Ask the Architect

Dust and other airborne particles

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Q. We’re doing work on our home that has been going on for over 10 months, and we chose to stay in the house, which has been a little nerve-racking at times, especially with all the coronavirus issues and the dust. We wore masks outside the house during the peak of Covid, but realized we needed to wear them all the time, even when sleeping. (I could see the dust in the air when the sun came in the windows each morning.) I noticed that the workers never wore masks. Isn’t that dangerous?

A. Dust is more of a concern than you might initially realize, and can cause temporary or permanent lung damage. Cutting materials properly and in the right place makes a big difference. For example, I once walked onto a job and saw someone cutting gypsum wallboard with a mechanical (reciprocating) saw. The snowy white dust was flying everywhere, and the homeowner was beyond upset with the fact that the plastic curtains couldn’t contain the fine dust. Every electronic device, every item of clothing and every dish and cookware item needed to be cleaned. A few seconds of carelessness led to days of cleaning. Had the person used a utility knife, the whole fiasco could have been avoided.

Cutting lumber outdoors instead of indoors also is better. Using vacuum attachments with power tools and wearing masks is actually required, but not often followed. Sadly, the most critical cleaning could never be done, namely of the lungs, which breathed in all that dust. Particles and even vapors attack lung tissue and can accumulate, permanently impairing sections of that tissue. Because it takes many years for lung tissue to thicken and absorb moisture, like a sponge, people with respiratory problems don’t react until they are literally drowning in their progressive fibrosis.

I also remember a pregnant woman who insisted on remaining home, on bed rest during a major renovation of her home. She had the contractor seal her bedroom, and even built a tent of 2x4s and plastic separately surrounding the bed. She eventually had to relocate anyway, after developing congestion. She was warned about the danger to the baby, but felt she needed to be able to see the work progressing. I’ve always wondered, so many years later, if the effects were lasting.

The bottom line is that you want to take precautions, and, ironically, people are much more likely to realize they need to wear a mask when they see the dust floating in the air than they have been with invisible virus cells. Ignorance is not always bliss, especially when you finally realize that cause and effect are real and constant in our daily lives. Take note that the difference between mature thinking and being naive or dismissive is the recognition that there is a cause and that there will be anticipated consequences. In your case, a filtration system may have helped. I just hope you’re staying healthy. Good luck.

© 2021 Monte Leeper. Readers are encouraged to send questions to yourhousedr@aol.com, with “Herald question” in the subject line, or to Herald Homes, 2 Endo Blvd., Garden City, NY 11530, Attn: Monte Leeper, architect.

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