Are you planning to paint walls in your home? Was your home built before the 1980s? If so, you need to determine whether or not the existing paint on your walls contains lead. Many home builders used lead-based paint in the construction of homes before 1978, when its use was banned due to the associated health risks.
Whether you’re hiring professional painters/renovators or you’re going the DIY route, it’s extremely important that you have a lead analysis performed first. In fact, contractors are generally required to test for lead before they begin any project involving paint. That’s because any time lead paint is disturbed, it can create toxic lead dust that’s dangerous for humans to inhale.
Keep reading to learn how to find out if you have lead-based paint in your home and the dos and dont’s of painting over it!
How to Test for Lead Paint
If you’re hiring someone to paint your walls or perform other work in your home that may involve lead paint, they will be required to follow the EPA regulations set out in the Renovation, Repair, and Painting (RRP) rule. Under this rule, there are two options for paint testing:
- Paint testing by a certified lead-based paint inspector or lead-based paint risk assessor
- Paint testing by a certified renovator
While the RRP doesn’t apply to homeowners painting their walls or doing other DIY projects, it’s still important to test your walls for lead paint before you start your project if your home was built before 1978. DIY lead paint test kits are an option, but professional lead paint laboratory testing and analysis is by far the most accurate and safe way to know for sure whether your home contains lead-based paint.
Once you’ve identified whether or not your paint contains lead, it will be much easier to go about painting over it, armed with the knowledge you need to be safe and sure.
Is Lead Paint Dangerous?
Lead paint can be dangerous when it begins to deteriorate, crack, or peel or when it is sanded or demolished. Lead is a toxic metal that can lead to a variety of health problems in humans, especially young children and other at-risk groups. When lead or lead dust is ingested, inhaled, or otherwise absorbed into the body, it can damage the brain, kidneys, nerves, and blood. In extreme cases, it can also cause learning disabilities, seizures, and even death.
The first symptoms of lead poisoning can include:
- Fatigue or irritability
- Loss of appetite
If you or a loved one experiences any symptoms of lead poisoning, consult a medical professional for confirmation, then remove yourself from the home and determine the next steps, which may include hiring a certified lead paint abatement contractor to perform the remediation.
Can You Paint Over Existing Lead Paint?
You can absolutely paint over lead-based paint in your home, but it’s important to follow specific steps, guidelines, and safety protocols. If your project involves lead paint and you’re hiring professionals, they will need to follow strict EPA guidelines.
Painting over lead paint is known as “encapsulation,” and it’s frequently used as an effective remediation technique. In fact, it’s less expensive and safer than lead paint removal, since it doesn’t disturb the existing paint and doesn’t tend to release lead dust or toxic particles into the air.
Just remember that conventional oil- or water-based paints are not sufficient for encapsulation. You’ll need to use specific paints called “encapsulants” during the process and follow the necessary steps to ensure the job is done safely and correctly.
The Dos and Don’ts of Painting Over Lead Paint: Steps To Follow
If you’re hiring professionals, they will be responsible for following the EPA’s regulations and requirements, and you’ll most likely want to remove yourself and your family from the work site if there is any risk of lead-paint or lead-dust exposure. If you’re planning to do the work yourself, you still need to make sure you follow EPA guidelines for DIY.
1. DO Conduct Research About Lead Safety & Test Your Walls
It’s important that you’ve done your research and know how to comply with regulations and safety guidelines to protect yourself and your family. Before you do anything, you need to determine whether or not the paint in question actually contains lead. It’s strongly advised that you get professional testing and analysis done to ensure the accuracy of the results.
2. DON’T Chip, Scrape, or Sand Lead Paint
When preparing the lead paint surface to be painted over, it’s extremely important that you don’t disturb the existing paint. Any sanding, scraping, chipping, or other forms of friction against a lead paint surface can release particles of lead dust into the air. Instead, simply wipe down the existing surface with a warm, wet towel to prepare it to be painted over.
If the paint is already significantly chipped or deteriorated, you’re probably better off hiring professionals for lead paint removal.
3. DO Take Safety Precautions
It’s a good idea to prepare the area by laying down drop cloths and securing them to the floor with painter’s tape. You should also plan to wear gloves, protective clothing, goggles, a face shield, and/or foot coverings to make sure you keep the paint off your clothes.
In order to ensure the process is as safe as possible, here are some steps to take:
- Keep children and at-risk adults away from the worksite.
- Wear respiratory protection for lead dust.
- Keep the area as clean as possible.
- Consider running a High-Efficiency Particulate Air Filter (HEPA) in order to filter any lead dust out of the air while you work and for a period of time after.
4. DON’T Spread or Carry Dust Away From the Worksite
Although the goal is to avoid disturbing the existing lead paint as much as you can, it’s still a good idea to take precautions to ensure you don’t carry any lead chips, dust, or debris away from the site.
Throw away any disposable gloves or protective gear you wear and immediately run your clothes through the wash to ensure you don’t contaminate other parts of your home with lead-containing materials. Also dispose of any drop cloths, tape, or other tools you use when painting over lead paint. For any additional debris, contact your residential waste disposal company.
5. DO Use an Encapsulant
Using encapsulants is the best and safest way to cover lead paint in order to prevent it from producing dangerous lead-containing dust. Encapsulants are thicker than regular paint primers and work to seal or “encapsulate” the lead paint behind a membrane. There are three types of encapsulants: traditional polymers, epoxy or polyurethane polymers, and cement-like substances that contain polymers.
You can typically find encapsulant primers at your local hardware or paint store. Just make sure you follow the manufacturer’s guidelines when it comes to testing, preparation, and application.
Keep in mind that encapsulants are not guaranteed when applied to the following types of surfaces, as they cannot provide permanent protection due to friction or deterioration:
- Floors or other walked-on areas
- Areas that rub together, like drawers or door frames
- Badly deteriorated areas
Do you have lead paint in your home?
JSE Labs offers accurate, professional, and efficient lead paint analysis, in addition to a wide variety of other consulting services. If you’re unsure if your home contains lead-based paint or another toxic contaminant, we can provide you with quick, reliable results every time.
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.”