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What to think about when starting renovation to make it more sustainable

16 April 2024
Renovation season is coming up. Renovating even a small room is a complex project that requires planning. And renovating with chemical safety in mind is a more complex project. However, if you plan and prepare properly in advance, the process will go much easier. Let's take a look at the important nuances of preparing for a renovation to make it as safe as possible for your family's health and the environment.
Technical details

Examine and survey the areas to be repaired 

Before beginning your renovation project, carefully inspect and survey the areas you wish to renovate. Determine what needs to be replaced and what new materials will be required. Evaluate whether you can tackle the work yourself or if you’ll need professional assistance. 

Additionally, identify any hazardous materials present in your home that may be disturbed during the renovation process. Common examples include lead-based paint, asbestos-containing materials, and mould. Lead-based paint is often found in older homes, typically hidden under layers of newer paint on walls, windows, doors, and stairs. Asbestos-containing materials can appear as insulation, floor tiles, or roofing shingles. 

It’s crucial to handle these toxic materials properly. It’s best to have them removed by professionals, as dust generated during renovation activities such as sanding, scraping, or demolition can cause adverse health effects. 

Tip: During the renovation, try to keep a materials logbook, which records what materials have been used in the renovation and construction of the property. This will help with future renovations and may also be useful if you ever want to remove specific contaminants that are linked to a particular health problem. 

Reuse and Repurpose 

When you’re planning your renovation, think about what furniture, housewares and decorations you want to keep and what you want to renovate. Look for ways to reuse or repurpose existing materials and furnishings in your home instead of buying new ones. For example, you can refinish old furniture, salvage architectural features or reuse building materials from demolition for new projects. This not only helps to reduce waste, it adds character and uniqueness to your renovation. Refurbishing existing items also avoids introducing the unsafe chemical emissions associated with new furniture and materials into your home. 

Tip: Soft filler in furniture (e.g. armchairs, sofas) wears out with prolonged use and may emit chemicals hazardous to health: formaldehyde, phthalates, microplastics. When renovating such furniture, keep the wooden base, as it does not pose any danger during long-term use, and replace the soft filling and upholstery with a new one.  

Decide DIY vs. hiring professionals  

Assess your skills and the complexity of the project to determine whether you can handle certain tasks yourself or if it’s best to hire professionals. While DIY can save money, it’s essential to recognize your limitations and seek professional help for complex or specialised tasks to ensure they are done safely and correctly.  

Tip: If you decide to do the renovation yourself, make sure you have personal protective equipment: gloves, goggles, respirators and protective clothing.  Protective equipment helps prevent exposure to harmful substances and reduces the risk of skin, eye or respiratory irritation. 

Create work timeline before renovation 

Often we do renovations, with a great desire to finish it in time for some date or event (for example, to the beginning of the school season or the birth of a baby). 

A construction timeline can help to coordinate various tasks and ensure that materials, equipment, and labour are scheduled efficiently to minimise delays and avoid disruptions. 

Creating a timeline you should take into account that certain construction materials and processes, such as painting, staining, or applying adhesives, can release harmful chemicals or fumes into the air. Allowing adequate time for these substances to dry and providing proper ventilation helps minimise exposure and reduce health risks. 

Tip: When organising renovations in one room while your family continues to live in other rooms, developing a timeline becomes crucial. It helps identify periods when work with a higher risk of releasing hazardous chemicals or fumes—such as phthalates, phenol, or formaldehyde—will occur. If there are sensitive groups in the family, like pregnant women and children, it’s advisable to plan for temporary accommodation elsewhere during these periods to reduce potential chemical exposure. 

Make a list of the materials you need 

Make a comprehensive list of the materials you’ll need for your renovation project. Take the time to consider everything from tools to finishing materials and personal protective equipment. 

To make sure you’re making informed choices, it’s a good idea to check the catalogues and websites of reputable manufacturers of renovation materials. Look for manufacturers who are transparent about the chemical and environmental safety of their products. This research will help you choose trustworthy materials that meet your health and sustainability values. 

A detailed list of materials will enable you to make right choices and avoid the discount trap. Cheaper materials may seem attractive, but they may compromise safety, contain harmful chemicals or lack durability. Prioritising quality and safety over price will ensure a successful and sustainable renovation. 

Tip: When making a list of materials for renovation, evaluate each of them according to the following criteria. Favour the materials that meet the greatest number of criteria: 

  • toxics content; 
  • availability; 
  • longevity; 
  • repair; 
  • recycling; 
  • material quality; 
  • price. 

Think through what will happen to the construction waste  

Investigate and make a plan for disposal of hazardous materials, construction waste, and chemical products according to local regulations and guidelines. Contact your local waste management authority for guidance on proper disposal methods and locations. 

Tip: Try to minimise construction waste by recycling or reusing materials whenever possible. Donate usable items like cabinets, fixtures, and appliances to local charities or recycling centres.