If you are thinking about buying and fixing up an outdated home in need of repairs, you may need to take a second and consider the safety ramifications before you jump in. You probably prefer a fixer upper to a move in ready home for its cheaper price tag, which gives you the opportunity to modify the interior layout and choose your materials to your exact specifications. However, taking on a fixer upper project is not just as simple as refinishing hardwood floors, gutter repair, window replacement, or knocking down a few walls.
Many older houses for sale usually come with a series of plumbing, electrical, structural, and air quality issues. If you are not careful, these issues can become serious health hazards. Before you begin your fixer upper, you need to carefully inspect the property for any health or safety hazards and make any necessary upgrades before you get started. These home safety ideas will help guide you along the way.
Inspecting Your Home’s Systems
Before you begin your fixer upper, one of the most important home safety ideas is to thoroughly inspect all your home’s systems and ensure they are working properly and up to code. This includes the electrical, like the springs used in your automated garage door installation, plumbing, along with heating and air conditioning.
Even a small issue could blossom into a serious problem. It’s important to assess your washer and dryer, along with any other appliances that came with the house, like your furnace. According to a report on Electrical Fires issued by the National Fire Protection Association, there were a total of 45,210 house fires due to “electrical failure or malfunction” reported by municipal fire departments in the United States between the years 2010 and 2014.
According to the same report, these electrical fires caused a total of 1.4 billion dollars in damage and resulted in the death of 420 people over the four year period. To safeguard against the dangers of electrical fires, fire rated glass for windows and doors is specially designed to prevent the spread of flames and smoke.
Just because an old home has not had any electrical issues to date does not mean it will not in the near future. As you and your family move in and begin plugging in your various appliances and electronics, it could cause problems with the outdated electrical wiring system. These types of potential updates to the home’s systems are considerations you need to make before even buying a fixer upper. While inspecting the electrical wiring system, another one of the most important home safety ideas to keep in mind is to look at the wall receptacles or outlets. If the wall outlets do not have a third prong, it is very likely that the receptacle is not grounded.
To inspect the electrical system further without putting any holes in the walls, take a look at any visible wiring in the attic or basement before you buy. Once you have purchased your ideal fixer upper, make sure to protect yourself legally and financially. If something goes wrong during the renovation process and your home is damaged, you might have to pay for expensive repairs which may take you way over budget. There is a variety of affordable insurance available for fixer uppers.
An outdated plumbing system is just as much of a risk as outdated electrical wiring. Issues caused by old plumbing, such as lead leaching into water, cracked pipes, or sewage gas coming from a dry drain, will cause water damage in the home and lead to many serious health issues. Especially if the utilities have been turned off for more than just a few days, the chances of these plumbing issues are increased, along with cracked drains and toilets. If your fixer upper has been vacant for a while, consider these potential repairs and updates in your budget.
Be on the lookout for other types of property damage to the home, such as wind or other weather-related damage. In the event that a tree causes damage to your property, call a local emergency tree service.
Asbestos, Lead Paint, and Other Hazardous Materials
Along with updating the electrical and plumbing systems, another one of the most important home safety ideas is to carefully inspect the home for any older materials potentially used in the construction. These older materials include asbestos from popcorn ceilings, lead paint, tile mastic, and insulation. If the home was built before 1978 and has not undergone any renovation since, there is a very high likelihood that asbestos and lead paint are present. This is because the federal government banned the use of lead paint in homes in 1978 and at the same time, the use of asbestos in homes declined significantly.
When particles from these older materials become airborne, they can pose a serious hazard to your lungs and overall health. If you suspect that hazardous materials are airborne in your home, you should have air sampling and testing done immediately to ensure that the quality of air in your home is safe. You will especially want to test your home for asbestos and lead paint if you are going to be knocking down or pulling walls, which makes dust and causes these harmful particles to become airborne.
If you find asbestos that is not encapsulated, it is referred to as friable which means it can be easily crumbled and released into the air. When this is the case, the process for removing asbestos can be very comprehensive and expensive. The area where the asbestos was found needs to be sealed off airtight and the surfaces need to be dampened to prevent particles from becoming airborne and landing elsewhere in the home, or possibly even the neighborhood. Therefore, the removal of asbestos is not a project you should do yourself. You will want to find certified home contractors who handle the removal of hazardous materials from the home.
An outdated house that has not been renovated will likely not have a radon mitigation system installed either. This system pulls radon gas from below the house like a vacuum and disposes of it outside. This prevents the radon gas from concentrating inside the house to dangerous levels. Being exposed to these high levels of radon gas can lead to serious health problems such as lung cancer. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States, just behind smoking. Levels of radon gas can vary by house, street, topography, and region, so it is important to have the level in your home tested if you do not have a mitigation system installed.
