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With so many products being manufactured as environmentally friendly for flooring, are we as installers doing our part to maintain safe indoor air quality? Or are we creating harmful dust clouds (Photo 1)?  Whether it’s resilient, carpet, hardwood, laminate, tile, or stone, every type of flooring has concerns that we must address in regards to indoor air quality.

When removing existing carpet and cushion remember that anything that happens to fall onto the carpet has the potential of staying in the carpet, depending on the type of vacuum and the maintenance schedule. One never knows what lies beneath. While the particulate that is not vacuumed is not going to be a real airborne issue, once the installer begins to remove carpet and cushion, that’s when it has the potential of becoming airborne. Unfortunately, we are seeing cases where drugs are being manufactured in a home and in several instances, these are rental dwellings. The chemicals are extremely hazardous and many of them end up in the carpet and cushion.

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Mold spores are another hazard that can become airborne during removal of any type of flooring. (Photo 2) The dry spores remain dormant until they come into contact with something wet. Inhaling these spores into the nasal cavity, which is a wet area, can cause all types of serious respiratory ailments. Vacuuming is always a recommended first before removing carpet; second, maintaining air circulation is important. If possible, use a fan to exhaust air out a window or door. NIOSH-approved dust masks are recommended as well as gloves.

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To further minimize airborne particulate, we have used a pump up garden sprayer filled with water and a disinfectant. Lightly mist the carpet before removal, cut into workable sections and slowly roll up the carpet. Do not place carpet that has been removed next to new carpet. Many times installers have more than one job for the day. If the installer is expected to remove and haul away the old carpeting, where are they to put the old carpet and cushion? Yes, it ends up right next to the new carpet and pad that is going to be installed at the next job creating potential air quality concerns. A quality workroom would arrange for pick up and haul away with a vehicle that is empty so that this would not happen. If this is not feasible, the installer should wrap the old carpet and cushion with plastic before trying to haul away; there is a cost for this type of service.

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When a broom is used to sweep, it causes dust and particulate to become airborne. A vacuum with a good quality filter or HEPA vacuum will keep airborne dust and particulates to a minimum. If a glue down/thin-set type of product is going to be installed, sweeping compounds help to minimize airborne particulate but, the majority of them have chemicals in them that can be a bond breaker for adhesives.

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Grinding (Photo 3), shot blasting, and Portland-based patching compounds used on concrete slabs can create a big concern with indoor air quality. The silica dust that becomes airborne is a carcinogen which is cancer causing. A HEPA vacuum greatly minimizes the airborne particulate and no, a traditional shop vacuum is not a HEPA vacuum (Photo 4).

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Before dust containment systems became available for site sanding and finishing of hardwood flooring, dust bags were used to contain wood dust, which is another carcinogen. Masking as much of the cabinetry and around door openings takes time (Photo 5).  Now with so many manufacturers selling a full line of dust containment equipment, the days of the bags are gone and masking cabinets and door openings are minimized. Sand-and-finish hardwood professionals who have invested in dust containment equipment are capitalizing by selling the advantages of this type of equipment (Photos 6 and 7).

Ceramic and stone setters use dry cutting blades that can attach to a small grinder. These are great as a convenience cutting indoors for the setter but can create a lot of dust, which again is a carcinogen. Unfortunately, with the small grinders, there really isn’t a way of attaching a dust containment shroud. Here’s a technique that I use to minimize dust. Take a five gallon bucket, cut a hole on the side of the bucket the same diameter as your vacuum hose about 3/4  of the height of the bucket. Attach the hose to the bucket and now you have a dust containment system for your dry blade. Place the tile on the bucket, turn on the vacuum and make your cut. The bucket will also serve as your garbage can for the small pieces that get cut so you won’t have to worry about sweeping up all of your cut pieces. Thinset and grouts mixed indoors can create more airborne  carcinogenic particulates. Yes that powder that is inhaled while pouring the bag in the bucket is cancer causing. Remember, if you wouldn’t want to breathe it in, neither does your customer.