Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Abatement Contractors and Lead Testing

August 2014...

After my son's blood lead level began to rise again, our parlor was sealed for the next few months.  I asked for word of mouth references and searched online for another.  Altogether, I sourced four different painting contractors.

For each one, my wife and I discussed what we were looking for.  We explained that we were not sure exactly where the lead-based paint was.  We wanted all wood trim stripped bare.  We wanted all the god awful wallpaper gone.  We also wanted the work to coincide with my wife's work schedule so that she and my son can leave our home for the duration of the work.

Contractor No. 1 (from Madison, CT):
The owner was a kind and punctual man.  He arrived when he said he would and was a no-nonsense kind of guy.  He through numbers out based on his knowledge, quoting $10,000 a floor.  He indicated that it's difficult to quote an antique home due to the unknowns.  He wanted to do the work on an hourly basis, I wasn't comfortable with that.  He suggested a $2,000 max to start and see how far his crew could get.  That sounded reasonable, but when we started to breakdown what was included within the $2,000, it wasn't just his crew's hours, it also included travel time for his crew and travel time for him separately making approximately two visits a day.  It seemed unreasonable for me to pay for 4 men, at 40 minutes each way... what's that a minimum of 5 hours of "commute" time?  At roughly $35/hr for just the painters, I'd loose $175/day minimum from that $2,000 limit.  That leaves only $1,825 to spend on the paint stripping, wall paper removal and plaster patching, that works out to be 1.5 days assuming nothing goes wrong.

Contractor No. 2 (from Meriden, CT):
The owner took a quick tour and he described his restoration efforts of his own antique home.  He described gutting the entire building.... that put me off as it showed that he had very little respect for the historic fabric of the home.  Beyond that, he submitted a quote to do as we had asked and place 2 coats of LBC paint. The total estimate was $15,000 for the entire interior.  He also supplied his insurance information.

Contractor No. 3 (realtor reference, unknown location):
This gentleman was described as being very expensive but getting the  job done (haven't I heard that one before).  He came over and toured our home.  He was very sympathetic and said that if we have patience, he will find a way to do the job for free.  Yes, that's what he said. He explained that he doesn't believe that we should pay for something that should have never been allowed in the country.  He left saying that when he figures out how to make it happen, he'll get back to us.  We never heard from him again.

Contractor No. 4 (from East Hartford, CT):
This last painter came recommended from two different sources, the local paint supply store and a general contractor that specializes in antique homes.  This painting contractor had also done work on a rather famous historic house locally.  He took a tour of our home, but didn't want to give an estimate as he said we needed to have the home fully tested in order to ensure we knew where all the lead was.  This was the first time a contractor had recommended getting the home tested.  So, with that, he left and I searched for a lead inspector.

Lead Inspection

Is it worth the expense?  Simply put, yes, if your home was built/painted prior to 1978, chances are there is lead and because of that, knowing where it is can save you a headache.  However, knowing that there is lead, and it is not dealt with, disallows you, as a homeowner, from checking off that ridiculous "No Knowledge of its Presence" box when selling your home (we all know it's a lie anyway). However, removing the lead will help to raise the property value... just saying, it's worth it from an expense point of view and for your sanity.

I hired HLB Environmental to scan my home with an XRF gun.  This is the best method to check for lead.  It is not the least expensive nor is it a perfect test.  But, it is much more accurate than the read-everything-as-lead 3M sticks or the read-everything-as-safe D-Lead chemistry sets.

The proprietor, Matt Baber, arrived on time with an assistant.  The three of us spent approximately 4 hours going room by room with the XRF gun.  Within each room, he took one reading per each wall, the ceiling, the floor and one like trim (i.e., one window frame, one door frame, etc).  In the end, he took a total of 217 readings throughout our home.

