How we came to purchase our home.

WPA Photo

A Works Progress Administration photo offers a glimpse of our home's past.

Reproduction Windsor Chair

Finally, a dining room set.

No Power, No Heat.

Our first snow storm and it's aftermath, October, 2011.

Lead Poisoning

Updates to our son's lead levels.

Bit By Bit

My wife's blog on being pregnant, giving birth and raising our first child with all the complications, hardships and joys that life throws our way.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Lead Abatement and Remediation

December, 2014...
After numerous blood tests, a few scares and bouts of depression, I've finally succumbed to the realization that an abatement/remediation is necessary for continued residence within our home.  As I write this, the process has been somewhat completed and our bank accounts as well as our emergency savings have been completely drained of whatever funds we had left.  We're now trying to recover financially....  I really should create a "Donate Now" link...

In a prior post (Abatement Contractors and Lead Testing) I mentioned four painting contractors who were invited to give an estimate for the interior abatement/remediation of our home.  Of the four, the fourth was selected based on the information at hand.  The company had worked on a more prominent non-profit historic house locally and was recommended by two reputable sources (a paint supply store as well as a prime contractor who have both used this contractor in the past).  The others either didn't return communication, were a bit "out there", or their pricing seemed too open ended for our comfort level.  So, needless to say, I had but one option available.

We had negotiated a start date that coincided with my wife's work schedule so that she can be away for an extended period of time so as to alleviate the need to have her move into a local hotel.  This start day was Friday, December 19, 2014.  That same day, my pregnant wife and toddler left for my parent's home in NJ.  I stayed behind to man the home, work and deal with the contractor on a daily basis while attempting to review their work. 

A few days before the start date, the contractor wanted to meet with me to remind him what work was to be done.  It was a bit annoying that after giving him a printout of the XRF scan results months earlier, he would ask me what needed to be stripped.  I drew up a detailed plan of our home and transcribed the locations where the lead was per the scan.  The contractor didn't really seem to give a rats ass about it.  He commented on it in a positive light, but I later realized he never used it as I found it left on a table under plastic. 

The following two images are our home's floor plan with the locations indicated by our lead inspector that have failed.  The more green tags, the more lead was found.  In the red boxes, I've given the contractor a to-do list of what needed to be done.... most of which was ignored.

The pre-start meeting ended with a rather un-nerving final conversation.  After organizing and planning my wife's departure, packing and preparing our home with furniture relocated and negotiating with our jobs for time off, the contractor  gave me a final "oh-by-the-way" comment.  He said that his abatement license had lapsed due to some oversight.  He then asked me what I wanted to do.  He was concerned that I would turn him into the authorities for working on our home without a current abatement license and was considering cancelling the entire project.  He assured me that he was in the process of renewing the license and he should have it in a couple weeks.  With that information being said, he waited for me to respond.  With a deposit in his hand, scheduling set, a son who's lead levels had recently spiked, stress levels at an all time high, money saved for a year and moved around in anticipation, work notified; I was left without any other option but to continue.

So, December 19 came and the contractor's crew (all of whom did not speak English very well if at all, of course) started working.  The plan was for me to sleep in my son's room with our cat (and his litter box) while the crew worked on the lower floor.  Once they progressed to the second floor, I would then relocate to the living room (old kitchen). 
The first day was spent stripping the odds and ends (window and door frame in kitchen as well as the splat of paint on the column in the living room.  While the rest of the crew placed plastic down on the floors and doorways to the rear of the home.  All of our ground floor furniture was relocated to the family room (formerly the keeping room).  The second floor furniture was relocated to the rear room (office).  That evening, the crew placed a product called Peel-Away on the trim in the dining room.  The smell in our home that first night was so strong that I got a headache.  Opening my son's window (in winter) was my only salvation.

Each day onwards, the crew moved at a pace determined by the level of difficulty to strip the paint.  Some days were very productive, most were very slow.  They stored the bulk of their materials in our dining room and I had previously loaded the parlor with the doors that I had removed from nearly every room.  The doors would remain in the parlor for the next eight months....(wife was not happy).

