Scraping/Painting an Old House With Layers of Lead Paint
November 23, 2013 9:20 AM   Subscribe

The exterior of my 100 year old house (dutch colonial) is a mess: layers of paint atop paint. Nobody's ever scraped because there's obviously lead in there. So at this point, it's a gunky, peeling mess. And I don't want to resort to siding. I got one estimate to scrape (in full-out hazmat suits and containment set-ups, etc) and paint for $25K. Yeow! I don't want to make anyone sick - not the painters, nor the kids in the nabe - I really don't. Are there less expensive options?
posted by Quisp Lover to Home & Garden (23 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I was just reading about this in "Fine Homebuilding." The article is partially available on-line. The most interesting part, to me:

Power scrapers like the Paint Shaver ($599; are expensive, but they make quick work of removing large areas of paint from flat surfaces like clapboards and shakes. A vacuum hose connected to a shop vacuum collects the paint, keeping the mess and the user’s exposure to lead minimal.

If I was employed as a person who scraped away lead paint daily, I would want a hazmat suit &c. But if you DIY I don't think brief one-off exposure is something to lose sleep over. The "Paintshaver" site says

The Paintshaver® Pro is the fastest, cleanest, most economical tool for stripping all coatings (including lead paint) from clapboards, shingles, shakes, flat trim, all other flat wood, concrete and fiberglass surfaces. The Paintshaver® Pro has a built-in dust shroud that can be attached to a HEPA vacuum meeting EPA guidelines for lead paint removal.

(Do you have a trustworthy handyperson who might take it on?)
posted by kmennie at 9:32 AM on November 23, 2013 [3 favorites]

Does your state allow homeowners to do it themselves? You could give an IR paint stripper a try. You'd still be required to follow whatever your state rules are. Like anything else, you'd have to figure out what your time is worth.
posted by jquinby at 9:32 AM on November 23, 2013

Best answer: You're going to have to check with your local government about this. There may or may not be a regulation which requires this to be done by a professional.
posted by valkyryn at 9:41 AM on November 23, 2013 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Good stuff, everyone, thanks.

FWIW, I'm in New York. And I just found this guide to "What Home Owners Need to Know About Removing Lead-Based Paint"
posted by Quisp Lover at 9:54 AM on November 23, 2013

Here is EPA's website that gives a rundown of the considerations for do-it-yourselfers. Even if you do hire someone else, it might be good to read up so that you know the contractor is doing it right. This is an area where some less reputable contractors will try to cut corners, in particular by not properly training and certifying workers. Ask to see the certification of the workers before they start.
posted by C'est la D.C. at 9:57 AM on November 23, 2013

Response by poster: C'est la D.C.,

The people I got the estimate from were workers who dot "i"s and cross "t"s. Very well-trained and certified. And.....$25,000. I can't afford that, the house needs painting, and if I don't scrape/paint, some future resident will, and will likely be even less meticulous than I am.

So I'm trying to figure out which corners might indeed be cut-able....without making anyone sick (my understanding is that the peril is real, but the magnitude somewhat overstated - i.e. laws/guidelines are well beyond the necessary, so people who do cut a few corners don't create real danger).

If you're knowledgable, and that's wrong, by all means, please scare the bejesus out of me. But, again, if I don't scrape/paint, the next slob surely will. And odds are good that I care more than he/she will.....
posted by Quisp Lover at 10:07 AM on November 23, 2013

If you're knowledgable, and that's wrong, by all means, please scare the bejesus out of me.

Assuming that there are laws about lead paint removal, you're not the one enforcing the laws or deciding what's actually safe. If you have guys out scraping and painting, and someone else in the neighborhood takes their safety more seriously than you, or an inspector happens to drive by, they can quite easily call your local building authority, who'll come down and shut down the operation and probably levy incredibly heavy fines and possible criminal charges for negligence against you and/or the contractor you hire. The other danger is that you'll be hiring a contractor who will knowingly be breaking the law, which will not really speak well to his reliability as someone you'd want to hire, and may mean that you have to hire someone without a contractor's license. If you hire an unlicensed contractor to do illegal work, one of your main avenues for recompense should things go wrong (the state licensing board) will be unavailable to you. Scary enough for you? Enjoy!
posted by LionIndex at 10:16 AM on November 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Also: get at least two more estimates, and try to get estimates from reliable licensed painters who nonetheless occupy different professional strata, know what I mean? That may eliminate the smaller guys who aren't set up at all for this kind of thing, but may bring in a lower-medium size guy who'd hungry. Don't base all your decisions off one bid.
posted by LionIndex at 10:19 AM on November 23, 2013

Response by poster: LionIndex, yes, that's the other extreme. And I don't plan on doing flagrantly careless or illegal removal.

I also can't spend $25,000 for perfectly meticulous removal.

