Q s because it is decision time about buying a house/lead paint

kiki_thinkingAugust 15, 2008

There is a house we have been watching for awhile - It has been foreclosed on and will be auctioned in October. We were thinking of waiting awhile before we made an offer but our hand will be slightly forced because of the auction. We expect it to sell low because it's a tiny rural town in WV

The house has lots of character, lots of problems - but the one that really stops me cold in my tracks is lead paint. The house was built around 1890 we guess, although the realtor says 1840. There is lead paint in the house. The paint on the outside of the house is peeling off after a failed paint job. The 40 original single pane windows have peeling and flaking paint. The prior owner recarpeted thru the whole house with a beige carpet. I think the recarpeting was done prior to some repair and construction and thus may also be contaminated with lead.

My question is this:

My daughter is 5.

If, prior to occupying the house - I remove all carpeting, put that winter plastic shrink stuff over all windows, vacuum all surfaces in the house, wash all surfaces in the house with TSP, have the heat and air adn ductwork professionally cleaned and follow up with a good house-over HEPA vacuum and the leave the house undisturbed by construction until she is 6 or more, oh and get the yard tested. Does that sound like a reasonable assurance of her safety? I'm not asking anyone to take responsibility for the decision of course :) just wondering if that would constitute thoroughness. I also thought about having the windows in her bedroom, a guest bedroom, the bathroom and our bedroom pulled out and redone prior to cleaning and occupation. I doubt we could afford to tackle more than that at one go-round given that there are a few other things that need attention. Lastly, the lead paint that is peeling on the outside of the house - we could certainly have our soil tested - even removed and replaced if necessary - there is a lot of vegetation close to the house which would prevent her from playing close to it - if I keep our house "shoe free" and keep her from digging near the house - can she play on the lawn in safety? I just don't know how far to take this - although I certainly want to err on the side of safety. Obviously the safest alternative seems to be to not buy the house - but I wonder if it can be made safe.

Also the outside paint is peeling - by the time it is auctioned and purchased, it will be seasonally too late for a paint job. I'm wondering what to do to stabilize the bare wood against winter and sun.

Oh and lastly, if a house has been foreclosed on is there any way to get a history of gas and electric bills if the realtor doesn't have them, the auction company doesn't have them and the prior owners aren't available? Will the companies give out that info?

Here's a link to the house in case you'd like to look around :) It is in very rural WV near the Ohio river.


Thanks for any help and ideas -

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Oh my gosh I can certainly see why you'd go through all that for this house! Since I don't have children I don't worry about the lead, so I'm not going to comment on that much. I think there are lead encapsulation paints, but that won't help for your peeling paint. If you do a search for lead on these forums there is a post out there somewhere about dealing with lead. It must have been recent (as in first couple pages of posts) because I read it this week, maybe in the paint forum. I believe there is a gov brochure about it.

In Chicago I have routinely called and found out utility info (even the amount that was owed to the water company before water could be turned on) without any problem whatsoever. Don't know if different areas have different regulations though. Doesn't hurt to try. Good luck!

    Bookmark   August 15, 2008 at 10:59PM
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Lead paint is very difficult and costly to remove. The questions you asked should be addressed to local or state health authorities for a definitive answer. In any event, I would not undertake the effort myself. I would hire a crew that has a track record in this sort of work, and test the house indoor air quality after the work is completed.

You might be interested to know that the lead paint industry for years misled the public about the dangers in their product by claiming that the hazard was confined to children who ate the paint (so-called pica, eating nonedible things). That was a smoke screen put up for publicity purposes, to detract attention from the well established far-reaching hazards caused by lead paint. I would not buy that house without a full understanding of the the extent of the lead paint contamination indoors and out, and I would not move in before the lead paint was removed and the air quality confirmed to be free of the lead hazard. Expect to spend a bundle for that.

    Bookmark   August 16, 2008 at 6:09PM
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Its been 30 years since the use of lead based paint was permitted, so in reality any house that was painted prior to 1978 may contain lead. The paint that is flaking on the outside of your house may or may not contain lead, depending on how the house was prepped the last few times it was painted. As far as the windows, they may have been painted multiple times since 1978, unless they are scraped down to the wood, the lead paint should be under a few layers of paint now.

    Bookmark   August 17, 2008 at 2:13PM
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I realize you're concerns about the lead paint especially with all the notices out about it and youre having a small child. My short answer: Don't sweat it unless the reassurance/heavy-duty cleaning is worth while in and of itself. :~) You/your-contractor can get rid of it when you have a chance, and before move in is probably easier then later, but is also isnÂt the end of the world (or a huge major issue). Read on if you like for the long answer.

The house I grew up in (from the day I came home with Dad till senior year of being away at college when Dad sold the house) had lead paint.

In fact someone at some point in time had painted over one type of paint with another type of paint causing it to peal and chip in the neatest ways, so even though I was told not to I would pick at it and play with it.

