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keeping clean air while renovating

How Do You Control Dust When Renovating?

By Joy WoodRise Writer
Jul 26, 2018

So you’ve decided to renovate. After all of the decision-making, costing, quoting, and timelines (not to mention some analysis paralysis and hair-pulling), you are finally pressing the big, green GO button. Super exciting, right? Yes! That is until you remember that you have to live through, around, and in between the tradespeople, stray materials, off-limits areas, and the DUST (oh, the dust!).

If you’re up to date on indoor air quality, you know that this dust can contain a multitude of things you don’t want your family (including the four-legged members) to be breathing in. Things like sawdust, drywall dust, airborne fibers from insulation, volatile organic compounds, adhesives and finishes, and off-gassing from new furnishings.

If you or anyone in your family struggles with asthma, allergies, or other respiratory issues, this is likely already a primary concern. But even if not, it helps to remember that children and animals are particularly vulnerable to airborne contaminants. Extra care should be taken to keep everyone safe during and after renovations are complete.

First Things First

The first rule is to accept that dust will happen. As in, you can’t avoid the dust, but you can do your best to make sure that dust is limited in its ability to travel through the house find its way into your lungs.

Consider whether you have to occupy your home during renovations. For some significant renovations, it’s best practice to avoid it altogether. Can you move temporarily while you renovate? If that’s not possible, consider moving only during the worst (read: dustiest) part of the renovations.

Once the dust has settled somewhat (both literally and figuratively), you can return home. But regardless of whether you choose to stay or go, there are things you can do to ensure that the indoor air quality in your home doesn’t take a nosedive.

How to keep the air clean during your renovation


1. Protect Ductwork

If you think about how air moves through your home, you’ll identify the ductwork right away as a possible conduit for it to move from room to room. Before you begin your renovation, take time to protect the ductwork.

Suppose drywall dust and other contaminants have made their way into the ductwork. In that case, it’s next to impossible to remove, and using the forced air system will result in several months of dusty air being introduced into every room in your home. It’s also important to seal, as your warranty may be void if you get sheetrock dust in it.

Don’t use the system at all until all work is complete, if possible. Because dust can infiltrate your central system, causing damage that can invalidate warranties and make for massive headaches down the road, it’s best to seal it up and turn it off from significant renovations. How? Close all vents and registers and cover them tightly with sticky plastic wrap.

If, for some reason, you do need to heat or cool the house, look into alternate solutions, such as renting space heaters for individual rooms. If you must run the system, more expensive options, like Pro-Vent, help keep the particles out.

2. Hang Plastic “Doors” 

If renovations are limited to one room or one area of the house, hang plastic room dividers (also known as ‘zipwalls’). These act like plastic doors and can help to isolate the dust in the room under construction. Or, while the dustiest work is being completed, you can seal off certain rooms. Having everyone take care when entering and exiting can be a headache, but it will do a lot to mitigate the spread of dust and other nasties while the work is completed. 

The best part is that if you can contain the mess to one room, you’ll only have the one room as the focus of an intense clean once the work is complete.

3. Consider Using Air Scrubbers

It’s possible to use an ‘air scrubber’ (or negative air machine) during renovations. These smaller, portable machines can be used in the room while the work is being done. They work a bit like a vacuum, sucking in the dusty air, filtering it, and blowing out clean air. If this is important to you, ensure that your contractor understands how they work: the filters have to be changed at relatively short intervals, so care must be taken to use them correctly.

4. Cover Your Absorptive Materials

Things like fabric couches, carpets, mattresses, and clothing all capture and absorb the dust – spreading it to other areas of the house. If it’s not practical to remove them from the home during renovations, use a roll of heavy-duty plastic to cover and seal them. Carpeting, carpet padding, ceiling tiles, insulation, and wall board are also porous materials, so protecting them while painting or sanding helps avoid contamination.

5. Flush It Out

Sometimes, despite your best efforts, some dust may find its way into the HVAC system. Either way, it’s a good idea to run a final flush out of the system before occupancy (and even if you didn’t vacate while renovating). What does that mean? If the climate is mild, it means leaving all the windows open and letting your home naturally ventilate for at least a few hours. If that’s not an option, it means running the HVAC system at full speed for several hours. Afterward, be sure an change the air filters!

6. Choose Cleaning Companies Carefully

Many companies will offer ‘post-construction cleans. This is an excellent investment to make (and a relatively small one, when you consider the overall cost of renovating), but be sure to do your homework and ask the right questions before choosing. The company, and more importantly, the people performing the clean, must have a solid understanding of how to approach the process to not simply spread the dust. And make sure cleaning supplies are chosen wisely.

7. Maintain the Zen 

Want a peace of mind after the renovations? Consider including an indoor air monitoring system, many of which can give you hour to hour, up-to-date readings on the air quality in your home; some even provide outdoor readings as well. Or, opt for an air purifier to provide continuous support for indoor air quality.

Bottom Line 

No matter how you approach it, all renovations mean dust, and that means that you need to have a solid ‘dust plan’ in place before you begin. The good news is that following the recommendations above suggests that you and your family can avoid some of the adverse effects of renovation-related dust – and instead enjoy the results of the improvements without wondering what’s lurking in the air.

Disclaimer: This article does not constitute a product endorsement however Rise does reserve the right to recommend relevant products based on the articles content to provide a more comprehensive experience for the reader.Last Modified: 2021-07-09T16:30:20+0000
Joy Wood

Article by:

Joy Wood

Joy grew up in the natural beauty of the North Okanagan, nestled near the foot of the Monashee Mountains. Hailing from a family of home builders, both the environment and home construction became closely intertwined in her youth. Today, she and her builder hubby are raising their family in Vancouver, where she avidly follows the current sustainable construction trends as the city aims for the title of ‘Greenest City’ by 2020.