How to Identify Lead Paint and What to Do About it

Lead paint is one of those things that seemed like a perfect solution at the time it was used, but once we found out the long-term ramifications, it was quickly phased out. Along with asbestos, lead paint once held an important place in building homes but has since been replaced by less harmful materials. 

Lead was added to the paint to accelerate the drying process and add durability and moisture resistance. Lots of good intentions, but not a great outcome for the millions of homes that ended up with lead paint. Read on to find out if you have lead-based paint in your home and what to do about it.

What is lead paint, and why is it bad?

In residential homes, we used lead paint nearly ubiquitously in the late 1800s and early 1900s. It was an inexpensive and widely available ingredient with several beneficial properties when added to the paint. 

Over time, lead was found to have several very adverse effects on the human body and has since been banned in most states in the US. That said, many older homes still have lead paint (more on that later). The detrimental effects are severe and not necessarily immediately apparent. 

In children, prolonged exposure to lead can cause inhibited growth, both physically and cognitively. This can cause behavioral issues and a myriad of health conditions later in life. If pregnant women experience long-term exposure to lead, there are likely to be complications with the development of the fetus, like increased risk of miscarriage, premature birth, and developmental and behavioral issues. 

Children are susceptible to the effects of lead poisoning because their bodies inherently absorb more from their environments. In addition, they are more likely to put things in their mouths (as any parent can attest). 

Lead poisoning can be acute, meaning that symptoms are apparent quicker or long-term, where symptoms take longer to appear. In acute lead poisoning, sufferers may experience symptoms like anemia, weakness and even kidney and brain damage. 

How to identify lead paint 

There are a few main reasons you would suspect that you have lead paint. 

The first and most likely clue is that you have a home built pre-1978, the year lead paint was banned. 

There aren’t easy ways to identify lead paint just by sight. Lead was an additive to paint, so you can’t tell the difference in a side-by-side visual inspection. However, the thing that could tip you off is if your paint looks old. Not just outdated, but a turn of the 20th century kind of old. 

Testing for lead paint

Lead paint is, thankfully, easy to test for. With a quick trip to your local hardware store or online, you can order test kits for under $20. 

Once you have your kit, follow the specific instructions for carrying out the test. Generally, you’ll need to take a sample of the paint (typically just a sliver) and submerge it in a test liquid or use the swab that your test kit provides. 

The other option is to have a professional administer one of the three EPA-approved tests. The cost of this will vary based on your location. 

If the paint in your home tests positive for lead, you should handle the issue as soon as possible. While it may not be feasible for you to vacate your home when you find out that a lead paint test is positive, you should do so as soon as possible. You’ll be able to hire a qualified crew in your area that is trained to replace lead paint on interior walls, and they’ll advise you on how long it will take to complete your project. 

Do home inspectors check for lead paint? 

Home inspectors are trained to assess the quality and condition of the main components of your home. Those are the foundation, HVAC, electrical, plumbing and the roof. While lead paint is certainly a concern for safety in your home, it isn’t something your inspector will test for. 

Rather, a home inspector will let you know, based on your home’s age and the paint’s condition, if you should be concerned about it being lead-based. If your inspector thinks it could contain lead, they will recommend that you have it tested by a professional. 

Your home inspector may have a personal referral to someone that tests for lead paint that they’ve worked well with in the past, or you can find a certified professional here

How much does a lead inspection cost?

Depending on the size of your home, a lead paint test can cost anywhere from $250 to $700. When you get in touch with a certified inspector in your area and fill them in on the specifics of your home, they’ll be able to give you a more accurate estimate. 

How to get rid of lead paint 

If you have a *very* small area that has lead paint, you could remove it on your own. When we say small, we mean much less than one room. A small cupboard inside a room, maybe. Even at that small amount, you’ll need to take essential and specific health measures to ensure you stay safe. These include taping off any adjoining rooms with 6mm plastic sheeting, using a HEPA vacuum (not your home vacuum with a HEPA filter), buying specific personal protective equipment, etc. The precautions you need to take to remove a two-by-two-foot lead paint space are the same as you would for a whole room. 

This is why, more often than not, calling a professional is the best option. They’re set up to do the needed removal and will do it quickly and smoothly. Not to mention, it will save you from having to buy a ton of safety gear that you’ll likely only use once. 

Lead paint is a lurking hazard — there’s no doubt. The good news is that with some foresight and simple steps, you can avoid this potentially harmful substance in your home for good.