Judging by the property market and the growing number of social media accounts, more and more of us are taking on a house renovation project. As costs in materials and labour have shot up, it’s no wonder that we’re taking on more of the reno work ourselves rather than hiring trades. But there are numerous hazards that lurk in homes that haven’t been touched for years.
Here are some of the dangers to look out for in your doer-upper.
Many doer-uppers have dilapidated garages and dated décor. So, you may be ready to start ripping down outbuildings and old Artex ceilings. But these are hotspots for asbestos, a dangerous material that causes cancer and serious breathing problems. It wasn’t until 1999 that all types of asbestos were banned. So, it’s a lingering problem in many houses, and it’s not always easy to identify. It’s wise to get textured walls and ceilings tested before you start removing or covering them. And if you suspect you’ve got old garages or similar buildings made with this dangerous material, then you’ll need to call in the specialists so they can remove and dispose of it safely. Does removing asbestos cost a lot of money? Well, that depends on what type of asbestos it is, how much there is and what condition it’s in. The easiest solution is to find a licensed contractor or contact your local council for help and advice.
Dody wiring is another common danger found in doer-uppers, especially if the house hasn’t been touched for decades or the same family has owned it for many years. You’ll often find that there are old fuse boards instead of modern consumer units with circuit breakers. There may be tacked-on switches and sockets as well as poorly wired appliances and a lack of earthing. Not to mention the possibility of rodents nibbling away at wire insulation. So, before you touch anything, get the electrics tested by a qualified electrician. Even if you’re planning to have them redone eventually, you don’t want to be using power tools or even boiling a kettle during reno breaks unless you’re sure you won’t get any nasty shocks. A test is a small cost compared to you’re the value of your life.
The Victorians built really sturdy, characterful houses, and there are plenty on the market that are prime for renovation. However, as you’re stripping the walls and woodwork back, you’re likely to come across older layers of paint that contain lead. Sanding or stripping this dangerous paint can lead to poisoning, headaches, abdominal pain and worse. But it’s not just Victorian properties where you’ll find lead paint. Many post-war houses can contain this hazardous paint, too, as it was still widely used up until the 1980s and only banned in 1992. If there are thick layers of flaky paint, get yourself a test kit to check for lead or get expert trades in to deal with it.
Whenever you buy a run-down house, there’s always a danger that it hasn’t been well-maintained. So, you can never be sure how structurally sound it is. Houses that are priced well below their market value or are going up for auction may have an unstable structure. This could be because of poor construction or from being built with a non-standard method, using materials that are degrading. The house may have had walls or chimney breasts taken out without adequate support. There could be subsidence, collapsed drains, heavy flood damage or broken wall ties. A full structural survey is the only way to be sure your house is sound. And any remedial work needs the guidance of a structural engineer to be completed properly.
How to keep yourself safe
With all these potential dangers lurking in doer-uppers, you might be wondering how to keep yourself safe. As we’ve already discussed, tests and surveys, along with expert help, are the best ways to deal with hazardous substances, electrics and structures.
In addition to this, any work you tackle yourself needs to be done as safely as possible. So, you need to make sure you’ve got adequate PPE. Masks and goggles are crucial to stop yourself from breathing in dust and other particles and prevent chips and splinters from damaging your eyes. If you’re confident in using power tools, you need to make sure you wear ear defenders, as the noise from drills, sanders, and saws do damage to hearing over time. If you’re not so confident, taking a DIY course is a good idea.