How accurate is it?  The XRF measures a 1 cm2 area at the tip of the gun. The gun computes the concentration of lead and reveals it in grams per cm2.  Because each manufacturer of an XRF gun has a plus or minus reading error (ours was somewhere in the range of ±0.3 to ±0.7 gm/cm2), CT state assumes that a reading above 1.0 gm/cm2 is positive for lead based paint.  So, if you were checking a wall that was 7 feet tall and 10 feet wide and you checked one square centimeter of that entire area and it came back greater than 1.0 gm/cm2, that doesn't mean there is lead based paint throughout that 70 square foot wall surface.  That reading only means that single square centimeter has lead based paint.  Chances are the entire wall has that nasty stuff, but take it with a "grain of salt".  This also works the other way: where you'll get a reading of 0.0 gm/cmat one location, move the gun over a couple feet and you'll hit the jackpot.  The accuracy is what it is from that one area that is being testing immediately in front of the gun. And, you could test the same area over and over and not get the same exact number.  That's because the XRF gun's power source is a tiny radioactive particle that emits electrons and a sensor within the gun counts those electrons returning.  However, as the radioactive material decays, it's readings change.... without getting into the nuclear engineering of it, the device needs to be re-calibrated every-so-many times in use.  For our inspection the XRF gun was calibrated before scanning, once during scanning and when done with the scanning.

Now, normally, the fees for such an inspection cost between $700 and $1,000.  The reason is because of paperwork.  There are abatement plans that can be generated and a monitoring program that can be added as well per town rules or what-have-you.  Honestly, the "abatement plan" is to remove the paint down to bare wood then encapsulate.  The "monitoring program" is to visually check the encapsulated surfaces periodically to ensure they are still intact.  That's it, what I just wrote out (albeit with more flowery words) entails the gist of the added expense.  All I wanted to know was where the lead was.  Pricing for just the licensed inspector with his XRF gun for one house of my size was $450.  Done.

Like previous products and services mentioned, I did not receive any compensation nor discounts.  I've placed his company's website here in case someone else in CT is looking for the bare essentials of an XRF scan.  He does do the rest of the documentation as well, for a fee.  HLB Enviromental.

Steve, how would you rate HLB?  That's a tough question to accurately answer since I don't invite lead inspectors over my home on a regular basis.  He arrived on time, gave me a decent price and gave me a report for my use.  However, here are what could be considered negatives:

1.  Upon scanning the front entry, he forgot to scan the stairs, spindles and banisters.  This seems like a pretty obvious thing to not miss... He did correct the issue, came back a second time, free of charge, scanned the last few locations and submitted a second sheet of data, just for the stairs.

2.  While scanning a room, the wall closest to the front yard is labeled A, the wall to the right, B, etc.  This is the standard for all inspectors.  One of the rooms in the rear of our second floor confused Matt and he had labeled a couple walls incorrectly which confused myself and the contractor later on.  It wasn't a major issue for us, but for a more complex home or a less observant homeowner, it could have been wasted money when it came time to abate/remediate.

3.  Now this is something that I am hesitant to mention because I wouldn't want to have someone pity anyone.  Yet, it may be of some worth to mention that Matt has Parkinson's Disease.  While using the XRF, the gun's tip is not held motionless on the surface being tested as Matt does shake a bit.  I do not have a manual to refer to so I am not sure if the XRF needs to stay motionless for the entire duration of the scan (which can take between a few seconds to a minute depending on age of the gun).  For some comfort, Matt did have an assistant which I can only assume would be to help him out in the future.

Within a couple days, I received the test results.  HLB Environmental was required by State law to also submit the report to the Sanitarian (...remember him?) in my town as I had a child under the age of 6 residing in our home.  Every town is different, some strict, other's not.  I haven't heard from my town's sanitarian since he passed gas in our dining room two years ago.

A copy of the test results were emailed to the contractors mentioned earlier.  Only one of the contractor's got back to us (no, it wasn't the free guy).  We scheduled for a December 2014 start date.  

To be continued...