How to Find Lead in Your Home & Protect Your Family
If you’ve found lead in your home, you aren’t alone. According to HUD, over 34.6 million homes in the U.S. have lead. This is because lead paint was used in homes up to 1978 and lead pipes till 1986. And just because your home has lead paint and lead pipes, it does not mean you’re at risk.
Most importantly, the only way to know for sure if you have lead in your home is to test for it. If you don’t test for lead, you’ll only find out if someone in your family ends up with lead poisoning.
This guide has three parts. The first is where to look for lead in your home so that you can test for it. Next you’ll learn how to test for lead and see if it is a hazard. Lastly, you’ll learn the options to remove the dangers of lead in your home to protect your family, and what is required if you sell your house at some point knowing lead is present.
Where to Look for Lead In Your Home
Lead can be hiding in many places within your home like your paint, pipes, and dust. Lead can also make its way into your home from the soil and water in your yard as it erodes off cars, lawn mowers and sheds that have lead paint.
Lead paint is one of the most common causes of lead poisoning. According to the EPA, 87% of homes built before 1940 have some lead based paint used in them, and because the United States didn’t ban the use of lead paint until 1978, many homes across the country still contain traces of it. But good news, the EPA also says that lead-based paint is only a hazard if it is peeling, chipping, chalking, or cracking, or found on surfaces that wind up getting lead chips and dust onto a person’s hands and into their mouths.
Lead paint hazards can be found on:
- Windows and window sills
- Doors and door frames
- Stairs, railings, banisters, and porches
Like we said, the paint on its own isn’t always a hazard. It is when the paint winds up breaking down into chips and dust, or finds its way into someone’s mouth. Lead paint is the big culprit for creating lead dust, so let’s look at that next.
Dust becomes contaminated when lead based paint is dry scraped, sanded, or when painted surfaces bump or rub together. It can also be tracked into your home via shoes and your pets paws from engines and cars with lead paint that leak it into the soil in your yard. Once tracked into your home, the lead dust falls onto surfaces and objects that your family touches, and works it’s wait into their mouths.
To help protect your family from lead dust in your home:
- Clean each room starting the furthest away from the entrance of your home.
- With an all purpose cleaner designed for removing lead, wash the highest surface first and work your way down.
- The third step is to use a HEPA vacuum with five passes on upholstered surfaces and curtains or drapes.
- Now wipe and clean dust traps like the windows, duct work, and vents.
- The fourth step is to steam clean any carpets using a regular commercial after HEPA vacuuming.
- Next use a two bucket system to mop your floors where one has the cleaning solution and one is a rinse bucket.
- Pro-tip: Change the rinse bucket water after each room.
The goal is to make sure that all the dust is removed, and by starting high and going low, as well as furthest away from the entrance to the beginning, you don’t recontaminate surfaces after they’ve been cleaned.
Pro-top: You can buy lead dust wipes that will confirm the removal of lead dust.
Soil becomes contaminated when exterior lead based paint flakes and peels or when leaded gasoline leaks onto the ground. One option is to treat contaminated soil include bioremediation. Bioremediation uses bacteria to break down the lead in the soil. Another is to using chemical oxidation where you convert the contaminated soil into non-hazardous soils.
Soil stabilization is another treatment for lead contaminated soil where you add immobilizing agents to reduce the leachability. And the last way to get lead out is the physical methods of soil washing where you use water based products to remove the lead.
Lead pipes themselves are not necessarily dangerous. What creates the danger is when water runs through the lead pipes. The minerals and acid in the water corrode the lead pipes bringing the lead into your home and onto your hands, plates, cups of water from the tap, etc…
Lead piping doesn’t only have to be inside your walls. Lead pipes may be in the lead service lines (that run from the public water system to your property) or in the pipes that run from the public line to your home. The county or city you live in will likely replace lead pipes on public land for free, however, you have the repair/replacement costs for the pipes on your property. Replacing all of your lead piping can cost over $15,000+.
Another two places to look for lead pipes in your home are the solder and brass fittings. Lead based solder was used almost exclusively in creating plumbing systems until 1974, and older brass fittings. As these items degrade, you can have lead exposure from it.
Some imported vinyl miniblinds use lead as a stabilizer to make the vinyl less brittle. As sunlight and heat break down the blinds over time, the vinyl releases lead-contaminated dust into the air. As children touch the miniblinds and window sills, the lead dust gets on their fingers, which they then put into their mouths.
When purchasing new miniblinds, look for blinds with labels that say “new formulation”, “non-leaded formula”, “no lead added”, or “New! non-leaded vinyl formulation”.
If you think you have a lead problem, you can test your home for lead to find out how to best protect your family.
Testing for Lead in Your Home
There are 3 types of lead paint testing methods:
- Lead test kits
- X-ray fluorescence (XRF)
- Paint chip sampling
Home lead test kits are convenient and can be bought at hardware stores and online. These tests are not as accurate or reliable as XRF or paint chip sampling, and they cannot determine the extent of the lead-based paint.
X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) is a lead testing technique that uses a special handheld machine that looks like a radar gun. This test measures the amount of lead in old paint using high-energy beams. X-Ray Fluorescence is considered the gold standard in lead paint testing, because it allows lead inspectors to take accurate and reliable measurements across many different surfaces quickly.
