This Old House

I am feeling extremely frustrated and overwhelmed at the moment.  This week has been filled with visits from home repairman and energy auditors.  The conclusion, our sweet old home needs some work, and as any homeowner knows, it won’t come cheap.

One of the many things that I love about Providence is the historical architecture.  You almost begin taking it for granted, since there is a historic home or building on every corner.  We have buildings here that are older than our country…seriously.  How amazing is that?  Even our humble abode is well over a century old.  While that means we have charming details aplenty (incredible doors, intricate moldings, old light fixtures, random stained glass windows, etc.) it also means that we have some serious problems.

The biggest issue is our windows, which are original to the house.  They have been restored, but that was many, many years ago.  The paint (which is filled with lead) is beginning to chip, the pulley systems are getting stuck, and the glass is rattling in the panes.  But what concerns me most, is the lead.  Old homes have lead everywhere, and when you buy an old home, you pretty much have to accept this…but with a new baby, this becomes a very scary fact.  When it was just my husband and I, we didn’t really have to worry- neither of us felt the need to crawl around on the floor, or put everything and anything in our mouths.  Turns out, I can’t say the same for our little guy.

It’s ironic, I suppose- I use organic, or natural, towels, bedding, clothing, bath and body products and toys for baby, but our house…the biggest thing of all…may be the source of scary, incredibly harmful toxins.

My home, which I love dearly, is a safe haven for my family, especially these days, when it is filled with the giggles of our little one, and the smell of baby powder.  But at this moment…it seems like a toxic waste dump.  I am worried, and overwhelmed.  Where do we start?  Do any of you have old homes and young children- can you give me any advice, reassurances, ideas??  Anything to ease this mama’s mind?

18 thoughts on “This Old House

  1. Erin

    We live in a home that's about 100 years old in Warren, just down the road. Back when our 3 year old was crawling we decided to have our paint tested. Turns out that the rooms that hadn't been remodeled at some point had lead paint in them, and one room in particular was chipping like crazy. I knew he'd been in that room a ton, and had probably unintentionally put some chips in his mouth. We had him tested and had the room (ever so gently) scraped and re-painted to seal in the old paint. We were told to not sand at all, but to simply peel off extremely chipping paint. We made sure that we weren't in the house (or that the room was sealed off) while the chipping and painting were going on. Once everything was done and cleaned up we could use the room again!! And, our son has been since tested again and both tests have come back negative. You shouldn't worry yet. Re-painting can make all the differece. Keeping your precious little one away from chipping paint is the biggest concern. If the lead paint isn't chipping it most likely won't pose any problem since the lead is only released by injesting or breathing in dust from sanding. Good luck with everything!! I'm sure things will work out fine. You can have him tested to put your heart at ease, too.

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  2. Anonymous

    our home is turning 145 years old. the best advice i can give you is to just do one thing at a time. . . one room at a time… otherwise it ca be overwhelming… xoxooxx jen gray

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  3. Ivy

    Good Luck. I'm glad for the person who commented first. Great advice. Lead Poisoning is a serious issue and it's good you are aware of it.

    Cheers~Ivy

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  4. Lauren H.

    Our house isn't nearly as old (a young 58 years old), but has had numerous issues in the year we have lived here. Our first day, we noticed it was infested with fleas. It took a month to take care of that. It's had mold issues, a sink hole under the driveway, not to mention it has original windows, plumbing, and electrical that are definitely showing their age. We don't have kids yet, but I can only imagine the added level of stress that brings. But, you can only take things one at a time. Otherwise, it's just too expensive and overwhelming. Prioritize and don't sweat over the smaller things. And continue to appreciate the wonderful aspects of older houses. Even after all we've been through and the years I feel like it's taken off of our lives, I still prefer the charms of our house over new construction. Good luck!

