The pros and cons of living through a renovation versus moving out
It’s unlikely The Clash were singing about a home renovation when they asked: “Should I stay or should I go?” Still, it’s an important question to answer when a work crew is coming to create your dream space.
It’s no secret that construction work can stir up old toxins—think asbestos and lead—and bring new ones into your home. One way to reduce your exposure is to move out during a renovation, but, of course, moving out can add to the budget and inconvenience of renovating. Also, it isn’t necessary for every project. There are many ways you and your general contractor can lessen the impact of a renovation—from installing drywall that converts toxins to setting up humidifiers—if you stay for some or all of the renovation. Here are the questions to ask yourself before making your decision:
What are you renovating?
Is your project a gut renovation? Are you only renovating one room? Is that room a bathroom or a kitchen? As always, there are hundreds of variables when making any home renovation decision. Not surprisingly, with a gut renovation that takes over the home, Sweeten contractor Ronald recommends moving out. It speeds up the timeline and keeps you away from any toxins. If your renovation is scheduled to take months and not just a few weeks, StreetEasy is the most comprehensive market place to find a long-term or short-term lease or broker in NYC.
If you’re not planning a total overhaul, staying for most of the renovation is a good compromise, although, Ronald always encourages clients to move out during the dusty demolition phase. For a small bathroom project, this means about a week. “I just try to allow time for the dust to settle and give the space a thorough cleaning,” he said.
(Above) Sweeten homeowners Allison and Jovito say stay: “Living in the house during construction wasn’t fun…On the plus side, it was exciting for us to see the team’s daily progress and some of the relics they unearthed during demolition.”
Can you stretch your budget?
The best time to have your answer on staying or going is as soon as possible. That way, you can include the additional expense for a hotel or a short-term apartment rental in your initial budget. One way to sweeten the deal (pun intended), is to plan a vacation for at least some of the renovation. However, that idea hits a snag if you’re keeping tight tabs on the work progress.
Do you have children or an overly sensitive adult?
Children’s brain cells grow at a faster rate than adults. It’s one reason why lead exposure has a harsher impact on the young, according to Robert. If your home was built before 1978, then the walls could be coated in a lead-based paint (1978 is the year lead-based paint was banned).
Only when the paint is disturbed are those toxins released. That’s why general contractors are required to test for lead-based paint in older homes. It’s also why the decision to stay or go during a renovation carries extra weight when children are involved. “The particulates [small particles] get into the air and children ingest it or when they crawl around, they can pick it up on their hands and hands go one place all the time—in the mouth,” Robert said.
Toxins can have varying effects on adults. Although human bodies can filter out some toxins, adults who are “immunocompromised” can be more sensitive, according to Robert. People with a lesser ability to repel toxins include those fighting cancer or are organ transplant patients. Asthma sufferers can also have a harder time. “A normal person will filter particles through their nose hairs, but someone who is sensitive, that would certainly be a big “no” to being anywhere near that work environment,” said Robert. Adults in this situation should also consider avoiding any construction site visits.
(Above) Sweeten homeowners Chris and Lisa did both: “I took the kid and dog to my sister’s house upstate. Chris had to live in the space during construction due to work. Thankfully the building has a basement bathroom that he had access to, and friends were nice enough to let him use their showers.”
Can you live without a bathroom or kitchen?
Toxins aren’t the only thing to consider. If you’re renovating a kitchen and plan on staying, be prepared to order a lot of takeout (and add that expense to your budget). Or organize a makeshift kitchen with an electric hot plate and microwave with water from the bathroom sink. A bathroom renovation can be more tricky if you only have one. Sometimes you can shower before your contractor arrives. At other stages during the project, the bathroom will be unusable, according to Ronald.
What is the layout of your home?
Along with the scope of your project, the layout of your home could affect your decision. A renovation occupying one level of a multi-story home can easily be separated from the remaining living space, Ronald said. If it’s a smaller apartment with only one point of entry, this becomes more difficult. “If the general contractor team doesn’t have another way to get into the work area, of course, they are going to bring in dust on their clothing, in their hair,” said Robert Weitz, from RTK Environmental Group, which tests homes for toxins. Renovations can create dust so fine a human eye can’t see it, he explained; that dust can also pass through a typical vacuum cleaner filter.
Contractors can take certain steps to reduce the spread of dust and toxins to other parts of the home. Likely, the renovation is sectioned off with tape and thick plastic, according to Ronald, who is certified by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Negative air pressure also stops contaminated air from leaving the renovation zone whenever a worker exits or enters. Ronald also uses a water mister in the renovation area; the damper air limits the dust from traveling around the home.
(Above) Sweeten homeowners Katie and Lance say go: The family of three lived in the apartment during construction; this is something Katie definitely does not recommend especially when there is a toddler in the home and you’re sleeping on “a mattress on the floor surrounded by bags of caulking materials.”
Living clean during and after a renovation
If you decide to stay in your home during the renovation, you can limit the air quality issues by:
- Using drywall that actively removes toxins from the air. When formaldehyde comes in contact with CertainTeed Gypsum’s AirRenew Indoor Air Quality Drywall, the drywall absorbs and then converts the formaldehyde to a safe compound. Even after construction, it will continue to absorb formaldehyde released from everyday household items like cleaning products, perfumes, and air fresheners.
- Getting a commercial grade air scrubber. These can be rented and are often used by general contractors to create the negative air pressure inside the renovation area. For an extra dose of clean air, put an air scrubber outside the area, too.
- Placing air purifiers in each bedroom. Air purifiers might clean the air to a lesser degree than an air scrubber but are also easier to obtain and use. Get one from your local home goods store.
- Using humidifiers to dampen the air and prevent dust particles from spreading.
- Choosing paint and wood stains that are lower in VOCs (volatile organic compounds). VOCs are gases that man-made materials can dispel into the air. Think that new car smell.
- Opting for hardwoods vs. carpeting. Carpet can have about 120 chemicals and release fumes for up to three years after installation. Instead, go for hardwood floors, advised Healthy Child Healthy World. If you already have carpeting, they advise a few things you can do to clean green: remove shoes at the front door, vacuum twice a week, and steam-clean carpets with plain water.
- Having a specialized company test your home post-renovation to gauge the level of VOCs and dust. Test results can take between one to five days after work is completed, according to Robert from the RTK Environmental Group. The company conducts these tests in homes and workplaces.
- Ensuring your general contractor gives your home a thorough cleaning with a HEPA filter vacuum, which can capture all the tiny particles. “We clean as we go on our sites, and a more thorough cleaning is done at the end of the project,” said Ronald.
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Sweeten handpicks the best general contractors to match each project’s location, budget, and scope, helping until project completion. Follow the blog, Sweeten Stories, for renovation ideas and inspiration and when you’re ready to renovate, start your renovation on Sweeten.