Sunday, November 14, 2010

Does my house have lead paint?

Lead paint was not banned in the United States until 1978 so homeowners and contractors making modifications to homes build before 1978 are often required by law to take extra precautions. When we owned a circa 1900 condo, we (rightfully) assumed that lead paint was a problem. While other countries banned the use of lead in paint in the early 1900s, it wasn't until decades later that the United States paint industry cut back on lead use in paint, and 1978 before it was completely banned. Now that we own a house originally built in 1959, we have a more laid-back attitude toward lead paint. And, it sounds like such a stance is not unreasonable since the use of lead in paint was greatly reduced in the 1940s and 1950s. It sounds like pressure to reduce lead in interior paint was especially strong during that time. However, as late as 1971, a study done by New York City found that 10% of paints tested contained significant amounts of lead.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Why is my Water Yellow?!?!

That was my question when I poured a bath for my daughter. The obviously yellow-tinted bath water made me realize that the water I boiled for pasta also had a yellow-ish tint. Ack! We ate pasta boiled in yellow water? I checked the Natick web site to see if there had been any hydrant flushing or other water-disturbing activities lately. No luck. It was Saturday night so the town offices were closed, so I gave the police a call to see if they had heard anything. They took my information so that an on-call water guy might call me back, but he hasn't yet.

I guess I was on my own. What next? Well, what else but Google? Google led me to I bought a duplex, the author of which had seen this problem before. He referred to water authority sites which noted that the color is most likely from small amounts of rust being disturbed. Also, they say it is completely harmless. I bet it's harmless because (1) the concentration is very low, and (2) iron is something our bodies need anyway. Might even be a good thing for pregnant women since they need higher iron amounts than most people (but don't quote me on that!) The Massachusetts Regional Water Authority has a FAQ on water quality including a paragraph about yellowish water:

MWRA water, which comes from the Quabbin and Wachusett Reservoirs, sometimes turns yellowish from low levels of dissolved iron picked up from old iron pipes in both our system and your community's water system. This mainly occurs in winter, when water usage is low, because the water sits in the pipes for a longer period of time. The water may not be aesthetically pleasing, but according to the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), increased levels of iron that produce yellow water are not public health threats. Hardware stores have inexpensive products to remove rust stains from clothing and household surfaces. MWRA and customer communities replace or rehabilitate old pipes a few miles at a time, an expensive and time-consuming process. Long term solutions take time, but we are constantly cleaning and replacing as much pipe as we can.

So, it's official---yellow water is a minor issue and can be ignored except for stains it might leave on fixtures and clothes.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Spiders, Earwigs and Centipedes, Oh My!

When we moved into our new house just over a year ago, we noticed some bugs. The house came with .6 acres of land and lots of trees and vegetation, so we figured the few bugs might have been a trade-off of moving to the suburbs. Our previous place was a 2nd floor condo in a 4-unit building with asphalt covering all land surfaces. The bugs varied from spiders, to earwigs, to centipedes. The earwig freaked me out---not an easy to do. But, some searching revealed that they were harmless. Harmless or not, neither of us wanted to share our house with bugs, so I began searching for solutions. At first, it got worse, from a bug every few days, to multiple bugs each day. At some point, we had a bit of an ant invasion even though we keep our house clean. Ack! What had we gotten ourselves into!

We tried bug sprays, ant traps and ultrasonics. All of them helped, but didn't really solve the problem. The summer after we bought the house, I invested in a basic pump sprayer for an outdoor caterpillar repellent. Later when I was searching for bug sprays, I noticed Ortho Home Defense Concentrate which works with my pump sprayer. I used two gallons of dilute to spray my foundation, the perimeter of my deck and, especially, the area between my foundation and house frame (under the shingles) where I figured the bugs were entering. Not long after the concentrate spraying, I did a half-application of Scotts summer fertilizer with insect control.

I'm not sure which of the two things did the trick, the concentrate spray or the fertilizer, but not long after those, we saw a decrease in bugs that has continued to this day. This time last year, we were squashing bugs every day. Now, they are few and far between. Another factor may have been the cellulose we had blown into walls which would have made it a little more challenging for the critters to get inside, but the drop-off seemed strongly correlated-in-time with the concentrate and fertilizer, so I'll be using those in the future.