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  5. Anonymous

    When our son was born in 1995 our home was 71 years old. We started a remodeling project of the front porch and half way through removing the old paint, it struck me. What about lead? Of course it was lead paint and we had our then 1 yr old tested. His test came back at 17 and the test threshold was 9. I was devastated and read all the literature about IQ points and attention problems. We quickly covered the lead paint with a whole new porch floor and within a month our son's levels were below the acceptable levels. But still I worried, classic mom guilt. Our pediatrician reminded me that when I as a baby our levels were probably well into the 20s and 30s thanks to toys and cribs painted in lead and lead gasoline. But still I worried. Now our son is 15. He is an excellent honors student, he is kind, he is artistic. He is just who he was meant to be. No need to worry so much.

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  6. djrios

    Eventually, after being bombarded from every direction (lead paint, radioactive milk, mercury in fish, antibiotics everywhere) you learn to do the best you can and stop wasting precious time and energy worrying about the things you can't change. But it's a process. Right now you are most aware of how vulnerable he is, but soon you'll also see just how incredibly resilient he can be.
    I agree with the posters that say just do one room at a time, and I would start with the room where he spends the most time.

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  7. Virginia

    If it's any consolation, I grew up in a 100+ year old house, full of lead paint. I have four older siblings and we all emerged unscathed 🙂

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  8. Anonymous

    Hello from Australia. We too live in a house which is about 80 years old, has lead paint and I share your concern about the effects on young children. I think the first writer is spot on. We moved out with our 1-year-old during major renovations. It was possible for us to have some of the windows taken off site, brought back once stripped of the lead paint and sealed with a new coat. We too were very dilligent about cleaning down the entire house (vacuum, wet mops) several times before moving back to remove all traces of lead dust. If you are really concerned, a blood test is available and while needles are hard, you can judge whether it is warranted. Our daughter is a bright, happy 9 year old now and I have no doubt that she was unaffected by the lead. Our house is not entirely lead free now but the paint in those rooms is in good condition, well sealed, no chips and I don't worry about it anymore. At some stage in the future I know we will need to repaint the exterior and we will probably move out again briefly and get professionals to do the job, it is worth the peace of mind.

    BTW Christine, I love your site. Your little one is beautiful and your posts brings back many happy memories of the early days with my baby daughter. The joy of just being together and immersing myself in the wonder of the new little person.

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  9. chacha

    I grew up in an old home (New Bedford – not too far from you) built in 1918 – we had those same pulley system windows and I'm sure lead paint. My parents couldn't afford to replace much until I was 8 or 9. I turned out fine :o) I'm sure it would be best to get it removed especially if it is majorly chipping here and there. But if the paint is in tact, not much chipping, it's probably OK. My two cents. I'm not a mom yet, though. So it's easier for me to say that.

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  10. robyn

    our house is over 100 years old, as well. we had the paint and the yard tested for lead last year, and ended up having a chunk of our yard replaced by the EPA, but the paint was okay.

    the windows. ah, the windows in an old house. in the last three years, my husband has single-handedly replaced all of them. he buys the pocket replacement windows at the hardware store {not the new construction ones} and has done them one at a time.

    they cost around $200 each, so we've done them slowly, but he's at the point now where he can do one in less than 3 hours, from removal of old window and all the pulley parts to putting in the new one, adding in spray foam to seal it into the plaster walls well, and trimming it out even!

    you can e-mail me at rmcdevine@gmail.com if you want more information about doing that yourself. i know that hiring someone to replace the windows is less work on your part, but it will seriously cost you SO MUCH MORE money!

