My house is, once again, in total upheaval. As we “speak,” the kitchen and downstairs powder room are hermetically sealed off from the rest of our home. We have set up a makeshift kitchen in the dining room, and we have HEPA air scrubbers and fans sucking the air out and “cleaning” the air from both rooms. Our IQ Air Purifier and whole-house Aprilaire® systems are running around the clock to keep all particulate counts down. In other words, things are a bit crazy in our house right now. The difference this time, though, is the fact that all of this containment is being done by choice, rather than by necessity, as it was with all of the mold demo and remediation a few years ago.
Let me get you up to speed.
We have finally decided to do some home improvements. It has taken us almost 2 years to get here, but we are ready and have decided to take it one step at a time to minimize the crazy—or maximize it, jury is still out on that one. Anyway, because we are all so sensitized to mold and chemicals from our mold exposure, any type of construction or demo, where dust, construction materials, chemicals and possibly hidden mold are being uncovered has to be done in a VERY controlled and methodical fashion. The last thing we want to do is to reintroduce toxins, allergens and and other inflammatory antigens into our living environment.
The good news that I wish to impart to you today is that, even for the mold-sensitive person, home improvements ARE possible. You can do construction on your home, and avoid becoming sick again by employing some simple, but effective best practices and cleaning techniques to minimize or eliminate your exposure. Today, I want to share those best practices with you, so that you feel liberated to “better” your home too, without the pervading fear of becoming sick. Believe me; I know how immobilizing that fear can be. Up until now, we have actually been living in a kitchen with 2 different kinds of wallpaper, 3 different paint colors, and a textured wall all of this time, because I was too afraid to begin the renovation. Let’s put it this way, it was an aesthetic disaster that desperately needed help.
To best take you through this and to set you up for success, I’m going to start with best practices to prepare your home for renovation and/or construction, including some containment tips, then proceed to best practices for selecting less reactive construction materials, and finally address clean-up. I will say, though, before I begin that cleaning for dust and mold during any kind of construction needs to be ongoing and sort of constant. I also want to caution anyone who is still actively sick from a mold exposure, or who still detoxing under a doctor’s care to NOT PROCEED with any further construction or disruption of the home until you have had 6 months or more under your belt without symptoms. If work must be done on your home, leave and stay somewhere else until all work has been completed. Use these tips and tools to give to those working on your home. Have them follow my instructions to minimize any health implications on you when you return to your home. If in doubt, consult your physician.
Tools & Supplies:
(Note: All tools and supplies can be purchased online through Amazon, or at your local home improvement store, like Lowe’s or Home Depot unless otherwise indicated. I included links to products I have used or recommend, whenever possible.)
- Plastic sheeting, tarps and wrapping materials – Purchase more than you think you need. It is always better to cover and protect more, rather than less. Keep your receipts and return any unused materials when your construction is complete.
- Painter’s tape and/or duct tape – Obviously duct tape creates a better seal, but to ensure that you don’t damage furniture or paint, you can use painter’s tape.
- Self-adhesive dust control zippers – You need these for all of your doorways that will be sealed during construction.
- Box Fans – You don’t have to purchase expensive ones. These can be the cheaper plastic fans. The key here is to find fans that are pretty powerful. You are going to use these to create negative air flow in the rooms where demo or construction is occurring.
- HEPA Air Scrubber and duct attachment – For demo/construction, the scrubber will be used as a negative air machine. As such, it uses ducting to remove contaminated air from a sealed containment area. The filtered air is exhausted outside of the containment area. This creates negative air pressure (a vacuum effect), which helps limit the spread of contaminants to other areas inside the home. They are able to clean the air multiple times in a contained space in a short amount of time. Air scrubbers are expensive to purchase. You can rent them from Home Depot or other construction rental businesses. Since we have worked with a professional remediation company in the past, for a small fee, they came out and set one of theirs up for us and are allowing us to use it for our construction projects. I would suggest calling local remediation companies and asking about this, if there are no other rental options in your location.
- HEPA Shop Vacuum – You can purchase one at Lowe’s, Home Depot, Wal-Mart, online, or you can rent one from your local building supply store. This is an incredible tool to have. I highly recommend purchasing one, if
possible. We use ours ALL THE TIME, and it has paid for itself 10 times over. There’s nothing better for vacuuming out your car, I assure you. DO NOT use your regular interior HEPA vacuum for this. This is construction dust and materials that you will be dealing with. A household vacuum is easily destroyed with such debris. You also risk cross contamination using it on a construction area and then bringing it back into other areas of your home. It is not worth the risk.
