Reviewed by Louise Chang on April 06, 2012


Cherry Wongtrakool, MD, pulmonologist, assistant professor, Emory University School of Medicine.

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Video Transcript

Narrator: Like a growing number of homeowners faced with an extensive renovation project, Jerry Hart decided to do much of the work himself…

Jerry Hart, Amateur Renovator: Well the house was built in 1912 so we're trying to renovate the old portion of the house while also adding on a new addition.

Narrator: But renovation can be hazardous to your health if you're not careful. Fortunately, Jerry has learned a few basics that help keep his work environment safe…

Jerry Hart, Amateur Renovator: With this power tool and with a lot of power tools, you can hook a vacuum to the cutting tool … Take away most of the dust that I think I would end up breathing. If something's going to create a lot of fine dust then I can certainly wear a mask.

Narrator: Face protection is especially important when cutting treated wood, which can contain poisons such as insecticides…

Jerry Hart, Amateur Renovator: I'm a big fan with masks that have ports that allow you to exhale a lot easier 'cause my view is that if it's comfortable and it fits your face well, you're more likely to use the mask

Narrator: But even untreated, wood dust can create breathing problems for those sensitive to it…

Cherry Wongtrakool, MD. Pulmonologist: For someone who has asthma it's obviously something of a significant concern, but sometimes that dust exposure in and of itself can almost trigger an asthma like process, with sort a lot of wheezing and coughing.

Jerry Hart, Amateur Renovator: Any standard vacuum shop vacuum can now be outfitted with a hepa-grade filter or other grades as well, but I prefer the hepa grade filters. And the nice thing about the hepa filters is that you can wash them with water.

Narrator: HEPA, which stands for "high efficiency particulate air" are more efficient at trapping small particles than standard vac filters. Keeping the air clean and dust free is key. And when working with toxic chemicals that produce fumes, safety protocols need to be ratcheted up even higher:

Cherry Wongtrakool, MD. Pulmonologist: All of those chemicals really should be used in a very well ventilated area.

Jerry Hart, Amateur Renovator: I usually set up a fan to blow fresh air across where I'm working. The next step is a good set of gloves made out of a material that won't be damaged by the chemical you're using. I invested early on in the project in a full face mask.

Cherry Wongtrakool, MD. Pulmonologist: In order to have good protection you really have to have the right respirator that's directed against what you want to be protected against. And then you really need to have a well-fitting mask.

Jerry Hart, Amateur Renovator: The mask provides full eye protection—you don't have to worry about anything getting splattered in your face. And all these masks utilize cartridges that can be matched to the chemical you're using.

Narrator: You should thoroughly check out the mask before purchasing, making sure that the seal is comfortable but snug—so that harmful fumes can't enter.

Jerry Hart, Amateur Renovator: On the weekends when I work on the house a lot I don't necessarily shave and I found that this provides a good seal, but I don't think this would work if you had a full beard.

Narrator: If you have a full beard you can invest in a specialized respirator made to cover the entire head. But resist the temptation to use a standard round dust mask, which is solely inadequate for blocking toxic fumes. Beware that prolonged acute exposure to certain chemicals can cause permanent lung damage.

Cherry Wongtrakool, MD. Pulmonologist: And that's the problem that once the lung is scarred, the lung can't regenerate.

Narrator: Using proper safety precautions along with your "sweat equity" can be a rewarding…and healthy labor of love. For WebMD, I'm Damon Meharg.