Quote of the Day

Monday, April 27, 2015

How Do I Know If My House Has Lead?

"I don't want my kids poisoned by lead," Paul thought after reading these articles. His 1 year-old and his 3 year-old were the joys of his life. 

They were so full of excitement and energy. Everyday they learned something new and were growing so fast.

It would just kill him to watch his sweet children devolve into people unable to cope with life. But how can he know if his house is safe?

How can he protect his children?

I have discussed in previous articles the dangers, risks, and challenges associated with lead poisoning. Now that we understand the problems, we can tackle the solutions.

How do you know if you have lead in your home?

Option 1, When was your home built?
Lead was introduced into paint millennia ago. We used it in the United States until it was banned from most paint in 1978. The graphic below shows the percentage of homes built during specific years and the probable percentage of homes that contain lead paint.

As you can see, homes built before 1940 have an 87% chance of having lead based oil paint. For practical purposes, that is nearly all of them. Many of these older homes have been painted over with latex paint, reducing the likelihood of lead particles becoming airborne, but not eliminating the chance. If the oil surface was not primed properly, the latex paint easily chips off exposing the lead paint underneath. Dents, holes, or remodeling will also disturb the lead in the original paint.

For those homes built between 1940 and 1960, there was a 69% chance of lead paint. The percentages drop because of the introduction of latex or water based paint. Latex paint could be thinned and cleaned up with water, making it a popular choice for both homeowners and professionals alike.

Homes built between 1960 and 1978, about 24% of them had lead based paint. Latex paint gained more popularity as the product became more durable and easier to work with.

If it was built after 1978, there is almost a 0% chance of lead paint. Having banned lead in paint, without special permits, no one could buy lead paint. Exceptions would be if someone purchased and stockpiled lead paint in 1977. The law only banned the manufacture of lead paint, not its application.

Option 2 - Use a DIY lead test kit

These kits are available in most lumber and hardware stores and they really do work. The problem is that they are invasive, messy and difficult to use.

Here are the top 3 selling DIY lead test kits on Amazon currently. They ranged from $9.00 to $20.00 per kit.

I have used the 3M kit and know it to work and is easy to use, but I will not recommend one over the other.

The 3M kit consists of a plastic tube with a brush tip filled with a chemical. In the tube is a glass vial with a liquid. If you break the vial inside the tube, the chemicals mix together and turn red when exposed to lead.

Other kits have a liquid that you paint on the surface with a Q-Tip

All you have to do is brush some of this liquid on the suspect surfaces and they will turn red if there is lead. False negatives occur when the lead paint has a couple of layers of latex paint on top.

The solution to this is to break off or cut through the latex paint exposing the multiple layers beneath. Then the test will work. If it's red there is lead.

Option 3 - Have a certified lead paint inspector check your home with a XRF analyzer.
These guns are the slickest thing since sliced bread. It is a gun that you simply point at the surface you want to test, pull the trigger, and presto, you have a reading. There are only 3 problems:

1. These are actually X-ray machines and you have to have a special license and training to own and operate one.      

2. They cost between $20,000 and $50,000.

3. They also have to be calibrated every year to ensure accuracy. Other than that, they are super cool because they will read through multi-layers of paint and give you the results without damaging the surface.

Now, you can still have your home tested with an XRF analyzer. You just need to have a certified professional come and do it. They usually cost about $75 - $150 per test. That's a little better than $50,000.

If the test results are positive, how can you remove the lead and protect your children? 

Read How Do I Get Rid Of Lead in My Home?

For more information, check out:
Renovate Right, EPA document on lead poisoning and renovation
The Truth About Lead Paint Poisoning, tri-fold brochure
Steps to Lead Safe Renovation, Repair and Painting
American Healthy Home Survey, Lead and Arsenic Findings, April 2011

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