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  11. Nana Ellen

    your home is charming. your baby is precious. you are a new – first time mom. So…when someome comes along and says, “Your charming home is a threat to your precious baby…” Of course, Mommy is gonna panic. As a mother and grand-mother, who is at least twice your age, my thought is…”stop it!. Stop it now!” Don't allow the fear of what might happen cause you to give up the joy your home gives you.
    Yes, it's true, lead paint is not the best addition to a baby's diet…but come on. How much time do you really expect you'll allow him to spend chewing on the woodwork?
    Grab hold of your panic, and choke it into submission to your common sense. Clean off any peeling paint, with the baby napping safely somewhere close by, repaint with a good modern paint that will seal the situation and relax.
    If the loss of energy is a major problem, look for common sense solutions, maintaining the old house charm you originally fell in love with. Don't allow your imagination to steal another mintue of your joy.
    Hugs,
    nana

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  12. Susan

    As a new mom, do you really every truly internalize all the advice and words of wisdom offered to you? I hope you do on this topic, because I really believe you are getting led in the right direction (pun intended). I second Nana. I grew up, along with my six siblings, in a house over 100 years old. We all have college degrees, most of us advanced degrees. I am sure we ate some lead paint. I now live with my two sons in a lovely home right down the street, also well over a 100 years old now.

    You know what to do to make your house as safe as you can for your sweet baby – do what you can as you can. Be glad and grateful for your sanity, your loving nature and your good sense. Then pick up that baby, sit in your favorite place in your beautiful old house, and rejoice in everything that makes your house a home.

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  13. erin

    christine,

    i grew up in a 250 year old farm house crawling with lead paint. my parents were extremely nervous when we moved in. i remember them getting all of the woodwork tested–some of it was high in lead, some not so much. finally, my parents did decide to do a full abatement–stripping all of the windows and starting fresh. no easy task, but i think it offered considerable peace of mind. still, i think nana ellen up above offers pretty sound advice. little vijay won't be spending too much time gnawing on the moulding!

    xo.

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  14. Mary

    Please don't replace your windows with vinyl. The old windows just get dumped in the landfill, with all that lead.
    Plus you lose all that lovely wavy glass.

    Not that you have much time to clean, but periodically use damp paper towels and hot water & vinegar (wear gloves) to clean the window trim, and baseboard and throw them away. The worst thing to do is stir up dry dust by sanding or dry dusting. There are some wonderful people in Rhode Island who do window restoration, and often they will do one window at a time to assist with your household budget. It is expensive, but if you are planning to stay in your home for some time it is well worth it. Plus you can also get the storm windows replaced too which helps with heating in the winter.

    If you are in an Historic district you may qualify for a RI tax credit, for window restoration.

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  15. Amanda

    My husband and I lived in a 100 year old house in the middle of a large city in WI and I went through the same thoughts as you with my first, then my second, and third. The thought of lead, replacing windows, basement repair drove me crazy, so we moved into a new house in the country. Now I am driven crazy by the thought of radon, and formaldehyde fumes given off from the new construction. There is no “win” for us moms.

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  16. branchhomestead

    i agree with many of these comments yet it's so challenging not being overwhelmed with concern. we have had the same fears. we still have sleepless nights and our daughter is now almost 9.

    when our daughter was a baby we also lived in a 100 year old house. we had a lead inspector come and test the house. he gave us direction on how best to minimize exposure. last summer as i was in the process of repainting the outside of our new “old house” i wrote a post on our blog about lead concerns & management. http://www.branchhomestead.com/blog/2010/05/getting-the-lead-out-safely.html

    here are a few of the highlights.
    * mamas and babies out until the cleanup is complete.
    * seal off area to be addressed.
    * always wear a mask and gloves help too.
    * never dry sand – if you must sand use a wet sanding sponge with soapy water.
    * when cleaning up always use soapy water (we would do several passes with clean soapy water)
    * it's best to repaint lead paint in non friction areas and disturb it as little as possible.
    * the areas of friction, doors and windows, is where the greatest effort needs to be. we have had doors dipped and/or stripped. we have just a few specific windows that we open. we pay close attention to dust around these area and make sure to clean frequently with soapy water.
    * make sure when you are cleaning up that you use a hepa filter on your vacuum.

    hope this helps. i know that i left some things out. please let me know if you have any questions.

    your little love is so beautiful, i am so happy for all of you.

    i will miss seeing you at squam this year, i know that you will have a wonderful time. be well.

    sunshine & happiness…kimm

    Reply

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