Older homes and buildings might be full of charm, but they often have a secret insides: lead-based paint. If you’ve ever signed a lease on an apartment or bought a home built before 1978, you’ve probably heard of lead-based paint, as the landlord or seller needed to provide a lead paint disclosure.
Lead-based paint isn’t always a cause for concern. If the paint job is still in good condition, there’s little to worry about. Once the paint begins to chip or otherwise deteriorate, it becomes a health hazard and needs to be corrected sooner rather than later.
What Is Lead-Based Paint?
Any paint containing lead is known as lead-based paint, or simply, lead paint. Up until the late 1970s, lead paint was commonly used on everything from toys to the interior and exterior of homes.
Lead is a type of metal, with the chemical symbol Pb. Lead has some special qualities that have made it a useful material and continue to make it a useful material for a variety of purposes. Lead has been a common additive in paint for thousands of years. Lead helps make paint more durable and moisture-resistant and even helps it dry faster.
Lead also acts as a pigment, influencing the color of the paint. Different lead compounds create different shades. Some of these compounds include lead(II) chromate, lead(II, IV) oxide, and lead(II) carbonate. Considering lead’s strong qualities and ability to tint paint, it’s no wonder lead was used until it was discovered that the health hazards were too significant.
Why Is Lead-Based Paint Dangerous?
Lead paint is still used for some applications, but the large amounts of lead that used to be common in interior and exterior home paint are no longer allowed because of lead’s toxicity. When a person is exposed to lead, either through contact with their skin, breathing it in or ingesting it, this exposure can cause some serious health problems. The worst cases of lead poisoning can be fatal. Some of the symptoms of short-term lead exposure include:
- Feeling tired or fatigued
- Appetite loss
- Memory loss
Children and fetuses are especially vulnerable to the dangers of lead paint. Those between the ages of 6 months and 6 years are the most vulnerable. A child is likely to display symptoms after being exposed to a smaller amount of lead than an adult. Children can be exposed to lead from lead paint dust, from lead dust brought home on their parents’ clothing or if their parents work in a job that exposes them to lead. Children start to demonstrate signs of lead toxicity, such as brain damage and anemia, after exposure to even small amounts of lead.
Other people who are more vulnerable to damage from lead-based paint include menopausal and post-menopausal women and pregnant women. Lead can cross the placental barrier in a pregnant woman, harming the fetus. There is a risk of miscarriage or stillbirth if a pregnant woman is exposed to certain levels of lead.
The most common cause of lead exposure is lead dust inhalation. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), more lead is absorbed by the body when it’s inhaled compared to other methods of exposure, such as ingestion. Once in the body, lead is often stored in the bones, blood and other tissues. Lead stored in the body can provide a continual source of exposure over the years. As people age and their bones become weaker, more lead can be released into the body, which is one reason why menopausal women often have higher levels of lead in than other women.
Generally speaking, though, the health risks of lead exposure are considerably lower in adults than in children.
How Do You Know If There Is Lead Paint in Your House?
Although lead-based paint is not found in homes built after 1978, it could be in homes built before 1978 if they have not already gone through a lead remediation process. Usually, the older the house, the higher the chance that lead-based paint was used at one point in its lifespan. About 87% of homes built before 1940 had lead-based paint while about 69% of homes built between 1940 and 1959 had it. About one-quarter of homes built in the 1960s and 1970s contain lead-based paint.
While you can get an idea of whether you might have lead-based paint in your house based on when it was built, you can only know for sure if you get an inspection. A professional should be able to identify lead-based paint in your home if it is there.
How Do You Identify Lead-Based Paint?
Lead-based paint is hard to spot just by looking, though there is one visual indication that can tip you off to the presence of lead-based paint. As the paint ages, it will chip in a way that looks like reptile scales. If an old layer of lead-based paint is covered with fresh layers of paint that doesn’t contain lead, you likely won’t see the scaly look.
The National Association of REALTORS® recommends looking in areas that are less likely to be covered in fresh paint, such as closets and basement window sashes, to see if you may have lead-based paint in your home or a home you’re looking at buying or renting. Even if you see what looks like it could be lead-based paint, the only surefire way to identify it is with an inspection. You can purchase a lead testing kit at your local hardware store, but this is only useful for testing the top layer of paint on surfaces in your home.
A professional inspection is necessary for more thorough results. The most rigorous type of inspection entails testing the paint throughout your house either by using a portable x-ray machine or sending samples off to an accredited lab. If the inspector uses an x-ray machine, they should be able to leave your paint intact unless the results are inconclusive, in which case, they’ll need to take samples to send to a lab.
