One of the fun things about watching home renovation shows on television is the demolition. The more dramatically someone swings a sledgehammer, the better the viewing. And make no mistake—demo can be fun! But before you start smashing everything up, there are some things to remember about stirring up the ghosts of a house’s past.
Unless your house was built after the mid-1980s or so, the chances of asbestos turning up somewhere in your house is pretty likely. The older your house, the bigger the chances your house has it somewhere. You’ll want to have your house tested for it and if it turns up, you’ll need to call a licensed and experienced professional to remove it.
So what is asbestos? Asbestos is six naturally occurring fibers that can be separated into threads. These fibers seemed like magic for a long time because they are strong, fire-resistant and do not conduct electricity.
The problem is that it’s also toxic and linked to cancer. And yet it was in almost everything, dating back to the ancient Roman buildings. Here in the U.S., asbestos use increased dramatically during the post-war manufacturing boom. Asbestos is frequently associated with insulation, but it goes beyond that. It was everywhere—roofing, cement, plastics, floor and ceiling tiles, paints, wall panels, window putty, stucco, adhesives, vinyl sheet flooring. And on and on. It wasn’t just housing either. Shipyards, schools, offices. You get the idea.
When you start tearing apart a house without removing asbestos, those fibers can break free from where they’ve been hiding and become airborne. Once wafting around in the air, we breathe it in and it sticks to our lungs, causing inflammation.
Before you hit the panic button, here’s something to remember: asbestos products in good condition can usually be left alone because they won’t bother you. The problem arises when the products begin showing signs of deterioration or are ripped out improperly. Or, say, it’s time to change out the insulation.
As long as you take proper precautions, like hiring professionals for testing and removal, you’ll be okay. A little common sense and a good plan before redoing your older home can save a lot of time, effort and your health.
Have you ever noticed those masonry blocks that appear on some buildings’ corners? We see them a lot, especially with some older, more stately places that we work on. Those block things actually have a name—they’re called quoins, which is pronounced coins. Quoin is a French word that just means corner. Sounds fancy though!
There was a time when those blocks were functional and provided walls with strength and stability. They were also used as decorative features that could add some panache to a corner or give the illusion of strength. Building technology has improved to the point that they’re no longer necessary for the structural support. Today quoins are pretty much used as a way to add visual emphasis or contrast. Quoins are usually uniformly cut blocks (or imitation blocks that are cast) that alternate evenly between long and short lengths, though sometimes they’re all square or some other variation.
Quoins were originally popular in Europe in various incarnations. They can be seen in ancient European buildings, including in windows to add strength, and was especially favorable in the 1600s England and France—so the French term makes sense. The look found its way to the United States in the 1800s when we were a new country and our architectural styles were heavily influenced by Europe. We still see them today, especially with European-style houses that are popular these days.
In some homes and buildings there is a small window above a door or up high that can often serve solely as decoration or swivel open up just a little. Transom windows —that’s their name— come in a variety of shapes and sizes.
Because they are high up, when transom windows are above front doors or above, say, living room windows they can allow sunlight to stream into a room. Also, you can close your curtains but still get the benefits of natural light from the transom window above. Also, when they swivel open, they can allow for air circulation.
Less common today are interior transom windows above doors or front doors in older apartment buildings. There were popular—and necessary—before the days of air conditioning. They allow for light and cross ventilation while still maintaining privacy because they are small and up high. Today, they are still a great addition to homes for both decorative and functional purposes in rooms that need a little extra ventilation. In older homes, they’re a terrific original feature that can easily be preserved.
Looking to spruce up your home and add a little DIY touch to one of the rooms in your house. Here are some great examples of ways to create coffee tables or end tables out of every day seen items that are either around the house or at yard sales. They are easy refinished items and they look great inside your home too!
This goes for any home improvement project. Simple precautions like wearing safety goggles, not overloading outlets and turning off breakers will only take a few minutes or a few extra bucks, but these steps can save you from disaster.