Health Hazards for the Do It Yourselfer
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Health Hazards for the Do It Yourselfer

How to identify and reduce exposure to hazardous conditions and materials while performing home repairs, maintenance, and renovations.

With more people performing their own repairs, renovation, and remodeling projects, it is important to understand some of the health hazards involved with doing this type of work. While most homeowners are familiar with tool safety, they may not understand, or may even ignore, serious dangers with building materials. This article will discuss the issue of lead, asbestos, and chemicals which can be present in the home and can become a health hazard when alterations are made.

Pressure Treated Wood

One of the most common hazardous building materials found in the home and surrounding property is pressure treated wood. Previously almost all pressure treated (PT) wood was treated with a chemical called Chrominated Copper Arsenate or CCA for short. Since January 2004, this chemical is no longer used in pressure treated lumber for residential use and it has been replaced with amine copper quat (ACQ) and copper azone (CA).

Due to the fact that pressure treated lumber will not rot, it is possible that you have old pressure treated wood that contains CCA. Some states have begun restricting the disposal of pressure treated wood that has been preserved with CCA due to the possibility of arsenic leaching from the wood into the ground water.

For more information go to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) website:

Handling and Disposal of Pressure Treated Lumber

• Wear a dust mask, gloves, and goggles when cutting or handling treated or untreated wood. Whenever possible perform these operations outdoors to avoid indoor accumulations or airborne sawdust.

• After working with wood, wash exposed skin thoroughly.

• Wash work clothes separately from other household clothing to avoid cross-contamination.

• Do not use pressure treated wood where it may come into direct or indirect contact with drinking water, except for uses involving incidental contact such as fresh water docks and bridges.

• Do not use pressure treated wood in circumstances where the preservative may become a component of food, animal feed, or beehives.

• Do not use pressure-treated wood for mulch.

• Do not burn pressure-treated wood in open fires or in stoves, fireplaces or residential boilers because toxic substances may be produced as part of the smoke and ashes.

• Treated wood can be disposed of with regular municipal trash. Homeowners should contact the appropriate state and local agencies for further guidance on the disposal of treated wood.

• Dispose of treated wood from commercial or industrial use (e.g., construction sites) by complying with local landfill rules. It can also be burned in commercial or industrial incinerators or boilers when done in accordance with state and federal regulations.

(Source: EPA)


The presence of old lead-based paint in housing is the most significant remaining cause of lead poisoning, particularly in young children. The principal means of exposure is through ingestion of peeling or pulverized paint in older and poorly maintained housing.

As of April 22, 2008, EPA issued the Renovation, Repair and Painting Rule. It requires that firms performing renovation, repair, and painting projects that disturb lead-based paint in pre-1978 homes, child care facilities and schools be certified by EPA and that they use certified renovators who are trained by EPA-approved training providers to follow lead-safe work practices. Individuals can become certified renovators by taking an eight-hour training course from an EPA-approved training provider.

Lead; Renovation, Repair, and Painting Program

There are various do-it-yourself test kits available at hardware stores, but these are not always accurate. The only way to definitively know whether or not paint contains lead is to have a professional analysis done.


While asbestos was a prevalent building material in the 20th century, there are still millions of homes that contain asbestos somewhere in the home. Asbestos is a mineral fiber that can be positively identified only with a microscope. There are several types of asbestos fibers that were added to a variety of products to strengthen them and to provide heat insulation and fire resistance.

Asbestos can be found in homes built between 1930 and 1950 in pipe insulation, attic and wall insulation, drywall compound, textured paint, cement siding, roof shingles, and vinyl floor tiles and adhesives. Asbestos containing materials (ACM) do not have to be removed as long as the integrity of the material is maintained.

Managing Asbestos Hazards

• Keep activities to a minimum in any areas having damaged material that may contain asbestos.

• Take precautions to avoid damaging asbestos material.

• Have removal and major repair done by people trained and qualified in handling asbestos. It is highly recommended that sampling and minor repair also be done by asbestos professionals.

• Don't dust, sweep, or vacuum debris that may contain asbestos.

• Don't saw, sand, scrape, or drill holes in asbestos materials.

• Don't use abrasive pads or brushes on power strippers to strip wax from asbestos flooring. Never use a power stripper on a dry floor.

• Don't sand or try to level asbestos flooring or its backing. When asbestos flooring needs replacing, install new floor covering over it, if possible.

• Don't track material that could contain asbestos through the house. If you cannot avoid walking through the area, have it cleaned with a wet mop. If the material is from a damaged area, or if a large area must be cleaned, call an asbestos professional.


Mold and mildew growth in homes and building materials can occur quickly after moisture has entered a structure from a leak or condensation. Generally, it is not necessary to identify the species of mold growing in the home and government agencies do not recommend routine sampling for molds. If you smell a musty odor you can be fairly confident that mold is present. Current evidence indicates that allergies are the type of diseases most often associated with molds. In most cases, latex gloves, eye protection, and N95 respirators should be used to protect the homeowner from working around mold inside the home.

OSHA - A Brief Guide to Mold in the Workplace  

Mold Remediation in Schools and Commercial Buildings


Electricity is probably the most dangerous hazard to the do it yourselfer. Whether you come in contact with live wires, arc flash from a short circuit, or using damaged power tools, there is always a possibility for electrical injury during many home repairs and remodeling projects. Even hanging shelving can expose someone to an electrical hazard if a wire inside the wall is damaged by a nail or screw.

1. Be sure that power is turned off from the main source when doing residential electrical wiring. Whether you are re-wiring the entire house or replacing a faulty outlet always turn off the power to prevent accidents. Use a voltage tester to confirm that the power is off.

2. Electrical cords or wires should never be in contact with radiators, pipes and other metal objects.

3. When working outside, exposed wires and overhead power lines should be avoided at all times.

4. Check for worn or frayed power tool and extension cords.

5. Ensure that all power tools are properly grounded. An adapter should be used in a 3-prong plug in a 2-wire receptacle. Do not attempt to use an appliance with a 2-wire connection in a damp location or outdoors.

6. Do not touch electrical items when your hands are damp. Water conducts electricity and no tool or appliance should be handled with wet hands or with water.

7. Locate electrical wiring before working on walls or adding paneling and trim.

Always obtain a permit before during any alterations to your home’s electrical system such as adding a new fixture or circuit. Be aware of electrical safety and code requirements before doing any work yourself.

Related Articles

Guide to Disposable Respirators

EPA Lead Paint Rules

Preventing Mold Growth in Your Air Conditioner and Home

Controlling Condensation in the Home

Grounding and Bonding Inspections in the Home

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Comments (4)

Excellent safety advice, another page for by DYI book...voted

Another useful tip from an expert.

Everyone can learn safety tips from this well detailed article.

Ranked #7 in Home Repairs

good article thanks