How to Protect Your Family From Lead In Your Home

Small Projects and Repairs
By Contractors.com Team May 03, 2021

Lead-based paint was used on the exterior and interior of many homes throughout the United States until it was banned in 1978. It was popular as an additive to paint because it helped it to dry faster and gave it moisture resistance. Lead-based paint also tended to last longer. Lead is a naturally occurring heavy metal, and it can be found everywhere. Its unique properties meant it used to have a million and one uses. It was in fuel, home construction materials, ceramics, ammunition, and even cosmetics. 

There’s just one huge problem: lead is very poisonous, even in very small amounts. So much as inhaling lead particles can lead to severe and permanent health effects. Prolonged exposure to lead-based paint can lead to brain damage, kidney damage, nerve damage, and even bone marrow disease. Children aged six and under are at the highest risk of exposure to lead because they like to touch everything, chew on most things, and stick their fingers in their mouths. They are also the group most likely to experience severe health effects from lead-based paint. Pregnant women are also at high risk since lead exposure can lead to development issues for the baby.     

It’s no surprise then that this heavy metal was banned from almost all applications as the dangers of lead became more publicized. Unfortunately, lead had already been used in home construction for decades by that point, and there are still many homes that contain lead-based paint and lead plumbing. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that there are still at least 50 million homes in the United States that contain lead-based paint in their interiors. If you live in a home that contains lead, taking mitigating measures is crucial to protect your family. 

How To Know if There is Lead In My House? 

How to Know If You Have Lead In Your House

How to Know If You Have Lead In Your House

Year Your Home Was Built

How Likely It Is To Contain Lead

1960-1977

24%

1940-1959

69%

Before 1940

87%

The year your home was built is your first clue. Any home that was built before 1978 has some chance of containing lead-based paint in it. The closer your house’s birth year is to before 1940, the more likely it is to contain lead-based paint. Color is your second clue. Colors such as chrome yellow, red lead, lead-grey paint, and white lead were the most popular lead-based paint colors used for both interior and exterior surfaces. If your home happens to have any of these colors, this is a sign your home may have lead-based paint.

Signs Your Home May Have Lead-Based Paint

Signs Your Home May Have Lead-Based Paint

However, neither of these clues is proof enough on its own. To know for sure whether your house has lead in it, you’ll need to hire a home inspector. This is especially true if your suspected lead-paint is flaking or peeling. If you are planning a home renovation project, you should also consider getting a lead paint inspection done before you start scraping off old paint. The best inspector for this job will be an EPA-certified lead inspector

Why You May Need a Lead Inspection

Why You May Need a Lead Inspection

Testing for Lead

There are three different ways a home inspector can check for lead in your home. They can do a paint test, a risk assessment, or a hazard screening. Paint tests and risk assessments are a surefire way of determining if your home has lead-based paint since they involve testing paint on the interior and exterior of your house. A hazard screening only involves testing dust samples, which can be helpful but isn’t as thorough. 

If you’re in the market for your next home, you should know that a seller is bound by law to disclose if their home contains lead paint. As a buyer, you will have up to ten days to hire your inspector to check for lead in your future home. If you are renting, your landlord is also bound by law to disclose any lead-based paint hazards in the lease contract. Renovation contractors, in turn, must give you an EPA pamphlet on lead mitigation before starting work. 

There is Lead Paint in My House. What Can I Do? 

What To Do If You Have Lead In Your Home

What To Do If You Have Lead In Your Home

There is only one way to permanently eliminate the risk posed by lead-based paint, and that’s by removing the paint itself. A certified lead abatement contractor can safely remove lead paint from your house in a few days. However, this is a costly project, and the average lead abatement job totals around $10,000. A more affordable option is to make this a DIY project. You can remove lead paint yourself without the help of certified professionals, but you must take extensive precautions. Scraping off lead paint can be risky and time-consuming, but basic safety measures will see you through to the end safely. Here are the tools you’ll need for the job:

  • Bucket
  • Dustpan
  • Respirator
  • Paint scraper
  • Utility knife
  • Rags
  • 6 mil Polyethylene sheets, 6 mil Garbage bags
  • Rubber gloves
  • Duct tape
  • Sanding sponges
  • Paper towels
  • Spray bottle

