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Three Killer Hazards for the Unwary Home Renovator

Handyman Magazine logo Handyman Magazine 2/04/2018 Adam Woodhams
© iStock

Many potential dangers are obvious to us as we work, such as spinning blades on power equipment, a badly balanced ladder or an overfull wheelbarrow.

But more insidious hazards can go unseen until it’s too late, sometimes resulting in fatal mistakes.

Three hazards to be aware of while working on DIY projects are electricity, asbestos and lead.

All three can be present in homes and all are dangerous if they are not handled carefully.

Here, we outline what to look out for and what precautions to take to ensure a safe working environment.


a close up of a logo © Pxhere

Running inside your walls, under the floor and through the ceiling space or roof cavity, electric cabling is the lifeblood of your home.

Before doing any work that involves drilling, sawing or knocking into walls, make sure you know exactly where every powerline is and, even then, switch off the power at the meter.

Despite most homes being fitted with circuit breakers, mistakes may still result in electrocution.

The electrical wiring in your home is likely to have a safety cut-off circuit, but a cable on the supply side of your meter has no protection.

Before you use any corded power tool, check the lead has no exposed wires, cuts in the cord or bent pins.

Have the cord professionally replaced if it looks unsafe.

Also, check all extension cords the same way.

How to avoid being electrocuted - Stud finder

a hand holding a cellphone © Adam Woodhams

Use a stud finder and services sensor to locate cables and pipes inside a wall before you drill or hammer.

Extension leads

a close up of a red cable © Adam Woodhams

Uncoil extension leads when in use, as power running through them can melt the cable and cause a short or a fire.

Power safety

© Adam Woodhams

To protect against shocks, this Arlec 15m heavy-duty extension lead has an in-line residual current device safety switch.

Ladder safety

© Adam Woodhams

Keep ladders and equipment at least 2m clear of powerlines and always take care when using long-handled tools.

Safety first

© Adam Woodhams

This four-outlet Arlec power block has a built-in residual current device safety cut-off, a circuit breaker overload switch and is IP44 weatherproof rated.

What lies beneath?

a person that is standing in the grass © iStock

If you’re building, renovating or landscaping, before you even lift a shovel, you need to know what may be beneath your feet.

All home services, such as water, sewerage, gas, electricity, phone and internet, can be as little as 400mm below the surface of soil, paving or concrete.

If damaged, this can result in anything from just a smelly nuisance to a life-threatening emergency.


a man standing in front of a building © iStock

Inhalation of asbestos dust can result in incurable asbestos-related diseases. Experts says it is the biggest health risk facing renovators and DIYers.

Any Australian building extended or constructed before 1990 will likely contain asbestos. In fact, anything built up until December 2003 may contain it.

Before starting any work at your home, evaluate the likelihood of asbestos being present by finding out where it may have been used.

Wear safety gear when renovating and treat all material as potentially dangerous. If you do need to disturb asbestos, seek professional advice.

Bonded asbestos-containing products include asbestos-cement materials such as wall cladding, waterproofing panels, roofing, fence panels, fireplace surrounds and pipes.

Loose asbestos is found in pipe insulation, spray-on insulation, ceiling panels, soundproofing and loose-fill ceiling insulation and floor tile backing.

For Australians, check out the asbestos guide at for more information. Those in New Zealand can find worksafe information here.

Asbestos safety

a close up of a man © iStock

Never use power tools or high-pressure water cleaners on asbestos, as they may cause damage that releases asbestos fibres.

When working in dusty situations, wear disposable coveralls, such as these from Protector.

If there is a contamination risk from hazardous dust, keep on your breathing protection while carefully removing the coveralls and turning them inside out.

Seal them in a heavy-duty waste bag and label that it may contain hazardous dust.

Dispose of this as with any other dangerous waste material.


graffiti on a wall © iStock

When absorbed through the skin, breathed in as dust or swallowed as flakes, lead is a dangerous toxin.

Lead poisoning, or plumbism, can take years to develop. It causes developmental delays in children, stomach pains and neurological issues such as hyperactivity, irritability, memory loss and insomnia.

At high enough levels, it can kill. It was added to paints to form part of the colouring base, help paint dry faster, make it look fresher for longer and improve resistance to moisture.

While it was phased out in most paints from the mid-1970s, some paints still contained lead until as late as 2010.

When renovating a home painted before the 1980s, old paint should be regarded as containing some lead. Employ professionals to do any work involving lead-based paints.

Dealing with lead

a tree in front of a building © iStock

Lead is a hidden hazard that must be taken seriously and is quite difficult for a home owner to deal with safely.

The most dangerous situations are created when lead paints are removed by scraping, sanding, sand-blasting and using heat guns.

Sanding with power tools is the most hazardous, as the resulting dust is very fine, making it easy to inhale and spread throughout the home.

It can lodge in carpet and soft furnishings or in the garden.

When removing paint, use a test kit or call in testing professionals to get a full evaluation.

Wear protective clothing, including disposable coveralls, overshoes, gloves, a suitable respirator and a hat.

Remove or cover furniture and play equipment, seal off areas where paint is to be removed, protect garden soil with drop sheets and use plastic disposable sheets to collect material.

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