My Answer: My first thought is that you should not live in the house during the remodel. Even with excellent dust-control measures in place, construction dust will still infiltrate the rest of the house. Drywall dust is the worst. One Manhattan Beach homeowner I visited developed long-lasting breathing problems during a massive remodel.
Then, you should think about minimizing pollutants that will get trapped inside the house, especially during winter when windows tend to stay closed.
Until the last decade or so, indoor air pollutants were considered a limited phenomenon. But two basic things have changed in the way that buildings are constructed: first, thousands of chemicals are now being incorporated into building materials. These chemicals help resist pests and rot, but at a cost to the indoor environment. Plus, as a result of the energy crisis of the 1970s, buildings are now sealed tightly. This is especially so in California with its strict codes, and these chemicals remain trapped inside, where inhabitants inhale them into their lungs and absorb them into their skin.
Ironically, while it’s common to dream of new windows to dress up an old house, it’s often after new windows are installed that indoor air problems turn up. Imagine smelling your breakfast bacon late into the afternoon. That’s a house that needs a filtration system.
To get some guidance on healthy remodeling, I turned to Dennis Allen of Allen Associates in Santa Barbara whose respected firm aggressively pushes for buildings that are more healthful for people and for the environment.
Contractor’s Answer: If you want a healthier house, everyone involved with the remodel — designer or architect, contractor and engineers — needs to buy into your goal. Past experience is preferred. But if you cannot find professionals with a track record in creating healthy homes, make certain that your team members are flexible, open to new ideas and not stuck in their ways. If your team members don’t have healthy-house experience, it will be up to you to research the products that go into the house.
The good news is that you can find building materials without harmful chemicals. Most of these products are still not mainstream, but they are available.