Renovating Your Basement? Be Aware of These 5 Pollutants
Renovating a basement can be a rewarding and challenging experience. Not only can a basement renovation add to the value of your home, but it can also maximize the amount of usable space available to you. For most homeowners, the cost to finish a basement can vary, but the standard range is between $20,000 – $45,000. However, basement renovations often get derailed by unexpected problems, like water, mold, safety hazards, and more. If not managed properly, these issues can cause serious consequences to your health and your budget. Before jumping into your renovation, make sure you’re aware of the risks. That way, you can manage any unexpected surprise safely and efficiently without endangering your renovation plans.
Radon & Carbon Monoxide
Both radon and carbon monoxide are colorless, odorless, toxic gasses that can be found in the basement. However, don’t mistake them for being the same. In the United States, radon causes around 20,000 lung cancer deaths each year. But what is radon? And how can you keep it out of your home?
Radon is a gas that’s produced naturally from the breakdown of uranium, a radioactive metal found in soil and bedrock. Small amounts of radon exposure pose little risk to your health. But in places with little to no air flow or ventilation, like the basement, radon can accumulate — Increasing your risk of serious health problems like cancer.
When renovating your basement, any new construction could increase the chance of radon entering your home. Radon can move through air pockets in the soil, and because basements have lower air pressure, it will naturally drift in through cracks in the walls, foundation, and dirt floors. To reduce the risk of radon entering your basement, fill any cracked surface with a water-resistant mastic sealant. Products will vary depending on the crack’s location. Installing a radon detector is also a good idea, especially if your home is in a high-risk radon area. If high levels of radon are present in your home, it may need to be treated by a remediation expert, which could increase your renovation costs, but is well worth the investment and safety of your health.
Carbon Monoxide is a gas that comes from burning fuels like coal, wood, oil, and natural gas. If your home uses a fuel-fired furnace, keep in mind that you won’t know whether you’re being exposed to carbon monoxide until you get symptoms of poisoning, such as headache or dizziness, irrational thinking, or even death. If you have a gas or oil-fired furnace, make sure it’s maintained and running efficiently before doing any basement renovations or projects. It’s also a good idea to get your HVAC system and furnace inspected annually to maximize their lifespan. It’s a helpful way to stop a small problem from becoming a bigger one that costs lots of money down the line. It’s also important to be proactive by investing in a few carbon monoxide detectors throughout your home.
Asbestos is a white, powdery material that was used in products throughout construction because of its strength and long-lasting properties. Before asbestos was banned in the 1970s, materials that contained asbestos were used in insulation, pipes, cement, and adhesives – just to name a few. Today, basements are a notorious place for asbestos to hide. But just because a basement has asbestos in it doesn’t mean it’s a significant danger to your health. When intact and undisturbed, asbestos will not be an immediate safety risk.
However, damage to asbestos either from deterioration over time or new construction could cause tiny asbestos particles to contaminate your home’s air. Once airborne, asbestos attaches to the inner lining of your lungs, causing scarring. Airborne asbestos can’t be seen with the naked eye, so before you start a basement renovation, make sure you follow the proper guidance for testing for asbestos. If found, make sure you know the process of handling and disposing of asbestos, as handling it on your own could lead to trouble. The first step of the abatement process is to let a professional handle everything. Doing so will reduce your chances of heavy asbestos exposure and the risk of developing mesothelioma or other asbestos-related cancer or disease.
Lead is another hazard that’s found all over the home. If your basement was painted anytime before the 1980s, there’s a good chance lead is hidden underneath layers of lead-free paint. Lead is a heavy metal found within the earth’s crust and was used in many industrial products and materials like paint, gasoline fuel, pipes, and insulation coatings. Lead was eventually banned in the United States by 1986 after it was found to pose several health risks: from vomiting and headaches to seizures or brain damage.
If you’re not sure whether your basement contains lead, be sure to hire a lead inspector so they can give you a breakdown of your situation and options. If lead is a problem, be sure that your face and body are protected from lead by using a lead-certified respirator, disposable coveralls, and shoe protectors, especially during any demolition. Keep dust and other lead-contaminated materials contained in the work area by using tarps to close off the basement from the rest of the house to prevent exposure. Don’t forget that after work is completed for the day, wipe down dust and clean any debris left behind to keep lead exposure to a minimum.
Mold can be found in several places throughout the home and will live in high-moisture areas with poor ventilation. Because of this, the basement is a typical place for mold to colonize and spread, especially if you also have leaking pipes, well or flood water, a laundry sink, and more. Having mold in your basement is common, and unless you have a pre-existing medical condition such as asthma or a suppressed immune system, you’re not likely to get sick from small amounts of mold spores in the air. However, if you have a medical condition, it’s best to check with your doctor to determine whether you’re at risk for mold-related respiratory infections. You could still experience allergy-type symptoms from being exposed to mold, such as shortness of breath, coughing, sore throat, and congestion.
Mold can sometimes be hard to identify since it comes in many colors. It usually has a specific earthy, musty, damp smell which can make it easier to identify. If you notice a lot of moisture in your basement, it’s best to prepare your basement properly either before you start new renovations or continue with existing projects. Properly control and maintain your basement’s air moisture issues by installing a dehumidifier, repairing leaking pipes or drainage issues, resolving standing water issues with a shop vac, or use a sump pump to move water outside of your basement. You can also be proactive by insulating water pipes to ward off condensation. If you have a significant mold problem, calling a mold remediation specialist might be your best option. If you’re planning to do the remediation yourself, you will want to invest in a HEPA air scrubber to remove mold and other airborne contaminants.
There will always be some risks involved when you take on a renovation project, but you shouldn’t let your health be one of them. There are many hazards you need to be aware of in a basement, so make sure your renovation plan is flexible enough to accommodate any health hazards you might encounter. And remember, when in doubt, call a certified specialist to help you identify whether your home is causing your health to suffer.