Posted by: cdpenne | June 8, 2010

Lead Paint Under the Ghetto Brick, Not That We Didn’t Expect It.

That's Me Scraping Moss From the Roof

We were fortunate that the Ghetto Brick was not the asbestos type, but we knew that an even greater evil lurked beneath the fake siding – lead paint. As I tore off the brick, I had fears that the siding would be in such bad shape that it was not salvageable. I also worried that the paint would be so orange peeled that no amount of primer and paint could make it look half way decent. In the end, it wasn’t too bad, but I also had to settle for less than perfect. Eventually, I consoled myself with this: “it’s a hundred year old house; it shouldn’t look new.” I suppose many of you are familiar with that thought. Whether it is true or not was really inconsequential because we didn’t have the money or time to do the job “Right Way.”

If I could afford to do the job, I would have torn off all the siding and paid the toxic waste dump fee. Period. Here is why: 1) no amount of containment tent, masking etc., is ever going to do much more than put a minor dent in the amount of lead paint chips and dust that is going to blow all over the neighborhood and anybody who tells you differently is probably making a living in the new cottage industry of lead paint removal; 2) there isn’t a vacuum sander or planer made which will adequately contain the lead dust, adequately remove the all the old paint from the corners, or save enough time and labor to make saving the siding worth while; 3) the woefully thin narrow lap cedar siding will be woefully thinner when the project is done; 4) the best way to blow in insulation is from the outside, so why not have the siding out of the way;  and 5) the end result will be near perfect and good for another 100 years with little more maintenance than fresh paint. 

So, in my opinion, the right way is to tear off the lead painted siding, expose the ship lap plank sheathing beneath it, repair or replace it where necessary, drill holes freely to make sure insulation is blown into every void or wall cavity (maybe even get a thermal picture or two in the process), wrap the house in Tyvek or new 15# tar paper, and then nail up the new siding. But if you are going to do that, you are going to need deep pockets.  I estimated 10,000.00 for the siding and related materials alone.

Primer On

So what’s the poor man’s method? Very minor scraping of only the worst peeling paint with a manual paint scraper on a calm day. Use plastic to contain the chips and the corners of the wall you are working on and 5 or 6 feet from the house. Then sweep and clean all hard surfaces (side walks etc) and plan to scrape 3 inches of dirt of the top and haul it to the dump.  Next, tons of primer. I used 15 gallons on just two sides. Get a cheap knock off of the Fein oscillating saw (I got a Dremel for a hundred bucks) and use it to patch siding where necessary, you can even replace small sections quite nicely wherever there is an insulation hole drilled. Finally, learn to live with less than a perfect paint job. Once I have finished all the trim repairs, caulking and filling, and added the color, I think it will look pretty good from the street. Sure if you get up close you’ll be able to pick out plenty of flaws, but that’s where the old “Hey it’s a hundred year old house” comes in handy.

All the lead paint issues are way to big a topic for one post, so I’ll be addressing more of them later.



  1. Looks great!! Have you looked into Peel Away? It is what they used to strip the PNA building – not cheap, but total lead containment I believe.

  2. I have read a lot about lead and it’s toxicity, including lead paint. I wouldn’t do even the scraping. No way. I would leave that paint right where it is.

    By the way you should never use normal chemical strippers or heat – or sanding, as you say. There are specialized chemical removers apparently, but make sure you really read up on it first. Yes lead abatement is a profitable industry and I’m sure there are many dishonest practitioners, but it is also very hard to do safely yourself. There is also really a lot of low quality information out there, so just reading up on it is not really enough, though.

    Just remember these figures: the half life of lead in blood is 30 days. About half of lead ingested gets absorbed, whether it is metallic lead or comes in the form of paint particles (except if the particles are quite large, in which case not all the chip gets digested due to the fact that the geometry prevents it from being as digestable).

    All of it that is inhaled gets absorbed. From these facts and the volume of blood in your body you can compute an approximation of what your blood lead level will be vs. amount ingested. (or inhaled).

    The “lead poisoning” threshold in adults is 60 mcg per deciliter (tenth of a liter) of blood, but that number was cooked up by industry to produce a figure to excuse them poisoning their workers. “nope, not lead poisoning, not above the threshold! no compensation or protective equipment for you.” So you should not get anywhere near it.

    IIRC I think I once computed that 1.5 micrograms of ingested paint, on an ongoing basis, produced an equilibrium BLL of 1 mcg/dl. So to limit yourself to 20 mcg/dl do not exceed 30 mcg per day , as a sort of “average” (although it is not averaging that you would do here because it is an exponential decay like a capacitor charging)

    Also, lead is stored in the bones and can be released in large quantity during pregnancy……

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