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Tamara & Len’s Back Yard…

origHouseI took this picture of our back yard today and realized that every element in the photos had a “Lead story”  – so I thought it might be fun to annotate it and share it with you all, in case it could help you come up with some new ideas for making your own home lead-safe!

Click the image below to see it full size.

Please post a comment below if you have any questions. More details below (underneath the annotated image.)

Tamara Rubin
Executive Director
Lead Safe America Foundation


  • Drip-line soil coverage: The drip-line of an older house (the soil border around the house where the downspouts usually dump) can be a very dangerous area. If lead paint was ever applied to the house’s exterior, this is where the soil lead levels are likely to be the highest—as a result of lead debris (from the paint’s initial application, as well as subsequent decades of weather wearing, renovation, repair, repainting, sanding/scraping, etc.). Children should be kept away from the drip-line at all costs. River rocks or thorny shrubs (roses?  rhododendrons? junipers?) are some good ways to keep children away from that area. We also use that area to throw seashells and smaller rocks we collect in our travels (with the idea being that those will fill in any holes between the river rocks.)
  • New siding: Previous owners of our home installed new cedar siding around the entire home.  This was put on top of the original siding.  The only remaining exposed lead painted surfaces (when we purchased the home in 2007) were the original exterior window trim and original exterior window sills. Installing new siding over original siding is often actually COMPARABLE IN COST to a complete, lead-safe repaint job! New siding is manufactured in a wide variety of materials and styles; “suitability” and selection can depend on many factors: availability, budget, local codes, personal aesthetics—and even political/ecological considerations (beyond the scope of this conversation!) Depending on how the re-siding job is done – it can also be an opportunity to increase the insulation levels of the home, as well as address any vapor/water permeability issues by adding a layer of protective vapor-barrier between the new siding and the old siding. The main “gotcha” with this is that if any drilling is done through ALL LAYERS of siding (like when my husband installed a new vent for our dryer) you need to make sure lead-safe work practices (especially proper containment & “working ‘wet'”) are used. The main piece of advice here is that this information really needs to be passed on to the next owner (and the next…in perpetuity), so that the knowledge that there is still lead contaminated siding UNDER the new siding is maintained. It’s also important to note that the sides of our home DO test positive with an XRF… that is because most XRFs read through the layer of cedar to the lead paint underneath (lead paint which is likely VERY HIGH lead – since the home was built in 1905 – and has many layers of lead paint too!) Please know that if you have an historic home that already has aluminum or vinyl siding that that siding was very likely put there to cover up (=PROTECT you from) the failing/failed (lead-based) paint underneath… so DO NOT remove that siding for repainting / original siding restoration until you do all of your research and are prepared to work lead-safe [it was, in fact, our own well-intentioned aluminum siding removal / restoration project (on our previous turn-of-the-century home) that set the stage for the poisoning of our children!]
  • Shoes-off + door mats: We always take our shoes off at the door (like in many Asian and European cultures). A “Shoes-off” policy helps to ensure no lead dust (as well as pet poo and all the other gross stuff the soles of your shoes encounter out in the world!) is tracked into your home. In addition to “shoes-off”, while the following an imperfect solution — we recommend that instead of using a fixed/ non-washable doormat that folks consider using multiple, thinner/ fabric washable mats at the doorway. We usually have three washable mats at the entrance to our home—one on the path before you step up onto the porch, one on the porch in front of the door and one on our kitchen floor as you walk through the door. For these, we use washable bath mats/small rugs (with slip-proof backing) that we usually get at Ikea for $3 or $4 each. Buying 10 or 12 of these at a time is a way to make sure you can keep them in frequent rotation,  so there are always clean ones out while you wash the dirty ones throughout the course of the week – helping to keep leaded soil dust out of the home. Note:  If you have a washer/dryer in the garage, it is preferable to use that—and not bring the soiled ones into your home to wash. [If you live in a highly lead-contaminated home (with a lead painted front porch, for example), and/or if you must bring the mats into the home to wash please do consider spraying them down with a light water mist before picking them up and transporting them to the washing machine in a disposable garbage bag, so you don’t shed lead dust from the mats inside your home. Additionally, do not wash them with regular household laundry and DO consider an extra rinse and second pass through the washing machine before reuse.]
