When I was a little girl in the 1980s, my parents bought a microwave, big as a Buick. I always liked when handymen came to the house for installations. It gave me something to watch besides television, and someone to talk to other than myself. For a few hours, our split-level ranch would be in mild disarray but reassembled by the time my father got home.
“Sweetie, I left my carpenter’s level by the garage, can you fetch it for me?” the repairman said. I darted off, feeling helpful. But I tripped over a bucket of drill bits and roofing nails in the garage. Three rusty nails impaled my tender heel, piercing the rubber sole of my Chuck Taylors. The repairman had a first-aid kit, and I sat on my mother’s lap while he bandaged my foot, the smell of pipe tobacco redolent on his overalls.
My story illustrates why Ace Hardware recommends making the garage off limits to children, or at least taking care to store any potentially dangerous items out of reach. They suggest removing or keeping tightly closed four- to six-gallon buckets or pails, since a child can fall into a bucket of this size and drown in just a few inches of water. It’s essential, too, to maintain a first-aid kit and be familiar with its contents.
In addition, post the number of the nearest poison control center near your home phone, along with your child’s weight, allergies, and any important medical conditions. In an emergency, you might panic and forget. Also, a babysitter or visiting relative might need the information. Ipecac induces vomiting if a child ingests a poisonous substance.
If putting in a microwave can be dangerous, imagine the potential hazards of an entire kitchen renovation. Children are curious, exploratory beings, and an area with new and dangerous happenings provides an irresistible attraction. “Parents need to assess the safety liabilities on the renovation site, set boundaries, and warn their children,” says Denver personal injury attorney Daniel R. Rosen.
It’s important to talk to your contractor and introduce your children to him and his workers. Ask the contractor to lay down a tarp, and see if he’ll let your children draw a line in chalk across it. Then, instruct the children to stay behind that line, like the home renovation version of an electric fence. When rooms that children use everyday are remodeled — like the kitchen, bathroom, or a living room — it’s particularly challenging.
“Set up a temporary kitchen in a spare room, complete with hot pot and mini fridge,” advises child psychologist Kate Gorman. “It can be a little like playing house. It’s also smart to get children involved in making signs.” If a member of the household suffers from asthma, get children involved in constructing a sign that says, “Danger: Dust Particles. Asthma? Keep Out.”
Christopher Ashe, one of the stars of HGTV’s 24-Hour Design, isn’t just a carpenter. With more than a decade of experience in the building trade under his belt, Ashe knows about the dangers that families can face when remodeling.
“I categorize construction hazards as one of two ways: immediate or long-term,” says Ashe. “Long-term hazards are usually materials that were once commonplace but have since been found to be dangerous.”
If you’re working in a home that was built before lead was removed from paint, the best way to test for lead is to have a qualified lead inspector come out to test the house. Wear approved safety gear when working around lead paint remnants. Ashe recommends that homeowners seal off any HVAC ducts and make sure they vacuum with a HEPA filter vacuum twice a day, minimum.
It’s also important to research pressure-treated wood on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website, http://www.cdc.gov/. Some treated wood contains poison. It may be worth it to pay more for eco-friendly options that are safer, particularly for pregnant women.
It wasn’t any fun getting a tetanus shot after stepping on those rusty nails. And, years later, I still recall how my childhood fascination with a modest home renovation project took a dangerous and painful turn. I’m thankful that the damage was minimal. You can be sure that I will take all the necessary precautions with my own two children. By following the advice above, I will do my best to make home renovation a source of excitement and future enjoyment for my young family.
Pari Chang is an attorney, single mother of two, and professional journalist for SixEstate. Her essays have appeared in The New York Times, SELF, Glamour, Redbook, and the anthology, Behind The Bedroom Door.