Quote of the Day

Monday, November 25, 2019

Overhead and Profit on Insurance Claims

The Overhead and Profit paid on mitigation and restoration losses has been an item of contention for decades. 

It stems from a misunderstanding of the terms, tasks, and responsibilities of those involved. It is coupled with the age old contention that insurance companies and owners want to  pay as little as possible, while Contractors want to be able to bill as much as possible. Each is motivated to make or save enough money to stay in business.

To understand the right solution, we have to first understand that there are 3 types of Contractors:

1. Contractors – Any person who signs a contract to do work on your property is technically a Contractor. In most States, they also need to have a license issued by the municipality. Usually this type of Contractor performs 1 or 2 trades that are compatible or may be done in tandem.  Examples: carpet and vinyl, drywall and painting, excavation and concrete, roofing and framing repair, or electrical, plumbing, heating and/or air conditioning, etc.

2.General Contractors – When a job requires several trades, such as building or remodeling a home, a General Contractor is required to oversee the coordination and quality of the work performed. 

  > They may have in-house employees that can do one or all of the trades;
  > They may hire Sub-Contractors to perform some or all of the work; or
  > They may be the Owner doing any or all of the above. 

General Contractors are paid by the Owners, and then issue payments to the Sub-Contractors they hired. General Contractors also inspect, guarantee the quality, and warrantee all work performed.  

3. Sub-Contractors – Contractors, (see above,) when hired by General Contractors or Owners to perform one or more individual trades on the project, become Sub-Contractors. They are usually accountable to the General Contractor, not the Owner, because the General Contractor retained them. (If the Owner hired them, then the Sub-Contractor’s relationship is with the Owner.) The General Contractor is responsible to hire, coordinate, inspect, and pay the Sub-Contractor for the work they do. Sub-Contractors also guarantee their work to the General Contractor, who then guarantees it to the Owner.

From these definitions, the insurance companies operated under a rule of thumb, starting about 50 years ago, which was typically accepted across the industry. It stated that any company that performed or oversaw 3 or more trades on a project was a General Contractor and entitled to Overhead & Profit on the entire project. Typically O&P was calculated as 10% Overhead + 10% Profit, but some areas of the country may have differing percentages.

While I don’t know of any documentation that details this practice in writing, adjusters would usually pay claims this way. As an estimator and General Contractor, I have seen this play out this way for decades.

The reasoning used, was that General Contractors spent time in scheduling, coordinating, and warranting the cost of an entire project, not just a trade or 2. This time wasn’t included in any line items of the estimate. If they didn’t perform 3 or more trades, they were not managing the project; they were just a Contractor and their O&P was built into the estimate price for the portion of work they did. 

Anyone who has been in restoration for more than 20 years is familiar with this way of doing things.

Xactimate® estimating software, made by Xactware®, added a white paper to their website explaining how Xactimate® calculates O&P. A portion of their paper is listed below, and used with permission.

(If you don’t want to read the legal text of the paper, jump down below the indented portion and I will tell you what it says.)

General Overhead are expenses incurred by a General Contractor, that cannot be attributed to individual projects, and include any and all expenses necessary for the General Contractor to operate their business.
Examples (including but not limited to):General and Administrative (G&A) expenses, office rent, utilities, office supplies, salaries for office personnel, depreciation on office equipment, licenses, and advertising.  
Including General Overhead expenses in an Xactimate® estimate--General Overhead expenses are not included in Xactware’s unit pricing, but are typically added to the estimate as a percentage of the total bid along with the appropriate profit margin. These two costs together constitute what is normally referred to in the insurance restoration industry as General Contractor’s O&P, or just O&P. General Overhead and Profit percentages can be added in the Estimate Parameters window within an Xactimate estimate.
Job-Related Overhead are expenses that can be attributed to a project, but cannot be attributed to a specific task and include any and all necessary expenses to complete the project other than direct materials and labor. 
Examples (including but not limited to): Project managers, onsite portable office and restroom facilities, temporary power and fencing, security if needed, etc. 
Including Job-Related Overhead expenses in an Xactimate® estimate--Job Related Overhead expenses should be added as separate line items to the Xactimate estimate. This is done within the Line Item Entry window of an Xactimate estimate by selecting the proper price list items, or creating your own miscellaneous items. 
Job-Personnel Overhead represents the non-wage related expenses incurred by a General Contractor that are associated to having their own employees perform the work, or the total G&A expenses incurred by a professional Sub-Contractor when using their services. 
Examples: Vehicle costs, uniforms, mobile phones, depreciation on hand-tools owned by the company, etc.Job-Personnel Overhead also includes the portion of General and Administrative expenses and profit that correlate to employees performing billable tasks, and that are not included in the General Contractor O&P mark-up. These expenses will be incurred either by the general contractor using employees or by a sub-contractor, depending on who is actually performing the work. If the work is being sub-contracted, then these expenses are commonly called Sub-Contractor Overhead and Profit. 
Including Job Personnel Overhead/Sub-Contractor O&P in an Xactimate® estimate--Job Personnel Overhead (or Sub-Contractor O&P) expenses are included in the Labor Overhead portion of each unit price in the Xactware® price list. The Labor Overhead, along with expenses for Labor Burden and Worker Wage (wage paid to the individual) make up the Retail Labor Rate. 