  • Straw bales/ grass cover: Our boys are VERY active; we have FOUR sons – which means there are usually at least 4—and sometimes 6, 8 or 10 boys at the house at given time! As a result, repeated efforts to grow grass outside this entrance (the main entrance) to our home have failed miserably – it’s just too much of a high-traffic area! Bark chips (as a ground cover) were annoying (and sometimes can be treated with/”preserved” with a solution containing lead!)The kids ended up with hundreds of splinters—and not effective (the chips migrated all over the yard, re-exposing large patches of bare soil)!  The soil in this area tested as high as 165 ppm lead with our original / pre-move-in hazard assessments, so we knew we needed to manage it/ keep it covered.  A few years ago (after getting our chickens) we came up with the idea of straw bales!  The straw bales block direct traffic across the dirt into the house (they re-direct kids and visitors to actually use the walkways instead); they also contain moisture (even in a heat-wave) so they help keep the soil around them moist, restricting the amount of soil dust that gets kicked up in the air.  The *bonus* mentioned in the annotated photo above is that they also serve as extra yard seating—and are fun to have around (aesthetically.) We usually either have 8 or 10 bales stacked up in a mini pyramid, or in this configuration pictured here.
  • Picnic table: We had an extra-long custom picnic table made for the yard. It is made out of natural (untreated) pine and is 8 feet long. We chose not to treat it or paint it as unpainted wood is more recyclable/ reusable – either to use for some other project once the table deteriorates—or ultimately as firewood. [It is for this same reason that we also chose not to treat our cedar fencing… not even with an oil or stain.] This is our third year having the table out year round and it is still going strong. [We decided on this option after I tested several outdoor furniture sets (painted metal – both new and old/second-hand) and they (almost all) tested positive for lead!] With boys who have lead poisoning, the other nice thing about this extra large/ extra-heavy table is that they are less likely to throw it/ turn it over/ do something dangerous with it (as they often impulsively do with other furniture – during a meltdown !) [The “throwing of chairs” is, sadly, a not-uncommon occurrence in our home.] Our picnic table was also made by a local builder out of local wood… so more “sustainable”… and “green” in that respect. On top of all that… it only cost us $295, custom-built-to-order – #GottaLovePortland!
  • Chickens: This one is a whole website, really [and I did have a section dedicated to this on my original site—and will do my best to recreate on this site soon]!  Chickens like to eat sweet things; Lead in paint tastes sweet…  IF there IS lead in the soil (or on paint that is accessible to chickens), they will eat it…this will poison your chickens, and has been scientifically studied and demonstrated to also poison your EGGS – making them unsafe to eat. Many people have coops that are leaned up against a back or side wall of their house – or leaned up against an old garage – using the house or garage wall as the fourth wall of the coop to save money/ add weather protection for their flock.  This is a VERY bad idea.! If possible, coops should be as far away from any painted structure (yours or your neighbor’s) as possible – and I also recommend testing the soil for lead before choosing where to locate your coop. In most cases – the farther away you get from the house the cleaner/ less-toxic the soil will be – unless your home is along a frequently traveled freeway route or similar high-traffic road [where there will be accumulated deposits from decades of leaded exhaust.] While – as you can see from this picture – we let our hens free-roam a bit when we are home, they have a coop as far away from the house as we could locate it, and there are no painted surfaces in or near their coop.  Unfortunately we did use chicken wire in the construction of the coop—and later found out that most of the chicken wire in the United States not only has lead in the coating – but also this lead is bio-available (tests positive on contact with a LeadCheck swab) – so be careful in how you build your coop and with what materials… and look for lead-free chicken wire (or other lead-free alternatives) if you can find it. Whew—I told you it deserves a web site of it’s own!

2 Responses to Tamara & Len’s Back Yard…

  1. Catherine Brooks June 29, 2015 at 7:05 am #

    What a great idea! This picture shows clearly the depth of research and action parents of a poisoned child have done and how prolific the manufacturer’-suppressed sources of lead have propagated. Very scary but seeing how you have done it gives us hope, Tamara.

  2. Mollie July 8, 2015 at 8:30 pm #

    This is so informative! Thank you!

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