Q: I have 2 cockatiels who mean the world to me and my husband. We are doing some renovation on our home and we were wondering if this could be dangerous for the birds.
-Chloe J., Paramus, NJ
A: I am glad you thought to ask this question beforehand because some of the procedures and supplies used in common renovation can be harmful to birds.
The main concern is air quality – that always presents the biggest danger to birds during remodeling. A bird’s respiratory system is remarkably efficient and dynamic, a fact which leaves a bird very vulnerable when dangerous fumes or particulates are in the air.
You didn’t mention what work you are doing in the house so I will address the most common types of renovation:
Painting: You should never apply any paints with your parrot in the house – even the Eco-Friendly choices. VOCs are the Volatile Organic Compounds contained in standard house paints which contain chemicals that are off-gassed into the air space in the home – a process that may continue for years.
Low VOC implies that there is only less off-gassing – ANY is too much with a bird in the house. Choose a no/zero VOC paint (with no VOC pigments) which claim to contain no off-gassing chemicals. Understand that even without off-gassing they still emit fumes which can cause illness until they dissipate. Your bird should be kept out of the house until odors are no longer detectable.
Flooring/Carpeting: Similar concerns are present when new flooring or floor covering is laid. Some flooring products, such as vinyl, as well as the backing on synthetic carpeting may off-gas VOCs for a long time. It is encouraged that you select natural materials for your floors or unroll and air out carpet and padding prior to installation.
Just as dangerous are the adhesives used to keep flooring and carpet in place – these fumes can be deadly. Your bird should be removed from the house and not returned until there is no trace of odor remaining. This also goes for ANY type of staining, refinishing, sealing or Polyurethane-ing jobs being done in the house.
Demolition/Construction: While there might be no glues or solvents used in this process of renovation, there will be plenty of dust and particulates being raised from various sources. Even without toxicity, this can cause breathing difficulties for your bird.
Be aware of the quality of the materials you select to rebuild or replace old products. Plywood and particle board may contain formaldehyde. In very recent years, many lawsuit have been won by homeowners who had used drywall manufactured in China that emitted dangerous sulphur gasses that not only jeopardized their health for years, but did thousands of dollars of damage to their homes.
Better safe than sorry is always the best policy when it comes to our birds. It is wise to keep your bird as far away from all construction as possible and it is necessary to remove him from the house altogether when any fumes are present and only allow him to return once they are gone.
Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.