Here is what it says above.

General Contractors, managing 3 or more trades, have expenses that cannot be specifically assigned to a particular project. These costs include, but are not limited to: General and Administrative (G&A) expenses, office rent, utilities, office supplies, salaries for office personnel, depreciation on office equipment, licenses, and advertising, etc. 

These particular expenses are not included in the individual line items in an Xactimate® price list. Therefore, to be compensated, they are added as an Overhead and  Profit expense at the end of the estimate on the entire cost of the project. 

If a General Contractor has expenses that are unique to a project such as purchasing or renting a particular piece of equipment, acquiring permits and fees, or retaining an expert, (such as an architect or engineer), then this expense should be added as a line item in the estimate as a typical Job Related Expense, explained below. 

Job Related Expenses are expenses that can be attributed to a project, but cannot be attributed to a specific task. These costs include, but are not limited to: Project managers, onsite portable office and restroom facilities, temporary power and fencing, security, etc. This would also include: permits, fees, architects, engineers, and other experts.

These expenses are added to the estimate as individual line items and include any O&P due a Contractor or Sub-Contractor.

So, if your Project Coordinator spent 3 hours calling, scheduling, and inspecting the project, the Project Coordinator line item is written into the estimate. This is just the same as if you had rented a portable toilet or fencing for the job. This is true whether you are a Sub-Contractor or the General Contractor using your own people. The Sub-Contractor O&P is already built into the line item prices by Xactimate® in this situation.

Finally, Job-Personnel Overhead represents the non-wage related expenses incurred by a General Contractor that are associated to having their own employees perform the work, or the total G&A expenses incurred by a professional Sub-Contractor when using their services.

The caveat here that everyone misses in this statement, is: These expenses will be incurred either by the General Contractor using employees or by a Sub-Contractor, depending on who is actually performing the work. 

This is followed with: Job Personnel Overhead (or Sub-Contractor O&P) expenses are included in the Labor Overhead portion of each unit price in the Xactware® price list. They are not added or included in the general O&P for General Contractors because they already exist in each individual line item. It makes no difference if the General Contractor’s employees do the work or if a Sub-Contractor and his employees do the work.

So, whether you are the mitigation contractor who comes in the middle for the night and cleans up the mess or the drywall installer/painter who puts it back together, your O&P is already included in the individual line items and should not be added again to the end of an Xactimate® estimate. 

According to general industry standards, you can only add O&P on the entire job if you managed 3 or more trades as a General Contractor because you incurred additional expenses that are not already included in the individual line items.

This said, Contractors have the right and freedom to charge whatever the market will bear, providing they are not illegally gouging the customer. But, if they claim to use pricing that is consistent with general industry standards and especially if they state that they use the accepted price lists as published by Xactware®, O&P is typically not acceptable unless they are managing 3 or more trades on the project.

Photo courtesy of XactLoss via https://jwheelerlaw.com/2017/04/who-pays-contractor-overhead-and-profit/