- Disposable gloves
- Tyvek suit and goggles
- 3m masks
- Shoe covers
- Hydrogen Peroxide Cleaning Spray – This is an industrial percentage product that is used in buildings and hospitals.
- EC3 Mold Solution Spray
- EC3 Laundry Additive
- Cold Fogger – I have a Curtiss Dyna-Fog Sanitizer that I love. (For my previous post on cold fogging, click this LINK.)
Preparing Your Home for Construction or Repairs:
Once you know which rooms you are going to be working on, strategically figure out how to seal those spaces off from the rest of the home during the work. For example, our kitchen has two interior entries to the rest of our house, and one exterior door that leads to the garage. All of those need to be sealed during both demo and construction. To do this, simply purchase rolls of plastic sheeting or tarps that are wide and long enough to completely cover your doorways. Use painter’s tape to create a seal around the door casing. Then, you can cut a vertical slit in each door and apply a stick-on zipper to create a zipper door. These doors can be completely sealed or used as a pass-through, depending on where you are with your construction. The idea is to keep the dust and construction particles only in the area where the work is being done, without introducing them into the rest of the home. This is of particular concern when you are opening up walls, because you never know what you are going to find.
Then, remove all objects and furnishings from those rooms. If you are doing work in your kitchen, this includes all countertop appliances, utensils, food, spices, dishes, glasses, etc. from the cabinets and drawers. This may seem like a pain, but most cabinets and drawers do not completely seal when closed. This means that any contaminants in the air can get on these items. You do not want that to happen. If you need access to your refrigerator, relocate it to another room, if possible. If you are unable to do this, seal it in plastic during demo and construction and only reopen it after all cleaning has been completed. If large furniture is unable to be moved, use the plastic sheeting and tape to fully wrap and seal those pieces to protect them. If drapes or blinds are hanging, remove them and relocate them to another space in the home until construction is complete. Any upholstered pieces or textiles will trap dust, sawdust, and contaminants like mold. The idea is to encase or leave as few of these types of items in a space as possible. Hard surfaces are much easier to clean up.
Roll up and remove all rugs from construction spaces. If carpet is present, cover it with plastic carpet protection wrap. This should be done so that no carpet is left exposed. Carpet is one of the most difficult mediums to fully and effectively clean. If you can prevent any kind of exposure, this is always best.
Air Flow and Contaminant Removal Preparation:
Once your rooms are prepped, the next order of business is air flow. You need to locate the closest path to outdoor air for the space or spaces you will be working on. For example, for our kitchen, we had a window that could be opened in the small hallway leading to the garage. For our powder room, this was more difficult. It sits in a little cove under our stairs, with no windows close by. We had to create a larger sealed area from our front door to the powder room, sealing it off on either side from the dining and living rooms. That way, we could open the front door during demo and construction to use that as our path to the outside. During construction, this spot will be open to the outside, but sealed all around with the plastic. The only opening will be where your fans will sit to suck the air out or your air scrubber will sit to work as a negative air machine, drawing the air in the room out through ducting. (For your box fan, position it in the opening to the outside, with only the area around the fan left unsealed. The fan’s back should face the interior of your home, and the front or blowing side, should face the outdoors. This creates the sucking effect that you need.)
In the case of the powder room, we couldn’t seal the front door, because we also had to use it to remove the demoed materials. We just did the best we could to create a seal with the zippered plastic door, and only fully open it when needed.
Construction/Demo Best Practices:
- Keep all doors for the other interior rooms in your home closed during construction. A closed door is a physical block for dust and particulates. Even if the work is being done downstairs, upstairs room doors should stay closed. A home breathes. You may be surprised how far particles in the air can travel.
- Anytime you are doing demo, or are in the rooms where construction is going on, make sure to wear your 3m face mask, gloves, if you will be touching anything, and shoe covers. All of this gear should go on right outside of the space, and should be removed and disposed of outside, before you reenter the other parts of your home. All of these precautions minimize the spread of dust and contaminants to the rest of your home.
- If you do not choose to wear a Tyvek suit to cover your clothing, make sure to wash the clothing you are wearing during the work separately from your other laundry. Since we did not find mold during demo, we wore work clothes. My husband and I actually take all of our work clothes off in our garage, put them in a plastic bag and put fresh clothes on before reentering our home. We then dump our work clothes directly into the washing the machine from the plastic bag afterwards. We wash them at a warm temperature with regular detergent and EC3 Laundry Additive.
- Always have your air scrubber and/or box fans running during all phases of work. The more you can suck the particulates out of the air as you go, the better.
