Big Problems and Slow Solutions

The Inevitable Moment When Renovations Go Wrong

I did not stay vigilant on one of my renovation guidelines and so it all went to hell. Which is why I should call them rules, not guidelines, dammit. Despite the small size of the job, the project has involved a plumber, electrician, carpenter, tile guy, and air conditioning company. Apparently, once you get into systems hidden behind 35 yr old walls there is always additional work that must be done. I had gotten too complacent, since the bulk of the work was being done in an air space that was isolated from mine. And honestly, a bit worn down with the vigilance. We were two weeks in and the rest of my life required my attention also. Still, there is no excuse for my lax attitude. When the A/C guy had to come inside my main air space and connect some duct work, I should not have assumed he would remember all my instructions. He used some mastic seal and I did not catch it soon enough and my house was quickly infiltrated with the fumes because it was applied on and in the duct work. Argh!

If I had directly spoken to him as he entered my home and reminded him of my situation, asking him specifically, “What materials will you be using in my house? Show me everything” I would have caught the sealant in advance and we could have talked alternatives. I don’t know that anything I had on hand would have been a viable substitute but even some basic silicone adhesive would have been safer than the stuff he did use. He knows now; nothing like seeing a TILTed patient in full reaction to drive the lesson home.

In react mode, we did a quick search on the product in hopes of approximating the time to air out (stabilize, finish outgassing, become relatively inert, whatever you want to call it). We found a helpful article that confirmed all of our instincts and we proceeded with the “air it out big time” approach. The A/C was running, the house had every window and door open (thank you weather for finally turning cooler), and we had fans pulling fresh ocean air though the poisoned house. Fortunately, my bedroom is upstairs and has a separate A/C system so I can work and sleep fairly safely up there. Not that I worked well for a while. I slurred my words and was slow with any mental processing. I was incapable of decision making and relied heavily on my husband to make the critical decisions to reclaim my home as safe. I could not tutor any students like this. My nervous system was effected which means that I was clumsy and my reflexes were slow. I dropped a lot of things in the kitchen and my husband had to take over my carpool duties because I could not be trusted to drive. During a reaction like this, my family not only loses a parent, it gains a needy dependent. It’s a bit easier now that the kids are older but it is still an awful responsibility for my husband to have to shoulder at unexpected times.

As we move out of emergency response mode and back into preventative mode, I am inspired to add Rule #15 to my newly renamed Rules for TILTed Renovating. Budget for and acquire in advance, a new filter for your air filter of choice. You will go through a whole filter and it is worth the expense so plan for it. Let me clarify here, that the “you” in all my guidelines is obviously my future self whose memory is awful and who has a bad case of lingering denial. Though I love our community’s sharing attitude, I do not mean to dictate rules to anybody else.

Speaking of sharing, I also got an email from a fellow canary who is concerned about potential house wide mold and I realize that I left out some motivational details in my original post. This bathroom tile was already a mess when we bought the house years ago and there was no A/C duct work to the bathroom. The goal of the renovations has been to create a room that can be maintained as a low humidity space, even by a teenage boy. So the new room has A/C, smooth shower walls rather than tile, a powerful exhaust vent, and I will put one of those scraper spatula things in the shower for him to wipe the water down the drain after usage. I live on Tampa Bay and so our goal is humidity control, not elimination. After 15 years the termites, the mosquitoes and I have all reached a mutually respectful standoff that recognizes humidity’s supremacy.

Maxine also had some great ideas about my lousy kitchen cabinets. Those are certainly going to require some outside the box thinking. Fortunately they are merely an aesthetic issue now and I can ignore that for years, possibly decades. Until they start to literally crumble and turn into a functional problem or we have another roof leak (hurricane season is a real thing here) that causes water damages spots too big to cut away. Not going to think about it. In fact, I don’t even want to think of another renovation for years. Someone quote my words back to me and my faulty memory if I start any R word posts anytime soon!
Here is the after pic (though we’re still missing the shower door and instead have a temporary curtain in place) and the list of things that worked. By “work” I mean that someone else needs to apply them and I can’t be in that air space for at least 48 hours, and in the case of the paint, I need to avoid it for more like a week. So I suppose TILTed working is a bit different than the general “it makes things stick together” working.
Murco M-100 All Purpose Joint Compound
AFM Safecoat Multi-Purpose Caulk
AFM Safecoat Almighty Adhesive
ChemLink BuildSecure/WallSecure
US Marble Shower
AFM Safecoat Zero VOC Primecoat and Naturals Paint tinted for walls

9 thoughts on “The Inevitable Moment When Renovations Go Wrong

  1. Arg! It is so tiresome to have to be so vigilant, yet one little slip can cost us months of our life.
    I am glad your husband can pick up some of the slack when you’re down, and I hope that by the next time you need to do some “R”ing, that the world has caught up and the other people involved know to research and ask you/us before they touch a thing! And in fact, that all those toxic products become a thing of the past so that all renovations can be healthy!

