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How to Control Dust and Keep Things Clean on the Job

Learn how to control dust, clean up efficiently, and prevent big messes from accumulating on the jobsite.

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Laying down carpet and drop cloth to protect floors and carpet | Construction Pro Tips

Lay Down a Protective Path

It is impossible to demo a wall or bust up a floor without making a mess, but that doesn’t mean you need to track that mess all over the rest of the house. The next time you have to tear out some carpet, cut several long strips, and use them as pathways to protect the flooring in other areas of the house. Make sure to flip the carpet upside down so the abrasive backing won’t scratch the finish on wood floors. “Old-fashioned’ canvas drop cloths are still the best method for protecting stair treads. Just make sure it doesn’t slide. Fasten the drop cloth to the riser above the tread with a wood strip and screws (if stairs are carpeted) or use an adhesive type covering. It won’t protect hard surfaced from dings and dents, but it’s great for dust and paint.

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Laying down sheets of hardwood to protect floors | Construction Pro Tips

Protect Finished Flooring With Hardboard

Rosin paper, cardboard and drop cloths are all great ways to protect a floor- until you knock your trim gun off the top of a 6-foot ladder. If you really want to ensure that a floor stays dent and scratch-free, cover it with 1/8-inch hardboard. It’s pretty cheap, and as the name suggests, it’s pretty hard.

Cut the sheets with a circular saw or jigsaw and, to prevent scratches, make sure both the floor and the hardboard are perfectly clean before you lay the hardboard down. Tape the seams with masking tape to keep the dirt and debris from slipping through the cracks. When the job is done, pull up the sheets and save them for the next job.

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Walking through a plastic tunnel created for protection | Construction Pro Tips

Make a Plastic Passage

Hanging sheets of plastic from the ceiling is a good way to isolate a room that’s being remodeled. But instead of hanging one continuous sheet to keep your mess in, hang two and overlap them by 4 feet or so. That way you’ll have a handy door to walk through, which beats having to duck under the plastic every time you come and go. Lay a scrap piece of lumber on the bottom of the plastic to keep it in place.

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Vacuuming up dust as you cut | Construction Pro Tips

Vacuum While You Cut

If you’re cutting or drilling drywall, you’ll have to drag out the vacuum sooner or later anyway, even if you’re not sure whether you should dust or vacuum first. So do it now and suck up the dust before it spreads. If your plans include sanding lots of drywall, consider buying a HEPA filter, which will catch even the smallest particles. Standard paper filters trap only the larger particles while your vacuum blasts the rest throughout the house.

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An isolation chamber made from poly and clamps | Construction Pro Tips

Isolation Chamber

Remodeling contractors, listen up. Buy a set of four Zip Poles for all those dusty jobs that you need to isolate from the rest of the house. You can quickly set up a temporary wall or booth with the telescoping poles and hang some poly. The poles clamp the plastic against the ceiling by pushing against the floor. For most jobs you’ll need four of the 10-foot steel poles. Longer aluminum poles are also available. You can buy Zip Poles on Amazon or at your local tool supplier.

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A respirator designed to protect lungs from dust | Construction Pro Tips

Wear a Respirator, Not a Dust Mask

Dust masks and respirators may look the same, but respirators are designed to block 95 percent of small particles (0.3 micron). To find a true respirator, look for “N95” on the label. In order for a respirator to work, it needs to fit properly. There are respirators available in small, medium and large—wear one that fits. And for you blokes with bushy beards, respirators are better than nothing, but they won’t provide the protection you need.

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A vacuum plugged directly into a miter saw | Construction Pro Tips

Save Trips to the Vacuum

Using a vacuum as a dust collection system makes a lot of sense, but walking back and forth to turn it on or off can get a bit tedious, and listening to it run all day is not an option. Do yourself a favor and pick up an i-Socket Autoswitch. Plug the Autoswitch into the wall, and then plug the tool and the vac into the Autoswitch. Every time you fire up the tool, the Autoswitch will trigger the vac. Once you’ve made your cut, the vac continues to run for seven seconds so it can finish sucking up the dust.

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An air and debris filtration system hooked up to a vacuum cleaner | Construction Pro Tips

Make Your Wet/Dry Vacuum Filter Last Forever

Fine drywall and masonry dust will plug a vac filter almost immediately. The Dust Deputy from Oneida separates large and small particles into a 5-gallon bucket before they can reach your vac, so you don’t have to waste time cleaning the filter every three minutes.

This model comes with two buckets, all the hoses you need and casters for the bucket. The bucket can be permanently fastened to the vac, but the pros we talked to prefer to strap it on with a bungee so it can be easily separated for dumping. A 5-gallon bucket is a lot easier to carry outside to dump than a cumbersome vac canister.

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A rotary tool with no dust | Construction Pro Tips

Invest in a Dust-Sucking Rotary tool

Nothing works better at cutting holes in drywall than a rotary tool. It’s also true that nothing fills a room with dust faster. Thankfully, RotoZip has figured out how to control that dust. Their RotoSaw with Dust Vault has an integrated dust collection system that reduces airborne dust by up to 90 percent. It also works on wood, cement board and tile, among other materials.

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A joint compound made to reduce dust | Construction Pro Tips
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Low-Dust Joint Compound

Drywall sanding may be the single dustiest process in any remodeling project. While there’s no way to control all the dust, working with a low-dust joint compound will help. Low-dust mud is formulated to fall straight down to the ground instead of floating around. The downside is that low-dust mud is harder to sand than regular mud and can cost 60 percent more, so most pros use it only on smaller remodeling projects and put up with the mess on larger jobs.

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Cutting through fiber cement with no dust | Construction Pro Tips
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Nibble Away at Fiber Cement

The dust created from cutting fiber cement siding with a circular saw is not only prodigious; it’s also hazardous to your health. If you have a thousand cuts to make, a circular saw is a necessary evil, but if you’re just making repairs or installing siding on a small addition, consider cutting with the TSF1 TurboShear made by Malco. This shear attaches to most drills larger than 14.4 volts and creates very little dust as it chews its way through fiber cement siding. It can also cut curves!.