Ask the Carpenter: Remodeling? Steps for containing all that dust

Ask the Expert Home Improvement
When possible, remove your belongings from the work area. AP

As a carpenter, I learned pretty quickly that controlling remodeling dust and keeping it from spreading throughout your client’s home is a challenge. It is often more important than the quality of your work.

You may “crush’’ the job on quality but be a slob, and the latter is pretty much the last thing they’ll remember about your work. Over the years I have developed strategies and researched the best methods for controlling remodeling dust. Here’s my short list of steps:

Isolate the work area

Close doors to adjacent areas, and seal the seams with blue painters’ tape. This keeps dust from escaping the work area.

Enclose the area, if needed

Use a dust-containment barrier made of polyplastic sheeting to create a temporary wall, and cordon off areas. (ZipWall is one brand.) These containment systems have spring-loaded, expandable poles that allow you to install the plastic sheeting tight to the floor and the ceiling. When equipped with special foam rails, this system can create a fairly tight dust barrier or work area. If possible, try to eliminate access to the renovation area from inside the house.

Seal all heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning vents in the work area

This is a simple step that contractors often overlook. Duct work is a highway for airborne dust particles. Seal off all ducts with plastic, cardboard, and tape. Don’t forget to change the HVAC filter during and after construction. If you are doing demolition work or sanding floors, turn off the HVAC system entirely.

Remove or cover personal property

When possible, remove your belongings from the rooms being renovated. When you can’t, cover them with plastic and seal the plastic to the floor with tape.

Protect floors and walls

Put builders’ cardboard on the floor and cover it with Homasote or ¼-inch lauan plywood, tapping the seams. Use blue painters’ tape to seal the edges, and then overlap the next sheet by 3 to 4 inches and tape both edges again, continuing until the floor is covered.

Consider using sticky mats at all entrances to the area. These mats feature a tacky surface that pulls debris off soles before it can contaminate the house.

Capture airborne dust

Keep the windows and doors closed. Set up and use a HEPA air scrubber during the construction process, venting it to the exterior. This is one of the most effective ways to remove airborne dust before it settles or finds its way into other areas of the home.

A HEPA air scrubber captures many types of dust generated during remodeling projects, including cement, insulation, silica, lead, wood, and drywall particles. These systems allow contractors to eliminate airborne dust that results from demolition, sanding, and other standard remodeling tasks. It removes up to 90 percent of the airborne dust generated in the remodeling process, which makes a home livable during the project.

Capture dust at its source

Many contractors drop the ball here. Capturing dust at its source means connecting HEPA vacuums to tools to collect it as you’re making it. Several major tool companies now make dust-collection attachments.

Vacuum, don’t sweep

Sweeping only pushes the dust around. A HEPA vacuum not only picks up the dust, but also captures the particulates brooms often leave behind. Use high-filtration multilayer vacuum bags.

Cut materials outside

Set up saws, sanders, and any other dust-producing tools outdoors.

Clean as you go

If you leave the mess, you’ll walk through it, kicking it around and grinding it into the material protecting the floor. Clean the entire job site daily, vacuuming with a HEPA vacuum.

Utilize a debris chute

Avoid carrying materials through areas of the house not being remodeled. Try to remove debris out windows and down chutes to the trash bin.

Note: If you believe any of the materials being worked on during this renovation contain lead paint, follow the guidelines set by your local and state governments and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Rob Robillard is a general contractor, carpenter, editor of, and principal of a carpentry and renovation business. Send your questions to or tweet them to @robertrobillard. Subscribe to our free real estate newsletter at