A Guide to Lead Paint Removal
You won’t find any lead in today’s modern paints and paint supplies. Some people think that, because of this, lead is simply no longer a problem. However, that is unfortunately not the case. In fact, household paint that remains from the 1970s or earlier could likely still contain lead. Since these old paint remnants can come off in the form of chips or dust, they can create health problems that can be very serious.
Lead poisoning can lead to chronic and very serious problems, especially in children. Recovering completely from cases of lead poisoning can take months or even years. Even then, there is sometimes lasting damage that continues to affect the brain and brain functions.
What Is the Cost of Lead Paint Removal?
The average lead paint removal job costs between $8 to $20 per square feet and can total around $10,000 depending on the size of the affected area. The overall cost can also fluctuate depending on what lead paint removal method is being used. The top three methods used by lead paint removal professionals are encapsulation, enclosure, and removal.
Encapsulation, which is usually more affordable and much less complicated, involves using a special paint that the lead paint removal specialist will roll or brush onto the lead-containing surface. The result is a bond that is watertight, seals the lead-based paint. The downfall to this method is that wear and tear can cause the coating to eventually come off, especially around windows and doors.
Another method for dealing with lead-based paint is enclosure. This means that you simply cover the old surface with a brand new one. This can involve installing new walls with drywall or some other material, and creating new windowsills with a different cladding. However, if you have to do more intrusive remodeling at some point, you will still have to deal with the surface that contains lead at that time.
The cost for this procedure varies greatly, depending on how much surface area you have to cover, and which products you want to use to accomplish the job. For building supplies of this nature, it’s best to consider wholesale or factory showrooms, online ordering or using irregular pieces, when available.
The complete removal of the lead-based paint involves intricate procedures and possibly the evacuation of your entire home. During removal, professionals might make use of wire brushes, hand scrapers or liquid paint remover. If the contractor uses a sander, it must be an electric one and must have a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filtered vacuum. The contractor may also choose to strip off the paint with a heat gun.
Some methods are completely forbidden in the removal of lead-based paint. These include:
- Torching or open flame burning
- Using a sander without a HEPA attachment
- Abrasive blasting
- Power washing without paint chip traps or water traps
The Dangers of Lead Paint
By now, it is well known that lead is a very harmful pollutant. In fact, in 1991, the Department of Health and Human Services Secretary stated that, to the health of children, lead is the number one threat, environmentally speaking. The largest source of exposure to lead in the United States is still old paint that is lead-based.
When that paint begins to deteriorate and chips off or becomes airborne as particles of dust, humans can breathe it in or swallow it, before the particles have a chance to settle. Once inside the body, it affects nearly every system, with varying results.
The effects of low levels of lead include:
- Adverse brain effects
- Central nervous system dysfunction
- Kidney problems and failure
- Blood cells that do not properly function
The effects of high levels of lead include:
When fetuses and very small children are exposed to lead, they can suffer serious consequences. Physical and mental developments are severely hampered, as is overall IQ level. They can also suffer from problems relating to behavior and attention spans. Fetuses and infants are particularly prone to exposure to lead in that they can absorb the contaminant much more easily than an older child or adult.
Since small children are more likely to handle contaminated matter and then put their fingers in their mouth, it can be easier for them to actually ingest lead and lead matter. Their tissues are also more sensitive, which means the effects will be far more damaging.
In order to reduce the chance that you or your children will be exposed to lead, here are some important steps to follow.
- Reduce lead-based paint risks – As we already know, older homes are most likely to contain paint that is heavily leaded. In most cases, this refers to homes built prior to 1960, but in truth, even homes built as late as 1978 can still contain paint that includes lead as an ingredient. You are most likely to find this type of paint on walls, windowsills, and the outside of the home. If you have not had the paint itself removed, consider other safety measures until you are able to set up a removal time.
- Leave the lead-containing paint undisturbed, if possible – Attempting to burn or sand surfaces covered in lead-based paint can create massive amounts of dust that contains lead. In turn, this leads to a hugely increased chance that those who live in the home will ingest or inhale the lead and lead particles. If in good condition, with no chips or signs of excessive wear, problems will be minimal, if they exist at all.