I'm looking for something in the middle, and my primary concern isn't getting into trouble, but endangering myself or my neighbors. I realize it's a "where do you draw the line" issue, but I was hoping to get some guidance here on the line drawing.
posted by Quisp Lover at 10:20 AM on November 23, 2013

Response by poster: LionIndex: I just saw your second posting...yes, makes sense, thanks.

And, kmennie, Paint Shaver with HEPA vacuum sounds really viable to me, and appears to be reasonably safe. That might indeed be the middle-ground I'm looking for. Thanks so much!

jquinby, re: IR paint stripper, NY State says "Heat guns pose a fire hazard, and make lead dust and vapors, so they should be used only by experienced workers wearing respirators," so I'd guess this would either be beneath my pale (if done by more casual workers), or above (i.e. this is probably what the $25K guys would have used). And "fire hazard"? Yeesh! :)
posted by Quisp Lover at 10:23 AM on November 23, 2013

What would it cost to just completely remove the wood cladding and start over? Might be a cheaper option.

The EPA (as linked above) really tightened guidelines for lead abatement. Inside, it's fairly easy to throw up some plastic sheeting and vacuum everything up with a HEPA vac. Outdoors, however, the problem is bigger. They don't want the paint chips getting into the ground near the house, because it can leach into edible plants grown in that dirt. It can also leach into the groundwater. Worse, any dust in the air can affect people for miles around, and the dust eventually lands somewhere and contaminates plants and water far away.

Your one project might not have much of an impact, but the problem is about everyone's projects having their tiny impacts build onto one another and turn into a big problem.

If you must do it yourself, your least impactful option would be to avoid sanding. Lay down plastic around the house, chip off the paint, and then wrap it and tag it and dispose of it. Any paint that won't chip off with relative ease will probably stay there forever.

Then paint it with a Kilz kind of sealer/primer and then your final paint.
posted by gjc at 10:31 AM on November 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

What I meant with the first comment though, is that there may not be a middle path. If there are laws in your area governing the removal of lead paint, not following those laws is an illegal removal and you're at risk of fines and charges. It may just be that the cost to remove paint legally in your area is $25K and that's that. If there are laws about this, you're basically asking "How can I do this safely but illegally and ignore the laws set up by people who'd gone through the trouble to review all sorts of cases and health risks to recommend the best procedure?", to which the answer is basically "no".

So, your possibilities basically are:
1) there are laws in your area but the initial bid is way too high
2) there are laws in your area and the bid is accurate
3) there are laws in your area but not so stringent that you couldn't do it yourself

Basically you need to find out what the laws are and get more bids if you're required to have a professional do it.
posted by LionIndex at 10:35 AM on November 23, 2013 [4 favorites]

Your one project might not have much of an impact, but the problem is about everyone's projects having their tiny impacts build onto one another and turn into a big problem.

Yes, "no single raindrop believes it is part of the flood".
posted by LionIndex at 10:37 AM on November 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: gjc, do you have any issue with kmennie's suggestion of Paint Shaver with HEPA vacuum? Sounds like it sucks up the stuff as it goes (and HEPA ensures it doesn't spray dust out of the back of the vacuum).
posted by Quisp Lover at 10:40 AM on November 23, 2013

Mod note: OP, maybe take a step back for a little while and let the answers come in, rather than replying to each. Thanks.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 10:52 AM on November 23, 2013

It may well be that it would be cheaper to just get rid of the old wood siding and just install some new one. If you do that, you might want to look into adding insulation; there could be programs that would provide some financial assistance for that.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 11:22 AM on November 23, 2013

Best answer: I used a Paintshaver Pro to strip paint off a lot of the wood siding on my house and can report that it's great for quickly dealing with large flat stretches and makes very little mess when operated normally and feeding into a shopvac. Things I learned from using it that weren't totally obvious beforehand:

- Along a long flat board it can move along pretty darned quickly once you get a feel for it. Taking the paint off longer stretches of siding on my house was just honestly goddam satisfying to the extent that paint prep can be satisfying at all.

- It's gonna have trouble with corners. The head of the tool is designed in such a way that you can't really get that last inch with it when the siding meets up with a trim board. If you're willing/able to remove the trim boards as part of the process, you could make it work that way; I wasn't feeling that perfectionist so I just got as close as I could with the Paintshaver and then used a hand sander to smooth out the transition areas some.

- Those transition areas: what the tool does is basically just eat a variable width layer of whatever its rotary cutting area moves over, which means if you don't run it clear past the end of a board wherever you stop (or trim boards stop you) is going to have an abrupt circular divot where you stopped shaving. Sanding can de-emphasize or eliminate that, but it's some more work. I believe they sell some sort of corner attachment as well that might be designed specifically for this stuff, but I didn't try it out so I can't report anything on that.

