If you were walking along the street and saw people in white suits, what would you think? We generally associate white coats with doctors, but they're not the only ones in white. Interesting that these painters are wearing protective white body suits (available from Amazon for under $10) to protect themselves from the lead paint dust created as they strip the wood siding. You wouldn't go through this much effort unless you knew there was lead paint, so this article reviews the four types of lead paint detection used today.
People once thought only lead paint chips were dangerous, but we've learned that even minute dust particles are toxic and most be contained. This is done with protective gear for painters and remodelers, and with plastic sheeting around the work area, indoors and outside — all safely disposed of at the end of the day/job. The protective suits keep lead dust off the workers, plus make sure they're not tracking the dust home where it would be harmful to their families, especially young children and mothers-to-be.
When to Consider Lead Test Detection Choices
The first clue that you need to test your house for lead paint, is simply researching the age of the house. The US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has estimated that approximately 38 million houses built before 1978, contain lead based paint. And in 2008, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) created the Lead Renovation, Repair and Painting Program (RRP) ruling requiring testing and safety precautions when contractors disturb painted surfaces in homes, child care facilities and schools built before 1978.
The harsh harsh reality is that older houses are much more likely to contain lead paint. So when you're buying an older or historic home, you need to recognize that you will be assuming added costs, generally about 10% higher, for all remodeling, repairs and painting projects.
Lead Paint Detection Kits for Homeowner DIY
Before the RRP rules, there weren't any guidelines for lead test kits. With RRP, the EPA set criteria for lead test kits so homeowners could do their own lead paint detection testing. The kits are inexpensive (less than $10 at Amazon) but not nearly as accurate as the tests outlined below.
You'll want to buy kits that are “EPA Recognized” for maximum accuracy. This means that if lead is present above the regulated limit in the tested surface, the test kit must correctly indicate this fact (the presence of lead) at least 95% of the time, or 19 times out of 20. In 2010 the EPA added a new requirement, that if the amount of lead is below the regulated amount in the tested surface, the test kit must correctly indicate this fact (the absence of lead) at least 90% of the time, or 18 times out of 20. To date, no test kit has met both requirements, so the EPA will continue to recognize test kits that meet only the first requirement until a manufacturer develops a test kit that meets both requirements.
Here is a quick overview that demonstrates how easy it is to use these kits, so if there's any question in your mind, do it now!
While you might think you're handy enough to perform more extensive testing, the EPA strongly recommends that lead paint testing should always be done by professionals trained to perform the tests. Even the course that remodelers, window installers and handymen take to get certified is 8 hours (where I took my Lead Safe Renovator class), so DIY homeowners should consider taking the class if they're doing any major work around their home. (Read: EPA recommendations for renovation, repair and painting do-it-yourselfers)
Renovation, Repair and Painting Program: Do-It-Yourselfers
- Certified Lead-based Paint Inspector,
- Lead-Based Pain Risk Assessor, or
- Certified Renovator who will used EPA-recognized test kits to collect paint chips for surfaces that will be affected by the renovation, and send these to a laboratory for analysis.
Lead-Based Paint Inspection
This type of lead paint detection testing is typically done before a home renovation, remodeling or painting project starts. The goal of a lead-based paint inspection, is to identify if the home contains lead-based paint, and where that paint is located. It won't tell you if the lead paint poses a risk, which is covered by the tests below.
This inspection usually covers all painted surfaces inside and outside your home, including the following:
- Indoors -- Built-in cabinets, wood shelving, baseboards, wood doors and door/window trim, wall/ceiling trim like crown molding or chair rails.
- Outdoors -- siding, chimney if painted, door and window trim, shutters, porches and decks.
Lead Risk Assessment
The more in-depth type of lead paint detection is the risk assessment. The goal of this testing is to identify where the hazards are, the reasons for the paint deteriorating and how severe the problems are. The limitation is that not all paint surfaces are tested, just the ones that show signs of paint that is chipping or flaking. Because the risk assessment doesn't cover all paint surfaces, some homeowners choose to have both a lead-based paint inspection and a risk assessment.
The risk assessment usually includes the following items, and indicates ways to correct problems found.
- Looking for chipped, flaking and deteriorating paint around the home, inside and outside.
- Testing all paint surfaces showing any signs of deterioration.
- Testing paint on surfaces where it looks like a child has been biting or licking.
- Taking/testing dust samples from floors and windows.
- Taking/testing soil samples outside the home, in play areas and around the foundation (below painted wood surfaces).
- Testing the home's water supply.
Lead Hazard Screening
Lead hazard screening is usually done for houses considered to be low risk — in good condition, with little deteriorated paint and built after 1960. The assessor inspects areas of deterioration and collects two samples of dust, one from the floor and another from windows. Unless paint chips are found outside, a soil sample usually isn't collected. This type of lead paint testing identifies the probability of there being a risk, and when a risk is found, the report will recommend a full risk assessment.