Monday, September 30, 2019

Being a Professional

I used to think that a professional was a person who was paid for doing their job because they never made mistakes. Then I noticed that many of the people I knew who were labeled professionals were far from professional in their professions. They were arrogant, incompetent, unskilled, and generally under-qualified or inexperienced.
After examining the scenario again, I realized that a professional isn't someone who never makes a mistake, but when they do, they own their mistake and fix it, before it becomes a problem. They are more worried about the success of the project and less about their perception or status.
Acknowledging the Contributions of Others
I was one day presiding in a committee meeting where we were planning a major event. I made a suggestion that I had been considering but was shot down by another person who noted the flaws in my thinking and proposed better alternatives. I immediately realized the error of my thinking and enthusiastically embraced the revisions. We hammered out the details and made the required assignments.
Trying to be a good leader, I closed the meeting by thanking the person who fixed my idea, giving them credit for their initiative. They countered insisting that the better plan was my idea. I refuted this, replying that it was their idea, not mine. The entire committee then insisted that the idea was mine alone and that they all supported it.
I was baffled. I knew that It wasn’t my idea originally but no one would believe me. I just didn't understand. After considerable thought, I realized that because I had enthusiastically embraced the right approach, not insisting on my own obsolete idea, the entire committee only remembered the best solution and the right thing happened.
Communicating Effectively
We have all lived through harrowing experiences where one or more parties failed to communicate their feelings or intentions sufficiently, causing the entire project to fail or be placed in jeopardy. This happens for a variety of reasons.
First - People are afraid to express their opinions.
This can occur because of overbearing personalities, fear of ridicule, fear of harassment, fear of rejection, fear of failure, or even fear of success. Regardless of the impetus, fear of communicating prevented success.
We can overcome this fear by providing safe environments for ideas to be expressed, thanking people for input, and explaining why an unsuccessful suggestion will not work in this instance only, leaving open the possibility for other suggestions in the future.
Second - We fail to use the technology available to us.
Fifty years ago I read a small book on management. I have long since forgotten the title and the author, but one very important principle did remain with me. The author was discussing one of the keys to successfully get things done, and his suggestion was, "Always use the Postman".
I thought at the time is was a little weird to rely on the mailman to do your work until he explained. So often when we need to deliver information to someone else, we write down the information and then vow to deliver it when we are at their office tomorrow because it is important and urgent. Invariably, when we make the visit, we leave the letter on our desk and it goes days or weeks unaddressed, collapsing under an ever growing pile of other pressing matters.
His recommendation was, "Always use the Postman". Put it in an envelope with a stamp and drop it in the "Out Mail" in your office. Then the postman will be sure to deliver it within a couple of days, because they pride themselves on being reliable.
This was in the 1960's when snail-mail was the only means of delivering the written word. Today, we have email, text, fax, voice to text, text to voice, and a host of other electronic media and platforms that will deliver our communication to anyone around the world in seconds.
We can create and send them from a computer, a tablet, a phone, and even a wrist watch. It is so easy and quick, and responses can be just as fast.
Third - We fail to acknowledge communication.
Too often emails and texts are not acknowledged leaving the sender wondering if the communication was received, if it was understood, or what follow-up is expected. Failing to reply also may leave the sender with the feeling that they are not important enough for a response, which is usually not the case at all. This is often referred to as "Closing the Loop".
Even though we are all busy, there are several things that make it easier for us to respond. Many email programs have autoresponder settings that tell the sender the email was received and often that it was opened and read. Set this up once and it will always happen.
Texts and emails can be answered with a simple K, OK. Each are only a few keystrokes and they acknowledge your interest. Longer responses can quickly be passed to an assistant to provide a more detailed answer to the questions asked.
You can also ask that your assistants be copied on all communication. This does 2 important services for you. First, the assistant can answer questions that fall within their stewardship, saving you the time to do so. You are copied on their answers so you remain in the loop. Second, they can be your reminder that a response or action is needed from you, circumventing our self-destruction by procrastination or from simply being overworked.
Finally - We abbreviate, use too many pronouns and acronyms, or respond in incomplete sentences.
It is always important to understand our audience. We all know that different verbiage must be used in interrogatories and motions, than in a letter to a client outlining the very same steps or procedures. Being aware of who we are speaking to and their limitations or similarities, will help us to communicate more effectively the first time, saving us from second or third follow-up responses.
All of these suggestions work just as well with our spouses and children as they do at work.
Let’s all be more professional in our approach to our job, our families, and our lives.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Why Does Mold Grow in Attics and Crawl Spaces?

This new post is in response to a question raised by another post of mine. 

Bob asked, 

"Can I ask why there is often mold in attics and crawl spaces ? It makes no sense, because mold and mildew need humidity. Because I have even heard that in many cases, you can have mold in your attic without it having any leak from the roof. Any opinions on this ???"

Bob, here is the answer.

Great question. There are many reasons that mold can grow in attic and crawl spaces. All that is needed is moisture, a food source, and the omnipresent mold spores can grow. 

Any broken or leaky pipe running through these areas will suffice, but there are other more subtle moisture sources. These are some I have actually seen.

Possible moisture sources in an attic:

  1. A leak from blown-off shingles or damage to the roof.
  2. A leak around a protrusion, like a chimney, furnace flue, or parapet wall rising up through the roof.
  3. A clothes dryer or exhaust fan that is vented into the attic.
  4. Insufficient ventilation, (lack of soffit, gable, and/or roof vents,) that allows normal moisture to build up in the attic rather than being exhausted outside, especially in climates with normally high humidity.
  5. Ice damning will push moisture up under the shingles and into the attic.
  6. Water from an air-conditioner or furnace condensate line that isn't drained properly.

Possible moisture sources in a crawlspace or basement.

  1. Ground water coming through cracks in the concrete floor or walls in a basement.
  2. Ground water percolating up through the dirt in the crawl space.
  3. Water from a leaky toilet or drain line on the main floor that drops into the crawl space.
  4. A clothes dryer or exhaust fan that is vented into the crawl space.
  5. Insufficient ventilation that allows normal moisture to build up rather than being exhausted outside, especially in climates with normally high humidity.
  6. Water from an air-conditioner or furnace condensate line that isn't drained properly.
  7. Broken or disconnected drain lines in the crawl space.

All of these, and possibly other sources, can provide the moisture needed for mold to grow. Because we seldom go into the attic or crawl space, we are not able to monitor these areas and these conditions can cause significant damages over time, including rot and mold.

