How to deal with hazardous building materials
Encountering hazardous materials during a home renovation is extremely common. Learn to identify, assess, and remediate these issues so they don't pose problems down the road.
When considering an efficiency upgrade, it is important to familiarize yourself with the hazardous materials that may be present in your home. Once you know what to look for, you can establish guidelines for proper remediation. Addressing these hazards is important for the health and safety of you and your family, as well as any contractors involved in your upgrade. Don’t let hazardous materials management be an obstacle to achieving your goals; it’s a critical step that will eliminate the need for costly interventions down the road. Efficiency Excellence Network contractors are trained to handle health and safety issues presented by existing hazardous materials in the home.
Assume all paints and coatings in pre-1978 structures are lead-based, unless a state licensed lead inspector has conducted an XRF (X-ray fluorescence) laboratory analysis and found otherwise. Contractors completing projects in homes built before 1978 need to adhere to the EPA requirements for the maintenance and renovation of lead-based painted surfaces. In Vermont, only a Lead Safe Certified Renovator can perform renovation and repair work that disturbs lead-based paint. All contractors conducting this type of work are required to have a certified individual on site.
Ingesting lead paint dust or paint chips can cause severe, permanent brain damage. It’s especially dangerous for young children because their growing bodies absorb more lead and their brains and nervous systems are more sensitive to its damaging effects. Pregnant women are also at higher risk. Learn more about lead paint on the EPA website.
Under Vermont law, any construction work that involves disturbing more than three square feet or three linear feet of easily crumbled asbestos or vermiculite must be carried out by a licensed asbestos contractor.
Examples of disturbances include:
- moving the insulation aside to air seal,
- blowing or placing other insulation on top of it
- conducting a negative pressure blower door test
- using power tools on or around the substance.
The Vermont Department of Health offers exemptions for homeowners working on their own private residences who perform the remediation to the standard outlined in sections 1.1.6, 2.4.2-2.4.6, and 6 of the “Vermont Regulations for Asbestos Control” guide. That said, given the difficulties of removal and special equipment required, it is best practice not to work in any area that will disturb vermiculite insulation unless you are a licensed asbestos contractor.
Vermiculite is metallic gray in color, dusty and granular, with particles about the size of a pea. If disturbed, the particles become airborne and can be inhaled. Due to the size and shape of the mineral fibers, they get lodged in the lungs and stay there, increasing the risk of lung disease. Don’t store items in spaces that contain vermiculite insulation and ensure that children or other residents of your home stay away from the material.
For more information about asbestos and vermiculite, visit the EPA’s Asbestos Resources. Contact the Zonolite Attic Insulation Trust to find out if you’re eligible for reimbursement of abatement costs.
It’s important to assess the areas you plan to upgrade for electrical deficiencies before starting a project. Certain types of wiring or damaged wiring are fire hazards or may become fire hazards when put in direct contact with insulation. It is safest to consult a licensed electrician for their professional opinion.
Electrical hazards include:
- Knob & Tube Wiring-. Any flammable material meeting live knob and tube wiring constitutes a fire hazard, therefore it must be disconnected before air sealing or insulating. If rewiring is not an option, multiple techniques can be used to treat areas with existing knob and tube, but each has its own set of considerations.
- Wiring Connections within one foot of a surface that will be air sealed and/or insulated must be housed in a properly covered junction box. Older homes may have junction boxes with no covers at all. Contact your electrician to inspect and repair existing junction boxes or install new ones.
- Damaged Wiring should be repaired or replaced. Have an electrician assess the situation; if your wiring is in good shape, it may not be a hazard. But frayed or pest-damaged wires should be remediated right away to avoid further, possibly dangerous consequences down the road.