Home Renovations and Your Health: What Homeowners Need to Know before a Renovation Project

Thinking about renovating your home? If you are a do-it-yourselfer or hiring a professional, there are some health precautions you should know about before you begin a renovation project.

Asbestos and lead exposure can cause serious health problems. There are both state and federal laws that prescribe work practice requirements. These laws are designed to protect the health of Vermonters and their families by preventing and lessening asbestos and lead exposures during home renovations.

Asbestos in Building Materials

Asbestos is a mineral fiber that has been used in building construction materials for insulation and as a fire retardant. When asbestos-containing materials are physically disturbed or damaged in a manner that creates dust, asbestos fibers can be released into the air and breathed in. Exposure to asbestos fibers increases the risk of developing health effects such as lung cancer, mesothelioma, and asbestosis.

Asbestos-containing materials should be presumed to be present in your home. They are not dangerous unless they are physically impacted in a way that creates dust and fibers that can be carried in the air and breathed in. Asbestos fibers may become airborne during renovation or demolition if asbestos-containing materials are not handled correctly.

See the Homeowners section on the Asbestos for Property Owners page for detailed information on how to protect yourself and your family from asbestos exposure.

Lead-Safe Work Practices: Renovating, Repairing and Painting a Pre-1978 Home

Lead is a highly toxic metal that has been commonly used in many household, industrial, and automobile products—such as paint, solder, batteries, brass, car radiators, bullets, pottery, etc. Too much lead in the body, or lead poisoning, can cause serious and permanent health problems. Children and pregnant women are at special risk. Lead poisoning can be prevented when homeowners and tenants know how to reduce or eliminate exposure to lead dust and deteriorated (chipping or peeling) lead-based paint—and when they know what danger signs to look for.

Lead was banned from house paint in 1978. About 70% of Vermont homes were built before 1978 and are presumed to contain lead-based paint, per Vermont law. Lead paint is the primary cause of lead poisoning in children. Because of this, there are both federal and state laws in place to protect children and families from lead hazards. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) law regarding renovation, repair, and painting of pre-1978 homes is known as the Lead Renovation, Repair and Painting Rule (RRP Rule). Vermont’s law is known as the Vermont Lead Law (18 VSA Chapter 38).

Children, pregnant women, and adults can be exposed to lead during renovation projects or whenever lead-based paint is improperly sanded, scraped, or burned. There are two primary ways lead exposure can occur from these activities. One is from breathing in lead dust. The other is from swallowing the lead dust if it gets onto hands and then into mouths. This commonly occurs through eating, drinking, or smoking. Follow lead-safe practices to reduce exposure to lead.

if you are Hiring a Contractor

If you hire a contractor to work on your pre-1978 home, both the RRP Rule and the Vermont Lead Law must be followed. The RRP Rule requires firms performing renovation, repair and painting projects that disturb lead-based paint in pre-1978 homes to be certified by EPA to follow lead-safe work practices. The Vermont Lead Law prohibits certain work practices and requires lead-safe work practices when disturbing more than 1 square foot of paint in pre-1978 housing. Find out more about what you are required to do on the Lead for Property Owners page. 

The EPA Lead-Safe Certified contractor is required by federal law to provide you with EPA's Renovate Right Guide so you are informed and know what to do to protect yourself and your family from lead exposure during the project. Find an EPA Lead-Safe Certified firm.

If you are a landlord, Vermont law requires you to follow Essential Maintenance Practices (EMPs). Find out what you need to do.

if you are doing the work yourself

If you are a do-it-yourselfer who is renovating, repairing or painting your pre-1978 home, be sure to use lead-safe work practices. The Vermont Lead Law and the EPA Renovation, Remodeling, and Painting training and certification requirements are not required, but would benefit homeowners choosing to do their own work. The training, which is required for contractors, can provide a deeper understanding of how lead-safe work practices to protect against lead poisoning risks and hazards.

    Unsafe work practices that disturb lead-based paint will create lead hazards (see Section 2.2.28). Creation of lead hazards in any kind of building or structure will result in compliance and enforcement proceedings and may cause a lead cleanup project that will require you to hire a Vermont-licensed lead abatement contractor.

    For more information, see the Residential Property Owners section on the Lead for Property Owners page.

    Here are some helpful resources: