Does renovating an old house increase cancer risk?

Have you been drawn into an all-day marathon of fixer-upper reality television? Do you dream of buying a run-down old house, and transforming it into the cozy, well-designed home of your dreams?  Does the thought of tearing down walls and scraping popcorn ceilings inspire you?
Before you get started on your next major home renovation, there are risks associated with these types of projects that can increase your risk of cancer. Learn to identify the potential hazards hiding in your walls, and you can help minimize your risk of exposure.


Asbestos has been shown by the American Cancer Society to cause cancer, including lung cancer and mesothelioma. Asbestos is strong, resistant to heat and doesn’t conduct electricity, so its use in pre-1970s homes was widespread in insulation, pipes, flooring, siding, roofing, ceiling tiles, spackling compound, adhesives and more.
During demolition, asbestos fibers can become airborne, where they can be inhaled and contribute to various types of lung disease that may go undiagnosed for many years. Dried asbestos crumbles easily, and the fibers released into the air can be deadly.
If you are considering a renovation project in a home that may contain asbestos, make sure to meet with an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-certified contractor first, to perform an evaluation before you begin to determine whether asbestos is present, and if so, the plan for removing it from your home safely.

Lead Paint

Older homes also have a high risk of containing lead paint. Though it was banned in 1978 for use in homes as a decorative element and sealing agent, many homes built or remodeled prior to that date may contain lead paint, sometimes buried under several layers of more recent, safer latex-based paint.
If you’re remodeling a home that contains lead paint, the biggest hazard lies in the painting and scraping, where airborne lead dust particles are the most common cause of lead poisoning in children.
Before you begin renovations in any home that may contain lead paint, meet with your contractor to determine the best course of action for removing the lead, in accordance with specific EPA guidelines.

Dust Control

In decreasing your risk of airborne exposure to both asbestos fibers and lead paint, establishing a dust control plan with your contractor is key. This may include isolating the area of the house with the dangerous substances using tenting or sheeting, covering (or removing) all furniture from the home, or even sealing or ventilating the parts of the home to be affected.
Because construction techniques are constantly evolving, you may find some (or none!) of these potential risks lying in wait in your home. Exposure to them is very serious, and can have dire health consequences. However, learning to identify these materials, and working with certified contractors to mitigate risk means that you’ll be able to move forward with your renovations confidently, and start enjoying the changes to your home as quickly as possible.