Paint chip sampling involves removing paint chips from various surfaces in your home and sending them to an accredited lab for analysis. All layers of the paint must be removed together for your sample, because old buildings are more likely to have surfaces that have been repainted over multiple times.
If you want more information or talk to someone, the National Lead Information Center (NLIC) provides the general public with information about lead, lead hazards and their prevention and can be reached at (800) 424-LEAD .
To have your water tested for lead, call your local water supplier, the EPA Safe Drinking Water Hotline at (800) 426-4791, or your local health department to find out about having them test your water.
You can also hire a state-certified inspector/assessor to inspect your home for lead. The inspector/assessor can create a report that tells you if the lead levels in your home are a hazard and what options you have for dealing with it.
Once you’ve tested your home for lead, you want to be proactive to avoid lead contamination, even if there isn’t a direct hazard right now.
How To Avoid Lead Contamination In Your Home
There are ways to protect your family from lead poisoning.
In the case of lead paint:
- Pick up any paint chips that you see immediately (with gloves).
- Clean your floors, window frames, window sills, and other surfaces weekly by using a mop or sponge with warm water and a general all-purpose cleaner or a cleaner made specifically for lead.
- Wash your kids’ hands, toys, bottles, pacifiers, and stuffed animals regularly.
- Keep play areas as clean as possible.
- If possible, keep children from chewing on the window sills and other painted surfaces.
- Have everyone remove their shoes before entering your home to prevent the spread of lead dust from outside.
If your water tests positive for lead:
- Use only cold water for drinking, cooking and making baby formula (boiling water does not remove lead).
- Replace any plumbing fixtures that contain lead.
- Before drinking, flush your home’s pipes by running the tap for a bit first.
- Regularly clean your faucet’s aerator.
- Use bottled water or special water filters (and remember to change them).
And you can also be proactive to prevent lead based paint from chipping, the dust from spreading, and remove the lead entirely.
Preventing Lead Contamination In Your Home
If the lead based paint in your home has no chipping or other damage, and no children under the age of 6 live there, you may want to leave the paint untouched and keep an eye on it.
For other types of lead in your home, lead removal should not be attempted by most homeowners and instead use specialists who have training, tools, and special materials for lead removal. If you do anything wrong, you can make the lead levels in your home go up instead of down.
There are five common ways to remove lead from within your home:
- Chemical stripping
The least complicated and most affordable method to deal with lead paint in your home is encapsulation. This involves brushing or rolling on a specially made coating that creates a watertight bond and seals in the lead-based paint. Encapsulation is safer for workers, is the lowest cost of the solutions, and requires less downtime. Unfortunately, this can’t be used for all surfaces and isn’t a permanent solution. Encapsulation products cost around $50 per gallon, so expect to pay about $800 – $1,400 to cover a 1,200 – 2,000 sq. ft. home (not including labor).
Lead paint enclosures uses a rigid, durable, construction material that seals the area with lead paint from the rest of your home. Once up, the edges of the material are sealed, and adhesives and mechanical fasteners are used to mount it. While an enclosure isn’t permanent and needs to be monitored, it does help to keep lead tainted dust from spreading. Since this can be used sectionally and requires more materials than encapsulation, it is a bit more expensive costing between $9 – $10 per square foot.
Demolition and Replacement
This is where a professional contractor removes the entire painted surface (like a wall) and destroys it outside of your home. Then, a new surface is installed and you or the contractor can repaint it with lead-free paint. This permanent fix can cost between $1,000 and $15,000 per project, but you still need to clean up any remaining chips and dust. What can affect this cost is how big the area is, what needs to be replaced, and where you live.
Chemical stripping is the most invasive lead paint abatement process. A chemical compound lifts the lead paint and then a HEPA-filtered vacuum removes the particles. While this is a permanent solution that can improve your resale value, it uses harmful chemicals that release fumes and you won’t want to be in your home while it is occuring. This option costs between $10-$17 per square foot making it one of the most expensive lead removal options.
Permanent Lead Removal
For permanent lead removal, contractors use various methods to remove the lead paint like hand scraping, wet sanding, or using a heat gun and then sucking up the dust with a HEPA-filtered vacuum. This is permanent, requires no maintenance, and costs between $8 – $17 per square foot (which means projects can cost upwards of $20,000). This is an invasive process, and lead dust can still remain in the air, but you will eventually be rid of the problem.
If these costs are too high, start by calling your state lead contact for information on the financial assistance programs in your area. Some state and local agencies arrange for needed services at no cost to you, and some offer financial help. Many agencies will help pay for a lead inspection or the removal of lead-based paint by a trained professional. They may even provide you with temporary housing.
If that doesn’t work, call the HUD Office of Affordable Housing Programs at (202) 708-2470 for information on the HUD HOME Program. Under this program, there is financial help for major home repairs for low-income people who have lead-based paint in their homes.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD’s) Office of Lead Hazard Control and Healthy Homes (OLHCHH) has two grant programs: Lead-Based Paint Hazard Control (LHC) and Lead Hazard Reduction (LHRD).
And you can always sell your house for cash if removing the lead is too much. You’ll need to sell your house as is because lead does need to be disclosed. You may not get as much money as a lead free house, but you can rest easy knowing you’re protecting your family from lead in your home.
If you found lead in your home, and don’t want to deal with the hassle, call us at (877) 804-5252 and talk to one of our professional home buyers. We buy houses with lead and other hazards regularly, and would love to see if we can make an offer on yours.
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