Plus, how to make sure your project results in a safe and beautiful home.


The age of a building can imbue a New York City apartment with a unique sense of history and grandeur; unfortunately, it can also mean the presence of materials once widely used in construction, and now known to be hazardous. Often, these materials remain buried inside walls or beneath flooring until it comes time to renovate.

“A major concern of any New York City homeowner planning a renovation is whether the project might end up exposing them and their families to toxic materials like asbestos and lead paint,” says Fraser Patterson, Founder and CEO of Bolster, a New York City company that empowers homeowners to control their major renovation by delivering industry-leading expertise and a radically transparent online platform. “By working with an EPA-certified firm like Bolster, homeowners can rest assured that we will safely identify, address, and clean up any of these materials without derailing their renovation.”

Read on to learn more about asbestos and lead paint, what to do if you find them in your home, and how these substances could affect a renovation.

Pro Tip:

With more than 50,000 square feet renovated in NYC, Bolster understands how to guide New Yorkers through any renovation challenge, from navigating Landmarks to recreating pre-war details, and gives them full visibility into project milestones. "Bolster is the only renovation firm to offer a fixed-price cost up-front. Once we perform due diligence and verify the existing conditions of your property, we absorb unforeseen project costs," says Bolster's CEO and co-founder Anna Karp. Ready to start your renovation? Learn more >>


What is asbestos?

Asbestos is a heat-resistant fiber that was frequently used in building construction materials for insulation, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. If inhaled, asbestos fibers can lead to conditions like lung cancer and mesothelioma, health hazards that became widely known in the U.S. beginning in the 1970s.

Where is it found?

In New York City, asbestos may be present in buildings that were constructed before the 70s; it’s most often found in and around plumbing, as it was used as a pipe insulator. Homeowners might also encounter it beneath flooring, says Bolster Build Manager Chris Amplo, as it was used in adhesives, as well.

How do I know if my apartment has asbestos?

New Yorkers in pre or post-war buildings who are preparing for a major renovation may naturally be nervous that their contractors will encounter asbestos during construction, for not only the health risks but also for the potential costs of dealing with the issue.

But the presence of asbestos alone is not cause for panic, Chris says, and quality contractors will know exactly how to test for it and proceed safely with renovations.

“No matter what kind of renovation you’re going to be doing, if you engage a firm like ours, we require an asbestos test,” Chris says. “We do our homework and due diligence long before we start breaking down walls or drilling holes. We have to know what level is in the home, so we can come up with an action plan, which will mean containment or abatement, depending on the overall scope of the project.”

What do I do if my apartment has asbestos?

In many cases, Chris says, the best way to manage the presence of asbestos in your home is simply to contain it.

In apartments where asbestos has been used in the flooring, for instance, “We may just go over that and not disturb it,” Chris says.

In major renovations, however, in which there is the risk of asbestos becoming airborne during construction because you’ll be knocking down walls that were insulated with it, abatement will be necessary.

“Asbestos can stay in the air for three days. It’s very light and can travel,” Chris explains. In bigger projects in which the material can’t simply be covered, Bolster will work with an abatement firm to come in and remove it.

“The scope of your project will determine whether you need containment or abatement,” Chris says. “Any kind of significant renovation is going to call for these types of procedures and processes.”

How will this factor into my renovation?

Bolster tests for asbestos before beginning a project, so there’s no risk of any nasty surprises once construction has begun. If asbestos is found, your project team will help you determine what to do next, and how to budget for managing the issue.

“The cost varies depending on the amount of contamination we find for asbestos, and whether the course of action is containment or removal,” Chris says. “Those are options that can be weighed based on your design plan, during project development with an architect.”

Lead paint

What is lead paint?

Lead was used to make paint more vibrant in color and longer-lasting; if ingested or inhaled, lead can cause developmental and physical delays in children, as well as reproductive issues and other physical and cognitive problems in adults, according to the Mayo Clinic.

New York City banned the use of lead paint in residential buildings in 1960, but it may still be present in many older apartments.

“There’s a 90 percent chance of finding lead in a home built before 1940,” Chris says.

Where is it found?

Paint, naturally, including on windowsills, door frames, stairs, and railings, as well as occasionally in water, though thankfully NYC’s tap water is high-quality. Unlike asbestos, chipping lead paint is unlikely to travel far; the primary risk lies in children consuming it.

“Lead paint is actually sweet, so kids confuse it with candy,” Chris explains. “And surfaces that contain lead are often at their level. Paint might be peeling because of water damage, and there’s a risk that a child could eat it.”

How do I know if my apartment has lead paint?

Many big box stores sell over the counter kits that allow you to test your paint and drinking water, but even better is to hire a lead testing and abatement firm.

Bolster is certified under the EPA’s Lead Renovation, Repair and Painting program, which means their team has been trained to identify the presence of lead paint and address the issue under federal law.

“In any home that we’re working in that was built before 1978, we must perform a lead test on all the areas we are going to disturb,” Chris says.

What do I do if my apartment has lead paint?

If you suspect your apartment has lead paint, but the paint is in good condition, not flaking or peeling, and you don’t have young children, you may opt to leave it be. But if you’re concerned about peeling or chipping paint, or the presence of lead dust, hire an EPA-certified abatement firm to handle removal and repainting.

How will this factor into my renovation?

“Most of the larger buildings we work on have extensive alteration agreements and will not allow a non-RRP firm to work in the building,” Chris says. “It’s something we and most management companies are aware of.”

As a responsible lead-safe firm, Bolster acts in accordance with the EPA’s guidelines for dealing with lead during renovations.

“We make sure our team is properly protected, and that we’re following good work processes to eliminate the spread of lead and lead dust during renovations,” Chris says.

Depending on the scope of your project and the presence of lead paint, you may need to vacate your home while construction is under way, until your contractors can ensure they’ve cleaned the area thoroughly of lead paint.

“We’re committed to doing our due diligence during the project’s discovery phase in order to uncover risk factors like the presence of lead or asbestos,” says Fraser. “In all renovation relationships, we enter into a financial partnership with our homeowners, putting our own profit on the line as an assurance that we’ll get the job done right. If we don’t, we absorb the cost of any defects ourselves. So our team is incentivized to manage projects as though they were working in their own home, with their own family. It’s a radical way of doing things, but it works.”

Every year, New Yorkers waste over $700M following the usual renovation process.

Bolster has uncovered the drivers behind these inefficiencies and has developed a proprietary solution that applies to every home renovation project. Bolster is the first company to bring radical transparency, analytics, and accountability to the entire process. They promise that every project is thoughtfully designed and beautifully delivered for a fair price, on time, and on budget. To start your major home renovation project, visit

Alanna Schubach

Contributing writer

Contributing editor Alanna Schubach has over a decade of experience as a New York City-based freelance journalist.

Brick Underground articles occasionally include the expertise of, or information about, advertising partners when relevant to the story. We will never promote an advertiser's product without making the relationship clear to our readers.