According to the National Fire Protection Association, there is good news about house fires in the U.S. In 1975 there were over 723,000 such fires, but this figure had dropped by 2015 to 365,500.
Fewer house fires, and less injury, property damage, and death from such fires, is welcome news. Unfortunately, fires in homes are still all too common, and recovering and cleaning up after a fire at home is often a major challenge for individuals and families.
Steps in Recovering from a House Fire
Here is advice from the American Red Cross on what to do first after a house fire:
- Be attentive to the physical and mental well-being of everyone involved in the fire, especially children, and elderly people. Provide immediate first-aid or medical care followed by emotional support.
- Keep a close eye on pets and do not let them stray. Placing the pet in the care of family, friends, or a kennel can reduce anxiety for both people and animals.
- Remember there are many ways the stress of a house fire can affect people in the family, and how each person is affected differs with their temperament and age. Feelings of tiredness, anger, confusion, sadness, and numbness are common, but they usually pass quickly.
- Discard any food which was exposed during the fire.
- Let loved ones know you are safe and where you are staying.
- Do not enter the building until it has been cleared by the Fire Marshal.
Cleaning-Up After a House Fire
After making sure everyone is okay after a fire, it is important to move on quickly to arranging for clean-up. The more time that passes after the fire, the more damage is done to possessions inside the home from smoke and soot.
Water damage is another problem requiring fast action. Water soaked furniture, clothing, floors, and ceilings need removal from the site, ventilation, and cleaning as soon as possible to minimize loss. Once you have permission to enter the building from Fire Department officials, do so only with caution and while wearing work boots and other protective gear. Keep children and pets away from the site during the clean-up and rebuilding process.
Up until 1978, lead was commonly added to paint and used in over 38 million homes in the U.S. Lead is a naturally occurring metallic mineral and was used in paints as a color additive, for hastening the drying of the paint, and for its water resistant properties.
Since 1978 in the U.S., lead has been banned as an additive in paints, but many older buildings still have layers of lead-based paint on walls and ceilings. Often this hazardous mineral is lurking beneath the surface of lead-free paint which has been applied over it. If the surface deteriorates, becomes damaged, or is disturbed during repairs or renovations, lead dust and particles enter the environment and pose a serious long-term health risk.
Renovating the Right Way for Lead Safety
Sellers of homes must now give written notice to buyers and renters informing them of the presence of lead-based paints in the building. Federal laws also require building contractors to provide clients with a pamphlet called “Renovate Right” whenever the work involves removal of over 6 square feet of the wall surface on the inside or 20 square feet on the outside of the building or any work at a child care facility or the removal of any old windows.
Removing old lead-based paint is a job for trained and equipped specialists with state certification in these procedures. The California Department of Public Health now requires certification for anyone involved in any of the following areas of lead abatement work:
- Inspectors and assessors must have an I/A certificate to take paint chip or soil samples for lead testing, visual inspection of the property, preparation of reports on lead hazard for a specific building, proposals for abatement, and inspection for the lead after abatement work had been done.
- Sampling Technician certification allows a person to do some of the tasks of an I/A certificate under their supervision.
- Project Monitor certification is for people who manage construction projects involving lead abatement.
- Supervisor certification allows the oversight of daily work on the construction site.
- Worker certification is for laborers, carpenters, and other workers who work on construction sites involving lead removal and abatement.
Tri Span Environmental is a building contractor specializing in certification for all types of lead abatement work.
Remodeling and renovating an older building is a great way of preserving history while creating usable space built to the modern standards of safety and convenience. Older buildings also often contain interesting and attractive reusable materials like doors, windows, fixtures, and even lumber, but many older buildings also contain a variety of hazardous materials.
Common Hazardous Materials in Older Buildings
Buildings that were constructed before 1978 commonly used several materials which are now considered hazardous and which are now banned from use in the construction trades. The most common of these materials are asbestos and lead.
Lead was frequently added to paints until the late 1970s because it made the paint last longer, look fresher, and it made the paint moisture resistant. However, dust and peeling flakes of lead paint can be ingested by children leading to neurological and other disorders, and the unquestionable health problems created by lead paint finally resulted in lead being banned as a paint additive in the U.S. by 1978.
While most buildings have received new paint since then, there are still many older buildings with layers of lead paint hidden underneath newer coats of paint. This buried lead paint becomes a hazard during remodeling when walls are removed or opened-up when doors and cabinets are stripped of old paint for refinishing, and during other construction activity.
Removing Hazardous Building Materials
Identifying asbestos, lead, dangerous molds, and other hazardous materials in buildings are not always easy. Special training, equipment, and tests are often needed to determine if these substances are present. Removing them also requires special permits, notifications, and disposal procedures.