If your home was built before 1978, take note of these best practices
Hearing terms like "lead paint," "mold," or "asbestos" can be scary for a homeowner, and it's pretty easy to get overwhelmed by the rules and regulations regarding dealing with toxic material. But lead exposure is very real, and it's important you renovate correctly and approach any home remodel project with a lead-safety checklist to avoid lead poisoning. Understanding the simple tenets of lead safety will guide you in implementing best work practices for dealing with any lead-based paint or other harmful products.
Step-by-Step Lead-Safety Checklist
Ingesting lead paint chips or breathing in lead dust can cause many health problems, particularly in children, so it’s important to pay attention to the risks associated with lead when renovating your home. If you own a house built before 1978—the year lead paint was banned— you’ll want to proceed with caution anytime you disturb a surface, including simple tasks like changing an electrical outlet to complex ones like removing a wall or demolishing an old garage.
If you discover lead paint in your home, follow the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) protocols to help eliminate lead poisoning risks, as well as refer to the lead-safety checklist below to speed up your planning process.
Lead-Safety Supply List
A general rule of thumb to follow is if a wall is painted with a product made before 1978 and you’re touching it with a tool, follow enhanced safe work practices to prevent lead poisoning. You’ll need to rent or purchase the following tools to ensure lead paint safety:
Plastic drop cloths
High-efficiency particulate absorbing (HEPA) vacuum
Test for Lead With a Swab First
If your house was built before 1978 and you're stripping wood, doing paint removal, or repairing anything in your home, start with a professional lead test near you. If your home has been renovated since 1978, the original lead-based paint may have been sealed up beneath successive layers of safe, modern paint material.
Before you panic about how much money a lead remediation project could potentially cost you, you can purchase a simple swab kit from a local hardware store to test for lead. If you need to cut into the wood or stucco throughout your home, follow best practices for lead safety. Performing a careful scratch test with the swab in an inconspicuous location is a good method if you suspect lead paint lies beneath the surface.
Clean Up All Paint Flakes
If your paint is flaking off anywhere, bump priming and sealing high up on your to-do list.
Clean up paint flakes on the ground that can be eaten by pets or inhaled by humans with a moist rag or high-efficiency vacuum right away to prevent accidental poisoning.
Investigate the source of the flakes to determine if you need to move to lead remediation.
Use a HEPA Vacuum to Clean Up Dust
HEPA filters theoretically capture 99.97% of airborne particles and are essential for all projects involving dust, especially if there might be lead involved. The vacuum you’ll want to use is a common shop vacuum. To turn it into a HEPA vacuum, buy the right filter. You can ensure you’ve captured all the lead particles by proper and safe disposal of the used vacuum bag.
Don’t Sand If You Don’t Need To
Lead isn't just in the paint on the walls; it can also be hidden within the lacquer, the varnish, the shellac, the floor coating—anything that's used to seal a surface. Meaning if you're sanding in a house that has lead paint present, you're likely kicking up lead dust. Plan your project with minimal sanding and penetration of the original lead-based surface to help reduce the need for extra work and caution.
Clean Your Work Site Daily
It only takes a small amount of lead dust to affect the nervous system of a child, and unless you’ve prevented all chances of that happening, you run the risk of causing illness or long-term damage to your children’s health (or your own) down the line.
Clean up your work site at the end of each day.
Transport your clothing in a plastic bag to the laundry.
Wash your clothes immediately.
Verify Your Pro’s Credentials
Depending on the severity of your lead remediation job, bring in a local lead abatement contractor who is EPA lead safe-certified. It’s illegal for any contractor to disturb lead-based paint without certification. Learn how to find a contractor qualified to remove lead paint, one who’ll follow the EPA's lead renovation protocol, which includes using plastic drop cloths, not canvas, and a HEPA vacuum for cleanup.