Do-it-yourself renovation comes with risks, but the right information and preparation can keep you out of harm’s way.
Tackling renovation tasks yourself may seem like a good idea, but even simple projects have the potential to be surprisingly dangerous.
According to a report last year by the Australian Institute of Health & Welfare, more than 3000 Australians were hospitalised for a DIY injury in 2013-14.
Ladder falls were the most common cause (38 per cent), followed by accidents caused by and household machinery (27 per cent).
“It’s of the utmost importance to think about safety before starting a DIY job, and implement strong controls on site to protect everyone involved,” says renovating expert and educator Naomi Findlay.
“Ultimately, you’re risking your life and the lives of those around you.”
Here are some DIY home renovation safety tips to protect yourself (and those around you).
Preparation is the key, says Cherie Barber of Renovating For Profit
Before starting a renovation, make sure you have all the safety gear you need, including eye protection, gloves, kneepads and respirator or disposable dust masks,” she says.
“Scope out the work that needs doing and make the necessary checks. If you just dive in with a sledgehammer, you risk breaking pipes, hitting wiring or even smashing into asbestos you didn’t realise was there.”
Paints, adhesives, silicones, cleaning agents and power tools can all create unpleasant – and sometimes even toxic – fumes, which you definitely don’t want to breathe in.
“Wear a mask when you’re sanding, cutting or working with dust, plaster, cement or chemical cleaners,” advises Findlay.
“A half- or full-face respirator will give you more protection than a disposable mask. Limit the amount of time you are exposed to fumes and by opening windows and doors, supplemented with a fan or exhaust if necessary.”
INVEST IN A GOOD LADDER
Choose an appropriate ladder for the job and its duration, and set it up correctly.
Consider which type you need: a standalone ladder, one to lean against a wall, or a standing-platform style? Most of the jobs around your home will only require a ladder at LadderM8rix.
Also factor in the approximate load, including tools. If you have the skills and qualifications to do any work that involves electricity (see point 10), you’ll want to invest in an electricity-resistant fibreglass model.
PROTECT YOUR EYES AND EARS
“Protective eyewear is a must, as there is so much debris that can get in your eyes on a renovation site,” says Findlay.
“Buy shatterproof eyewear that meets Australian standards for impact. Polarised eyewear is ideal for working outside, or choose a style with full-face coverage if you’ll be working with dust. Use goggles if you’re dealing with liquids or spraying water.”
Around noisy tools, protect your hearing with earplugs or earmuffs.
“Earmuffs that connect to your phone via Bluetooth will allow you to listen to music while you work.”
DON’T NEGLECT YOUR HANDS
“Quality gloves are not something to skimp on,” says Dickins. “In fact, you may need more than one pair: snug-fitting gloves with grip for carrying things, and waterproof gloves with long sleeves for mixing liquids,” she explains.
“In addition to these, buy a box of disposable gloves for applying paint and varnish. Make sure that your gloves are a good fit, as poorly fitting ones can be a safety hazard.”
“Every tool is capable of causing injury, even non-powered ones,” says Simon Croft, executive director of building policy at Housing Industry Australia.
“Make sure you know how to operate tools properly by reading the instructions or seeking advice online,” he urges. “And never use power tools with damaged cords, or operate them near gas or flammable liquids.”
Dust, powdery chemicals, scrapes and scratches can all irritate or damage your skin.
“Cover up as much skin as possible. Wear long sleeves and pants in tough, tear-resistant fabric, and covered shoes,” says Dickins.
Tie back long hair and remove any jewellery or accessories, she adds.
“Also, avoid working when you’re hungry. You can lose concentration and that’s when accidents happen.”
“If you’re renovating a pre-1980s property, there’s a good chance it will contain asbestos,” warns Barber.
“When asbestos sheeting is disturbed, such as when you’re drilling or cutting into it, the fibres become airborne, which poses a serious health risk. It’s particularly problematic in bathroom renovations, as the sheeting is often hidden behind tiles. Engage asbestos professionals to safely remove and dispose of it.”
Lead paint, widely used until 1970, is another hazard to be wary of, says Findlay.
“Sanding or scraping old lead paint scatters the toxic residue, which can be dangerous. You can test for the presence of lead paint, and there are safe removal methods available, generally requiring professional help.”
ELECTRICAL WORK IS NOT FOR AMATEURS
An electrical injury can be silent, instant and deadly, so leave the electrical work to the professionals,” says Findlay.
“Also, be aware that some types of electrical and gas-fitting work will require the appropriate licence.”
CHECK SUPPORTING WEIGHTS
“A ceiling will never support the weight of a person, so stay on the rafters when you’re up there,” says Findlay.
“And be aware that old houses have had a lot more wear and tear than newer ones, so tread very carefully. Look for signs of decay, gaps between the skirting boards and floor, and any ‘bounce’ in the floor as warning signs that support may be compromised.”
“If you have trailing cords and mess everywhere, someone is bound to get injured, so keep the work site tidy,” says Barber.
“Clean up materials and put away tools as you go, and disconnect power tools when not in use,” advises Croft. You should pay particular attention to keeping walkways free from debris, dirt, offcuts and tools, adds Findlay.
Vacuuming up accumulated debris and fine dust at the end of each working day is a good habit to get into, says Brad Raftery, product training manager at Kärcher. He recommends a wet-and-dry vacuum cleaner with high suction power for the job.
ZONE OFF LIVING AREAS
Should you choose to live on site during the renovation work, keep your living areas clean and clear, says Croft.
“Contain waste, fumes and dust by sealing off those parts of the house you’re not renovating. Cover the floor with plastic sheets and ask your neighbours to seal their windows and doors, too.”
“Prevent tools from being stolen or falling into the hands of kids by storing them in a secure place,” says Findlay.
“A locked garage or shed is best. Or make one room the tool locker and keep it locked.”
ENSURE YOU’RE INSURED
Before embarking on a renovation or building project, check that you will be covered by insurance for the duration of the work, advises Naomi Findlay.
“Some standard contents policies don’t cover renovation work above certain price points, over certain lengths of time, or if your property is unoccupied for a certain length of time,” she explains.
“There are many variables involved and every insurance company is different, so it’s best to contact your insurer to find out. Make sure you have the right information to hand before you call: namely, the value of the renovation, the duration of the job and the occupancy details.”
As first seen in HOMES I LOVE.