Find out the Do's and Dangers of DIY
With spring just around the corner, many proud homeowners are gearing up for their annual deep clean, and a much needed bought of DIY.
It is a great time of year to plan remodelling and DIY projects, as the warmer weather allows for better ventilation and the chance to revamp old furniture outside.
If you’re one of those people who detests throwing away much-loved home furnishings and is convinced that anything can be dolled up by a bit of trusty spray paint and some sandpaper then you’ve come to the right place!
Here’s our guide to beautifying your home while protecting your lungs during your latest and greatest DIY projects.
Spray paint is a versatile tool that can turn even the blandest, mass-produced item into something unique and bespoke. From grotty garden chairs to flat-pack shelving units and even old wine bottles, spray paint is the savvy DIY-er’s best friend for a budget makeover.
Patio furniture is a great place to start if you’re a novice with spray paint, as the inevitable wear and tear of outdoor living means that any mistakes are likely to go unnoticed. Good ventilation is an absolute must so set up your workspace in the garden or an open garage. First, you’ll need to lay down a plastic sheet to prevent paint mist from getting on your pavers or flooring - large bin bags cut open and taped together do a fantastic job if you don’t want to throw away those pennies on something that’s going to end up in the trash anyway. Then, clean the furniture thoroughly to ensure that the paint sticks evenly on the surface and rub it with a cloth until it is completely dry.
You also might want to grab a pair of cleaning gloves so you don’t end up with spray paint stuck under your fingernails or absorbing into your system through your skin.
Most importantly, wear goggles and a Mask to prevent paint particles from ending up in your eyes and lungs. Many standard professional-grade spray paints contain Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) in acetone, xylene and toluene, which can seriously affect your health. Exposure to these hazardous particles can have nasty short-term side effects including eye, nose and throat irritation; headaches, loss of coordination and nausea. Long-term side effects are significantly scarier, such as damage to the liver, kidneys and central nervous system.
Some VOCs are even suspected or known to cause cancer in humans. Now that you’re suited up and armed with the knowledge of what’s actually in that well-shaken can of paint in your hand, start on an area that is least likely to be seen by anyone, such as the underside of the item. As tempting as it might be to completely douse your project with a nice, thick, shiny coat of paint, it’s far better to start with very light layers allowing the paint to dry for a few minutes in-between adding the next coat otherwise you will not be able to avoid the dreaded drips spoiling a beautifully painted, even surface.
Be warned because spray painting is a seriously addictive game! The colour possibilities are almost endless and depending on where you live in the world, there are some really excellent products out there. For example, Krylon's Looking Glass paint creates a beautifully ethereal mirrored effect when sprayed onto glass, which looks absolutely stunning on old wine bottles or drinking glasses now repurposed as decorative table centrepieces, lamps or vases.
Sanding and Staining
Sometimes all it takes is a bit of love, care and muscle to bring outdated wooden furniture back to life. Fashions come and go so that beloved pine coloured pool table or those solid oak kitchen cabinets might be starting to look a bit stale in the midst of your new decor.
Hand sanding larger items is a gruelling task and off-putting to most people in this internet age when a replacement piece is merely a few clicks away. However, electric sanders have never been cheaper saving you time, money, blood, sweat and tears. While most modern electric sanders have a dust bag attached, it is advisable to wear a mask, especially when working on an old item that may contain highly toxic lead-based paint.
Breathing in lead dust from any type of hammering, scraping, or demolition can cause some truly terrible health issues in adults and children. Protect yourself from this almost invisible hazard by carefully cleaning up any residue left behind after sanding your project because small amounts of drifting lead dust that may settle easily on furniture, walls and floors can have irreversible health effects. The risks for children are particularly high because lead poisoning can lead to both physical and mental impairments, including growth delays and a loss in developmental skills. If you cannot work outside or in a specialised environment, put up dust sheets around your workspace to prevent harmful particles infiltrating your home and ventilate the area as much as possible.
Once the wood has been stripped down, you’ll need that mask again for the staining process and while you’re at it put on a pair of goggles. Gloss oil-based varnish, polyurethane and other wood stains produce strong fumes, so it is essential that you protect your throat and eyes. Professionals tout the following rule when it comes to working with stains, lacquers and varnishes: if you can smell it, it's already too late! Pop on that mask before you pop the lid because repeated exposure to high vapour concentrations can cause permanent brain and nervous system damage.
It is highly advisable to wear a mask with a P100 rating due to its ability to filter out 99.97% of particulate matter and will provide protection from various unpleasant vapours and smells, including most of the vapours released by common woodworking finishes. Once your piece is freshly stained and dry, keep it outside or by an air purifier for a few weeks before moving it back inside to take centre stage in your home because freshly varnished furniture not only stinks but also continues to off-gas chemicals that can be brutal on sensitive noses and throats.
When hanging up art around your home or installing a mounted TV, you may need to drill into the walls. Before you start, make absolutely sure you are not about to drill into any electrical wiring or piping.
Electrical wires typically run vertically and horizontally, up and down the side of a stud (a wooden board that acts as a frame and supports the walls), in order to reach ceiling lights and fans.
There are other hazards to consider when drilling into the walls of your home, such as lead paint and asbestos. If your house was built before 1978, it is likely you have a layer or two of lead-based paint lurking somewhere in the walls. Homes built before 1973 were also typically fitted out with asbestos for fireproofing purposes. We now know for certain that all forms of asbestos can cause lung cancer, mesothelioma and other chronic respiratory conditions so proceed with serious caution and call in the professionals if you even slightly suspect your home may be fitted with old asbestos.
Most drywall is also likely to contain silica, which isn’t particularly dangerous until one comes into contact with silica dust during construction and remodelling projects and a small amount of these respirable particles can lead to serious, sometimes fatal illnesses including silicosis, lung cancer, tuberculosis (in those with silicosis), chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), renal disease and other cancers. In 1996, the World Health Organization – International Agency on Cancer Research (IARC) identified crystalline silica as a “known human carcinogen”. With that in mind, it's best to wear a mask to avoid any accidental inhalation of harmful particulate matter, even if you are only drilling a tiny hole in your home.
As always, carefully clean up any dust and dispose of it immediately in the rubbish outside your home, vacuum the area and wipe down all surrounding surfaces in case any of that dangerous dust has strayed further afield.