Remodeling Project? Eat My Dust … Please!

Second only to project cost overruns, the largest complaint homeowners have about remodeling projects is the amount of dust generated during the work.

 bless this mess please

Photo courtesy of Melissa at Bless This Mess Please

Many homeowners breathe a sigh of relief when a remodeling job finally gets underway. But if you’re not careful, all the dust kicked up during the job will turn that sigh to a choking cough.

Many contractors many not realize that besides being annoying, remodeling dust is actually a health hazard. Larger particles aren’t a problem, because they can be coughed out. Particles that are less than 1/30th the size of a human hair are likely to lodge in the lungs, where they can cause issues. Fine drywall dust lingers in the air for several weeks after the job is completed. The particles can severely irritate the lungs, especially those of children and people with compromised respiratory systems.

Older homes undergoing renovation often have lead paint, asbestos, and black mold lodged alongside the drywall that is being ripped out. Those substances create dust that poses specific and dangerous health hazards to homeowners and workers alike.

The U.S. EPA requires contractors to plan for minimizing remodeling dust in homes built prior to 1978, most of which feature lead paint. OSHA has similar rules regarding the silica dust generated from cutting mortar, stone, concrete, and tile.

Although it’s impossible to eliminate dust from the remodeling process entirely, there are steps that can be taken to control the dust, especially during demolition, cutting/sanding drywall, cutting concrete, and sanding wood floors.

Bryce Jacob, VP of Dave Fox Design Build, involves homeowners in the dust control process from the outset. “We always tell folks a couple of things: If you have a lot of knickknacks or display items, just box them up until…maybe wait three or four weeks after the project is done to put them back out” he says, “because there’s still some fine dust through the air that will settle.” He also advises homeowners to cover fabric furniture it if can’t be moved out of an area.”


The ZipWall in action. Photo courtesy of ZipWall.

Contractors should make sure to seal off the work area. Plastic sheets secured with duct tape will do in a pinch, but many contractors use the ZipWall, a system of poles and heavy plastic sheets with zippered doors, to wall off a room. They should also remember to seal off vents and floor registers in the work area to keep dust out of the HVAC system. Placing a plastic sheet path on all carpeted walkways will keep workers from stamping dust into the carpet fibers to be stirred up later.

If it is feasible to do so, all cutting, sanding, and finishing of wood should happen outdoors. Many saws, routers, sanders, and cutting tables feature vacuum systems to help capture some of the dust. It’s also a good idea to dampen any concrete, stone, brick, and tile prior to cutting.


Maintaining good air quality during a remodel is important for homeowners and builders alike. Pictured: a BuildClean machine, photo courtesy of BuildClean Co.

Lately, contractors have started sing air scrubbers on the job. Air scrubbers vacuum the dust-clogged air from the area into a filter, which is vented directly outdoors. While these machines have been around for a while, contractors have taken advantage of improved scrubber technology. Illinois Tool Works’ BuildClean air scrubber is one of the more popular models, because it removes 90% of the dust particles from a given working area.



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