  2. My heart goes out to you! I know EXACTLY how tiring it is to be super-strict and super-picky ALL THE TIME. We’ve spent the past year and a half repairing and remodeling around here. It’s exhausting! Did the mastic finally cure and off-gas, or did you have to replace the duct work?

    • The mastic did finally cure but it took forever and I certainly would not recommend anyone else try it! I’ll be keeping an eye your kitchen progress and filing it away for future reference.

  3. Hi sorry, I know this is unrelated but I didn’t know how else to contact you. I’m a Lyme patient with mild to moderate chemical intolerance. I just got a couch and the polyurethane foam really had me reacting. I was wondering if you could give me tips on couches and…teeth care I can’t find anything I don’t have an issue with including baking soda.

    • Well those are some big questions and you’ll find that everyone has different levels of tolerance to different materials so my solutions may not work for you but here goes…
      Polyeurethane foam is a bad one. I found this out the hard way back in the late 90s before there were a lot of other options and before I really understood what was happening to me. Fortunately I was able to remove a lot of the foam, either b/c zippered cushions or taking apart seams, and replace it with cotton batting, blankets and towels. Yes it was lumpy and not ideal but I couldn’t afford to get new sofas, either in terms of money or reactivity, so I did what I could. I eventually hired an upholsterer who came out to my house and re-stuffed the sofa with a lot of cotton batting that I purchased and he did a more professional job of it. I made those patched up sofas last 12 years. By far the easiest MCS sofa option, both for money and reactivity, is to do something like a futon or any solid wood or metal frame with cotton/wool (or latex if you can handle it) stuffed cushions. After years of dealing with my patched up sofas I invested in some beautiful safe ones but it was a long expensive process.

      I react to Sodium Lauryl Sulfate and flouride but can still do toothpastes that don’t have those ingredients – right now Ive got a Jason brand that is working fine. My water has the flouride filtered out of it also since that seems to trigger sores in my mouth, gums and throat but interestingly, it does not bother me if applied directly to my teeth. So when I get my teeth cleaned, with a pure pumice like material my dentist has found for me, he also does a direct topical application of fluoride to my teeth and that works fine. My daughter has already sensitized to SLS but is ok with fluoride still while my son has no problem with any of these triggers. Just weird how we’re all different. However my mother’s mouth is now reacting to everything. She did baking soda for years after loosing toothpaste but cannot do that anymore. So now she uses pure glycerin soap (a bar that she rubs the toothbrush in and then brushes with it) to scrub away particles. She flosses after every meal and she uses cloves to “freshen” her mouth. She has also manged to find an anti-septic mouthwash that works but I can’t remember the brand right now.
      Hope some of that helps!

  4. We had problems with toothpaste also – gums would turn red and swell each time we used toothpaste. Redmond Trading Company has a toothpaste made from clay called Earthpaste. We have been using it for quite a while and don’t have any problems with it. It doesn’t taste great, but what toothpaste does? Also, there is no fluoride and no SLS in it. There is no baking soda in it.

  5. My husband used double duty mastic on a backsplash in our kitchen and I’m having a bad reaction. He thought it would be fine since he used it years ago and I had no reaction. He won’t tear it out and now I don’t know what to do. You said mastic was used for an air duct, how long did it take to offgass. I don’t know how much different it is to what he used and he’s still has to finish grouting and sealing which I hope helps. Any help you can give me would be great, im glad I found this blog I don’t feel so alone.

    • I’m so sorry that I am just now getting back to you on this! It’s a long story but I did the electronic disconnect thing for a week and apparently it was just when you asked a question that deserved a timely response – my bad. And by now, you probably have an answer to your question. For us, at least, it took about a week to air out enough that I could relax constant work on it (monitoring air flow, filters, etc) and then another week before I could be in the air space for short periods of time. Hopefully, the backsplash in your situation has covered the worst of the outgassing and it has stabilized faster.

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