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The Home Workshop

By HHI Staff

Even if you don’t consider yourself to be a do-it-yourself type, sooner or later you will probably need to do some painting or caulking, or you may want to update some cabinetry or a floor covering. To establish a base of operation for such projects you’ll need to consider its proper location, the storage of materials and your own personal protection.

Locations for Your Home Workshop
Ideally, a home workshop should be located in its own separate structure. Another good choice would be in a portion of an insulated, detached garage where the temperature — and perhaps the humidity — can be regulated. Yet, in reality, most home workshops are going to be located in basements, utility rooms and attached garages.

 

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Do be aware, in these locations a home workshop can pose potential dangers to the rest of the house, and to those who occupy it. After all, a number of the products and materials typically found in home workshops have the capacity to cause skin irritation, to be toxic, to easily catch on fire — or even to explode. Some materials are also quite odorous, and many are very hazardous to breathe. A few really noxious products may have all of these undesirable qualities. Therefore, if your home workshop is located anywhere within your house, or in an attached garage, the potential for indoor-air contamination (and other potentially dangerous problems) can be quite high.
Proper Product Storage and Disposal
There are several basic safety measures for any home workshop that are worth considering. One of these is always to read product labels carefully. Among other things, this will give you a manufacturer’s recommendation for the correct storage conditions for a particular product. As it turns out, most paints, clear finishes, adhesives, caulkings, etc. should be stored within a certain temperature range. Keeping products within this suggested zone guarantees longer product life, and in some cases it will also reduce the potential for leaks or even explosions.

Of course, cabinets with locking doors (or ones designed to accept a padlock) are best if there are small children around the house.

Another home workshop storage basic is to keep only what you think you’ll actually use again. In other words, rid your shop of old paints and other compounds that were used for a one-time project, or containers that only have a small quantity of material left in them. Although it may seem thrifty to hold on to everything, in many cases extended age can cause a product to degrade or deteriorate markedly. Some materials can become contaminated with mold or bacteria, or actually change in chemical composition. Then too, liquid or mastic ducts that have been stored for too long may simply dry up or come out of suspension.

When you are ready to dispose of unneeded paints, etc., be sure to call your local board of heath or sanitation department. They often have established proper disposal procedures for certain products — especially ones considered “household hazardous waste.” Many communities have drop-off locations where such products can be left. By the way, if you have a considerable amount of paint in one color that’s still in good condition, you might consider donating it to a local charity. Under no circumstances, should these products be poured down a drain.
Ensuring Proper Working Conditions
Proper working conditions are essential for a safe and healthy home workshop. Here are 12 tips to get you on your way:

 

  1. Good ventilation is crucial. Therefore, when you use paint, glue, mastic, etc., open the room’s windows and exterior doors (if possible) and consider using a window fan, or a permanently installed fan, to blow any odors outdoors.

  2. A sturdy workbench is essential, too. Butcher-block tops on heavy-duty legs can take a lot of abuse. However, they can be bonded with urea-formaldehyde glue. If you can find a good workbench made without formaldehyde, it would be a healthier choice. If you require a smooth, easy-to-clean work surface, consider stainless steel.

  3. Protective gear is essential for personal safety. Your chemical respirator mask, rubber gloves, neoprene gloves, ear protectors, shop coats, safety glasses and goggles should be handy, in good condition and always used when appropriate to do so.

  4. Wear and use a tool carrier, such as a tool vest, jacket or pants with extra pockets and holsters. There are also bib- or waist-style tool aprons.

  5. Keep a small metal canister with a tight-fitting metal lid, or a small garbage can with a lid, for oily or solvent-containing rags, paper or other flammable materials.

  6. It almost goes without saying that every home workshop should have a multi-purpose fire extinguisher that is in good working order and easily accessible.

  7. It’s also important to have an operating smoke detector. Note: Place the smoke detector so it isn’t directly over a location where a great deal of dust will be generated, because the airborne dust could affect the sensitivity. Also, gently dust or vacuum the detector regularly. Make sure, too, that you change the batteries at least once a year and test the unit weekly.

  8. Keeping your workshop clean is another safety essential. That way, particulate debris will not accumulate and re-circulate into the air. To clean thoroughly, it’s advisable to use a powerful vacuum that can pick up dirt, grit and sawdust easily.

  9. Install proper lighting. This means having a good overhead light source as well as a swing-arm lamp, flashlight and/or electric lanterns for close-up work.

  10. Keep all your cutting tools sharp. It may seem safer to use dull tools, but in practice, sharp tools slip less and cause fewer accidents.

  11. An intercom in your shop will permit you to make an easy and immediate call for help to other family members if necessary. You may want a telephone as well, to be able to make a 911 call quickly.

  12. Finally, you’ll want to have an easily accessible, well-stocked first-aid kit. Your local drugstore should have a ready-made kit in its own storage box, or they can order one for you. Or you can make up a kit yourself. Check your first-aid kit from time to time to see that the expiration dates on antiseptic ointments and other medications have not passed.

Certain repairs or remodeling will require that some work be done at a specific site, such as in the kitchen. However, if you must work somewhere besides your shop, continue to follow as many of the above safety precautions as possible.

 

From Creating a Healthy Household: The Ultimate Guide For Healthier, Safer, Less-Toxic Living. © 2000 by Lynn Marie Bower. 

 

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The Home Workshop:  Created on February 2nd, 2007.  Last Modified on February 28th, 2011

 

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