Advice for an Allergy-Friendly, Non-Toxic Kitchen Renovation

in Healthy Home, Indoor Allergies
Published: May 2, 2012

For millions of homeowners, it’s an all-too-familiar scene: Your kitchen is so outdated, it could easily pass for a spread in a 1970s IKEA catalog. To boot, the counters are scratched, the cupboard doors are hanging by a thread and the appliances are fast becoming antiques.

It’s time for a change – and a new kitchen can be a great way to give your home a serious spring spruce-up, and make it healthier, too.

But if you or someone in your family has allergies and asthma, there are important steps you need to take.

The Demolition

It’s great to get older (and likely more toxic) materials out of your kitchen – but it’s crucial that you do it carefully.

The first step is to mitigate the demolition dust, which can contain chemicals, molds and other irritants, says Eric Corey Freed, principal with San Francisco’s organicARCHITECT and author of Green Building & Remodeling for Dummies. In order to keep dust from spreading, tightly seal off the area with plastic sheeting. It’s also worth picking up some hairnet-like covers for your air ducts to keep the dust from being recirculated.

Everyone working in the area also needs to wear protective goggles and a ventilating mask. “Guys tend to say, ‘I don’t need that, it’s just a little dust.’ But it adds up,” says Freed. “And it’s not just the heavy dust that you can see – it’s all the fine particulate that you can’t see that you inhale.” (Freed also stresses that if you suspect there is asbestos or lead paint, you need to bring in the pros to do the demo work.)

Mold can also present a serious problem because moisture often gathers behind sink cabinets, creating the perfect place for mold to breed and set off allergy symptoms during and after a renovation.

“Many owners see mold, spray bleach on it and think it’s fixed,” says Freed. Not so: the affected area must be completely dried out – or the drywall replaced – to ensure it doesn’t grow back. Once the demolition is complete, wet-mop to capture remaining dirt and dust, then flush the space with fresh air before that new kitchen rolls in.

Next Page: Choosing the right cabinets plus ‘cured’ counters that don’t off-gas.