Friday, June 6, 2008

Don't Lick the Walls: Lead Paint Freak Out

A few posts back, Eric and I were sort of paralyzed by the realisation that our house might have quite a bit of lead paint. We knew it would have some -- as most homes built before 1973 do -- but we were afraid that the lead paint in our house stood between us and completing the painting and other projects that we want to do in the next few weeks before the contractors get in there.

After furiously searching the internets (which was predictably full of half-truths and misinformation), we found a program that Hennepin County offers to help with lead abatement. We started to get the gears in motion to apply for the program and tried to figure out what we were going to do about our projects in the meantime. We decided that our wallpaper removal could continue because we were doing it wet, which would keep any lead dust down and because it was the wallpaper, not the paint, that we were disturbing. We took precautions -- covered our vents, changed and washed our clothes and showered immediately after doing the work, and cleaned up using trisodium phosphate (lab nerd Eric was ALL over that) and a shop vac with a HEPA filter.

The first phase of the lead program was some initial dust testing. Two women from the Sustainable Resources Center did the testing and advised us on how to clean around the windows, the likely source of most of the lead paint in our house. Then we waited for the results.

A week later a phone call and a letter indicated that our window sills and wells were off the charts. There was some (although not as high) lead on the floors of the entryway and the hallway where my sister and I had just removed wallpaper. Ugh. Using a home stick test, Eric and I tested the front hallway wall where we had just removed wallpaper. Pink to red means positive to varying degrees. The stick and testing fluid were so instantly red, it was like our walls were bleeding. Bleeding with lead. If we were paralyzed before, we were turned to stone now.

I called the Department of Health and explained our timing predicament. The lead lady there (and the reason I will never bad-mouth Hennepin County and the Health Department) tried to get our process speeded up. When that didn't work out, she dropped by herself with this crazy gun-like lead tester. She spot tested the walls we were worried about. Praise God and the Department of Health, the walls we wanted to work on were mostly negative. Our positive dust readings are likely from the trim, the windows, the front hall and half of the bathroom wall (the half we don't need to touch).

Finally, we're able to charge forward with our plans to remove adhesive and paint this weekend. Sweet, sweet relief.

This isn't to say we're entirely out of the woods. We're going to do our best to contain the few walls that have some lead in them, but our windows still need some serious work to get our house to be healthy. The county is going to help us out with a lot of that. It's going to take some time, but it will be worth it when our lead readings go down after that.

Eric and I were really nervous when we realised that we might have a lead problem. We tried to inform ourselves as much as possible, but there seemed to be a lot of inconsistent information out there. The best thing that has happened during this whole process? Getting tested and getting our concerns answered. We're so much better prepared to deal with this problem now that we know what in our house is of concern and what is not. Before that, I practically didn't want to touch anything in the house and definitely didn't want my sister's kids over there. Now at least we know which walls they can and cannot be licking. I highly recommend getting tested if there's any concern about lead in your house -- testing alone won't solve your problem, but at least it will help you figure out what to do next.

In the meantime, the work in our kitchen has continued. There's probably lead paint on the window, but for now we're not touching that. We ripped off some wainscoting and mudded the tile adhesive covered areas underneath. We've done a few coats now and should be able to paint the kitchen this weekend. Here's Eric, feeling good about the mud and good about the lead situation:

Eric's family will be down again and we even have a little project for the kids to work on (my sister's kids, not Eric's brothers).

The garden is doing great. The tomatoes are getting huge. The radishes, beans, peas, and carrots are abundant. We're a little worried about the edamame (soy), okra, and squash (did the birds steal some seeds or did we get a bunch of duds??), but the melon looks good. This picture is from a week ago and things are already much greener this week. I'll try to post more current pictures soon.


Kate said...

I wish I had known about that grant! We just spent about $2000 getting all of our trim and window wells scraped primed and repainted to get rid of the lead... plus an additional $600 to strip the lead paint off our stairs.

I don't know what your funding situation is, but we used the minnesota fix it up fund and the pierre bottineau fund (a neighborhood revitalization program) both through the to help us find the money to do a lot of our rehab.

Rhena said...

Kate, thanks for the info! We're looking into both of those funds right now (well, the NRP for our neighborhood, Corcoran). The lead paint one is not very well publicized... and they might not have paid for the stairs, but they definitely would have paid for the windows. I wonder if they would pay for your work if you still have receipts??