If you lived near a large metropolitan area in the 1970s or 1980s, you might remember seeing TV commercials about the dangers of lead paint in the home. In fact, you might be surprised to learn that lead paint in the home is still a problem across the country.
Lead paint was in use in the U.S. as late as 1978, when the federal government banned residential uses of lead-based paint. Although some states banned it even earlier, if your home was built before 1978, it’s likely to contain lead-based paint.
Lead Abatement, Defined
Lead paint abatement is the process that removes lead-based paint from the home in order to prevent lead poisoning.
Inside The Home
If your home was built before 1978, it very likely contains lead paint. In well-maintained houses, that lead paint is usually safely contained under several coats of paint on your walls. But deteriorating lead-based paint (peeling, chipping, chalking, cracking, damaged or damp) is a hazard and needs immediate attention, particularly if there are young children in the home.
Inside the home, painted high-touch surfaces, like window frames and sills, doors and door frames, and stairs, railings and banisters, are the bigger problems. The constant friction caused by touching, walking, and other wear and tear creates dust, and that dust makes its way onto floors and other surfaces. From there, it gets on hands and into mouths.
This is particularly a problem with young children, who crawl amid the dust and put everything in their mouths. Ingesting even small amounts of lead can cause serious problems for developing brains and nervous systems.
Outside The Home
Lead from paint used on your home pre-1978 contaminates the soil surrounding your home when it flakes or peels. If you or a previous owner tried to abate the lead yourselves, or hired improperly trained contractors to remove paint from the exterior of your home, perhaps in preparation for painting it, without taking proper precautions, you can be sure there is lead in the soil.
If you have children living in the home, or visiting frequently, and they play in the yard around your home, they can easily have ingested lead from the soil. Moreover, the soil can move inside the house on the bottoms of shoes, in particles that float in your air, and into your food supply if you grow vegetables in your yard. Older playground equipment and structures on your property can also leach lead into your soil.
The Hazards Of Lead Paint
Why is lead paint such an enduring problem? Lead is a neurotoxin, among other things, that can cause developmental problems in children. According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), lead paint exposure is related to:
- Behavioral problems
- Learning disabilities
- In extreme cases, death.
According to the World Health Organization, young children are particularly vulnerable to the toxic effects of lead and can suffer profound and permanent adverse health effects, particularly affecting the development of the brain and nervous system. Lead also causes long-term harm in adults, including increased risk of high blood pressure and kidney damage. Lead exposure has been linked to higher rates of criminality. Exposure of pregnant women to high levels of lead can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, premature birth and low birth weight.
Regulations On How To Prevent Lead Exposure
The Environmental Protection Agency provides regulatory oversight over lead-based consumer products.
Since 1978, the U.S. has banned residential use of lead-based paint. However, there are still industrial paints in use that contain lead.
Renovation, Repair and Painting (RRP) Rule
The Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, is the government agency charged with regulatory oversight of lead hazards. In 2008, it instituted a rule governing who can perform Renovation, Repair, and Painting (RRP rule) work in homes, child care facilities, and preschools that were built before 1978. That rule aimed at preventing inadvertent lead paint contamination in the course of performing tasks unrelated to lead abatement.
To be clear, the RRP rule does not apply to do-it-yourselfers. But if you do plan to undertake any of this work yourself, complying with the safety rules while performing this work will minimize further lead paint exposure.
The RRP rule covers the following renovation activities:
- Remodeling and repair/maintenance
- Electrical work
- Painting preparation
- Window replacement
Lead-Based Paint Abatement Program
While the RRP seeks to prevent further lead contamination, it doesn’t govern lead abatement projects. For that, you’ll need a professional lead abatement specialist, certified through the EPA’s Lead-Based Paint Abatement Program. It is far more comprehensive than the RRP rule and establishes the certification requirements and safety procedures to be used to abate the presence of lead in your home.
The Lead Abatement Process
The EPA website can help you find local certified inspectors, risk assessors, and contractors who can recommend the best course of action to abate the lead in your home.
Step 1. Test Your Home
If you suspect your home may contain lead, the first thing to do is get your home tested. You can pick up a lead test kit at any hardware store that will tell you if you have lead in your home but you’ll have to have a certified lead professional carry out testing to determine how much lead is present inside and outside your home. That will be crucial when assessing risk.
You should strongly consider getting your home tested if your home was built before 1978 and:
- There are children under the age of 6 living in the home
- A pregnant woman lives in the home
- You are planning major home renovations
- A child living in the home has tested positive for lead exposure
- Children in your area have a high incidence of lead exposure. Some states mandate that pediatricians with patients living in high lead zones test them for lead exposure at age 2 and again at regular intervals.
- Your paint is flaking and peeling.
Step 2. Assess Paint Condition
With an EPA-certified lead abatement risk assessor, complete a thorough inspection of your home to identify the sources of lead dust. As we discussed above, the most common sources are windows, doors, and staircases, high touch areas where friction occurs frequently. The inspector will make sure that all paint on surfaces is intact, and will look for signs of the wear and tear that allows dust to form. When you get the report, you’ll understand what needs to be done to make your home safe. In many cases, homeowners don’t need to do anything more than keep up with maintenance of painted surfaces, clean thoroughly and frequently when deterioration occurs, and contact an RRP-certified renovator to fix the source of the lead.
