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Everything You Need to Know About Lead Paint

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Everything You Need to Know About Lead Paint
4 min. read
lead paint hazard scene

Image: D_Townsend / Shutterstock.com

Durable, fast-drying and moisture-resistant, lead paint has been used in homes and domestic items for centuries. Yet despite its widespread use, this product has an equally long history of health concerns. So when you’re in the market for buying or selling a home, it’s worth knowing a few key points about lead paint. In this guide, we’ll tell you all you need to know.

Why Is Lead Paint Harmful?

Lead is, by its very nature, a toxic substance. The long-term effects of lead poisoning are irreversible and can range from high blood pressure to heart disease, kidney disease, reduced fertility, permanent brain damage and even death. Children are particularly susceptible to lead paint poisoning because, given their curious nature, they’re more likely to put lead-painted items in their mouths. Also, the fact that lead tastes sweet doesn’t help.

The U.S. banned lead paint use in residential homes in 1978. In Canada, the 1976 Hazardous Products Act limited the use of lead paint on furniture, household products, children’s products and exterior and interior surfaces of any building frequented by children to 0.5% by weight.

Identifying Lead Paint

The easiest way to determine whether your house has lead paint is by checking the year it was built. Homes in the U.S. built before 1978 can have lead paint not just on the walls but also on door and window frames, stairs, porches and banisters. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, 87% of houses built before 1940 are likely to contain lead-based paint. Canadian homes constructed after 1992 are virtually lead-free; however, lead paint can be present in properties built before 1980.

If your home falls within that age range, there are several methods you can identify lead paint. Numerous hardware stores now sell lead paint test kits. Although cheap and easy to find, they’re not always completely accurate. The best solution is to hire a professional, whether it’s a qualified contractor or a certified lead inspector.

Identifying lead paint in your home is essential not just because removing it can cost thousands of dollars but also because the removal process can present a health hazard if done incorrectly. If you’re buying an older home, always ask the seller about lead paint. Or, better yet, bring a qualified inspector or risk assessor on site. Similarly, if you’re planning to sell a house built before 1978, you are legally required to provide a Lead Paint Disclosure in both the U.S. and Canada.

What to Do if Your House Has Lead Paint

If the lead paint used in your home is intact and properly cared for, it shouldn’t be harmful. However, problems arise when the paint begins to flake, peel or crack, which is usually caused by water damage or humidity, incorrect paint application, surfaces that haven’t been primed properly, or even old age. In such cases, tiny particles of lead dust can easily become airborne and can cause serious harm if you ingest or breathe them in.

Repairing and Removing Lead Paint

Once you find damaged lead paint in your home, try to take action as soon as possible. For small surfaces, you can paint over the lead paint using an encapsulant such as epoxy or polymer paint. For larger areas that may require sanding down, always use a specialized suit, mask, gloves and goggles, and seal off your work area.

No matter how tempting it is, never attempt to remove lead paint yourself. The risks associated with accidental exposure to lead dust are simply not worth it. Instead, it’s always best that you use the services of a lead-safe certified contractor to help you remove lead paint and renovate your home.

Maintaining Lead-painted Surfaces

Here are some regular maintenance tasks to keep lead-painted surfaces in good condition.

  • Regularly check lead-painted surfaces for any cracks, peeling or chipping.
  • Keep dust in check by wiping flat surfaces with a damp cloth and mopping the floors once a week.
  • Use a HEPA filter on your vacuum cleaner and use a steam cleaner for your carpets, curtains and upholstery.
  • Avoid using harsh chemicals or solvents when cleaning lead-painted surfaces to avoid dissolving the paint. Also, avoid scrubbing surfaces excessively or using abrasive cloths, steel wool and scouring pads to remove tough stains.

Should You Remove Lead Paint from Your Home?

There are no laws that require you to get rid of lead paint in your home. As long as the paint is not peeling, flaking, chipping or cracking, living in a house that has lead paint is safe. However, some homeowners prefer not to take any risks and will aim to permanently protect their family from potential lead poisoning by removing it altogether.

Whichever decision you take, if you have any concerns or questions about the best practices, discussing them with a professional is ideal.

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