Taking care of your home is something that homeowners should make a constant priority for a number of reasons. It’s always better to attack an issue sooner rather than later as it may correct a dangerous problem before it gets too bad. In the long run it can also benefit one financially and ultimately improve the value a property has as a whole. While it may seem more productive to address issues residing in high traffic rooms like bathrooms and kitchens, places like the attic can often be of higher concern. Attics are typically trafficked far less frequently, often serving as a storage room for things like holiday decorations, photo books, antique furniture, and childhood memorabilia.
If you’re planning on being in the attic, whether it be for downsizing and moving out, a renovation project to expand and make better use of the space, or just spring cleaning and simple organization it’s critical to be mindful of the common and sometimes hidden hazards.
Toxins to be mindful of:
Dust: The catch-all term “dust” technically refers to tiny particles of solid waste matter. Dust comes from various sources in the atmosphere like soil, particles lifted by wind and other forms of pollution. A dusty attic may result in poor air quality throughout the rest of the house, especially when disturbed. Attics are usually remote and enclosed spaces with little to no ventilation. Sunlight and general degradation can help to create more dust at a rapid pace, when compared to other rooms. It’s imperative to wear the correct facial masks and to be mindful of what you’re breathing into your lungs when you enter the attic space. If dust isn’t properly mitigated it can quickly get out of control and also be a contributing factor for mold, another serious toxin to be aware of.
Mold: When mold is present, it’s primarily in dark and damp places, like a basement, attic, or bathroom corner. House mold is always toxic and can form in an array of colors including black, grey, brown, white, green and orange. An overproduction of mold brings about a musty smell, and causes discoloration throughout walls, flooring and windows. If too much mold growth has occurred professional help may be needed. High levels of various molds can present a serious risk to the occupants of a home. Signs of mold sickness include trouble breathing, irritation of eyes and internal organs, and in serious prolonged situations, arthritis. Those who are asthmatic and have allergies are more susceptible and should always stay away from mold or have their havens checked more regularly.
Asbestos: While asbestos might not be actively harming a family or the people in their home if it’s kept intact and in good condition, it presents no risk. It’s quite possible that if your house predates the 1980s, there is asbestos insulation used throughout the home, especially in spaces like the attic and basement. Asbestos was an attractive additive due to its strong ability to resist fire and absorb sound. Loose-fill insulation resembling a fluffy, sometimes grey-brown, substance is commonly found inside exposed and finished walls. Improperly disturbing insulation can cause microscopic asbestos fibers to break away and become airborne which is dangerous to anyone in close proximity. The older asbestos is, the more likely it is to degrade with time and once fibers are inhaled it can cause serious health issues. Asbestos is a known carcinogen and linked to a number of lung diseases like lung cancer, asbestosis, and mesothelioma. Mesothelioma is a terminal cancer that has a long latency period of 20 to 50 years. While exposure may seem like no big deal right now, serious illnesses can onset later in life.
In recognition of National Poison Prevention Week, running this year from March 17-23, we encourage homeowners to take caution while cleaning unfinished rooms, such as basements, attics, crawlspaces, utility closets, and boiler rooms. Knowing what toxins exist within your walls will decrease your chances of inheriting an illness. And with the potential health issues running the gamut from something as minor as a headache to as severe as lung cancer, it’s important to practice safe home renovation techniques.
Bridget Rooney is a communications specialist with Mesothelioma.com where she works to educate the public on the dangers of asbestos and other toxins found in the home.