In fact since it was just me and my dad, and Dad had more pressing thing like raising me and the day job, the lead paint was still there till the house was being prepped for sale.

So speaking as a former kid who grew up in a cool old house that happened to have peeling lead paint, who ran around and dug for fossils in a yard that probably had lead paint chips in it, and who surely breathed lead dust and ate a few chips when Dad wasn't looking: don't sweat it.

Dad had the doc do a lead test on my blood a time or two when I was growing up just to be sure there were no issues; it/they came up clean. (Though I do think this is a good idea) Currently I'm a successful engineer with a great job, graduated from a darn good engineering school (and unlike most of my class I didn't retake a thing), and IÂm currently working on my Master's in the evenings. So again, I wouldn't sweat it.

I do hope this helps.

PS: The bigger concern with buying a house at auction is that unless you can get the owner/bank to let you through with an inspector beforehand there could be major issues that you wonÂt know about going in. Houses that end up in foreclosure typically arenÂt maintained well for about a year beforehand, since when you get into financial straits the mortgage and utility bill get a higher priority then the roof. The previous owner, even if they are willing to talk, may not know about significant issues.

    Bookmark   August 17, 2008 at 8:23PM
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It's very VERY likely that any house older than 30 years has some lead paint. Do yous tay out ofs tores? Schools and other buildinga that predate 1978?
If it's there and you don't intend to use a power sander on it or a heat gun, I would not worry.
your child at 5 surely knows enough not to chew on the window sill.
Vacuum any dust, clean the air ducts and don't be sanding peint. if you must remove it use a chemical stripper.
Linda C

    Bookmark   August 17, 2008 at 10:42PM
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Your clean up plan sounds effective. I'm not sure you need to use TSP but if you prefer it then make sure to rinse it at least twice. TSP can leave a residue that interferes with the adhesion of new paint. By all means, wash the place down to get rid of any sanding dust left by PO's. A good coat of paint has been considered sufficient to encapsulate lead paint but you might want to check on what your jurisdiction is demanding before you buy.

It sounds like a lot of scraping and sanding will be necessary on the exterior. Make sure that your paint contractor is certified and experienced.

Great looking house; best of luck with it.

    Bookmark   August 18, 2008 at 3:54AM
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I feel your pain. I posted about this on another board and will include a link to the answers. The short version is lots of people are raising young kids in old houses without bad things happening.

I have a 4 1/2 year old boy and twin 4 1/2 month old girls. We are closing on a ~70 year old house tomorrow. (I think it may actually be older, we'll see)

I bounce between thinking "It's going to be OK" and "Oh my god what the heck is wrong with me, putting my own selfish desires to live in an old house above my children's health?" But we're closing TOMORROW and my husband would seriously kick my butt if I said I wanted to walk out now. (OK not seriously but there would be strong words...)

My biggest worry is actually asbestos and come hell or high water - that's getting treated. I have gotten a lot of different opinions on it but I want it out. It's a small amount so hopefully having it done by the experts won't be too much. (It's one or two pipes, 2 feet long or so... mostly in good repair but one of the metal clamps has come off and there's fuzzy stuff under it).

As for the lead - like lindac said, any house older than 30 years probably has lead paint. If the paint is in good repair you're in pretty good shape. I can't say much about the outside stuff... luckily our house is brick with a bitty bit of alluminum siding up high so that's not a huge issue for us - but nevertheless I intend to have the soil tested. We want to have a garden and I want to make sure I'm not giving my babies lead in their veggies. (You remember a couple years ago there was the spinach/e coli thing? Some 2 year old died because his mom fed him spinach smoothies. I want to make sure my kids aren't better off eating no veggies than veggies we grow!) So that's one thing I intend to do. Then we will act accordingly.

As worried as I am over lead paint - the last place we were living was built in the 50s so probably had some lead paint. We never did any major major renovations but I did have to do a bit of dry wall or plaster repair from my son ramming his trucks into this one corner near the kitchen or the one time he flung a doorknob through our bedroom wall. Probably kicked up a little dust but no one was any worse for the wear (and our landlord never knew about the damage so go me!)

My husband and I also took it upon ourselves to replace a window when our neighbor's kid threw a golf ball through it. Old, old single pane aluminum frame windows. Halfway through chipping out all that old putty, I said, "Hmmm, I wonder if there's lead in here?" and DH took over the job as we were trying to get pregnant at the time (I pointed out to him that him having lead poisoning wouldn't help, either, but oh well)

Was there lead? Maybe, maybe not... but it was messy as anything, I did not know about proper lead clean up precautions afterwards, and again no one is any worse for the wear. I did get pregnant soon after that and as far as we can tell the babies are fine. My son has never been tested but he shows no signs that he should be.