Guide to Removing Lead Paint Yourself

  • Seal off everything. Controlling dust is job number one in your lead abatement project. You’ll need to seal off affected rooms with polyethylene sheets and duct tape at entryways and on floors. This will make cleanup easier, and keep lead dust away from carpets (where lead is almost impossible to remove). If you can, take out furniture and rugs from the room as well, and seal off HVAC vents. If you can’t remove a piece of furniture, cover it with polyethylene as well. 
  • Wear PPE. We live in a coronavirus world, so you know the drill: mask (respirator) on, and goggles on. Covering your shoes is also a must, so get some paper-bootie covers. A PPE suit is optional but barring that overalls are recommended.
How to Take Care if Lead Paint In Your House

How to Take Care if Lead Paint In Your House

  • Use Water. Your spray bottle will keep lead paint dust from flying around the room as you scrape it off. By spraying it with water, you’ll get the lead paint dust to cling to the surface instead, allowing you to scrape it and wipe it away with rags. Avoid using power tools such as sanders, since these will kick up too much dust. 
  • Sand Sponge. Once flaking paint has been removed, smoothen out the mitigated area with a sand sponge. When you are finished, vacuum any of the remaining lead paint dust thoroughly.
How to Remove Lead Paint Safely

How to Remove Lead Paint Safely

  • Finishing up. While this will remove lead paint, any wooden trim that was coated with lead paint will still have traces of lead residue. To minimize this residue, use a rag to rinse the affected surfaces after abatement. Take care to avoid recontaminating recently cleaned areas. As you finish up, wet down any areas of the poly that are contaminated to prevent lead dust from taking flight.
Avoid Health Hazards When Removing Lead Paint

Avoid Health Hazards When Removing Lead Paint

Can I Paint Over Lead Paint? 

Not everyone can afford to hire a lead abatement contractor. Many of us might not be able to spare time for the lengthy process of DIY lead paint removal. Finding financial support programs for this type of project isn’t easy, and this makes lead abatement a difficult thing for many homeowners. Fortunately, there is an alternative: painting over lead paint. Painting over lead paint is possible, and it has many benefits over removing it. 

Solutions for Lead Paint Mitigation

Solutions for Lead Paint Mitigation

Aside from being less expensive, it also avoids the risks associated with disturbing a surface covered by lead paint (so no need to worry as much about lead paint dust!). Once a new coat of paint has been applied over the lead paint, adding a lead encapsulating paint such as lead defender pro will further seal off the lead paint. A contractor charges an average of $1,400 for applying lead encapsulating paint, but this can of course be done on your own. All you need to do when painting over lead paint is to avoid scraping off the old paint and be sure to keep the area you work in clean. Be sure to wear PPE as well.  

Enclosure is another budget solution for interior spaces that contain lead paint. This method allows you to cover up surfaces that have lead paint on them. This way, lead paint-covered drywall can be covered by new drywall, and lead-painted windows can be covered with vinyl cladding. This method costs $10 per square foot on average. It should be noted however that both encapsulation and enclosure are only semi-permanent solutions. Any future home renovations will uncover this lead paint. Nevertheless, this is an affordable and fast way to protect your family from lead until you can find a more permanent solution.   

Good Lead Mitigation Habits

While you wait to get your lead abatement project underway, there are some basic lead paint mitigation habits you can practice to keep you and your family safe: 

  • Test Frequently: lead stays in the body for a long time. Without detection it can easily build up and cause major health issues, so be sure to have you and your family checked for lead exposure. This is especially important for young children.
  • Wash Frequently: Be sure to wash your hands frequently, especially after coming into contact with lead-paint surfaces. Make sure your kids also wash their hands often and be sure to wash bottles, pacifiers, toys, and stuffed animals regularly. 
Good Lead Mitigation Habits

Good Lead Mitigation Habits

  • Dust Often: be sure to wipe off floors, countertops, tabletops, windowsills, and other flat surfaces weekly. These areas are where lead dust tends to accumulate and where it can be picked up by children. Keep an eye on areas with decaying lead paint, since these areas will need more frequent cleaning. Removing your shoes before entering will also help keep lead dust out of your home.
Healthy Habits to Avoid Lead Paint Hazards

Healthy Habits to Avoid Lead Paint Hazards

  • Check Your Garden: Lead-based paint on home exterior surfaces will deteriorate faster since it is exposed to the elements. As this happens, it will flake, and these lead paint particles will spread around the outside of the house. If this is your situation, the soil around your house is likely contaminated. If you are a gardener, be sure to wash your hands after working in the soil, and avoid touching your face. You must keep children away from playing in contaminated soil as well. Any vegetables grown in contaminated areas are safe to eat so long as they are thoroughly cleaned.
Places In Your Home to Check For Lead Paint

Places In Your Home to Check For Lead Paint

Written by
Contractors.com Team

Written by Contractors.com Team