeowners
What should you tell homeowners who discover a potential asbestos problem? Their best bet is to leave the worksite alone, and call in professionals trained to identify and test for asbestos and properly remove it. Even drilling holes in asbestos-containing materials, using a power stripper to remove asbestos floor covering, or attempting to clean it up, can blow up enough dust to be damaging. You as a contractor may or may not be licensed to do asbestos removal, but you and your subcontractors should be able to quickly identify the product and call in an inspector who will advise on how best to remove or contain it. Your awareness of when certain building products were popular will alert you to potential dangers when working on older homes.
The same type of thinking applies to lead paint removal. Lead paint on a wall or ceiling may cause little damage when undisturbed and can even be painted or dry-walled over to keep it in place. When lead paint chips or peels it poses a special danger to children, who may ingest the particles. When two surfaces painted with lead paint rub together (such as when a door rubs against the jamb), lead dust can escape in the air. Removing lead paint requires extensive procedures to prevent stomach and lung damage from chips and dust. The message to homeowners who suspect they have lead paint? Call in the pros who know the risks, and are prepared to take the proper steps to correct the problem.
Special Precautions For Removal
Both asbestos and lead paint removal require that the area be sealed off and any furniture, flooring, heat and air vents, etc. be protected with plastic. This allows the removal team, wearing protective clothing, to do their job. In either case, professional removers are best equipped to remove the hazardous material, ensure the contamination is not spread to any other parts of the home, and to clean up the area. There are specific and very tedious procedures to follow to prevent respiratory diseases. In the case of asbestos removal, the home must be tested to assure that the levels of remaining particulates are safe.
A DIY homeowner is simply not equipped to remove asbestos, and even lead paint removal is best left to the pros. As a professional, you can alert your customers to the dangers, and perform or subcontract the removal before completing your remodel.
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