So... I'm hoping it will all be OK. I am going to ask our pediatrician if she'd be OK with periodic lead testing, especially if/when we plan to do any major work. (supposedly it's just a finger stick now) The biggest thing we have in mind is removing a chimney so I plan to keep the kids out of the house while that is done. Also hope to keep the mess as contained as possible and clean up well before we all move back in.

I'm hoping it will be OK. I'm a little scared but then I think live in Pittsburgh which is a great place to live if you like old old houses - and so many of my friends growing up lived in really old houses - and I never personally knew anyone who had problems with lead. So while it's scary... I think you also have to take the fear with a grain of salt. It will *probably* be just fine. There are all kinds or precautions you can take from handwashing after you play in the dirt to using the right stripping techniques if you do work on painted areas - these things should help a lot.

That's what I am hoping anyway!

    Bookmark   August 18, 2008 at 11:52AM
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I think it should be fine. If you do any removal/renovation, make sure to find a contractor who is certified to deal with lead paint. Do you know exactly where the lead paint is? You can get the whole house tested easily--now they have a really cool gizmo that allows them to test all the layers of paint in any location without any scraping/removing. It is quick and easy and you get a detailed report of what they found so you will know exactly where there is paint you need to be concerned about. We moved into a 1939 house while I was pregnant. Outside lead paint was long gone, as the house had been resided twice since the original and the PO replaced all the windows, but still had some damaged lead paint in interior spaces that we had removed. Neighbors with kids the same age as ours, with more original finishes in their home are careful to wipe down windows regularly to remove any possible lead dust and not to sand anything unless they know it is safe. (It is the dust that is actually more dangerous than paint chips, as it can get on seemingly safe surfaces) I have had our kids checked annually for lead (they are now 5 and 7) and they have always been fine. Since your daughter is five, there is less of a risk since (I'm assuming) she is not putting anything and everything in her mouth and not crawling around on the floor all day long. Also, children who eat a well-balanced diet, particularly getting sufficient amounts of iron, are less likely to absorb any lead they may ingest. (My girls have always been very good eaters, and I am sure that has helped them avoid any slight problems that might have occured from lead exposure.) I grow only ornamental plants near the house. Any vegetable/herb/fruit gardens are in the back part of the yard. We are also a no-shoes house. We do have wood floors, which are easier to clean than carpet. While the risk is real, it can be minimized. Most of us grew up in houses that were full of hazardous materials and we survived. The fact that the lead is there is not the danger, it is how you deal with it that will make it safe or unsafe for your family. Giving everything a good cleaning before you move in is probably a good idea--it certainly won't hurt anything and will most likely help (even if all it does is help you sleep better at night) Go for it....if there is any way you can get the house tested before you buy (or get a copy of any report that may have been done already) it may help you decide if it is a huge concern or just a minor one. Good luck!

    Bookmark   August 18, 2008 at 9:55PM
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thank you all for your feedback, it is much appreciated!
- especially yinzermama - i'm in almost exactly the same state of mind (and i live only an hour away from pittsburgh)
i'd like to think that by being cautious and diligent i can make the house safe. the reason i'd like to cover the windows is that the paint on the ones that are painted is in fact peeling and flaking and making tiny dust on the sills. they would have to be dealt with - either before we occupy or hermetically sealed (lol) and left untouched for a few years until my daughter is older. i'm looking for someone to come do the lead testing right now - even though it is an auction company, we can arrange to have access for inspectors etc.
there is a reputable restoration company in WV that quoted me a price of around $600/double hung window to pull, strip, repair and reinstall the windows - which would ultimately cost around $24,000. I haven't comparison-shopped yet, there may be other people around with a better rate. But we'll either get the work done before we move in, or say, start it sometime when she's around 8 -
Yes, I think the washing and testing would be necessary for my peace of mind.
anyway, this site is such a nice resource :) thanks!

    Bookmark   August 19, 2008 at 1:21PM
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For what it's worth, my house was built in the 30's so it most likely has lead paint. I painted almost every surface to update it before I had children. Both of my children (oldest is 4) have had lead tests per doctor's request based on the age of the house and both were well within the appropriate level of lead exposure. In other words nothing for us to worry about at this point.

    Bookmark   August 19, 2008 at 3:18PM
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I'm not an expert, by any means, but I do live in New England in an area of older houses. Most people I know live in houses that were built before 1930.

We've talked about this issue before, and we all have the same experience - the only people any of us have ever known who've had trouble with the lead levels in their kids are the ones who were trying to remove lead paint by scraping or sanding, rather than just painting over it. It seems to get into the air when you try to get rid of it.

Again, not scientific evidence, but I've been struck by how all of us have had the same experience. (And it wasn't the same family trying to remove the lead in every case.:)

We have a 6-year-old in our house, and all we've done is to make sure there's no peeling paint. With that said, I might have the soil tested if I were going to grow a garden of edible foods right next to the house, where paint chips have fallen over the years.

    Bookmark   August 30, 2008 at 2:17AM
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