Tag Archive for bathroom

3 Steps to a Lead-Free Bathtub

After discovering that the 1960’s avocado-green bathtub had lead in the finish, it was time to decide whether to replace or reglaze it. Time and resources being key, the process took 3 steps:

1. Reglaze or replace? Re-glazing would mean less waste (ie no bathtubs filling up landfills). In considering a new tub, the cost of removal and installation was prohibitive for this project’s budget. Additionally, one of our blog readers found that when shopping for a new tub, none of the large manufacturers would certify their tubs as lead-free. One company even wrote him back to say their tubs still use lead in the glaze. This is an area where bathtub manufacturers need more transparency. So, I decided to go the reglaze route.

2. I asked the re-glazing company for the names of the products they use, and contacted that manufacturer, which confirmed they are lead-free. I also requested the company email the MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet) of the products, which verify in writing that the primer and finish enamel don’t contain lead.

3. To prepare for the job, I sectioned off the area with plastic sheeting over the doorways after removing items from the work space, and took other steps per EPA home remodeling guidelines. The guidelines are created for DIYers, so they’re fairly easy, and save on cleanup time. Following the EPA steps are perhaps the most important part of any project to ensure the rest of the home stays clean and free of dust. It’s up to the homeowner to take these steps unless the contracting firm has EPA lead-safe certification. Legal requirements apply depending on the job, so it’s always best to check the EPA website for the latest rules.

The resurfacing contractor explained tubs today are not made of the quality produced decades ago. For this project, the avocado-green bathtub went from old and dingy to brand-new white. The re-glazing process delivered a like-new tub in under two hours. It was a cost-effective, quick way to recycle and renew in this bathroom.

Bathroom Makeover: From Vinyl to Recycled Tile

One of the most fun aspects of renovating a home is shopping for materials that will take a room from conventional to beautiful. The vinyl tile in one bathroom is from the 60’s and completely worn. Vinyl flooring (or polyvinyl chloride – PVC) can contain harmful lead, phthalates and other toxins, as found in a study from the nonprofit HealthyStuff.org. So replacing it with something healthier is great for kids, who tend to spend a lot of time crawling and playing on the ground.

Because older vinyl or composite tiles can also contain asbestos, I had these tested. The lab evaluated both the tile itself and the mastic (adhesive). Thankfully, both tests came out clear, and it was time to demo the floor. The tiles came up easily, a welcome surprise.

Big box home improvement stores have a wide selection of ceramic and porcelain tiles, but many are manufactured overseas without recycled content. After plenty of searching, I found Florim USA tile at a local, family-owned store. It’s made in the USA, has 40% pre-consumer recycled content, and is certified by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). At about $4 a square foot (uninstalled), it’s an affordable “green” option. Other great choices are Oceanside Glasstile, which I’ve used (and loved) in a previous home and stunning Fireclay Tile, made in California.

For the tub surround, I found a treasure trove of neutral wall tiles at Green Demolitions, similar in concept to Habitat for Humanity resale stores. The tiles are inherently recycled since they came to this nonprofit store as leftovers from someone else’s big project. They were a fraction of the retail cost and are in-the-box new. All proceeds go towards charity, so it’s a win-win way to renovate. With the vinyl out and the recycled tile in, this bathroom space just got a little healthier.


Like to learn more? See info on vinyl floors and kids’ health at the Center for Health, Environment and Justice.

Getting Unstuck: Wallpaper Removal

The Healthy Home Project house came with its fair share of outdated wallpaper, from the 60’s.  This weekend I’m working in the bathroom, removing a blue metallic flowered version.  It’s quite a learning experience, but more manageable when broken down into simpler steps. 

Is wallpaper healthy?  Most wallpaper today is made of vinyl, one of the most toxic plastics produced and rife with phthalates (pronounced tha-lates).  These chemicals are used to “soften” hard plastics to make them pliable.  The Environmental Protection Agency’s Toxicity & Exposure Assessment for Children’s Health details the dangers for kids, including developmental abnormalities such as cleft palate and skeletal malformations.  Phthalates can act as endocrine disruptors as well, altering the body’s hormone system.  Vinyl wallpaper is easy to clean and cheap to buy, but spells trouble on the health front.

Phthalates can show up in unexpected places, migrating from the everyday products we buy – even those on our walls – and into the environment, like house dust.  If it’s vinyl wallpaper from the 70’s or before, it may also contain asbestos fibers, so it is essential to consult a state-certified asbestos consultant for testing, preferably one who comes highly recommended from a trusted realtor, home inspector or other homeowners in the area.  If you’re renting, be sure to understand your rights and options to avoid any exposure issues for your family.


 Though vinyl by itself is a tough and flexible material, asbestos, a tiny fiber-like substance that can easily break apart and float in the air, was once added to vinyl to make it stronger and long lasting. These asbestos fibers are so tiny that they cannot be seen by the naked eye, yet they become incredibly dangerous when introduced into the lungs through inhalation.  In the late 1970s, when it was made widely known how toxic asbestos was, vinyl wallpaper was no longer manufactured using asbestos, but products containing the deadly mineral continued to be sold through the 1980s.  Older buildings may still have asbestos-containing wallpaper on their interior walls.  (http://www.mesotheliomasymptoms.com/household/vinyl-wallpaper)

The American Lung Association states, “If you know or suspect there is asbestos in your home or workplace, leave the material alone if possible.  Asbestos-containing materials are safe as long as they are in good condition and not disturbed.  Fibers are unlikely to become airborne unless materials are cut, ripped or sanded.   If you need to remodel, remove or clean up asbestos, be sure to hire trained professionals.”

Thankfully this blue metallic wallpaper is so old that it pre-dates vinyl, so it’s simply layers of paper with a glue backing. The top metallic layer peeled right off, and in fact, all came down in about an hour during the kids’ sleepover.  

This afternoon I’m tackling the tough stuff…the undermost “glue” layer.  I sprayed it down with water and it hardly budged, so I turned to a product from Green Depot called Pure & Simple Wallpaper Remover, made from natural materials including clay, starch and wheat.  Following the directions, I mixed a tablespoon (1/2 oz.) in a quart spray bottle of warm water. Working around the room with spray bottle in one hand and sponge in the other (to keep the excess from dripping), each section got a few minutes to soak in.  The next step is to go back to the starting point, using a scraper.  The glue backing is coming off well and a few hours from now, this bathroom will be unstuck from the 60’s.