Steps for Correct Dust Control - Pro Construction Guide
Steps for Correct Dust Control

Steps for Correct Dust Control and Demolition

Controlling dust on a bath remodeling project can seem like a no-win situation – bathrooms are either centrally located in the home or in a master suite. So without taking the proper steps for correct dust control, you either cover the public areas in dust or cover the bedroom in dust. But with the right equipment and some planning, successful dust containment is possible.

By Chad McDade

I have had so many customers ask me about how dirty their remodeling project was going to be that I added a dust containment plan to every customer’s scope of work. This plan outlines the approach and equipment I use to keep dust intrusion at a minimum. I find customers greatly appreciate this extra step, and I won a few jobs by actively addressing dust containment. These are the proper steps for correct dust control.

Cover the floors

The first step involves the use of canvas runners from the entry door to the area of work. In areas with hard surface flooring, the canvas drops usually are laid directly over the flooring. In heavy traffic cases (such as a full-gut bath remodel), I install Ram Board floor protection first and then lay the runners on top.

In carpeted areas, I install a Surface Shield plastic carpet protector before laying runners. The plastic carpet protector and the Ram Board stay for the duration, but the runners are pulled up at the end of every day, taken outside, and the dust and dirt shaken out. This process takes care of dust and dirt from work boots as well as dirt and debris falling from items being carried outside.

Seal off the room

Probably one of the most important steps for correct dust control is sealing off the room from the rest of the house. I enclose the work area with the ZipWall system and 4-mil plastic sheeting.

Shown is an image of capped plumbing during a project.

Shown is an image of capped plumbing during a project.

How I accomplish this varies by the job. On some projects, there is only enough room to close the door in the work area. However, if space is available, I prefer to close off the door to the work area and build a containment room with its own door. The containment room provides an extra layer of protection, and gives us room to store bags of debris and dust ourselves off before we go into clean areas.

The inner door is created simply with overlapping plastic sheeting, and the door in the containment room is created with ZipDoor zippers that are taped to the plastic. For projects that fall under the EPA’s Renovation, Repair and Painting (RRP) requirements, we use the ZipWall system. ZipWall is approved for containment rooms and covered doorways, so your project is EPA compliant and contains the dust at the same time.

Inside the work area, I take additional steps for correct dust control. I close off HVAC ducting with small scraps of plywood screwed to the floor. This helps prevent dust getting into the HVAC system and stops debris from falling into the ductwork during demo.

Extra care during the demo

The demolition process is the step that creates the most dust (especially if the demolition involves plaster and lathe), so I take extra dust-control precautions. I use an air scrubber – a dust-control HEPA-filter system that also can be used in a negative air-pressure mode by venting the unit outside through a window.

With the work area sealed off with the ZipWall system, the air scrubber excels at removing airborne dust. The unit works well in normal mode, but its efficiency is greatly improved by running it in negative air-pressure mode when feasible.

I also use the air scrubber unit when hanging and finishing drywall. Sanding drywall in a small bath remodel creates a lot of dust, and drywall dust tends to go everywhere. If you don’t have an air scrubber system, a simple fan in a window blowing air out provides dust control when the work area is contained.

Small changes, big results in dust control

Changing the way you do little tasks also can help contain dust:

  • Place all demolition debris inside garbage bags and tie them shut.
  • Wipe down tools and equipment before removing them from the containment area.
  • If you have to cut inside, utilize dust collection on your saw.
  • Place a sticky mat or a cheap throw rug outside the containment area to remove dust from boots.
  • Use a HEPA-rated vacuum, not a basic wet/dry vacuum that can blow dust around.
  • Don’t let dirt and dust build up; clean and vacuum the work area at the end of every day

Taking the proper steps for correct dust control eliminate a good portion of dust, so you have less to clean during and after the project. This helps make your customer happy. Bath remodels are especially invasive in a customer’s life, and it’s worse when he comes home from work to a house covered in dust.

Another potential benefit of proper dust control is a good customer referral. Customers find it easier to recommend you when you go the extra mile to keep their homes clean from construction dust.

