Protect Yourself from your Neighbor's Construction or Renovation

My Experience

My remarks on this page are based on my recent personal experience with my next door neighbors, an orthodox Jewish married couple whose home is about ten feet from mine, when in 2014 they had a five-part major exterior home improvement project done.

Note that on this page I'm using the terms contractor and builder interchangeably.

These people:

  1. Demolished their garage.

  2. Added a four-story addition to the rear of their home; that's a basement, first floor, second floor, and attic.

  3. Replaced just about the entire front of their home, including a medium-sized retaining wall, two sets of front steps, and their front walkway. They also painted.

  4. Replaced the siding around their entire house.

  5. Laid down a completely new driveway.

The work lasted just over 4.5 months, and comprised a kind of low, and sometimes not so low, level torture for me and my family. My Father was 86 years old, in delicate health, when their work began. Armed with what I've learned, I'm qualified to help you.

Your Experience

If a nearby neighbor is expanding their home in the form of an addition or similar project, the noise and airborne dust, including its particulates and ultra-fine particulates, will likely adversely affect you and your family, especially if the latter includes children, elderly, or those with a compromised immune or lung function. Even a healthy adult can reach a point of panic if a steady stream of airborne dust enters the home over the course of an eight-hour workday.

Thus, these situations can be extremely serious, and you can't ignore them. In not ignoring them, your neighbor and indeed even their contractor may become angry with you, or may simply not take your concerns seriously, especially if they know nothing about environmental health, or if poor relations already exist. You must persevere, however, and through the tools of genuine love and respect, use the opportunity to teach them a bit about environmental health and exactly the kinds of harms or potential harms they are generating.

When it comes to obtaining at least minimal cooperation to establish a minimum or baseline margin of safety, you simply cannot take "No" for an answer.

Don't assume that the contractor/s or their clients, your neighbors, will do anything to protect you. Without your explicit request that they do so, it is a virtual certainty that they will not. Such is the world we live in--no real Love. In fact, in most cases not only will your neighbors do nothing to protect you, they usually won't even tell you about the pending work, regardless of how substantially it might affect you, your family, and/or your property. My neighbors, right next door, not only told me absolutely nothing about their pending work, but lied about it on two separate occasions. The husband once stated implicitly that there was no work, and the wife, when questioned by me when I saw the construction crew on their property, indicated that they were only having their front retaining wall replaced. The wall was replaced, but it was just phase one of what was to be a five-phase, 4.5 month major exterior construction project.

Not only did this "neighbor" conveniently omit mention of the other four phases of the work, each one major, but her descriptive mention of the work to be done to her retaining wall was grossly inaccurate and incomplete. What was actually replaced at the front of her house, as described above, was her retaining wall, two sets of front steps, and the front walkway, in addition to painting. If her inaccuracy was deliberate, which I reasonably assume that it was, I'd have to add the word deceitful, dishonest, or lie to my narrative.

She obviously lied. Technically, a series of lies, of omission.

Susan Stellin, writing for The New York Times (link below), implicitly acknowledges the failure of most residents to apprise their neighbors around them of imminent improvements. Ms. Stellin states: "In an ideal world, anyone about to undertake construction would warn neighbors."

Step #1

The first and over-arching physical phenomenon that you will encounter during construction work is the continual production of dust. Accordingly, here's a basic common sense step toward dust repulsion:  purchase and emplace thick clear plastic sheets over the windows, and if possible, doors, nearest to the work. This will prevent dust from entering your home through cracks and crevices that, while nearly invisible, are certainly large enough to permit the flow of air, and anything carried by air such as dust and particulate matter. An added bonus to this sheeting that I was not aware of when I first emplaced it, is the amelioration of noise. The plastic sheeting, provided that it's thick enough, will reduce the construction noise. I recommend a .3 mil thickness for maximum sound reduction. Shop carefully for the tape you'll use to adhere the sheeting to the exterior of your home, as you don't want to pull off your siding or other exterior materials when it's time to remove the sheeting. My home has some sort of aluminum-siding style material on its exterior and I found that a standard blue easy-removal tape worked reasonably well.

I note here that the builder lied, as well, in telling me categorically in response to my asking, that there was nothing that could be done to shield ourselves from the dust, noise, and other residuals of his work. My research revealed several steps that could have been taken, a few of which I took, starting with the simple, commonsense, no-brainer step of simply covering the windows on the outside of the house with plastic sheeting, as explained above. He didn't even see fit to mention this.

There is more to say or write about protecting yourself from your neighbor's construction. Of course, you have to conduct your own construction in a safe and healthy manner, as well, for the sake of yourself, your family, and your neighbors. The critical difference, however, is that you can control your own construction, whereas you can't control that of your neighbor, so in good measure we're at their mercy. We have to rely on their intelligence, state of health knowledge, and Love.

Please email me for further assistance if desired.

Suggested Links

Coping with Neighbor's Renovation
(New York Times, excellent article)


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