If a house was built before 1978, it may contain lead-based paint that is aged and in poor condition. This isn't a complete deal breaker for a potential homeowner, but it's certainly something to give pause.
Due to Title X (or the long name, Residential Lead-Based Paint Hazard Reduction Act of 1992), sellers and landlords are required to disclose the presence of lead-based paint in a dwelling. This gives potential new residents an opportunity to look into how extensive it is and whether they want to risk moving in. Just like asbestos and mold, lead-based paint is hazardous. However, it's not necessarily something a home is stuck with forever.
What to know about lead-based paint
Lead is highly toxic, and paint with lead in it is also toxic if inhaled, ingested, or absorbed through the skin. The lead paint that was commonly used before 1978 is considered to be harmful to pregnant women and children, although not necessarily when it's in good condition. It's especially dangerous once it's deteriorated and begun to flake and chip.
Even though lead paint has been banned since 1978, it still causes the majority of lead poisoning cases nationwide. That's because it was so commonly used in homes built before then. And in older homes, it's not necessarily visible because it may have been painted over, but being underneath newer coats of paint does not prevent its harmful effects.
Researching lead-based paint in a home
Before you buy a house, you have ten days by law to get your own inspection and risk assessment done. This is definitely a smart step to take if you have a young family or if young children come to stay with you. Also, if you're planning to renovate, you should do this to know what you're potentially dealing with before you disturb it and cause hazardous flakes and dust.
When a certified tester comes to your home, they have specialized equipment they use to check for the presence of unseen lead paint. The most important tool is called an X-ray fluorescence analyzer (XRF device), and it can detect the presence of lead in paint all the way down to the base layer.
Specialists take multiple samples from different points around the house, specifically looking for deteriorated paint but also doing dust swipes and getting soil samples from outside.
What if your home has lead-based paint and you're staying put?
If you weren't previously concerned about lead-based paint in your home but you are now -- perhaps because you're pregnant or you're planning on renovations that may disturb it -- then there are ways to remediate it.
The safest is to let the professionals do it. However, if you're reasonably comfortable with DIY work, you can reduce the potential hazard by carefully removing chips and dust and safely disposing of them outside the home. Although painting over it doesn't get rid of it, if the paint is in good condition -- not bubbling or peeling -- once you've wiped it down and removed dust and chips, you can contain it with a fresh coat of paint or encapsulate it with adhesive coating.
Or you can remove it altogether -- and if it's seriously chipping, peeling, or bubbling, that's the only safe thing to do. For this last option, all experts recommend "wet" methods like wet sanding and wet scraping, since dry sanding and scraping result in a lot of dust and debris.
With lead paint, inhalation and ingestion are common and dangerous ways to become poisoned. Therefore, in addition to practicing wet methods, you're supposed to wear protective gear. Remove all furniture and soft materials from the room. Don't have children or pets in the room while you work, and if possible, remove them from the space altogether while you're working.
What if your home has lead paint and you're getting renters?
Essentially, you need to disclose that your home contains lead-based paint to potential renters. Include information on where it is in the house. You also need to give them an EPA brochure that explains the hazards and signs of lead-based paint. If you know that the home contains lead-based paint and you don't pass that information along to renters, you can be sued, especially if one of them falls ill.
What if your home has lead paint and you're selling?
The same rules apply as if you're renting -- you must disclose the presence, whereabouts, and condition to potential buyers. However, even more than disclosing and providing an informational EPA pamphlet, you must also provide "any records and reports on lead-based paint and/or lead-based paint hazards" according to hud.gov. Most impactful to the sales process is the requirement that sellers allow buyers 10 days to bring in a certified inspector or do a risk assessment.
What to know about lead-based paint if you're potentially renting a home that has it
If you're considering renting a home that contains lead paint, make sure and ask the landlord for records and reports of where the paint is and what condition it's in, as these two factors definitely affect risk. If the paint is only present in a couple of older, unrenovated rooms and it's in decent condition, you may decide it's worth the risk. Or you may decide not to take the risk after reading the reports, especially if your family includes young children under age 6.
What if you're potentially buying a home that has lead paint?
Definitely take advantage of the 10-day window provided by Title X law for you to get an inspection and risk assessment. This will allow you to make a smart judgment about whether you should ask for the paint to be remediated/removed, ask for a reduction in asking price so you can do the work yourself, or walk away from the transaction.
Note: Because lead-based paint was the standard in the 1940s through 1960s, if you're buying a home built during that time and there are no reports of lead paint, you should still get a specialized inspector to come out and test for it. Homeowners who lived in a home since the '90s before Title X was passed might not have thought too much about the presence of lead paint, but there is still a strong statistical chance it could be in the house, unseen but with the potential to harm as it deteriorates.
It's better to know about lead paint than to ignore it
The best-case scenario for everyone when it comes to lead paint is that the inspection reveals that the paint is only in a few places and is well contained, covered up by other materials or encapsulated in an adhesive coating, and you don't need to worry further.
If this isn't the case, you may be able to get it remediated or removed once you know. But with something as poisonous as lead -- and given the reality that lead paint is still the biggest cause of lead poisoning -- it's definitely not something you want to brush off when you're looking at an older house.