Eric Stevenson is very passionate about the proper care that should be taken when renovating older homes , especially when it comes to lead paint, asbestos, frayed wires, etc. He loves home improvement projects, and writing to educate others, so I offered to share his thoughts here –
I always start those little weekend projects with such high hopes. Recently I decided to replace my old sagging ceiling fan. That Saturday morning I bought a shiny new ceiling unit, lined up the tools my dad bought me last Christmas and let the home improvement begin.
Unfortunately, when I unscrewed my old fan and pulled it from my bedroom ceiling, I was greeted by a blast of gray soot and industrial dust. I was coated. My dark hair was now white, my bed looked like a construction site and my nose, mouth and ears were caked with whatever was up there when they built my apartment sixty-something years ago.
Not one to whine, I did what my mother told me and kept going with the project. Eventually I had a new ceiling fan and had restored my hair to its natural brown. I congratulated myself and felt thankful a spent Saturday morning and a few breaths of industrial soot were all I had to endure. However, when I found a few errant bits of grime hiding behind my ear later that night, I started to wonder what I really encountered that morning in my ceiling.
After doing a little research, I got scared. Evidently, if you live in an old house like me, you run the risk of encountering some pretty dangerous chemicals every time you replace an old fixture or crawl up into the attic. Even the paint in my kitchen, I learned after a chat with my landlord, contained lead, a toxic substance if ingested. The name of that powdery insulation that rained down on me is asbestos, a naturally heat and fire-resistant mineral that was used a lot in the 20th century.
The technical term for the problems I could encounter with continued exposure to that gray stuff in my ceiling is called mesothelioma disease, which is actually a type of cancer that’s normally rare. There are four different kinds of this disease, with the most common developing in the lining of your lungs.
The worst part about mesothelioma symptoms is that they usually don’t show up until 20 to 50 years after your first exposure to asbestos. That means that you might tackle dozens of weekend projects, like I planned to, without ever realizing the danger you’re putting yourself in. Luckily though, there’s been enough research that we now know what causes this type of cancer and how to avoid it.
One of my bedroom walls has some pretty serious holes and I was thinking about replacing that whole section of drywall. Now that I learned a little more about what might be back there once I take a look, I think I’m going to reconsider my options and warn a few others to double check before they go messing around with suspicious dust, disintegrating insulation or old paint. Besides, I like sleeping in on Saturday morning anyway.