DIY Dangers

When taking care of your period home there are a number of hidden dangers to your health and that of your family:

Lead in Paint

Beware of lead paint. Whereas the removal of paint containing lead should not normally affect adults, it does pose a risk to children. Lead is absorbed through the skin or by ingestion. If your child has been exposed to any kind of lead paint through fumes, flakes or dust, you can have your child tested.

Adults should wear a respirator and ensure good ventilation. Do not eat or drink while working. Keep children away.

If you suspect old paint, make sure you use a paint stripper which creates a poultice which obviates the need for scraping and avoids fumes. All other paint removal methods pose a threat to young children. Chemical strippers generate fumes which may carry lead. Blow lamps and hot air strippers generate fumes and dust. Make sure you do not produce dust by sanding or scraping as this is very dangerous.

If you leave the work area, remove your work clothing and shoes.

After completing the work, clean the area with a HEPA-standard vacuum cleaner. Wash down the stripped surfaces and flooring nearby, using a detergent. Bag up all clothes and wash them thoroughly, separately from other clothes.

Anthrax in Plaster

Plaster usually contains horsehair and, before controls were introduced in 1895, could contain anthrax spores. Although there are no recorded cases of infections from this source, when removing plaster you should take reasonable precautions.

English Heritage recommend that you should:

  • cover all cuts, abrasions and other wounds with waterproof dressings to prevent infection
  • keep hands and fingernails clean and avoid hand-to-mouth contact during work
  • wear protective clothing (such as disposable gloves, overalls, eye protection, dust masks) appropriate to the task in hand. Dust masks should provide protection against infectious agents (FFP3 type, European Standard EN 149).
  • not eat or drink in work areas and wash hands thoroughly before handling food
  • keep first aid kits well-maintained and to hand, and ensure they contain waterproof dressings
  • if removing old plaster, ensure that it is disposed of in accordance with local and statutory national controls, and that the generation of dust is minimised (e.g. by vacuum cleaning using a high-efficiency filter instead of dry-brush cleaning).
  • keep surrounding areas clean and dust-free
  • ensure that personal are informed of the risk and risk management strategy.


In the UK, houses built between 1920 and the 1980s may incorporate asbestos. Artex containing some 3-5% asbestos was banned at this time. Asbestos was not totally banned until late in 1999.

What dangers does it pose? There are several asbestos-related cancers of the lungs and chest-lining. The risks to your health are limited provided that asbestos is not worked or crumbling; this will cause the dust which you can then inhale.

Where is it found? As well as in Artex, asbestos cement was used to make roof tiles, corrugated roofs, boiler flues and insulated panels. Some houses have gutters, drainpipes and soffits made from this material.

This form of asbestos, a white variety, is perhaps the least dangerous. Brown or blue asbestos is much more dangerous.

What should you do? Don't drill, sand or cut any material which you suspect contains asbestos. If it is flaking, it can be sealed with a paint. If you do any major work to Artex, you should consider getting the Artex removed by a specialist. Do not try to remove the asbestos-containing material yourself. Seek advice from a surveyor or an asbestos removal company.

Note that if you are responsible for commercial premises or communal areas in flats, you are bound by special legislation.

If you are still worried, contact your local authority and the building surveyors department; ask them for the name of a company that will test a sample for you.


In the UK, each year on average 10 people die and about 750 are seriously injured in accidents involving unsafe electrical installations in the home. In addition, in 2003 2,336 house fires were caused by faulty installations.

Since January 1st 2005, new rules mean that any work including new electrical circuits, or work in locations such as kitchens, bathrooms or gardens, is subject to inspection and certification by a local authority building control department unless it has been done by a 'competent' ie qualified person. He or she must be approved by the NICEIC (National Inspection Council for Electrical Installation Contracting) or by the Electrical Contractors Association.

You do not need to tell your local authority's building control department about:

  • repairs, replacements and maintenance work
  • extra power points or lighting points or other alterations to existing circuits (except in a kitchen or bathroom, or outdoors)

The UK Government provides more information on this here.