Regular inspections, or just being aware when you are in these locations, will help to identify and correct these issues before they become problems. - dlm

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Honesty, Integrity, and Loyalty

Alan Greenspan, former chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank, told the Harvard graduating Class of 1999, "Without mutual trust and market participants abiding by a rule of law, no economy can prosper." Then in 2005, he taught the graduating class of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, "In virtually all our transactions, whether with customers or with colleagues, with friends or with strangers, we rely on the word of those with whom we do business. If we could not do so, goods and services could not be exchanged efficiently."

His consensus that business cannot function without trust, which is rooted in honesty, not only applies to economics, but to the Rule of Law, as well. Testimony given “under oath”, is held up as the standard upon which life-altering decisions are made. The lives and fortunes of legal adversaries hang on the accuracy and validity of statements given by witnesses. So important is honesty in the Courts, that the violation of this oath is punishable by years of incarceration.

So, how do attorneys and experts navigate the minefield of seductive falsehoods and still maintain honesty, integrity, and loyalty to their clients? . . .

Simply be honest with the facts and always draw fact-based conclusions.

This does not imply that we must take every bit of evidence at face value nor refrain from diligently researching past decisions to find a ruling that fits our case. It means that part of truth cannot be omitted. Fabrication of facts or blatant misrepresentation of the truth, can never occur. Accusations are specific, and the defense of them should be as specific, but not censured.

There will always be times, nearly all the time, when facts contradict, don’t align, or are ambiguous. Rather than succumb to fact-less conclusions or inflammatory accusations, we need to concentrate our efforts to separate fact from fiction, align perspectives, and clarify conditions. It is our job to do so, it should not be a convenience if it happens. Anything less than this is a disservice to our clients and reflects on our level of competence.

Integrity is not something we do, it is what we have as a result of our actions. Without integrity we have no bearings, no character, and we lose the ability to be trusted. Integrity precludes stable opinions based on principles and the consistent implementation of those principles. It negates the need to remember which lie fits into which cubby, because the answers are always the same, even if they are adjusted to fit individual circumstances.

Loyalty to a client does not mean we have an obligation to provide acquittal. Loyalty in representation demands that we ensure the Rule of Law is followed, that our client has every opportunity to correctly present their story, and that miscarriages, injustice, and abuse are neutralized.

The first question a client usually asks an attorney is some variation of, “Can you get me off?” For some attorneys and experts, the answer is always, “Yes,” then any means available are employed to achieve that goal, whether it serves justice or not. This attitude thwarts the very reason for the Rule of Law. If laws are not enforceable, they cease to exist. We have cultures around the world where justice is doled out on the basis of who you know, who your family is, or what your status is in society. This is not justice, it is cronyism. Chronic abuse, theft, loss of liberty, and the destruction of lives and property, always follow such a course.

As attorneys and experts, we have to consciously review our past opinions to ensure they align with our present ones. Laws change and situations are often different, but if we move our opinions, there must always be concrete facts or evidence, that justifies such behavior.

There may be some who feel these remarks are a threat to their livelihood and that may be true. If people are looking to escape consequences or maliciously injure another, they may not engage an attorney or expert who will not bend or misrepresent the truth. Each may find a measure of success in this path, but ultimately, their actions will erode the pedestal under Lady Justice, until she eventually topples to the earth.

Without honesty, we cannot have integrity.
Without integrity, we cannot be trusted.
If we cannot be trusted, we are of no value.

Image courtesy of:

Friday, March 31, 2017

Fake News and Alternative Facts

There has been a lot of angst and controversy in the news lately over “fake news” stories and “alternative facts”. This has brought to my mind their relationship to legal cases and in working as an expert witness.

It is generally accepted that “fake news” is any story that deliberately contains information which is either not true or is accurate, but placed in such a setting that any person reading the article will be left with the wrong conclusion. There are many reasons that “fake news” exists, but they generally boil down to unscrupulous individuals trying to substantiate an opinion which has no credible facts. 

The fact that innocent, uninformed individuals repeat such nonsense, does not remove the fakeness from the information nor does it make it credible.

While misinformation is now referred to as “fake news”, not too long ago, in the 1990’s, politicians caught promoting misinformation, said that “I misspoke”. In my youth, we spelled “misspoke”, l-y-i-n-g. Regardless of how you spell it, you have still intentionally given false testimony.

“Alternative facts” are a different animal. It became a running joke when some people in President Trump’s administration refuted opposition claims with “alternative facts”. There was much derision and ridicule heaped upon the speakers implying that “alternative facts” were just another way to spin the facts. I am not sure of the actual intent, nor do I intent to try and unravel the facts, but I do want to clarify the important difference between “fake news” and “alternative facts”.

