Thursday, April 29, 2010

Floor sanding safety

I wanted to draw your attention to the lovely dust mask that you saw me wearing in the floor sanding post.
Yeah, that one.

P and I were quite familiar with the dangers of lead paint.  We hadn't realized, until we began researching this project, that some older floor finishes also contained lead.  We nervously picked up a home lead test kit from Home Depot, not sure what we would do with the results.  I don't mind the idea of working around some leaded paint, but sanding floors generates such a large quantity of dust, that I wasn't sure I wanted to undertake sanding lead floors myself.  On the other hand, hiring someone equipped to take the right precautions would be pretty expensive....

Luckily, our test strip came back negative.  Honestly, we weren't sure how much stock we should put into this result, we we hoped that it at least meant that the lead content of our floors was low (if not actually zero).

So we went into this project with two presumptions: 1. all dust is bad for you, and 2. this dust might be a little worse than average.  Prolonged exposure to wood dust can eventually lead to emphysema and other respiratory problems.  Since P does a lot of woodworking, we try to be fairly conscious of dust exposure, since the amount he's exposed to over a lifetime could be quite significant.  We keep a large stock of semi-disposable dust masks around
Like all one-size-fits-all options, they don't fit me very well.  My face is narrower than the guys they design safety equipment for, so I end up with a significant gap around the bridge of my nose.  When I inhale, a good portion of the air will get sucked in that gap, rather than being filtered.  So, when we're doing more seriously dusty jobs like floor refinishing, or I'm sanding down old paint that could contain lead, I get to wear our lovely plastic mask with replaceable filter.  It's not a ton of fun--on a warm day, I'll start to sweat where it's touching my face, and it's a fight to keep it from slipping off.  But it's definitely an important safety precaution.

A few other notes on dust management: we had heard such horror stories of the amount of dust generated by sanding floors, that we had expected it to be a bigger problem than it was.  We had initially used plastic to seal off the doors leading to the areas of the house we weren't working it.  This turned out to be completely unnecessary overkill.  We were glad that we had turned off our central air, and sealed all of the floor vents and air return with plastic.  This is definitely a good fall/spring job, when you don't mind just opening the windows during the day, and using an extra blanket at night.  If the dust were to end up in the air system, it would create quite a mess everywhere (and be an inhalation hazard).

Finally, this is definitely a job you want to undertake with earplugs--the sanders are quite loud, and they're running for a lot of hours.  It makes for a pretty boring job--between the earplugs and the sander noise, there's no possibility of using an iPod, radio, or conversation to pass the time.  But it's worth it in the long run.

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