Originally published on September 2, 2017
Historically, I have had “warm and fuzzy” feelings towards Home Depot in general. Over the years, in addition to shopping there for materials, shop tools and some home appliances, we have also used their Home Improvement Services for several projects. [Plus who doesn’t like credit with no interest for a year!? Home Depot credit services rocked!]
After my children were poisoned in 2005, we eventually relocated to a “new” house [originally built in 1905, and extensively renovated in the 1980’s].
Our “new” house still had it’s original old 1905 single pane windows, and the troughs of these windows were the the most significant lead hazard in the home when we purchased it. [Many scientists agree that dust from original/old lead-painted functional windows in historic homes is a significant causal component (as much as 90%!) of elevated lead levels in children in the U.S., so before we moved in we knew we needed to replace those windows!]
We chose Home Depot, as both the window vendor and the general contractor for the window removal and install. [Note: this was back in February/March of 2007 — long BEFORE the EPA RRP Rule and related compliance standards went into effect.]
We had 13 windows to replace, plus one set of sliding glass patio doors — a total of 14 units, and the cost was just about $14,000 at the time. We had chosen the most expensive (top tier) vinyl replacement windows offered through Home Depot’s in-house program. They are Simonton windows, very well insulated and “guaranteed for life” (truly guaranteed for life.) The main “feature” of this guarantee program is that if they were EVER broken (for ANY reason) Home Depot would come out and replace them 100% for free. No.Charge.Whatsoever. [Unless you also have a house full of boys — several of whom have massive impulse control issues and therefore tend to break stuff on a regular basis — you might not be able to appreciate the potential value of free replacement windows for life!] The salesman also specifically said that “even if the kids throw a BASEBALL” through the window, they would replace it for free!
Well… now we have had those windows for nearly ELEVEN years and several baseballs, darts and other incidents later (requiring three full window replacements and a sliding glass door replacement) we are so thankful we chose this option!
Back in 2007, going into the project however, I already knew from personal experience by this time that nearly all contractors needed “babysitters”; I also knew, intimately, the importance of lead-safe work practices in renovation — and that even though there were “lead-safe work practices” [administrative] laws on the books in the State of Oregon, there was no oversight, no enforcement and accordingly, no compliance — moreover, almost no contractors were even aware of this legislation and the training required by the State or Oregon. So, I personally babysat the contractors — VERY CLOSELY OVERSEEING EVERYTHING THEY DID.
I also personally provided the lead-safe work practices component of the job, as Home Depot’s subcontractor doing the work was not even the tiniest bit familiar with what was required [again, this was 2007 — it actually took a bit of convincing for them to let me work with the contractors, but given it was a whole-house window replacement (and fairly big $$$) they decided to go ahead with my stipulated requirement.]
- I personally laid down the layers of 6 mil plastic inside and outside my home (three layers, actually) at each window site.
- I made sure the contractors worked wet — personally spraying everything with a mist of water from a large hand-pump-pressurized garden sprayer, constantly, before and after removal of the windows.
- I oversaw the top layer of plastic being used to completely wrap and seal each original window in place (right as it was removed ) and I personally ensured that it was fully taped up/sealed in fully non-permeable plastic before it was even moved an inch, let alone moved to the dumpster.
- I oversaw and helped the contractors in wiping down and wetting down all of the original surfaces AFTER the windows were removed and before the new windows were put in.
- I made sure the second layer of plastic was wrapped up and disposed of (with any chips and dust fully contained) at the end of each day of work.
- I put a new second layer of plastic down for the second day of work, stapling and taping each layer to the bottom board of siding [this is what is meant by the expression, “bathtub” tarping] (the house already had new cedar siding — not lead-painted).
As a result, the job that was anticipated (by the subcontractor) to take 2 days to complete, took 3-1/2 days to complete. Mid-way, Home Depot got mad at the crew for “taking so long” (at least that is what we were told) and a second subcontractor (& crew) was sent in to finish the job.
Prior to having the work done, we paid for a hazard assessment and soil testing, so we knew what the pre-work lead levels were. After the work was completed and all the layers of plastic were removed, we cleaned all surfaces thoroughly with Clorox wipes. We then paid for an independent 3rd-party clearance test to make sure there were no newly-created lead dust hazards from the project (i.e. that all lead dust and chips from the window job had been successfully and fully contained and removed).
I have NEVER worked so physically hard in all my life… so much bending over and stapling and taping and misting and wiping – at kind of a frantic pace, to keep up with the contractors [and I have done a lot of active things in the world, like riding my bike 2,500 miles around Europe in 44 days!] But the result was worth it! The floors and soil below the window sites were lead-free after the work was done. Our floor levels after the work came in at “less than 10 micrograms per square foot” (the lowest reading) and the soil levels in the area of the windows were equal or close to “0 ppm” lead.
This is why I had a sort of misplaced “warm and fuzzy” feeling about Home Depot:
1. I liked that the window-job was fully financed with no interest for a year
2. I liked that the windows had a real honest-to-goodness lifetime warranty
and most important:
3. I liked that they were willing to work with me and willing to meet my standards, even though it was “above and beyond what they typically did” on similar jobs….
In retrospect – and in the context of everything that has come to light about Home Depot’s post-RRP behavior (now that I know of the repeated violations that Home Depot subcontractors have recently been investigated for) my view of point #3 changes dramatically… from something I was happy about (yay, they let me work my ass off to make sure the job was done lead-safe and my babies were protected) to something that was truly a red-flag and predictor of what might be in the cards for Home Depot in the future under the EPA RRP Rule: a pattern of non-compliance with regulations / lack of subcontractor training and certification / lack of oversight and actually even continued use of subcontractors who are completely ignorant of current laws and regulations around lead-safe work practices in renovation — and in at least one documented case, an unscrupulous contractor who simply employed “lip-service” REFERENCES to lead safety to COLLECT ADDITIONAL (BOGUS) “FEES” WITHOUT ACTUALLY USING ANY LEAD SAFE WORK PRACTICES! All of this clearly renders meaningless their official statement that, “we vet all our subcontractors”.
To be clear: while it was 2007, and the EPA RRP Rule was not yet in place… the State of Oregon did in fact have existing laws that would have been violated by this installation team at the time (had I not taken over handling the lead-safe work practices component of the work0… it’s just that those laws “had no teeth” (no penalties/no enforcement mechanism).
And so now – in 2017 – we have these completely not-surprising revelations (along the lines of what happened to Lowe’s a few years ago) – click the images below to read the full stories (these stories are from March, April and May of 2017.)
It also now makes a little more sense that, even with really good connections to top management, and an obvious and natural “fit” (in connection with the emergency intervention/remediation grants that I facilitated, I often used them as a source for materials for the work phase), I could somehow never manage to get Home Depot to ever agree to actually join the list of sponsors of my advocacy work! [I guess maybe someone in the organization who knew what was actually going on, really didn’t think it wise to call any attention to the importance of observing lead-safe work practices! Lol!]
Thank you for reading! And please let me know if you have any questions (I do my best to answer all questions!)
“Unexpected Lead Expert”
Mother of Four Sons
April 28 2017
May 2, 2017