Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Lead Paint (But Were Too Afraid to Ask)

Moving into a new home always requires a little faith. Whether you designed a custom house with a builder or inherited an old family property, it’s impossible to know every detail about the home’s construction and history. There are steps you can take, thankfully, to help identify possible home hazards and defects before closing day. A home inspector can provide a detailed analysis of the property’s condition and warn you about any possible risks of residing there.

In some cases, home inspectors may discover the presence of lead paint. Especially common in older homes built before the 1980s, lead paint has earned a notorious reputation in the years since. Lead is highly toxic and can lead to serious health problems for those who are exposed to it. If you didn’t opt to have your home inspected before you moved in, you may never suspect that you and your family are surrounded by the deadly chemical.

Discovering such a dangerous substance in your home can be frightening, but it’s important to arm yourself with facts before taking action. There are steps you can take to identify, remove or mitigate the impact lead paint has on your household, but you’ll want to first address your concerns about the stuff. Here are just a few of the most frequently asked questions about lead paint:

What is Lead Paint?

 Prior to the 1980s, many oil-based paints contained lead as a pigment and drying agent. Used commonly on both interior and exterior surfaces, lead paint was only discovered to be dangerous in the mid-1970s. In 1978, the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission created limitations on the amount of lead allowed in paint.

Unfortunately, the damage had been done. Homes built before the new legislation were slathered in heavily-leaded paint, exposing homeowners and their families to serious health issues including brain, nerve, blood and kidney damage. Now, sellers and landlords are required to alert buyers and tenants of the presence of lead paint, but are not usually required to remove the substance themselves.

How Do I Know If My House Contains Lead Paint?

If your home was built before 1978, it likely contains lead paint. The good news? So long as the paint is in good condition and has not been chipped or broken, the health threats are minimal. Problems arise only when the lead paint begins to wear away. Lead flakes and dust can accumulate on window sills and floors, working its way into the lungs and mouths of residents. Children are especially prone to lead poisoning since they are more likely to put their hands in their mouths.

If you believe your home contains lead paint, there are ways to test your theory. Hire a home inspector to inventory the painted surfaces of the home. They’ll collect samples and test on-site using an X-ray fluorescence tool or send off the paint to a lab for testing. This is a quick and easy way to determine if your home does indeed contain high levels of lead.

While you can certainly take a DIY approach to lead paint inspection, the Environmental Protection Agency advises homeowners to work with professionals. The samples collected by a lead inspector will be more complete and useful than those a novice might gather themselves. Home lead test kits are also considered less accurate than the services provided by an inspector.

How Can I Remove Lead Paint?

Should the test results determine you indeed have lead paint in your home, it’s important to weigh your options fully before taking action. While your instinct might be to remove all presence of the stuff as soon as possible, the process may be more labor-intensive than you bargained for. A certified lead abatement contractor can help you understand your options and make a decision that’s best for your household.

To remove lead paint, workers chip away at the existing paint using heat guns, scraping tools and electric sanders. The process is a messy, dangerous one – it requires serious precautions to prevent additional exposure to lead. Many homeowners opt to encapsulate lead paint instead. Special encapsulation paint is used to create a watertight seal on the lead paint underneath. While this option is more affordable, it’s not always permanent. The opening and closing of windows and doors may wear away at the encapsulation layer over time and expose future residents to the lead paint below. 

What are the Symptoms of Lead Poisoning?

Lead poisoning doesn’t happen overnight. In most cases, it takes months or even years of exposure to lead paint for the body to experience symptoms. Those suffering from lead poisoning may experience abdominal pain or cramping, headaches, irritability, fatigue, memory loss and more. It can be difficult to connect these dots back to lead paint, especially if you’re not aware of the risks associated with the substance.

Babies, young children and pregnant women are at the greatest risk of lead poisoning. Children exposed to lead paint may suffer developmental delays, learning disabilities and behavior problems. No amount of lead exposure is considered safe for children.

Get Informed

If you believe your property may contain lead paint, it’s important to take action as soon as possible. A lead inspector can provide you with a detailed analysis of the paint used throughout your home and recommend next steps. Schedule a lead inspection with a certified inspector today.

Aspiring home inspectors can educate themselves about the risks associated with lead paint in ICA’s bonus course on the subject. Included free with registration in our home inspection course, this module covers everything from identifying lead paint to the reporting of your findings. Sign up today!

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