How We Deal with Dust & Fumes in the Winter

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January 5, 2014
February 11, 2014

Winter is the one season we can’t do exterior work, so we take on a lot of inside remodeling and painting projects. On the other hand, many homeowners shy away from inside work in winter because they are worried about dust and fumes at a time when you can’t open the windows.

It’s a legitimate worry, but there are many steps they and we can take to keep the mess and fumes down to a minimum, and techniques to let in fresh air without losing too much heat.

Planning for Inside Work

A detailed schedule, carefully followed, is a must. The work area can be emptied of furnishings just before the work crew arrives, with plenty of time to plan where the furniture will go and what drop cloths and drapes you’ll need to keep it clean.

On our side, planning the work includes determining the right order for all the steps to lessen the length of time the windows will be open. For example, if we’re adding a door or window, we can do all of the framing steps from the inside, without cutting through the wall until everything is ready for the new unit to slip right in.

We can also make sure all the materials are available when they’re needed, so the work can proceed without delays.

Dealing with Dust

HEPA Vacuum

Wherever it’s practical, we put up plastic sheeting as a barrier to keep dust from leaking into the rest of the house. These barriers will lessen the spread of fumes, too. We also put drop cloths or construction paper down on the floors to capture dust and drips (and also to protect the surface from scratches and dents).

Dust from cutting and sanding can be captured right at the source with special equipment that attaches to the tools or can be positioned right beside them. We use Festool sanders with HEPA vacuum attachments (EPA Certified) and Porter Cable drywall sander vacuums for larger jobs. (HEPA filters deal with microscopic particles and allergens as well as course and fine construction dust.)

We will also use a freestanding BuildClean HEPA dust control system, which filters all of the air in the work area.

Finally, we vacuum the work area thoroughly at the end of every workday.

Dealing with Fumes

The problem with fumes is two-fold: the smell of the paint and the toxicity of the solvents and driers that make the paint adhere and dry.

Controlled venting with fans is possible even on the coldest days, but bumping the heat up adds to the energy bill, and often you can’t keep venting through the night. To be honest, you really can’t guarantee that some paint fumes won’t seep into the rest of the house even with venting.

That’s why, for interior work, we use paints designed to be as fume-free as possible. The main culprits are Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), so we use certified low and zero VOC paints. Both Sherwin-Williams and Benjamin Moore have products that are suitable, providing a wide choice of sheens and colors in latex and acrylic paints.

Finally, we’re more than happy to discuss other green solutions a homeowner might have in mind. This is an area where there’s always some new information or product to learn about!

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