- The cutting depth is adjustable, which you may find useful if some parts of the house are thicker with paint than others; our house was mostly consistent on that front but had a couple areas without as much buildup of paint and I ended up tweaking the depth when I got there because there wasn't any reason for me to chew up all that extra wood it was getting at when there wasn't as much paint in the way.

- This thing will chew wood up in a blink of an eye. It's not hard to get the feel for it with a little use and to learn to avoid letting the tool hit boards at the wrong angle, but you're probably gonna ding the first few boards you try it on so start somewhere not so visible.

- I wasn't comfortable using it on a tall ladder. It's a fairly heavy hand tool, requires two hands to really use steadily and safely, and because of the importance of getting the hand/arm posture right to move the cutting blade along smoothly it's a lot easier to use by moving your body/torso side to side than by moving your arms themselves around. I wouldn't go so far as to say it's not usable at all on a ladder—I did get some above-head-height work with it done on a small A-frame—but it's awkward at best, and on a straight ladder leaning against the house where you have to have your arms reaching through or around the ladder, you'd have a real limited range of movement with it and have to move the ladder a ton anyway. My solution was to just not bother shaving the second floor regions other than the dormers where I could actually stand on the roof. A more robust solution would be to go ahead and set up proper scaffolding so you have somewhere to stand and work with the thing.

- You'll need to sand afterward. The Paintshaver doesn't leave a terrible surface, but with wood that's at all soft it's almost certainly gonna be a bit rougher than you'd want for a nice finish. I just gave all the shaved boards a quick pass with a rotary hand-sander and that did the trick nicely and didn't take too long. The good news here is that since the Paintshaver, adjusted correctly, will tear the paint off and leave you with a clean wood surface, there's not so much concern about aerosolizing the bad paint when you sand, since it'll all already be in your shopvac.

- I worked in safety goggles and disposable paper masks; I got a lot more dust on me from sanding then I ever did from the Paintshaver, but the Paintshaver can throw small chips around occasionally so I'd end up with bits of stuff on my forearms after an hour of work.

- Since it works pretty fast, it fills up a shopvac bag pretty fast too. Buy 'em by the bunch and if you feel like the tool's spitting out more chips than it should be, stop and check the bag.

All in all it's a pretty damned good tool if you're going to DIY this. It's not a silver bullet, but it's a miles better than scraping any significant stretch of wood by hand.
posted by cortex at 11:29 AM on November 23, 2013 [5 favorites]

Best answer: if you end up doing it yourself, you may want to look into renting scaffolding to allow you to reach high areas without using a ladder.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 11:58 AM on November 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

I suspect you're going to HAVE to do it yourself. Professionals need to be super meticulous -- in some states by law, and at any rate in terms of liability.

There are a lot of stripping solutions designed for lead, e.g. LeadOut and various versions of Peel Away. I haven't used any of them, though, and have no idea if they are viable for something as big as a whole house. Worth looking into, though.
posted by kestrel251 at 12:32 PM on November 23, 2013

After DIY scraping lead paint from various interior surfaces of my early 19th century cottage, I turned to professionals to do the exterior. I am also in NY, and I began bidding out the process the very month the new lead paint regulations were passed. I got three bids, all from firms that had been certified by the state in the new rules. The bids varied by over $9k.

As others said above, I would get more bids. It is worth it. Kudos to you to want to save the old siding.
posted by minervous at 5:14 PM on November 23, 2013

Best answer: Just a cautionary tale for you: In my state children are routinely checked for lead exposure at about 2 years of age. My downstairs neighbor had her daughter tested at a regular well-check appointment and was shocked to get the test results back since her daughter was well above the threshold for exposure.

Unbeknownst to her, a house two doors down had scraped and painted their house some months earlier and the lead paint had drifted into their apartment ( they were on the ground floor). They only found this out because the doctor was legally required to report the test result to the public health department who in turn sent out inspectors to figure out where the lead came from. The inspectors went all over our building and found nothing but eventually widened their search to the other neighbors. Those other neighbors had to rescrape and paint using licensed lead handlers and it was VERY expensive to remediate.

So if you go the DIY route, be very careful!

P.S. The little girl retested later and cleared the lead from her system.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 6:35 PM on November 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Otherworldly, do you know how the neighbors had gone about the job? Had they taken any precautions at all the first time?

I'm not aiming to do this as cheaply as possible, or to duck under the law. I want to determine what I can get away with, within the law, while minimizing danger, preferably for quite a bit less than $25K.

And I'll definitely get a bunch more bids!
posted by Quisp Lover at 8:04 PM on November 23, 2013

No, I don't really know what, if any, precautions they took. They were reluctant to disclose exactly what they had or had not done. But all it took was a breeze to blow the dust and paint chips two doors down!
posted by otherwordlyglow at 8:07 PM on November 23, 2013

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