Testing For Lead Paint
While attempting to remove asbestos is not a task you should attempt yourself, testing for and removing lead paint is a task you can complete with little risk involved. You can hire a lead testing specialist to inspect the home, but it will likely cost you hundreds of dollars.
If your fixer upper was built before 1978, there is a good chance lead paint was used. In fact, about seven out of every 10 homes built before 1978 contain lead paint. There is even a possibility that this lead paint is hidden under layers of other safe paint. When testing for and removing lead paint, you will want to keep these home safety ideas in mind because the Renovation, Remodeling, and Painter Rule instated by the Environmental Protection Agency requires anyone fixing up a house built prior to 1978 to take proper precautions to prevent toxic lead particles from being released into the air.
The first step in testing for lead is to purchase a lead paint test kit online or from a local home improvement store. To test a small section, carefully scrape the paint away to reveal all the layers. Try your best to scrape away as little paint as possible to lower the chances of releasing harmful lead particles into the air. For your own safety, wear a mask during this step.
Safely Removing Lead Paint
If your test registers a positive for lead paint, the next step is to remove of it safely. You can hire a professional for this task, or you can do it yourself. Here are a few home safety ideas to keep in mind when removing lead paint.
Remove everything from the area in which you will be working. This includes rugs, furniture, and curtains. Next, you should cover the home flooring and entrance to the work area with heavy plastic sheeting. Cut a slit down the middle to create an entrance and hang another plastic sheet over that as an added layer of protection. This will ensure that no harmful lead dust particles are left behind after the removal is complete.
After these preparations are made, you will need to rent or buy the necessary equipment. This includes protective clothing, such as a NIOSH certified respirator and goggles, as well as a HEPA vacuum and wet sanding equipment. Any protective clothing must be washed separately and any equipment cleaned thoroughly to prevent the spread of lead dust particles. Removing of lead paint is a serious task so these home safety ideas are not to be overlooked.
Covering The Paint
An alternative to removing lead paint is simply covering it by painting over it with another coat of safe paint. This can be one of the easiest and cheapest home safety ideas. If the lead paint is located under layers of other paint, do not tamper with it by sanding. This will only serve to release the harmful lead dust particles into the air. The key here is not to disturb the layer of lead paint and create a durable barrier to protect you from lead exposure. For example, if the lead paint is present on a window sill, you can install an aluminum or vinyl covering. Make sure the edges are well sealed and this new surface does not wear away. Another option is to install an adhesive coating to encapsulate the lead paint. This acts as a chemical bond over the lead paint rather than simply covering it.
Regardless of how you choose to remove or cover lead paint, it is crucial to fully clean and mist the entire work area every day. This will help clean up any stray lead dust particles and prevent them from spreading throughout your home. For instance, when removing lead paint on a window sill, the entire area around it should be covered with plastic sheets and then misted and cleaned every day. Not reusing rags and properly disposing of them in the trash is one of the most overlooked home safety ideas.
You should not let the possibility of lead paint deter you from purchasing your ideal fixer upper. With these precautions and home safety ideas in mind, you can remove of lead paint safely and ensure a safe home.
Keeping Your Fixer Upper Secure
While you are rightfully concerned with all the dangers inside of your fixer upper, you may forget about home safety ideas to deter intruders or burglars. During your remodel, there may be contractors or other strangers coming and going from your home. Especially if your walls will be exposed during the renovation, your level of home security should be heightened. A few steps you can take are doing background checks on your contractors, storing all your valuables in a safe, installing motion sensor lights, a home security system, or other burglar detection systems.
During the renovation, opt for a keyless entry system or other access control systems to allow contractors in while you are not at home, rather than handing out a key or garage door opener to strangers.
Even though there are a few health and safety concerns involved in fixing up an old home, you should not let this deter you from taking on a fixer upper project. You will just need to keep these various upgrades in mind as you tour an old home and consider in your budget. In fact, a homeowner will usually spend anywhere from one to four percent of the value of their home on repairs and upgrades every year. As you tour a fixer upper, you can bring a contractor with you to discuss potential upgrades and the cost of renovations. You should then factor this into your offer price as well.
If you want, you can have a professional perform a more thorough inspection to better understand the potential problems with the house. This can cost anywhere from 200 to 700 dollars. This inspection will help you come up with a budget for renovations and most importantly, these home safety ideas will ensure that your fixer upper will be safe for you and your family to live in.