Step 3. Limit Your Exposure
You don’t need to panic, but you do need to take the presence of lead in your home seriously. Visit the EPA’s website to learn more tips about how you can reduce lead exposure in your home.
If at all possible, you should temporarily remove pregnant women and children from the home while working to identify and remediate the risk. No amount of lead exposure is considered safe. As we discussed earlier, lead has been shown to negatively affect brain development in utero and in young children.
Here are the steps you can take immediately:
- Inspect the paint in your home to be sure it is intact. If you find peeling paint, or paint chips, clean them up immediately and cover the disturbed surface with thick plastic.
- Dust and use a wet mop to pick up dust and soil brought into the home
- Place a mat on both the inside and outside of your doors and make sure everyone wipes their feet and removes their shoes before entering the home
- Wash your hands frequently
- Contact a certified renovation contractor, to make sure all immediate threats have been contained or repaired, and then contact a licensed lead-abatement contractor to test, assess, and abate the sources of lead in your home.
Step 4. Locate A Certified Contractor
The safest way to proceed is by working with a certified lead abatement contractor, and again, aside from a personal recommendation from a trusted source, the EPA’s website is your best starting point for finding a certified professional.
Once the risk in your home has been identified and assessed, you will be advised on which of the following strategies best suits your needs.
With this approach, the lead-paint contaminated surfaces of your home are contained by a lead encapsulation paint that forms a watertight bond and seals in lead paint. Over time, however, that bond may fray in high friction spots, so you’ll have to commit to regular maintenance of the paint.
With this method, a physical barrier, such as wood paneling, or new drywall, covers the lead-paint contaminated surfaces. Aluminum or vinyl cladding is used to cover windowsills. If you choose this abatement method, you’ll have to alert any potential home buyers to the risk of exposure should the physical barriers be removed during the course of future renovation.
This method involves the removal of the lead paint from the home. This might be done by stripping the paint using wire brushes or wet hand scraping, or sanding with specialized equipment that utilizes a HEPA filtered vacuum.
In some cases, homeowners may simply (but not inexpensively) choose to replace the windows, window frames, sills, doorways, and any other sources of lead dust in the home.
5. Stay Safe During Abatement
Lead work is best left to professionals, and you should consider leaving the home while the work is completed. If you have no choice but to remain in the home while the abatement is completed, you’ll have to take extra precautions as well, because the lead abatement work is likely to temporarily increase the amount of lead dust in your home. Some basic safety precautions includes:
- Wearing personal protective equipment, or PPE, in the house. While the EPA does not set standards for what PPE should be worn, it does recommend that RRP workers be given OSHA compliant masks, coveralls, face shields, and other protective gear while they work in your home.
- Do not eat or drink in the house. Remember, both ingestion and inhalation are the main vectors for lead poisoning.
- Keeping clothing worn in house separate from other clothing, so as not to contaminate other homes or places.
Lead Abatement Costs
As you can imagine, lead abatement services are not cheap.
How Much Does Abatement Cost?
According to HomeAdvisor, the average lead paint removal project costs between $1,546 - $6,373, depending, of course, on the number of features you seek to remove and replace.
Can I Refinance To Pay For Lead Abatement?
Yes, you can. You might have several refinance options, including a cash-out refinance or a home equity loan. You can call or chat with one of our refinancing experts to get more information about how to tap your home’s equity to pay for lead abatement.
Is There Financing Help Available For Lead Abatement?
Fortunately, there is help available. Both the FHA and Fannie Mae offer renovation loans that you can apply for to abate the lead in your home. You may also qualify for other grants and loans to finance lead abatement.
Lead Paint: A Word About Real Estate Sales And Rentals
If you are selling your home, the EPA does not require you to test for the presence of lead, but it requires you to disclose any information you do have about the presence of lead in your home.
If you are buying a home, make sure that your home inspection includes a lead test. If it doesn’t, you are free to order a lead test in addition to the home inspection. Federal law requires home sellers to provide up to 10 days to inspect for the presence of lead before being obligated under a contract to buy housing built prior to 1978.
If you are renting a home, you have federally protected rights as well. Before you sign your lease, you must be given the following:
- An EPA-approved information pamphlet on identifying and controlling lead-based paint hazards, Protect Your Family From Lead In Your Home
- Any known information concerning the presence of lead-based paint or lead-based paint hazards in the home or building.
- For multiunit buildings, this requirement includes records and reports concerning common areas and other units when such information was obtained as a result of a building-wide evaluation.
- An attachment to the contract, or language inserted in the contract, that includes a "Lead Warning Statement" and confirms that the landlord has complied with all notification requirements.
If you have a concern, and particularly if you are pregnant, plan to become pregnant soon, or plan to live in the home with a child under the age of 6, ask your landlord to get a lead hazard inspection from a certified inspector before signing your lease.
Your First Step To A Healthier Home
Lead is nothing to be complacent about. It’s effects on human health, and especially children, are serious and well documented. Protect yourself by getting a home inspection if you’re shopping for a new home. Learn more about home refinancing in our Learning Center.