Friday, November 2, 2012

Exciting Times In This Old House: Fear of Lead

I always felt that living in an old house was rather exciting.

An old house has history.  It has staying power, and even more exciting, it's an environmentally sound idea:  You're not wasting materials to build something new.

I've discovered, however, that sometimes exciting isn't exactly good.  Sometimes, that old curse we've all heard fits perfectly.

"May you live in exciting times."

The house I'm renting is very exciting.

green old house circa 1896
I keep expecting to see The Woman In Black looking
through one of the top windows!

You know that I love renting this house.  It has a nice sized yard for my edible gardening, the neighbors are great, and the owners (who are really wonderful) allow dogs - something that's not particularly common.

So what's the problem, you ask?


Houses built before 1950 are at high risk for lead contamination.  For many people, this is common knowledge.  For me, however, it's not.

The area of town in the desert southwest that I previously lived in was relatively new.  Indeed, when I went to elementary school, none of those houses even existed.  Lead was never a concern for me.

I took my daughter for her yearly appointment yesterday, and they did a lead risk assessment.  A series of questions were asked to determine what her risk level was.  Halfway through, I knew she was going to have to be tested.

Her risk level was staggeringly high.

This doesn't mean that she actually has lead contamination.  It's likely that she doesn't.  The problem, though, is that I don't know.

Since I'm renting, I have no frame of reference for the knowledge.  It's not like I talk to the owners of this old house all the time, and having no previous thoughts about lead issues, it never once occurred to me to ask about it.

The paint in some areas is chipping from the old, dented wood.

paint chipping along the edge of the window sill

I found the paint that was last used on the sill, so I know that paint is safe, but I can't really tell if that was the first time it was painted.  I'll have to redo that paint job.  That's an easy fix.  I'm not really very concerned about that.

My concern is the basement.  

I don't have the knowledge necessary to recognize lead pipes (versus other metals... except copper.  That one is easy), so I don't know if my daughter, who spends a lot of time in the basement with me, has had any exposure to lead down there.  Granted, as long as she's not licking any lead pipes, she's fine in that regard, but I'm a mom.  I worry about everything.

It's also pretty obvious that the basement of this old house has been painted over a few times in at least one area, and the paint is chipping.  I'm sure the topcoat of paint is fine.  The lower coats?  Those I'm not sure of.

All in all, I think everything is just fine.  Based off of what I know about the house's owners, if they knew about a problem, they'd mention it.  These are good people.

It's the not knowing that scares me.  I really like this old house (built in 1896, I believe, though I may be off by as many as three years), but it has definitely caused me to live in exciting times!

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