You can also get an inspection, called a risk assessment, that focuses solely on suspect areas of deteriorating paint in your home and is aimed at letting you know whether there are any hazards from lead you need to remedy. A hazard screen is a third option that’s suitable for homes that are at low risk for containing lead paint. This type of inspection will give you an idea of whether you need to take further steps to look for lead paint.
What Should You Do About Lead-Based Paint?
All this information about the dangers of lead-based paint and its prevalence can be cause for concern, but the good news is that lead paint typically does not cause a problem unless it is chipping and flaking off or is sanded. Disturbing lead paint can release small particles, which can combine with other household dust and be inhaled.
If you think you may have lead-based paint in your home, there are a few steps you should take to reduce your exposure to lead dust:
- Watch for deteriorating paint: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends you maintain your house and minimize risks by keeping an eye out for deteriorating paint. If you spot flaking or chipping lead paint, you need to act quickly to remove the hazard. Remember that only a professional should handle the remediation and removal of lead-based paint. There are fines of around $30,000 for improper lead remediation.
- Remove deteriorating paint: Chipping or peeling lead paint must be addressed quickly to reduce the risk of lead poisoning. This will likely involve sanding the area down and repainting, which you should hire a professional to do if you suspect the paint chips contain lead.
- Keep your home clean: Whether you see deteriorating paint or not, you should wipe down flat surfaces like window sills and mop your floors at least weekly to keep them free of dust. Although lead-based paint can be a source of dust, it is also possible to track lead in from the soil outside or from other exterior surfaces that are contaminated with lead.
- Have your home tested: Especially if you have any small children or pregnant women in your household, you should be even more careful and should have your home tested by a professional.
- Have your children tested: If your child may have been exposed to lead, you should have their blood lead level tested. Some states require these tests for all children, especially when they are two or younger.
What Should You Do When Moving Into a House With Lead Paint?
Every day, people move into older homes. Older houses often have a historic charm or unique features. They can be more affordable than new construction. Whatever your reason for choosing an older home, there is a chance it contains some lead-based paint. To play it safe, or if you notice any areas where the paint is wearing away, you may want to get the house tested. If a test reveals the presence of lead-based paint, you or your landlord need to take action to remediate it immediately. In some cases, you might decide to look for a different home.
If you’re moving into a house that contains lead-based paint, you’ll want to take note of any potential areas that could prove hazardous. Did you have a risk assessment or inspection that revealed certain areas or surfaces present more of a hazard than others? Do you see any paint that appears scaly? If all the old lead paint in your house has been covered over with new paint, then you shouldn’t have much to worry about. Covering old paint with new is known as encapsulation.
However, if you plan to remodel or sand down walls for any reason, you should be concerned about creating lead dust. Also, if you have any children who might chew on painted surfaces, then you should be concerned even if the lead paint is a layer or two down since they could end up ingesting the lead paint underneath the newer coats of paint. In fact, if you have children under 6 in your house, you have a responsibility to remove the lead paint or keep it effectively contained so it does not cause a problem.
If some areas in your house are painted with lead paint on the surface, then you’ll want to keep a close eye on them to see if the paint starts to peel or crack. You may not want to wait until this happens to take action. There are a few steps you can take to remove or cover lead paint in your new home to eliminate or minimize the risk it carries with it.
Can a Homeowner Remove Lead Paint?
We do not recommend trying to remove lead paint on your own, even if it is legal to do so in your state.
How dangerous is it to remove lead paint? The short answer is “very.” Removing lead paint can cause flakes and particles of paint to become airborne and land on surfaces in your home. Considering how hazardous lead paint is, this is not a task you want to attempt without the right equipment and expertise. You’re far better off hiring a certified lead abatement contractor who can carefully remove the lead paint.
Lead paint removal isn’t the same as an average paint job. During the process, we need to wear special white jumpsuits, respirators and gloves. We have to put up signs and distribute pamphlets to let the neighbors know about the project and the risks. We must cover the area being treated in plastic and roll up that plastic at the end of the day in a particular way to reduce the spread of lead dust. We then need to dispose of the plastic properly.
These extra precautions reduce the risk of spreading lead exposure.
What Is the Best Way to Remove Lead Paint?
The best way to remove lead paint is to hire a professional contractor who has the necessary experience and certification to handle the job. At Klappenberger & Son, we take a lead paint class every five years to stay up to date on the most current remediation methods and to maintain certification.
Although you won’t have to worry about how to remove the paint yourself when you hire a professional, it can be helpful to understand some of the approaches your contractor may use.