While “fake news” is a lie, and not acceptable in any legal arenas, “alternative facts” are not, in and of themselves, wrong. For clarification, I will define “primary facts” as those originally promoted by one side of the argument, and “alternative facts” as those secondary or tertiary facts that are submitted by the opposing side as a rebuttal.

Consider an example: A hypothetical Defendant is on trial for shooting and killing another person. You can have 10 people videotape the shooting, which would lay down the “primary facts” that the Defendant did actually shoot the Plaintiff, who then died. Based on those facts, the Defendant is guilty of murder. Case closed, right? Not necessarily.

The “alternative facts”, as explained by the Defense, show that the Victim was a 40 year old male, 6’ 4", 245 lbs., approaching the Defendant with a baseball bat, cursing, and declaring that he would bash in the head of the 22 year old female Defendant, who was 5’ 1" and weighed 105 lbs. Unless other “alternative facts” appeared, the Defendant's “alternative facts” would most likely be accepted as the complete truth and exonerate her from harm. (Providing, of course, that she was legally carrying a gun, and State laws allowed for lethal force when a person’s life or safety was in danger, but those would be additional “alternative facts”.)

We have all seen examples of this in our own professions, times when the original or “primary facts” were later superseded by “alternative facts” that overturned all initial opinions.

Several years ago, I was asked to opine on a local case. The Plaintiff’s house was located approximately 100 feet from and about 30 feet below an irrigation canal. On August 30 of that year, water began to percolate up through the concrete floor and the subterranean heat registers into the basement. This continued until September 30, which was actually 2 days after the Irrigation company had emptied the canal for the year. The owners of the home concluded from the “primary facts” that water must be seeping out of the sides or bottom of the canal, running under the ground, and emerging in their basement. There were also high levels of moisture in the air as well as mold growth in the basement, so the owners felt that there was still water in the basement from the original intrusion. They had other testimony and experts who supported these facts which motivated the lawsuit. Therefore they felt justified in suing the Irrigation company for over $1,000,000 in damages.

I was retained 2 years after the initial damage occurred by the Defendant. The owners had moved out of the home and had done no mitigation or repairs, other than installing sump pumps in the floor to lower the water level while the flooding was active. On my initial inspection, I did observe the mold growth that was detailed in the complaint. I was able to detect measurable moisture in the air and drywall and properly mapped it out. I was able to snake a camera down the heat register ducts to determine that there was no longer any moisture in them.

After I examined all the data from my inspection, plus other psychometric data provided by the Plaintiff, I was able to identify “alternative facts” that showed:
  1. The moisture from the initial loss was completely gone from the house.
  2. The moisture that was presently in the basement was from sprinklers that were spraying on the exterior walls and windows.
  3. All of the mold, except for a small 18” square on the floor, was from this water from the sprinkler.
  4. Therefore, any damage to the house was caused from the sprinklers and not from the irrigation canal. 

Because of my report, another geotechnical engineer was engaged by the Defendant to drill test holes and map out the underground strata of the property. His “alternative facts” showed that the layers of gravel under the canal that would have moved water, dropped from the canal nearly straight down and leveled out over 12 feet below the level of the footings under the Plaintiff’s home. This made it virtually impossible for any water leaking from the canal to have percolated into the Plaintiff’s basement.

Now, with these “alternative facts”, it was concluded in court, that the water that entered the Plaintiff’s home was actually ground water that was normally present in the area. Oh, did I forget to mention the “alternative fact” that the home was situated in a rural, farming community and was surrounded by fields, watered with flood irrigation once a week? It was quite easy to conclude from all these “alternative facts”, that the height of the ground water fluctuates up and down depending on the amount of surface irrigation done by the surrounding farmers. Once the canal was emptied for the season, all the farmers stopped irrigating, causing the water table to drop below the level of the Plaintiff’s basement floor and stopping the water intrusion.

The Defense also had testimony that nearly all of the neighbors with basements suffered the same intrusion every few years, though not a serious, making the Plaintiffs experience typical of everyone else and not instigated by negligence on behalf of the Irrigation company.

So, while we can dismiss “fake news” that has no evidence, we must be careful in throwing out “alternative facts”; for often the complete story does not come out in the first quarter of the game. It is important to play hard all the way to the end to ensure that “all the facts” surface and truth prevails.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Lead-based Paint, Lead Poisoning, and Children at Risk

"This is ridiculous," I snarled. "Needing a license to remove paint is just another money grab from the government." 

I couldn't understand why I would need to become lead-based paint certified when I was already a Certified Restorer, Professional Mold Remediator, and a General Contractor. I had clean-up feces, mold, and dead bodies, lead-based paint didn't bother me. After 45 years of experience, what more did I need to learn about the building and restoration industry?

As I sat waiting for the class to start, I was angry to need to be there, frustrated that I wasn't out fixing some of the multitudes of problems on my list, and disheartened that I would also have to spend hundreds of dollars each year for another certification I didn't needed. 

I was peeved.

