WorkSafeBC recently did a series of two hour information sessions for contractors that they called “Exposing the Invisible – What’s in the Walls?”. The sessions were to educate the contractor community about renovation and demolition hazards, asbestos, and other hazardous materials. It got me thinking about homeowners who try to save money by doing their own “dirty work”, as it is considered low skill and people often resist paying contractors to do things “that we can do ourselves”.
Let’s paint a dirty picture: you decide to start your renovation project by doing a little demolition first. Knock out some drywall, pull up a smelly carpet and underlay, pull up some old tile that is glued to the floor. Low skill, save some money, put on the old clothes and go for it. The challenge is that you may have just exposed yourself to the possibility of asbestos, mould and asbestos, in that order.
First, the current cutoff date is a building built before 1991 (1990 and older) may contain asbestos. Asbestos was used in everything from glues and tiles to insulation and drywall mud (my list is by no means exhaustive). Does this mean that your house has asbestos in it? Maybe. The anal retentive route is for the homeowner to get an environmental survey done covering all of the hazardous materials in the home (ballpark cost $1,000 plus just for the report). Then you have to pay to remove them. So much for low skill.
As an aside, this report and the certification that your current home is free of hazardous materials will, in my opinion, soon become a sales incentive for buyers of older homes who wish to know that the house they are buying is healthy. With average sales prices of $500,000 plus in Victoria, it looks like money well spent to me.
In a previous post, I talked about how many people do not want to use a building permit, so you can imagine how popular hazardous materials reports would be for the average homeowner. That said, you could presume that there are hazardous materials and simply take the proper precautions and use the appropriate procedures for disposal to minimize the risk(s) to all concerned. A reputable contractor shows up with hazardous materials gear (the jingo is hazmat) and knows how to perform demolition and renovations according to current guidelines.
For the do-it-yourselfer, the minimum clothing and protective gear is eye protection (available at most building supply stores, they are NOT sunglasses), gloves (protects “office hands” from getting too beat up and helps prevent injuries), footwear (they now make shoes with steel shanks and toes, for women too), and a facemask (rubber with replaceable cylinders rated for asbestos…paper masks are usually useless against asbestos). Throw in a paper suit (with hood) and booties. It is hot work, and the mask is not necessarily comfortable to the uninitiated. Regardless, I will not let anybody work for Storey’s Gate who is not both insured and properly equipped, and I frown on the attitude that “…I do not do this everyday like a professional, so a little dust/dirt/asbestos won’t kill me…”
After all, with a little luck, you may not start to cough until later.