If your home was built before the 1980s, it’s fairly likely that it contains lead paint. That’s because, prior to being banned from residential use nationwide in 1978, it was extremely popular in construction. Unfortunately, lead paint can pose health risks to you and your family. The existence of lead paint in your home also makes remodeling more complicated, due to local and federal regulations, which are prone to periodic changes that can be hard to keep up with.
If you’re planning to do any remodeling work in your home such as renovation, repair, painting, etc., you need to take precautions to protect your health and the safety of any workers you hire, as well as to comply with important regulations.
In this article, we’ll discuss what you need to do before you renovate, and the steps you should take if you discover lead paint in your home.
Why is Lead Paint In Your Home a Problem?
Lead-based paint in your home is generally not an immediate health concern, as long as it’s in good condition. However, when the paint starts to chip or deteriorate – or if it becomes disturbed in the process of demolition or renovation, it can pose a serious risk.
Paint or dust that contains lead in older homes and buildings is the number one cause of lead poisoning in children. Lead poisoning happens when lead is inhaled or consumed and begins to build up in the body.
When lead is ingested – which can happen when a child chews on paint chips, window sills, and other painted surfaces or when it’s inhaled through lead-containing dust in the air – it can cause serious health problems. These include, but are not limited to, developmental and learning problems, high blood pressure, anemia, nerve disorders, and brain and kidney damage.
Due to the risks to human health and safety, local and federal regulations prevent contractors from commencing renovation or remodeling projects without first conducting a proper lead analysis. Following the EPA’s Lead Safe Renovation, Repair and Painting (RRP) guidelines, city and state governments generally require contractors to sample paint for lead before performing construction in any home built before 1978.
OSHA has also established regulations regarding lead in construction to protect the health and safety of workers during any type of renovation – even non-abatement projects. If you discover lead-based paint in your Oregon home, for example, the disposal process must adhere to the regulations regarding household disposal of lead-based paint established by the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ).
Keep in mind that, while state and federal rules provide a framework for local lead-paint regulations, it’s important to do your own research about city-specific requirements, which may be more restrictive, and may change on an annual basis.
If an analysis reveals lead-based paint in your home prior to a remodel or home sale and you don’t pursue remediation, you may not just be violating regulatory standards. It can also significantly impact your home’s market value if you don’t take action.
Having your home professionally tested and addressing any lead issues that are found prior to remodeling or selling your home is not only the right and lawful thing to do, but it’s also a sound financial decision.
What To Do if You Find Lead Paint In Your Home
1. Avoid Disturbing the Surface
The first thing you should do if you identify lead paint in your home is to try not to disturb it. Don’t try to pick at the paint to see what’s underneath and don’t try to sand it or flatten out any bumps or cracks. Lead paint only poses a serious health risk when it’s disturbed, so the best thing to do is leave it alone while you determine the next best steps.
2. Clean Up Any Chips or Scraps of Paint
If you notice any chipped pieces of paint or scraps near the area in question, pick them up using gloves and throw them away in an outdoor trash can. It’s advisable to wear a face mask during this process. The smaller the scraps, the more likely they are to be ingested or inhaled, so it’s important to remove these from the area.
3. Keep Children Away
Children are at a higher risk of ingesting lead than adults, and lead poisoning poses more serious concerns for their growing brains and bodies. Lead poisoning in children can lead to brain and nervous system damage, slowed development and growth, and issues with learning, speech, hearing, and behavior.
If you discover lead in your home, close off the affected areas as much as you can. Keep play areas clean throughout your house and don’t let children chew on or pick at any painted surfaces in your home.
4. Remove Dust From Shelves and Window Sills
Using a sponge, rag, or paper towel with warm water, remove any dust that has been collected on surfaces throughout your home. Focus on areas near where the lead paint was discovered. Any equipment you use to clean suspected lead dust should be thoroughly cleaned or disposed of after use.
5. Use an Air Filter
After you’ve cleaned the area and removed dust with a wet sponge or rag, it’s a good idea to filter the air to ensure you capture and remove small particles of lead dust from your home to avoid breathing them in.
Unfortunately, a regular household vacuum cleaner doesn’t cut it, since they’re not able to collect small enough particles to remove lead dust from the air. In fact, a regular vacuum may simply kick lead dust into the air, making the issue worse. Instead, use a High-Efficiency Particulate Air Filter (HEPA) vacuum to filter the air.
6. Carefully Paint Over The Area or Have The Paint Professionally Removed
Depending on the condition of the painted surface in your home, you may be able to paint over the lead paint by following specific steps and using a special type of paint primer called an encapsulant. If the paint has begun to deteriorate, you plan to remodel the area or disturb the paint in any way, or you simply want to be as careful as possible, professional lead-paint remediation is probably your best bet. Make sure you hire an EPA-certified inspection, risk-assessment, and/or abatement firm in your area.
Do You Suspect You Have Lead Paint in Your Home?
If you’re not sure if your living spaces contain lead paint, it’s worth getting a professional analysis. This is especially true if you’re planning to renovate or repaint. Not only is it essential for the health of your family, but it’s also required in many cases.
Identifying the problem is the first step to solving it. You can buy DIY lead-paint test kits at your local hardware store, which is a good first step. But the most accurate, valid, safe, and thorough way to determine if you have lead-containing paint in your home is to have a sample tested at an accredited lead-testing lab.
JSE Labs offers same-day results you can trust. Collect your own sample and mail it in or drop it off, or have one of our qualified specialists collect it for you. Feel free to contact us with any questions you have or for more information.
Lisa started in the industrial hygiene and environmental industry in 1992 as an asbestos microscopist and began performing building inspections for asbestos, lead paint, and other hazards in 1994.
“This career has been an amazing experience, traveling for work to perform inspections both locally and abroad to locations such as Hawaii and Germany. My real love however is being in the laboratory and assisting our wonderful clients.”