One method of dust removal involves a fan placed in an open window.

One method of dust removal involves a fan placed in an open window.

Demolition time

Once dust control is set up, it’s time for the fun part: demolition. Every bathroom demolition project is a little different. You may be dealing with an easy demo with drywalled walls and a fiberglass tub, or you may be dealing with plaster and lathe walls and a cast iron tub.

My first step is to isolate and shut off the water supply to the bathroom, regardless of how easy or difficult the demolition project is. This alleviates worry about accidentally turning on the shower valve or breaking a supply line in the wall. I locate the water supply, cut the supply pipes, and install a ball valve on the hot and cold lines, so the bathroom is isolated from the water

Shown is a project going through demolition.

Shown is a project going through demolition.

supply. Sometimes another bath or even the kitchen will be downstream from the project bath (this is determined during the estimating process). If that’s the case, more involved plumbing is required.

Electrical wiring also is a concern during the demolition phase. If the bath is on its own circuit, I like to shut off the breaker and install a circuit breaker lockout for safety. In a lot of older homes, the bathroom may share a circuit with other areas, so shutting the circuit down may shut off power to other areas, too. Therefore, even when it is possible to turn off the electricity to the bath, be cautious because the presence of other live wires inside the walls is possible. After the power is turned off, I sometimes route an extension cord from another circuit through my dust containment.

Close off HVAC ducting with small scraps of plywood screwed to the floorClose off HVAC ducting with small scraps of plywood screwed to the floor. This helps prevent dust getting into the HVAC system and stops debris from falling into the ductwork during demo.

Once the plumbing and electrical are addressed, it is time to start ripping out the bath. A good portion of my bath remodels are full guts – walls, ceiling, fixtures, and everything else gone. If there is an attic with blown-in insulation above the bath, I either patch and skim coat the existing ceiling or, depending on its condition, overlay it with new drywall.

Plaster lathe demolition in progress.

Plaster lathe demolition in progress.

Here is the order of demotion that I usually follow on a complete bathroom remodel:

  1. Cabinets, toilet, shower doors, mirrors

First I remove vanities, sinks, cabinets, toilets, shower doors and mirrors. Removing the cabinets frees up room for me to move around, and allows me to cap off water supply lines and plug drains with a mechanical test plug.

Removing the toilet frees up space and eliminates the worry of breaking the toilet. I also plug the toilet drain with a mechanical test plug. Finally, I remove shower doors and mirrors to alleviate the worry of breaking them.

  1. Walls

If the walls and ceiling are drywalled, I use my utility knife to cut the tape in the wall to the ceiling corner to free the wall sheets.

Shown is a ZipWall entrance during a project.

Shown is a ZipWall entrance during a project.

  1. Ceiling

Removing a drywalled ceiling is easy work, with a few strategically placed holes and simple tugging of the sheet off the screws. However, if the ceiling is plastered, the demo is considerably more work because plaster comes off in small, heavy pieces that are quite sharp.

Another consideration is attic insulation, since blown-in insulation makes a mess. If the ceiling has to be removed, I find it is easier to enter the attic and remove the blown-in insulation prior to demolition.

  1. Tub/shower

After the walls and ceilings are down, I remove the tub. If the tub is made of cast iron, it is removed from its location, strapped to an appliance dolly and carted away. Steel and fiberglass tubs are normally light enough that they do not require a dolly to haul them away. However, a tub is awkward to carry if you are working alone, so a dolly still is a good idea.

  1. Flooring

I like to remove the existing flooring for three reasons. It usually allows me to better match the height of adjoining flooring; check for any water damage to the subfloor; and install a clean substrate for the new flooring.

  1. Plumbing and electrical

Plumbing lines and electrical wire don’t always need to be removed, but most bath remodels I perform require moving some fixtures and adding bath fans and outlets, etc.

Re-install dust containment

After demolition is finished, the area is cleaned thoroughly. Once the cleaning is finished, I remove any containment that’s been set up and replace it with new ZipWalls. I do this because the containment invariably gets damaged while removing debris, and it gives me a new, clean entrance to the remodel.


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