Health and Safety Tips for Indoor DIY

Photo: Julie Jordan Scott/flickrIf you are a serious lover of do-it-yourself, you rarely let anything slow you down. Day after day, you put in your time crafting, painting, building, growing … doing whatever you love best. Time spent on creative projects is "me time," when you recharge your batteries and reduce your level of stress. But when winter approaches, things change. What may comprise a large chunk of your DIY real estate -- the great outdoors -- is temporarily unavailable for you to use as a workshop. Even inside, you might be limited by the weather -- you can't open windows, for one thing. Safe indoor DIY takes a little thought and planning and may mean postponing a few projects until spring returns.


Give careful thought to the materials you will be working with. The rough texture of stone or unfinished wood could damage your floor, so put down a sturdy tarp or drop cloth for protection before you get started. Pallets and other reclaimed wood should be inspected carefully for oily stains and foul odors, as well as cockroaches, spiders (even black widows!), and other vermin before bringing them into your home. But that's not all. Pallets, which have become a DIY basic over the past decade, are not all created equal. Those which have been fumigated with methyl bromide, a restricted use pesticide, are dangerous to use in decorating projects. Screen for methyl bromide by salvaging only pallets stamped with the letters IPPC. From among these pallets, look for ones marked HT (heat-treated) and not MB. Other types of reclaimed wood need to be checked for mold, which can cause respiratory problems, especially under closed conditions. (SAFETY NOTE: Never burn pallet wood in a living room fireplace, as it may give off dangerous fumes.)


While repurposing things like home furnishings and clothing is beneficial to the environment as a whole, it might not be so healthy for your personal environment during an Ohio cold spell. As with pallets, a bit of Cincinnati pest control could be in order before reusing these pieces in your home. So too, rotten wooden furniture, mildewy fabrics, musty old books and the like may result in breathing difficulties, coughing, sniffling, headaches, and other symptoms. These can be especially difficult to diagnose in winter because they may be mistaken for a seasonal virus or flu. In addition, vintage furniture and other objects such as tiles may have been finished with lead-based paint or glaze. As lead finishes deteriorate, they mingle with household dust. Once again, the closed atmosphere of your home in winter increases exposure to this hazard.


It is possible to clear up moldy surfaces with scrupulous cleaning. Power washing is fantastic -- when you have access to the great outdoors. A bleach solution is the next runner-up. However, due to extreme toxicity, you are cautioned to wear a breathing mask and make sure the area is well ventilated when you treat mold. In the midst of a snowstorm, opening windows for air circulation is not a viable option. There's another problem with the limited ventilation as well. Even if you don your snowsuit and proceed with a mold detox, the newly cleaned items will take an extra long time to dry. Your best bet will be to do this type of cleaning on a sunny day and turn on a few fans for supplementary ventilation.


Refinishing painted surfaces is one of the most popular DIY projects -- a wonderful way to add your own personal style. Once again, though, extra caution must be exercised in the wintry months. Ventilate as above when using any kind of stripper, paint, lacquer, sealer, or even glue which will emit dangerous VOCs. If you can, leave the freshly treated item in a room which will not be used for a few days while it off-gases. Better yet, choose eco-friendly finishes instead. Be careful to protect floors, walls, and your clothes when using spray paint indoors.

Laura Firszt writes for

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