As I came home from work each day, I took a quick glimpse around to see the progress.  In the first week, a hole had been made in one of the containment systems with a streak of dust entering the "clean" side of the system.  Upset, I communicated with the owner.  It was his opinion that this is a natural occurrence and happens quite often.  I'm not sure how true that is, and if so, that would mean the containment systems should be checked daily.  He indicated that his crew does check each day, however, I never saw them do such a thing as I was home while they were still working and when they left.

The contractor and I agreed that he would be responsible for the removal of paint and though he said he could repair the plaster that was cracked in every room, I told him that I would take care of it (I didn't trust that he would do it properly).  I purchased the contractor pack of Big Wally's Plaster Magic, a protective suit and a lead vapor mask.  I spent each night from when I came home around 4 PM until 1 or 2 in the morning patching each visible crack.  This went on nearly every night and on weekends as well throughout the project.  I also toured the home with the contractor twice to mark locations missed after I complained to him that there were areas still visible of leaded paint after his crew had "stripped" it.
Most days, the crew either used a heating plate or a chemical to soften the paint and scrapers/sandpaper to remove it and clean the surfaces.  Communication was difficult and misunderstandings happened.  It was explained to the contractor that it was my wish to maintain a level of preservation for the original woodwork in the home.  He said that it would be difficult to have everything perfect since the tools used will, at times, gouge the surface so marks are to be expected.  This didn't phase me, I figured it would just add to the character of the home, which they do.  However, placing a sander to a piece of wood and removing not only the remnants of paint but also the original detailing hand planed over 250 years ago is not agreeable.  This occurred in our bedroom on one of the decorative post casings.  The contractor claimed that it was like that in the beginning.

In another event, I came home one night to find the decorative dental molding in the parlor splintered and broken into a several pieces with original hand made nails protruding out of it.  Irate, I called the contractor and asked him what the F#$% happened!  He said that I had told him to remove it, for which I explained that only if it was not original and only to make it easy for him to abate.  He said that he never saw the molding and that his crew member had called to ask him if the owner (me) was sure "that he wanted it removed since it is really hard to get off".  It was really hard because there were 5-inch long spikes securing it to the beam and it was recessed behind the original plaster ceiling.  Upon finding the wooden trim on the floor, there was also a 6-inch gaping hole in the ceiling where the molding had formerly been.  The contractor had said that he'd patch the hole and help find someone to replace the molding.  The area is still bald...

When doing any sort of abatement, preparation takes time.  A part of that prep work is to lay down 6-mil plastic sheets to cover and protect the floor.  After which, the crew is to vacuum the floor, wet mop it, carefully roll it up and then dispose of the plastic as hazmat waste.  This is per RRP rules.  The crew used painters tape on the wood floors then applied a heavy duty red colored duct tape on top to secure the plastic to the floor.  This made sense since the painters tape is more gentle on the surfaces than the duct tape.  However, it didn't work out that way.  The painter's tape didn't stay attached to the surface.  Eventually, it nearly all peeled up, which detached the plastic from the floor along the edges of the rooms.  The picture here has the 6-mil plastic covering completely detached from the red duct tape, exposing not only the floor, but the baseboard heating hardware.  This is my son's bedroom.  The   leaded dust from the scraping the windows landed in the exposed areas, going into the baseboard heating and also under the floors.  I was told that it would be cleaned up...
Another problem with the tape was during the cleanup process.  I had warned the contractor to protect the floors since tape does pull up the finish if not done so properly.  I had instructed him to use a hairdryer to heat the surface before SLOWLY removing the tape.  This would potentially leave a sticky residue but the finish would remain intact.  My request was ignored.  I now have a 2" wide boarder of missing finish from all but one room as well as the front stairs.

