What should I do if I discover lead paint?
With a baby on the way, Angie’s List members Joseph and Jennifer Adu want to make their home as safe as possible for their new arrival.
So when the Needham, Mass., residents conducted a home lead test and it came back positive for lead paint, they were obviously concerned.
“Some of the windowsills are chipping paint on the exterior side of our home,” Jennifer posted on the Angie’s List Answers page. “We cannot afford to de-lead the entire house at the moment. Does anyone recommend methods of encapsulation (painting over versus covering with aluminum)? Who would we hire for such as job, a contractor or painter?”
The Adus are right to take a proactive approach to lead paint, which is extremely dangerous, especially to children and the elderly. It’s estimated that deteriorated lead paint remains in as many as 24 million homes built before 1978, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“It doesn’t take a lot of lead exposure for a child to get sick,” says Nick Serpa, owner of highly rated Serpaco Painting in Raleigh, N.C. “That’s the real scary part. It’s better to take precautions.”
How to make your home safe from lead
Painting over the lead-based paint or placing an aluminum covering — the options Jennifer Adu mentioned — are two choices that will make your home safer. However, there are other methods to completely remove lead paint.
One way, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, is removing the part of the home with lead paint; which in Adu’s case are the windowsills. However, this is usually the most expensive option, and you’ll need to hire a licensed lead abatement contractor. The EPA says it’s possible to scrape or wet-sand lead paint, but warns that disturbing it may send dangerous dust particles into the air. If you scrape lead paint, make sure to follow the EPA’s safety guidelines.
Both painting and covering the lead paint — called encapsulation — are viable and less expensive options as long as you hire a licensed lead renovator who is certified through the EPA’s Lead Renovation, Repair and Painting Rule (RRP Rule).
Covering lead paint with aluminum, fiber board, vinyl — or any dust-tight barrier — will keep the lead paint dust from moving to other parts of the home. This, though, does not permanently remove the lead.
“Encapsulation does work, but moving forward it cannot be disturbed,” Serpa says. “In order to encapsulate, you have to make it stick, so we have to scrape all of the stuff that is peeling away. We use latex paint that goes over the top of it.”
Serpa says painting over lead can cost 20 to 60 percent more than a typical job.
Hiring for lead paint removal
Serpa says it’s imperative to hire a company that is licensed to work with lead.
“It’s proven that if lead is digested, getting lead poisoning can lead to serious illnesses, high blood pressure and even up to death,” he says.
Fortunately, there are laws in place to regulate who can inspect or remove lead paint.
The EPA passed laws in 2010 requiring service providers who disturb lead paint in homes built before 1978 to get certified in lead safety. Contractors must complete a training course, certified by the EPA, to become a Certified Renovator (RRP Rule).
Highly rated service providers say, in cases such as the Adu’s, it’s recommended to hire a professional to determine the extent of the lead paint in the home.
When hiring someone to remove lead paint, check that they’re certified by the EPA or an EPA-authorized state. The 14 EPA-authorized states can administer their own RRP programs, according to the EPA. Ask to see the company’s credentials to prove they’re licensed.
Non-compliance can cost service providers up to $37,500 per violation.