That was me, not a fictitious, composite character that I usually use for these articles, but the real me 5 years ago. I just couldn't fathom how this new license could possibly help me with my business, other than the thousands of dollar in fines we would be assessed without the training. We did flood and fire mitigation and repairs, which often involve sewage, mold, and other situations not conducive to dinner table discussions. But now, years later, I have a better understanding of lead, lead poisoning, and the devastating effects it can have on the innocent and I am passionate about making a difference.

Lead was everywhere.
I grew up in the era of lead in paint, lead in gasoline, and asbestos in nearly everything else. Lead was one of the first metals used by man because it was soft enough to manipulate with primitive tools. Alloys were added in later years to create pewter, which increased its strength and durability. Lead was added to paint before the birth of Christ to add durability and brighten the colors. It was added to automobile gasoline in the 1920's to improve combustion.

There were some doctors who recognized the problems of lead poisoning over 2000 years ago, but because lead worked for so many things, change was slow in coming. It was concluded early that lead cookware would allow lead to be absorbed into the body, but even then, it was hard for science, medicine, and government to agree.

Where is lead today?
So, we ended up with lead in the paint on our houses, lead in the paint on our furniture, lead in the paint on our appliances, and lead in our gasoline. Everyone thought we were safe from the lead, because we don't chew the siding, suck on the fridge, or drink gasoline. That is, adults don't do those things.

Children were eating the paint on window sills, their toys, and anything else they could put into their mouths. We had also missed another very important point, lead had been added to wine thousands of years ago to improve the flavor. Lead actually has a sweet taste. So it made the paint taste good, encouraging small children to lick and chew again and again, ingesting more and more lead each day.

Even though we didn't drink gasoline, once the gas exploded in our engine, the lead particulates flew out the tailpipe as part of the exhaust. These particles have settled on the roads and shoulders all over the world. As we walk along busy roads on the shoulder, sidewalk or gutter, we stir up lots of lead dust that settles on our shoes and clothes. We then, track this lead into our cars and homes.

Why is lead a concern?
Our bodies treat lead like it does calcium so it deposits it in the places that calcium is supposed to be. It then interferes with many of the body's processes and is toxic to many organs and tissues, including; the heart, bones, intestines, kidneys, reproductive and nervous systems. It hampers the body's ability to create a proper nervous system in young children causing them to never achieve the intelligence their DNA is capable of.

Ingestion of a small amount of lead can begin to cause problems. Consumed again and again over time, lead continues to compound these problems.

If you have concerns, your doctor can perform or refer you to a doctor who can do a blood lead level (BLL) test. This test measures the level of lead in the blood so you can know if your child is at risk. If you or your child has elevated levels of lead, there are steps to remove the lead from your home as well as protocols to leach it from your body. Do not do either without proper direction from trained, certified professionals.

Hazards to children
  • Damages the kidneys and nervous system.
  • Decrease in intelligence.
  • Causes attention deficit disorder and learning disabilities.
  • Speech, language, and behavior problems.
Hazards to pregnant women:
  • Lead is passed from the mother to the fetus and can cause:
  • Miscarriages.
  • Premature births.
  • Brain damage.
  • Low birth weight.
Negative health effects of lead in adults include:
  • High blood pressure.
  • Fertility problems in both men and women.
  • Digestive problems.
  • Nervous disorders.
  • Memory and concentration problems.
  • Loss of sex drive and/or capability. 
  • Muscle and joint pain.
  • Physical fatigue.
Lead poisoning is a problem, but removing it incorrectly can exacerbate the problem. It is important that proper lead renovation protocol is used. I will discuss that more in another article.

For more information, check out:
Renovate Right, EPA document on lead poisoning and renovation
The Truth About Lead Paint Poisoning, tri-fold brochure
Steps to Lead Safe Renovation, Repair and Painting
American Healthy Home Survey, Lead and Arsenic Findings, April 2011

Images courtesy of:

Dr. Ralph Spezio Proved Lead Poisoning Was Making His Students Stupid

Dr. Ralph Spezio was made Principal of Enrico Fermi School #17 in Rochester City School District 3 decades ago. It was a school with nothing but problems. Chain link fences, metal detectors, armed police, violent students, and the lowest test scores in the State, made it the last place in the world you would want to send your children to gain an education.

Working tirelessly with a dedicated staff, Dr Spezio was able to turn the school around. Test scores improved, violence was reduced and an atmosphere of learning and safety began to permeate the school.

But despite these gains, Dr Spezio was still concerned about the large numbers of students that still had severe learning and behavioral difficulties.

Still searching for answers, he was able to build a health care clinic and dental office adjacent to the school so that all the children could have the health care they needed. But still problems seemed to nag a large group of children, many from good and loving homes. It was of grave concern to him.
Students who couldn't seem to master the basic concepts of math and reading.
Students who would jump straight over anger to violence,
Students who were taught a skill and then an hour later couldn't remember how to do it.
Then one day, he heard 2 nurses in the clinic talking about the unusually high levels of lead in a student's blood. Piquing his curiosity, Dr Spezio began to check the lead levels in the records of all the students he had. The results were shocking.

