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Playing it safe
How to keep your family out of danger during a remodel

A house in the middle of construction.
THIS IS NOT PEEWEE'S PLAYHOUSE   It's essential that you keep safety in mind during a project at your home.
Lumber, cinder blocks, dirt piles, and holes. To children, a construction site can seem like a playground--even when Mom and Dad have warned them about safety issues. Just ask Vinnie Russo. He and his wife, Leslie, spent the last two years rebuilding their home in New Port Richey, Fla., after it was damaged by Hurricane Frances in 2004. Several months into the project, a group of boys knocked on the door of their rented home and asked if they could play "commando" on the Russos' construction site just down the block. Russo, of course, told them no.

"It was a dangerous situation," Russo says. "There was a lot of wood, a lot of nails. And obviously it would have been an insurance liability if one of them had gotten hurt. But kids will be kids." Sure enough, a few days later, the construction site was littered with the yellow, orange, and green plastic pellets that turned out to be toy-gun ammo. Russo spoke with the boys' parents, and "the situation kind of resolved itself," he says.

Fortunately, no one was hurt, but as Russo's experience shows, you can never be too careful--especially in the summer. The warmer months are prime time for tackling home-improvement projects, but it's also a time when kids are out of school. Safety should always be a concern, but with your children more likely to be around the house, it's even more essential that you take extra precautions. These tips will help keep your family safe--and your project running smoothly.


Home-remodeling expert Danny Lipford, owner of Lipford Construction in Mobile, Ala., knows how attractive construction areas are to young children. With 28 years in business, Lipford is the host of the syndicated series "Today's Homeowner With Danny Lipford" and a contributor to "The Early Show" on CBS and to the Weather Channel. He says children often hang around work sites, "asking carpenters one hundred questions." To keep the area safe, Lipford says, "my crews are very careful to try to restrict access to the area, and we talk to kids and ask them not to pass the yellow tape." He also stresses that homeowners need to take an active part in keeping children safe.

The National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI) recommends designating an area away from the work site for play and toy storage. And be sure to explain to your children which areas are off limits and that they should never mess around with materials or the contractors' tools and machinery.

Communication with the pros is also very important. Before work begins, tell the contractors the number of children in the house, their ages, and whether any are particularly mischief-prone.

Lipford recommends that parents introduce kids to the project foreman, especially if they are at home while parents are at work. If the foreman needs to go into the house, to turn off electricity, for example, the child will know it's OK. Also, Lipford says, "If children need an adult, or need to know which area of the house is safe, they'll know who's in charge."

Be sure to find out when large equipment or orders of building materials are being brought on site. You might consider taking a family outing on those days.

Your contractors are not baby-sitters, says Everett Collier, president of NARI. If your children aren't old enough to be left alone, don't ask contractors to watch them when you are at work or are out running errands.


Before your project starts, be aware of potentially toxic materials on the job site. Lead paint, asbestos, mold, and even dust could pose health hazards during a remodel, especially if the project includes demolition. Keep children and pets out of areas where those hazards exist and away from toxic chemicals, such as paint strippers. Also make sure that work crews are trained and prepared to take appropriate steps to keep those hazards from contaminating your living space.

Building materials--such as adhesives, paints, sealants, and varnishes--can emit volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, even when stored. Exposure to VOCs as well as other pollutants can cause immediate symptoms, including respiratory irritation, headache, dizziness, and memory impairment. Some organic compounds may pose a cancer risk.

Take steps--or ask your contractor what steps he or she will take--to avoid creating indoor pollutants, and contain those that can't be avoided.


Assign separate doors. If possible, designate one entrance through which work crews carry tools and materials and another for you and your family to use exclusively during the project.

Protect your pets. A dog or cat underfoot is a hazard to both you and your pet. Keep pets away from work areas, preferably in a closed room away from the supply-door entrance. You don't want Sparky to run out an open door or for Felix to get crushed during demolition.

Safely store tools and materials. Be sure your contractor keeps dangerous items, such as tools, ladders, and hazardous materials, out of children's reach at all times, especially at the end of the workday.

Secure the work area. Ensure that you or your contractor secure any holes or pits in the wall, floor, or yard at the end of the day.

Hang plastic sheeting or tarps around the work area. This simple step helps prevent pollutants, dust, and debris from traveling throughout the house.

Look for lead paint. The older your home, the greater the chance it has lead-based paint, a threat even if you've laid lead-free coats over it. If you scrape, sand, or heat lead paint, lead can become airborne and make it into your body or contaminate the soil around your home. Children are especially vulnerable to dust that can get on toys and hands and, eventually, in the mouth, and suffer among the worst effects. Anyone in contact with lead, however, is at risk.

Your first step is having the area tested for lead-based paint. The Environmental Protection Agency does not recommend home-use testing kits. Instead, it suggests hiring a trained inspector to either test surfaces on-site or send samples to a lab. If lead-based paint is present, the agency recommends hiring a professional to prep the surface. The EPA's brochure "Reducing Lead Hazards When Remodeling Your Home" offers suggestions on finding an inspector as well as information on what to look for in a remediation contractor. If there are no qualified pros in your area or you're determined to do the job yourself, the brochure offers tips on steering clear of hazards when you're preparing a surface for repainting. See our lead paint report for more information.

Mist surfaces. A fine coat of water sprayed on surfaces before sanding or scraping keeps dust from becoming airborne.

Work outside. When possible, paint, stain, and finish building materials outside and bring them into the house after they're dry.

Control carpet VOCs. Unroll and air carpets before installation, and use low-emitting adhesives if needed.

Ventilate. Air out the work area and the rest of your home during and after a remodel. Position window fans so that they exhaust (blow out instead of in). If your home has central air conditioning or heat, do not run the system when workers are sanding. Also change the filters as often as once a week to keep dust from spreading throughout the house. The NARI also suggests that you plan a short getaway while the home airs out. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency offers guidelines on indoor-air-quality concerns during remodeling.

Be wary of rodent droppings. They might be exposed during demolition and can spread the deadly hantavirus. Be sure to eliminate all of the droppings, taking proper precautions when doing so.

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