Exposed wall interior material in living spaces
July 11, 2016 9:56 AM   Subscribe

Owners of old homes and general handy-people of MeFi, how much of a health risk is having wall and ceiling construction material of unknown age exposed to open air in the home?

The complication is that this is not my home, but that of a close loved one. Furthermore, people in their family are generally very knowledgeable about home construction and remodeling (built their own home and work in related industry). So I feel like I am not in a position to say that something is wrong....

Nonetheless, in a very old house that was bought a few years ago, there are several walls in the house that the current owner broke down for remodeling and never sealed back up. These exposed sections usually run floor-to-ceiling, of widths from a few inches to about a foot. I see frayed material, wooden slats with crumbly glue compound, and insulation fibers. One of these is right by where the attic fan draws up a significant draft, next to the bedroom. And cats go in and out of a hole with frayed edges. I feel increasingly worried that this is unnecessary exposure to bad bad stuff. I plan to talk to him about it, but how much of a deal should I make it to be? Is it more "I know this might be nothing but it makes me worry so let's put some plastic wrap around it at least?" or "I believe this is a definite risk to all those who live in this house and we must fix it ASAP?"
posted by bread-eater to Home & Garden (5 answers total)
I think the big worry would be asbestos. There might be none at all (whew!) but there might be a lot. The only way to tell would be to test it.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 10:34 AM on July 11, 2016

Pets crawling around in unfinished spaces is a bad idea for the health and safety of the animal (getting trapped in a small space, ingesting materials, getting scratches or cuts) but may increase the likelihood of marking behaviors which is gross and unsanitary.

Dust and debris in an old home may contain asbestos and/or lead. If these spaces are completely sealed off and were deconstructed in a safe way (sounds unlikely) then there might not be a health issue.

Just having the walls open is probably fine if he space is dry in terms of integrity of the wall materials.
posted by amanda at 10:47 AM on July 11, 2016

The frayed material you are seeing is probably horsehair, used to reinforce the plaster, and the wooden slats are lath. Do these images match what you are seeing?

Googling says that traditional lath and plaster generally predates the use of asbestos, but asbestos is certainly a possibility.
posted by misterbrandt at 10:48 AM on July 11, 2016

If you can give the approximate age of this home, that would help in a hypothesis of what you're seeing.

(Totally plausible assumptions of "very old" for houses where totally unremarkable normal people live -- i.e. NOT super-wealthy inherited manor homes or properties of historical significance -- could be 1940s where I grew up, but 1840s where I live now.)
posted by desuetude at 11:00 PM on July 11, 2016

Response by poster: Sorry for the late response... desuetude, the house was built before 1910, but I don't know the renovation history, so I have no idea how old section is.

misterbrandt, thanks for pointing me to the term "laths"... The laths I saw didn't have the overlapping "keys" but otherwise looked quite similar. I will check more closely this week when I visit.

Thanks everyone!
posted by bread-eater at 6:16 PM on July 12, 2016

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