He found 41% of the 3, 4, and 5 year old students had blood lead levels that were over twice that recommended by the Centers for Disease Control.  
Everyone of the "special needs" students also had high blood lead levels.

Listen to Dr Spezio talk at TEDxRochester, November 2010, and see the complete results of what he found, but more importantly, what happened as the community reduced the lead from their students environments and bodies.

For more information, check out:
Renovate Right, EPA document on lead poisoning and renovation
The Truth About Lead Paint Poisoning, tri-fold brochure
Steps to Lead Safe Renovation, Repair and Painting
American Healthy Home Survey, Lead and Arsenic Findings, April 2011

How Do I Know If My House Has Lead?

"I don't want my kids poisoned by lead," Paul thought after reading these articles. His 1 year-old and his 3 year-old were the joys of his life. 

They were so full of excitement and energy. Everyday they learned something new and were growing so fast.

It would just kill him to watch his sweet children devolve into people unable to cope with life. But how can he know if his house is safe?

How can he protect his children?

I have discussed in previous articles the dangers, risks, and challenges associated with lead poisoning. Now that we understand the problems, we can tackle the solutions.

How do you know if you have lead in your home?

Option 1, When was your home built?
Lead was introduced into paint millennia ago. We used it in the United States until it was banned from most paint in 1978. The graphic below shows the percentage of homes built during specific years and the probable percentage of homes that contain lead paint.

As you can see, homes built before 1940 have an 87% chance of having lead based oil paint. For practical purposes, that is nearly all of them. Many of these older homes have been painted over with latex paint, reducing the likelihood of lead particles becoming airborne, but not eliminating the chance. If the oil surface was not primed properly, the latex paint easily chips off exposing the lead paint underneath. Dents, holes, or remodeling will also disturb the lead in the original paint.

For those homes built between 1940 and 1960, there was a 69% chance of lead paint. The percentages drop because of the introduction of latex or water based paint. Latex paint could be thinned and cleaned up with water, making it a popular choice for both homeowners and professionals alike.

Homes built between 1960 and 1978, about 24% of them had lead based paint. Latex paint gained more popularity as the product became more durable and easier to work with.

If it was built after 1978, there is almost a 0% chance of lead paint. Having banned lead in paint, without special permits, no one could buy lead paint. Exceptions would be if someone purchased and stockpiled lead paint in 1977. The law only banned the manufacture of lead paint, not its application.

Option 2 - Use a DIY lead test kit

These kits are available in most lumber and hardware stores and they really do work. The problem is that they are invasive, messy and difficult to use.

Here are the top 3 selling DIY lead test kits on Amazon currently. They ranged from $9.00 to $20.00 per kit.

I have used the 3M kit and know it to work and is easy to use, but I will not recommend one over the other.

The 3M kit consists of a plastic tube with a brush tip filled with a chemical. In the tube is a glass vial with a liquid. If you break the vial inside the tube, the chemicals mix together and turn red when exposed to lead.

Other kits have a liquid that you paint on the surface with a Q-Tip

All you have to do is brush some of this liquid on the suspect surfaces and they will turn red if there is lead. False negatives occur when the lead paint has a couple of layers of latex paint on top.

The solution to this is to break off or cut through the latex paint exposing the multiple layers beneath. Then the test will work. If it's red there is lead.

Option 3 - Have a certified lead paint inspector check your home with a XRF analyzer.
These guns are the slickest thing since sliced bread. It is a gun that you simply point at the surface you want to test, pull the trigger, and presto, you have a reading. There are only 3 problems:

1. These are actually X-ray machines and you have to have a special license and training to own and operate one.      

2. They cost between $20,000 and $50,000.

3. They also have to be calibrated every year to ensure accuracy. Other than that, they are super cool because they will read through multi-layers of paint and give you the results without damaging the surface.

Now, you can still have your home tested with an XRF analyzer. You just need to have a certified professional come and do it. They usually cost about $75 - $150 per test. That's a little better than $50,000.

If the test results are positive, how can you remove the lead and protect your children? 

Read How Do I Get Rid Of Lead in My Home?

For more information, check out:
Renovate Right, EPA document on lead poisoning and renovation
The Truth About Lead Paint Poisoning, tri-fold brochure
Steps to Lead Safe Renovation, Repair and Painting
American Healthy Home Survey, Lead and Arsenic Findings, April 2011

How Do I Get Rid Of Lead in My Home?

We discussed the problems with lead, especially how it harms children, and how to determine if you have lead in your home. Now we need to learn how to remove it or compensate for it.