- Keep child play areas clean and free of dust – Mop hardwood floors regularly and vacuum carpets with the same intensity. Wipe window sills and any other surface that children might chew on or touch frequently, very often, making sure to use a cleaner specified for lead paint.
- Do NOT attempt to remove the paint on your own – This is by far one of the main causes of lead poisoning among adults. Any activity focused on lead paint removal can generate great amounts of dust, as mentioned earlier, and create a toxic environment. The best advice is to contact your local health department or housing department, who will be able to give you sound advice on where to find the help you need.
Why is Professional Lead Paint Removal Preferred Over DIY Methods?
As already mentioned, any attempt to remove lead-based paint from your home not only puts you at risk for lead contamination, but it creates huge amounts of lead dust and particles. This matter then floats throughout your home, contaminating anyone it comes in contact with through inhalation or ingestion. The question then becomes, is this a risk you are willing to take?
There are actually some states that will allow you to attempt the job yourself. However, even in those states, it makes more sense to choose a contractor that holds certification in removing lead paint. These contractors have both the training and experience in how to get the job done safely and will use the best overall strategy to accomplish the removal.
When you choose a professional to remove your lead paint, they will still contact the appropriate agencies in order to make sure that they are adhering exactly to the guidelines set in place for the removal of lead-based paint. The fact is, this is a material that is considered dangerous to both the environment as well as individuals. Even contractors have to be expertly meticulous in the removal of this substance, adhering to all regulations with great care.
Professional lead-based paint removal experts will have the utmost attention to detail. They will be able to give you a timetable for the procedure, after determining their removal approach for the specific job. If your home happens to be a historic building, the guidelines become even stricter. Contractors will then have to make sure that their method of removal does no damage to the substrate and causes no loss of architectural details.
The bottom line is simple.
- Doing your own lead-based paint removal leads to more harm than good. Without the proper tools, chemicals and other trusted supplies, you will not be able to accomplish the job to government safety standards.
- Experienced professionals are not only trained in this specific field, they have experience in what works and what does not. Their knowledge base makes them a valuable asset in this situation.
- Special cases call for special procedures. To avoid future problems and ensure that it is done correctly the first time, it is highly recommended that you use a professional lead-based paint removal expert.
How are Lead Testing and Inspection Carried Out?
Homeowners should test for lead-based paint any time they have an upcoming remodeling project. Any time there is the danger of creating dust or chips of material in a home that was built prior to 1978, you should run this test. Even if you are fairly confident that there is none, it is always better to be safe than sorry.
You can pick up a kit from many vendors that allows you to test for lead-based paint in your own home. These kits are all fairly basic and easy to use.
When testing for lead paint in a home, carefully scrape off the paint in layers so that you don’t miss testing a layer. If the previous owners applied paint many times over the course of time, the top layer could be fine, but underlying layers might contain lead. The results show up as a color change, so if you happen to be color blind make sure to have someone else with you to read these results.
It’s also important to note that these test kits use two different chemicals: rhodizonate and sodium sulfide. If you are looking for absolute accuracy, be sure to pick up each type of kit.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) performed accuracy checks on many of the kits used to test for lead-based paint. They found that some of these kits offered both false negative and false positive results. As a result, there are currently only two kits that the EPA gives their approval for and these are the LeadCheck and D-Lead devices. In addition to checking for accuracy, they also selected these based on affordability, speed of result production, and ease of use.
- LeadCheck – The EPA states that this test is specifically accurate for the testing of wood and ferrous metals. A simple surface swab will reveal either a pink or red tip, which is indicative of the presence of lead, or no color change, which means there is none. Many hardware stores carry this kit. The cost is about $25 and it contains eight swabs.
- D-Lead – According to the EPA, this kit is accurate in the testing of wood, ferrous metal, drywall, and plastered surfaces. This test requires a sample that you will then add solutions to in order to get your result. If there is lead in the sample, then you will see the color change results in approximately 13 minutes or less. The cost of this kit, which contains six tests, is about $35.
A Final Word
If you still have questions concerning lead based paint removal, you can contact your local agencies or the Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA website has a wealth of information on lead paint safety available.
Keep in mind: lead paint comes with a lifetime guarantee. It does damage for generations.