They may try wire brushing, wet hand scraping with liquid paint removers or hand scraping with a low-temperature heat gun. Any sanding of lead paint should be done with an electric sander that includes a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filtered vacuum to contain the dust. They will also use an encapsulating primer to seal the surface and prevent lead dust from getting into the air.
It may be even more helpful to know what methods a contractor should not use. Lead dust must be contained and encapsulated, so a contractor should never use a method that allows dust to be kicked up into the air. They shouldn’t scrape dry paint or sand without a HEPA filter. You also shouldn’t see them sandblast or pressure wash the surface. Other dangerous methods you should not use for removing lead paint are open-flame burning and chemical removal processes.
What Other Abatement Methods Are There Besides Removal?
Removal isn’t the only abatement method for lead-based paint. There are three other approaches you can take to keep you and your family safe from lead paint in your home. These methods include:
- Encapsulation: There are products designed to cover lead-based paint, effectively sealing it off. These products look like paint, but they have special properties to help them create a watertight bond. Just covering over lead-based paint with paint that doesn’t contain lead can help, but an encapsulant product is a more effective option.
- Enclosure: Another option is enclosure, which is similar to encapsulation, as it covers the lead paint surface. Enclosure means the painted surface is covered with a whole new material. It could be a type of cladding or even new drywall. Enclosing lead paint surfaces can be an effective abatement method, though the lead paint could still cause problems if you ever renovate in the future.
- Replacement: Replacement is a more drastic measure you can take to get rid of lead hazards in your home. It can be a good approach if the lead paint is on doors, window sashes and sills and other trim work you can remove. Once the material with lead paint is gone, you can install new lead-free doors and trim work.
Can You Paint Over Lead-Based Paint?
You can paint over lead-based paint. If you decide to do so, it’s best to use a product intended for encapsulation and not just any type of paint. It’s also important to consider the condition of the lead-based paint before trying to cover it with paint or encapsulant products.
If the paint is chipping, bubbling, peeling or otherwise deteriorating, you should not try to paint over it. For one, your new paint job will look bumpy and uneven. More concerning, though, is the fact that you won’t effectively seal off the lead paint. In these cases, the best option is to hire a professional to remove the lead-based paint, or sand away the deteriorating spots, before painting or using an encapsulant.
What Should You Do If You Accidentally Sanded Lead-Based Paint?
You might start a painting project and only realize once you’re knee-deep that you are dealing with lead-based paint. Although sanding lead-based paint without the proper protective measures in place is a dangerous scenario you want to avoid, it can happen.
If that happens, your best bet is to mitigate any further risk of lead exposure. Use a vacuum equipped with a HEPA-rated filter to vacuum up any dust that has settled in the area and run an air purifier to remove dust from the air. Discard any of the clothing and equipment you were wearing, as it may have lead on it. This is a good time to call in the professionals to assess the situation and determine the best way forward so you can stay safe.
Can You Sell a House With Lead Paint?
Selling a house with lead paint is a common occurrence and doesn’t require much extra work. You do not have to have your house tested to confirm whether or not there is lead paint present. The regulations in place apply to selling any home that was built before 1978. As the seller, you are required to provide the buyer with a few things, including:
- A disclosure of anything you know about the presence of lead paint in the house. If you aren’t aware of any, then that’s what you’ll communicate to the buyer.
- A pamphlet from the EPA. The pamphlet will educate buyers on some of the risks of lead and solutions they should be aware of.
- A 10-day period where a buyer has the opportunity to inspect the home for lead-based paint so they can learn more about the potential of lead in the house and can still back out of the sale if needed.
- A Property Transfer Lead Paint Notification, which is a document all parties involved in the sale sign to demonstrate that they’re aware of the laws concerning lead paint.
While you aren’t required to test your home for lead before putting it on the market, getting it tested and proving there is no lead-based paint present can make your house more desirable to buyers. Some buyers may shy away from older homes, especially if they have small children, because of the threat of lead paint. Keep in mind that any lead testing results you have, regardless of the results, must be shared with buyers.
Historic Preservation and Painting Services From Klappenberger & Son
If you’re looking to revitalize or restore a building that contains lead-based paint, Klappenberger & Son can help you do so safely and effectively. The fines for not properly removing or remediating lead-based paint can be hefty and can be levied on homeowners and painting pros alike. To avoid getting a fine and to make sure the job is done correctly the first time, you want to hire a painting company with knowledge and experience removing lead paint.
With a wealth of experience in painting and historical restoration, we have the expertise to handle even the most challenging projects. Let us bring your vision to life so you can enjoy a home or building that is beautiful on the inside and out. Contact us today to learn more about how we can provide quality painting services for your next project.