Opening up Walls for an Open Floor Plan: Toxins in Opening Walls

by Cheney Hines

Remodeling your house is one of the great joys of home ownership. Unfortunately, there are many dangers inherent in this process of which many property owners are unaware and uneducated. While you are taking down walls to create an open floor plan, you may be releasing toxic and dangerous substances into the air. Beware of this potential and call in an expert before you start this process.

Common Hazardous Substances

When you begin a remodeling project, especially in an older home, you can find many unpleasant surprises lurking behind the walls. Homes built before 1990 can have materials in their structure that are no longer commonly used due to pollution and health concerns. Among those substances that may be hiding in your walls are:

  • Lead-based paint
  • Asbestos
  • Radon gas
  • Mold
  • Formaldehyde

These substances could be found around plumbing, pipes, insulation, in floor and ceiling tiles, fireproofing, carpet and tile glue, particle board and even furniture varnish.


Potential Hazards

For the most part, when such materials are left undisturbed they don’t pose a threat. When they become dry and crumble (become friable), they can release dust, fumes, spores and fibers into the air, which can create everything from respiratory infections to allergic reactions, emphysema and even cancer. Some of the most well-known problems that can result from these toxic dangers include:

  • Lead poisoning
  • Mesothelioma
  • Eye, throat and nose irritation
  • Respiratory issues
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome
  • Headaches
  • Damage to the liver, kidney or cardiovascular system
  • Damage to the central nervous system
  • Rashes and skin irritation
  • Cancer

Checking for Hazards before you do an Open Floor Plan

The first thing you should do before starting demolition is to thoroughly check your home for indications of danger. In some cases, materials may be labeled as containing asbestos or lead. However, the best possible thing you can do is to contact a qualified abatement contractor to examine your property. These men and women have the experience and expertise to identify potential sources of toxic substances and to safely gather samples for testing.

If your contractor finds problems, they can help you safely remove the offending materials and dispose of them in a way that protects you and the environment from exposure and concerns for health and safety.

Trading One Danger for Another

When you have any problems addressed and you begin the process of construction, be careful that you don’t trade one danger for another. While much safer than in the past, many solvents, paints and construction materials still contain harmful chemicals, especially when wet. Be careful to work in well-ventilated areas and use a mask or respirator to protect yourself. Seal off air vents and ductwork in the room where you are working. When cleaning up, always use a vacuum with a HEPA filter to gather up dust and debris to avoid exposure to foreign airborne particles.

In the end, you should view your renovation as an opportunity to improve the air quality, health and safety of your home. If you need help or advice on safe renovations, take a look at our demolition process and give us a call for more information today.