- Use your HEPA shop vacuum to clean your work space thoroughly at every stage. I recommend using the shop vac over any type of sweeping. The vacuum will suck the sawdust and debris without disturbing it and throwing the particles into the air as much as sweeping will. For example, we completed the demo this week. As my husband was unscrewing and removing the kitchen cabinets, I was coming behind him with the shop vacuum, sucking up all of the dust and debris. It may seem like a lot of work, but the sooner you get it up, the less chance it has of getting into your household air and making you sick.
- Use the hydrogen peroxide and EC3 Mold Solution Spray to thoroughly clean the floors and surface areas of construction spaces at each stage of the work. My best illustration of this is also in our kitchen. After vacuuming the dust and debris, I sprayed all of the countertops with the EC3 Mold Solution Spray and wiped them down with paper towels. I also cleaned the outside of the refrigerator and cooktop with the hydrogen peroxide spray after demo.
- If you have a portable air purifier or a whole-house purification system, use them strategically to maximize air cleaning in the rest of the house. To do this, move your portable unit or units to the rooms adjacent to the ones sealed off for construction. This will help to remove any escaping particles from the air before they go elsewhere.
- If you have a whole-house air purification system, turn it to the air-cleaning mode for at least a 3 hour run interval 2 times per day during construction. This will work to minimize contaminants at a rate greater than just the daily purification mode. Aprilaire has a 98% effectiveness rating at removing particulates smaller than a micron from living spaces, so, as you can imagine, this can be very helpful and effective.
- Always use no VOC paints, sealants and glues in all construction. Your home is a veritable Petri dish. Do not introduce other toxins into it, if you can avoid it.
- Make sure all contractors entering and leaving your home understand the importance of following your containment practices, and that they do not cross contaminate your home by tracking construction materials or dust to other spaces. A simple conversation is usually all that needs to happen. Leave shoe covers near all entry spots for them to put on and use when entering your home. It will help them to remember and to understand how seriously you take protecting yourself and your family. Also, have any construction materials approved by you before use. Even if it is caulk, it needs to pass muster with you first. There are “no VOC” options for almost EVERYTHING. These should ALWAYS be used over the toxic options.
- If mold or water damage is discovered, stop demo and construction immediately. Make sure to have professionals remove all wet and damaged materials. All walls, wall cavities, framing, and flooring should be thoroughly dried, and then cleaned with first the peroxide and then the EC3 Mold Solution Spray. Find the source of the water and stop the intrusion or leak. Once that is done, remediate the space for mold and bacteria immediately. No other construction or demo should be done before this is handled properly. I cannot stress enough the importance of making sure that mold is properly handled BEFORE anything else. If this is not done, all other improvements are for naught. The good news is that you found it. If you have done all of the previous steps, the space should be well contained, and the dangers of the mold spreading have been minimized. Finish the remediation with air testing to make sure the space is safe prior to continuing with the work.
- During ALL work, have your fans and/or air scrubber humming to suck the contaminated air out the entire time.
- In between stages of construction, if you are able to, cold fog the entire space with your fogger that contains EC3 Mold Solution Concentrate. It should be diluted per package instructions. Make sure to allow the space time to dry out completely before moving onto the next stage of work. Fans should be kept running in the space to help dry things.
Post Construction Clean-up Best Practices:
- The number one, most important thing on this list is to CLEAN AS YOU GO. This means after every stage. You cannot allow dust and debris to accumulate. You must HEPA vacuum with the shop vac, and wipe down surfaces and floors at each juncture.
- Keep areas where the construction is taking place contained as outlined above until both construction and clean-up is complete. The plastic barriers are your best defense. These should NOT come down until the area is completely complete and clean.
- Use disposable paper towels, sponges, mops and cloths. You want to throw all of these materials away once used.
- Remove construction debris and trash from your home immediately. Use plastic, sealable trash bags. Bag everything up, and dispose of the bags outside in trash bins or landfills.
- Once construction is complete, fog the whole house. This will bring mold counts down immediately and will help prevent the further spread of particulates.
- Change all of the filters in your HVAC returns and in the central system. These filters will have been working in overdrive during the work. They will be full of whatever dust and contaminants that they picked up from the air. The work is done. Remove and replace them and start fresh.
- Mist all home furnishings, carpets, rugs, and drapes in ALL rooms with EC3 Mold Solution Spray. Allow everything to dry. Then, use your interior HEPA vacuum—not the shop vac—to vacuum furniture, carpets,
drapes, and rugs. This is just proper maintenance and an insurance move to make sure dust doesn’t settle and help mold to grow.
There you have it. As I learn more along the way with our renovations, I will be sure to update this list and let you know about it. Let me know in the comments, if I left anything out, or if you have any tips.