Nearly every wall surface was touched.  All wallpaper was removed, the underlying surface was primed.  The priming process was not very successful.  The crew rolled the primer on the plaster and ignored the paint chips being flaked up.  The final appearance was suppose to be a blank wall for me to apply a final paint scheme to.  However, the actual appearance was quite literally a mess.  Paint chips were imbedded into the primer and spread throughout all the walls.  I'll spend the next few months also applying joint compound so hide all the ridges.
Paint removal continued for several weeks, longer than the initial two week estimated time frame.  Christmas came, then New Years.  It wasn't until the middle of January that my family was forced to travel back to our State for work and medical appointments.  However, once the leaded surfaces were abated, the contractor, per abatement rules, is required to clean.  Having taken the RRP course and after our prior issues with this project, I was curious as to how the contractor was going to complete this important aspect of the project. 

He proceeded to explain that he uses a "tried and true method" of two buckets and one mop.  His crew made a TSP (powdered tri-sodium phosphate) cleaning mixture in one bucket and kept the other bucket empty.  His crew dipped the mop the first bucket, wiped the floor, then rinsed it in the second bucket, then wet the mop in the first bucket, wipe the floor, etc.  Per RRP, this is borderline acceptable for cleaning a home of lead-based paint dust.  Doing so potentially spreads the leaded dust from one highly contaminated room to the entire house as the mop is reused continually.
I recalled from my RRP training that the best method is to use a wet swifter pad (or similar) that was white in color and wipe the floor with it.  One wipe was limited to cleaning a twenty square feet area.  When done, you compare the "dirty" side to a white sample card (provided in the RRP class).  If the white pad is darker, do it again.  Repeat until the whiteness of the pad basically stays white.  Once done, throw the pad away, get a new one and start with the next twenty square foot area.  Yes, it takes longer than the two bucket mop method, but it's done once and its guaranteed to be clean.  The contractor didn't agree citing the costs of buying the pads and continued to use the mop and buckets...EVERYWHERE. 

My pregnant wife, mother and son had arrived back in CT anticipating coming home.  I had to explain that they could not come home as we had to test to make sure the home was clean of lead dust.  We arranged for a hotel locally.  Later that day, on his dime per the contract, the contractor hired a lead inspector to test the floors.  Twenty-four hours later, the results were in.  The results were... nearly every room failed, with one room exceeding 300 mg/SF.  The next day, the contractor came back with boxes of wet wipes and his crew proceeded to hand wipe the floors.  After that level of attention, the floors were so clean that they squeaked from my sneakers.  The lead inspector came back and tested again, this time (another 24 hours later), the results were, for the most part, a zero reading and the contractor stopped shitting bricks.  My family, after 4 days in a hotel, were back home.  It's now past the middle of January.
Per a verbal agreement, the contractor took all our window sashes and stripped them elsewhere.  He brought them back later in the week.  The stripping was OK, but not the best quality as paint was still visible in certain areas. The painters did not mark the windows when they were removed from the rooms, so the hardest part when they were returned was figuring out which sashes matched each other, and with which frame.  To this day, I still don't have them back in the right openings. 
Pricing was also an annoyance.  First, obviously, this was not affordable.  The contractor does not take a credit card, we really did not want to increase our mortgage and our insurance provider laughed at us, literally.  Grants and such were previously discussed in another post (Lead Poisoning), which we did not qualify for.  It took us a very long time to save up the cash, no vacations, no extravagant spending.  A second annoyance was the contractor's inability to name a price.  Each time something happened where work may cost more, he would ask me, "How much do you think it's worth?"  I felt like I was being hustled.  If I had been in the mood to be brutally honest, I would've told him to owe me.
Final cost (not counting my supplies or equipment which added another ±$3,000):
$3,000 deposit on 12/18/14
$4,000 payment on 12/24/14
$4,000 payment on 12/31/14
$4,900 payment 01/07/15
$2,000 final payment on 01/20/15

Regarding the abatement license, at the conclusion of the project, I requested a copy of the abatement license so that I may have it for my records.  I reminded the contractor that he indicated he would renew the document.  He admitted that he was no longer pursuing the license as he plans on combining companies with another person and didn't want to waste the $600 (he says) on the renewal.  Well, what a shock...., instead gave me the expired license, the one that became invalid a few months before his crew set foot on my property.  A photocopy was left on my back deck and a photo texted to me as seen here.

More before/after photos to come...