Okay, I have needed to get this article out for a while to let people who are thinking about building Tiny Houses so that they can do the pros and cons analysis on a number of issues involved in our modern day choices in how we build a house, how big it will be, and how healthy it will be when we move in. Lead based paint, vinyl, carpet, sheetrock, and more must be considered if you are going to create a healthy house, but especially if you are thinking of building a Tiny House to live in.
The question often comes up about how do we deal with our one most likely contaminant in the salvage building trade. Lead based paint is not something to be ignored but it is also not something to be unreasonably feared as you can easily take precautions to protect yourself.
Yes, it is particularly important with children, so they can not be around when doing the work on lead. While I have written some long responses before, I have not written an article or blog on how to deal with this :> but while I am not an expert nor an extremist in this realm for adults, I am adamant about taking precautions for children as their blood brain barrier to stop the heavy metals getting into their brain is not fully developed until 6-8 years old or a bit more. Their ingestion of the lead, whether as a dust, paint chips, dust from vinyl blinds, vinyl siding, christmas wrapping paper inks, and the many other dangers that lead presents when used in a child’s environment, so I do not know what the best way is to make people aware of all of the ways that it is introduced into our home.
Hand scraping paint off causes to the least dusting, with sandpaper on a belt or palm sander creating the most. Putting down a carpet to throw away when done, or plastic that will collect the dust as much as possible will insure a cleaner space once you are done doing the work and clean up. Otherwise the lead based paint will be left to blow around and could pose a problem if kids are around it later.
My first and foremost recommendation with young babies and kids is to just not use any wood with paint on it. When ever you can simply turn over a board and use the back or not have to deal with stripping the paint off the better. Sometimes leaving it on and encapsulating it with another layer of paint, oils, or other sealant will also help to limit later dusting or contamination. By reversing clapboard siding for example, it puts it to the back side where it will remain trapped for another hundred years and pose no danger to anyone.
When you do want to use some wood with paint, first get a tester at the paint store that makes it easy to test the paint. Not all old paint has lead in it. In fact you will be surprised how much does not. If you are lucky and get wood with Milk paint on it the lead is not an issue, but keep in mind the pigments in paint, whether on paper, walls, or otherwise, is make with metals like cobalt for blue, arsenic for greens, titanium for white, and many other bad things to ingest. There fore it is a wise idea to always wear some sort of dust mask (N95 or better) if it concerns you, as well as goggles so as to not get it in your eyes. Always brush off, change clothes, and be sure your hair is free of debris before playing with your kids after dealing with paint or salvaging a house that may contain other contaminants as well.
Damp sponging the surfaces before installing them or after but before you add oil or an encapsulator will help. When applying the oil you will actually lock up most, if not nearly all of the potential remaining dust or contaminants and re-oiling every 5 years or so will also help.
While on the subject of concerns for the modern house and the materials that we have been using in the industry to build with that are rarely considered in what makes a house toxic, here are some great references so as to have a more clear idea on what you will also need to focus on besides the Lead in trying to create a safe home for your family. This is especially true if you are going Tiny House as there is so much less air per square foot of surface areas in the house that outgassing is an bigger concern that it would be in a bigger house as the proportions of air to wall ratios increase dramatically as you expand the walls outward.
Here is a bit of a synopsis of the many other things worth considering as much if not more than lead based paint which gets so much attention that I believe that deflects needed attention away from the many other toxic ingredients people put into their houses today, and have in many cases, for years past as well. They deserve as much attention and most often get none. Some actually generate lead as well as other toxins into the home that are generally ignored. For example:
Vinyl Siding and other PVC products….
and let us not forget the building industry favorite… Sheetrock..
which is so common most people do not even know it is in question when it comes to causing health issues.
With wood, you will not see such heavy molding as the sheetrock makes a much better home, one that you can not really clean but must remove to insure it is clean and safe.
Mold is a great friend of Sheetrock, so often you are creating an environmental problem prone house by using it as mold will manifest if water is introduced in nearly every case. The industrial grade mold spores are inside the sheetrock ready to spread when you just add water.
and let us not forget the modern world of fashion and paint, and unnecessary element in a house if you use wood and oils, but for those who must have paint, consider this perhaps too…
That does not equate to a Latex rubber allergy but other issues instead.
Still, top it off with the carpet we put in houses, rather than wood floors, This will wake you up to the carpet issues:
I know of a woman who’s 6 year old almost died before they figured out it was the carpet that was killing him in the new house.
Oh yes, as we all bring this one into the home if we have kids: Wrapping paper:
it applies to most colored wrapping paper as you will see if you read close between the lines.
Also, note that the carpet is the best indicator of the lead content in the children who play on it, not from being in it, but from accumulating it and other heavy metals, along with pesticides and other crap you do not want stored in your house.
Now if you have not heard about the other component in our houses that we seem to feel we can not do without as well….
read up on the EMF issues as well and keep your children’s beds away from outlets on the wall near their head, no cell phones until at least 12 years old, and much more serious things than lead based paint because you can not even see the cause or the damage without knowing to look for it.
My Tiny Texas Houses can also be set up to use extremely limited AC current and instead DC for LED lighting or such lower consumption elements that can make the home safe for that as well.
So, if we eliminate all of these issues, and create a house from pieces already harvested and created long ago, from the glass to the cast iron or hardware, then we can create a safe, clean, none toxic home to live in that will last for a century. It will be a safe home, will cost less in energy to keep warm and cool than the energy saved by using salvaged materials instead of new building materials. New stuff takes from the world’s resources but also takes huge amounts of energy to make, generates toxic waste, and costs to transport, often half way around the world from China. If you want to build an energy efficient house, start by not using a bunch of energy to create the parts you build with, which in fact you can save more in the construction than you will use in the life of the house if you work with 75-90% salvaged materials that will generally be of higher quality than anything that you will find being made today.
I hope this addresses some of the issues with working around salvaged materials that are readily available around the planet for us to reuse with a minimal amount of effort and cost, either to the people who use them or to the planet that we are using up at a rate that can not be sustained much longer. If we stop creating new toxic building materials like vinyl which can hardly be recycled or disposed of without releasing toxic chemicals into the environment that could literally kill you, such as the smoke from burning it that creates hydrochloric acid when breathed into the lungs leaving chemical burns before leaving.
We can do better and create a safer planet to leave behind for our children’s children down the line. It takes using some common sense as we build the next generation of housing that will contain a downsized generation and a new generation of families that hold a healthy home to be more important than a giant home. It is better to give up the massive square footage full of toxic parts, energy wasting building materials, and huge wasted money in advertising, transport, and marketing that we can turn into other more valuable contributions to our society. Tiny Houses will help lead the way to a simpler and safer lifestyle if we start focusing on health instead of spacious housing in the decades ahead.
Thanks for your interest and question. I will post this blog and amend it as we find more to comment on.