Toys, appliances, etc.
Portable personal property items, such as; toys, cooking implements, decorations, etc. can easily be discarded and replaced with non-lead products. That's the easy part and don't bypass this step. I know of one family that was poisoning all of their children by using a lead alloy mortar and pestle to prepare food. Fortunately it was discovered, and now their children are improving in a lead-free environment. Many slow cookers, electric skillets and other older appliances have lead in the paint. They are not hard to test and easier to replace.

Lead paint on the walls
Lead in the structure of your home is not impossible to remove, but a little more difficult. Lead can be in the paint on the walls, the door and window trim, doors and shutters, floor finishes, etc.. The best way to remove it is to remove the surface it is painted on. 

  • This is easy for doors, trim and shutters, but more difficult for walls.  
  • Walls can be laminated with a layer of 1/2'' drywall trapping the lead and reducing the chance of contamination. 
  • Floors can be sanded and refinished with a non-lead product. 
  • Many surfaces can be painted over with 1-2 coats of a non-lead paint. It is important to clean the surface and apply a good primer, such as; Kilz or Zinsser, so the new paint adheres well and won't peel off later.
  • But there are a few caveats called safety precautions that must be understood and followed when removing or working around lead paint.
Safety precautions for lead renovation
Lead only becomes a problem when we breathe or swallow it. When you tear a wall out, or sand the surface of the paint, millions of tiny lead ladened particles become airborne, waiting to be ingested. We can consume a lifetime of lead in a few minutes during a sanding project. That is why the EPA established basic rules for remediation to ensure a safe environment during and after renovation.

1. There must be plastic laid out and taped to the floor, walls and ceilings for 6 ft each direction inside a home and 10 ft each direction outside a home.
2. All dust must be contained and not allowed to spread out of the environment. Often this requires a completely enclosed containment barrier with negative air pressure.
3. There is to be no eating, drinking or smoking inside the contained area or outside the area until workers are decontaminated.
4. Restrict access to the renovation area, especially children and pregnant women.
5. Anyone inside the contained area must wear personal protective equipment (PPE), including; disposable clothing, gloves, breathing protection, eye protection, etc..
6. Turn off any furnaces, air conditioners or fans before the work begins and and do not turn them on until the work is completed and the area is cleaned.
7. Post warning signs to keep unprotected or high risk individuals from entering.
8. At the end of the renovation, all equipment must be thoroughly cleaned and all disposable barriers, clothes, etc, must be doubled bagged and disposed of. 
That's way over my head, what can I really do?
There are many people, who, with the proper instruction and training, could remove the lead from their home without problems to their families. Many others would have a very difficult time, crash and burn, and likely contaminate themselves and those they loved. 

The next step? 
Use a Certified Lead Renovator. These contractors have taken the EPA approved courses, have the proper equipment and trained employees to do a thorough job. 

You can find local trained contractors in your area by going to the EPA site. On this page, you can select the link to your State where you should find a link to a list of Certified Renovation Contractors. If you state is not listed, there is a form you can fill out and send to the EPA so they can help locate the closests firms.

No you know who, what, why and how. Protect your family from the ravages of lead poisoning.

For more information, check out:
Renovate Right, EPA document on lead poisoning and renovation
The Truth About Lead Paint Poisoning, tri-fold brochure
Steps to Lead Safe Renovation, Repair and Painting
American Healthy Home Survey, Lead and Arsenic Findings, April 2011

Image courtesy of:

Freddie Gray, Lead Poisoning as a Child Lead to a Life of Chaos, Violence and an Early Death

Freddie Gray, the young man who died in police custody in Baltimore, had serious issues with lead poisoning. As a child, he lived in an apartment where paint was peeling from nearly every wall and window sill. There were always piles of paint chips on the floor that his mother continually tried to sweep up.

In 2008, the family won a judgement against the owner of the apartment building he grew up in because of the unprecedented exposure to lead. Freddie and his family were living off of the judgement at the time of his death.

How do we know that Freddie suffered from lead poisoning? It is all documented in the lawsuit.

Freddie has his blood checked for lead 3 times before he was 2 years old. At 22 months of age, his blood lead level (BLL) was at 37 micrograms. That level is more than 7 times the amount recommended by the CDC for children and nearly 4 times the amount recommended for an adult. 

Since it is documented that lead poisoning in children contributes to or causes; learning disabilities, anger management issues, physical complications and social problems, it is no wonder that Freddie Gray had been arrested over a dozen times and spent 2 years in prison by age 25.

The body treats lead, like calcium, depositing it in the same places the body uses calcium; primarily the nervous system and the bone structure. It is possible that the acute lead poisoning left his bones compromised and made him primed for a broken neck from the scuffle with the police, something that would likely not have occurred in someone without lead poisoning.

Lead poisoning is by no means justification for Freddie Gray's negative behavior, but it is a warning shot across the bow of society of the social and emotional cost of lead poisoning in our young people. Ever more reason to have children checked, homes renovated and lead out of our bodies.