Monday, June 20, 2011

Before Construction Begins: Lead and Asbestos Testing

You all know Alex and I love old homes.  One big downside though, anything built before 1978 gets tricky when it comes to construction or renovations.  Case in point, before we can get started on repairs from the tornado damage our house needed to be tested for lead and asbestos.... yay (sarcasm font).

The contractor we are working with and I hope we get to continue working with, (still waiting on you American Family Insurance for recovery funds) put us in contact with Indigo Environmental to get our house tested for lead and asbestos in the areas of our home that are in need of repairs. 
But first, lets cover some facts from the EPA about Lead and Asbestos

Lead is a toxic metal that was used for many years in products found in and around our homes. Lead is commonly found in older homes, it was banned by the EPA in 1978Lead paint used lead acetate as a drying agent and gloss improver. It was considered a better type of paint and was more expensive, that is until they discovered it is harmful and poisonous to humans.  It becomes a health risk when surfaces covered in lead paint begin to peel, chip, crack, or are dry sanded.  It is more dangerous to children because they are growing and their bodies can absorb more lead.  Children's brains and nervous systems are more sensitive to the damaging effects of lead leading to behavioral and learning problems, slowed growth, hearing problems and headaches.  For adults (aka Alex and I) the risks are reproductive problems, high blood pressure and hypertension, nerve disorders, memory and concentration problems, and muscle/ joint pain.   

Asbestos is a mineral fiber that has been used commonly in a variety of building construction materials for insulation and as a fire-retardant. Because of its fiber strength and heat resistant properties, asbestos has been used for a wide range of manufactured goods, mostly in building materials (roofing shingles, ceiling and floor tiles, paper products, and asbestos cement products). When asbestos-containing materials are damaged or disturbed by repair, remodeling or demolition activities, microscopic fibers become airborne and can be inhaled into the lungs, where they can cause significant health problems.  Health risks include lung cancer, mesothelioma, and asebestosis, in which the lungs become scarred with fibrous tissue.

Gee, I feel really great, healthy and safe now (more sarcasm font). For more facts on lead, asbestos, and other toxins that can effect your home check the EPA website. It is very informative (and scary).
So what is the testing like?  To me it sort of looked like a mini CSI investigation.  The representative from Indigo Environmental came by and took small samples from each surface that will be disturbed in the repair process.  For the hole in our Guest Room, he took a few pieces of the plaster and put them in a small labeled baggie.
Also, I learned a really interesting fact from him about our insulation (which I still don't know if I wanted to know).  That layer that looks a bit like recycled cardboard is in fact made partly from cow manure- yep poo!  I stood there with a look of horror on my face, but he then informed me that this was pretty normal for 1920's homes.  It provides a great layer of insulation and is a good sound barrier, it is likely that the poo is used as insulation between our walls as well.

The rest of the testing looked kind of like this...
The other surfaces in need of repair are full of moisture so they will be removed.  Since it has no other damage (like a big ol' hole) he had to scrape the surfaces and carve out a small hole to get a sample.  There are a bunch of these in our house now :(  at least sometime soon it will all be fixed.... cough, insurance, cough.

Once he was all done there were a bunch of these little baggies with the samples and labels.  Just like CSI right?
A few days later we got the results back.  Thankfully no asbestos, yay!  Asbestos sounds like really scary stuff.  There is however some lead paint, which I expected since it is so common.  Luckily there isn't a lot.  Lead paint only showed up in the crown molding of our guest room and on the old wood trim (which was covered by new soffit) on the outside of our house.  

The fancy-shmancy report looks like this...  
I circled the sections were the lead concentration was high enough for a health concern.

So that big step is done now.  We hope we get to meet again with our adjuster and contractor to land on an amount for repairs.  I just want the work to get started, it has been a month now and I am sick to death of hearing wind whistle through the hole in our house!  Crazy to think that I am praying for our house to be a messy construction zone soon- but I can't wait!

Has anyone else had lead or asbestos testing done on their home?  What did you think of the process and did you find any weird facts about your home?

The Lettered Cottage


  1. We had asbestos testing done... after we had demoed 80% of our basement floor tiles. Oops! The results, unfortunately, were positive. Yikes. We took extreme precautions to finish the job, and should be fine health-wise (asbestos is really only harmful if inhaled over extended periods of time, ie, weeks and years of inhaling demo dust), but it sure scared us! We definitely learned our lessons, though - if we're not sure about something, we play it safe. :)

    Glad you don't have to deal with the asbestos - that is one nasty cleanup job!


  2. Oh my this is scary! Making me think about the furniture that I have brought into the house that may have lead paint! I knew it was bad, but I kinda only thought it was bad if you licked it (you know if you eat lead paint?). Thanks for the info. I love your blog. It is fun to see your home transform! Thanks!

  3. I feel ya! When we bought our house, they did one in the home inspection. As it turned out - the only lead was on the outside of the house. They had a professional come & remove the paint, re-paint so the process was easy for us. I'm glad it's turned out well for you! Lead and asbestos are not good!

  4. Shabby Blue Ribbon- I thought about old chippy cute furniture we have in our house too! I wondered if it might be a health hazard? Also, I kept a part of the trim that fell off the outside of our house after the tornado because I thought I could make some cool wall art with it. I might hold off now considering it probably has lead paint on it! Eeeek!!

  5. Hey Carla! SO glad to hear your house is asbestos free! :-D
    Hope that hole in your house gets covered up SOON!

    Miss y'all and hope to see you sometime soon!


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