Old houses can be beautiful and unique, but there are a few things you should know before you take on a new renovation or house-painting project.

This is a post written to those people who either have bought an old house or are thinking of buying one and then either painting it or renovating it.

One of the most important things you have to worry about is your health when it comes to homes that are older. Yes, buying an old house is exciting, old homes have standing, character and a distinct style. Additionally, you are doing something worthwhile; you are becoming a part of a community that restores a part of our history. Still, here is the thing. People with newer homes do not have the same issues as homeowners of older homes, and you need to be prepared. 

In fact, one of the most important issues that you might be facing, and one of the most dangerous is lead poisoning caused by misinformation and not implementing lead paint safety actions. How is that? It’s a fact. Many old homes still have old paint on the walls, windowsills, doors, stairs and even ceilings, and that paint might be full of lead. Therefore, the issue we want to talk about here is knowing how to identify and deal with lead paint problems in older homes, but first you need to understand what lead poisoning is and how it can affect the youngest of your family members the most. 

What is Lead Poisoning?

Lead is a very toxic metal that can be poisonous and causes serious illness, in some cases even death. Ingestion of lead causes these serious issues, and the worst part is that lead builds up in the body and causes all sorts of health problems. 

What Products Contain Lead

Manufacturers use lead for industrial purposes, and that is ok. However, its use has been banned in homes or household products. Still it has only been about 30 years since lead was banned in house paint, and even then, it was often used in other products such as;

  • Paint
  • Art supplies
  • Some Petroleum products
  • Old House (paint) Dust

To this day, professional contractors frequently deal with lead paint removal to prevent this terrible poisoning, which can occur over months and years. Lead poison is a serious issue as it causes serious mental and physical issues in people of all ages, but affects children and pets the most. 

How Do Children Ingest Lead?

Children get lead in their bodies by placing objects that contain lead (paint) in their mouth or by chewing, licking or touching objects that have lead (window seals, door panels, furniture, walls, etc.). Studies now show that lead harms children and animals more than it does adults because their brains and nervous systems are in development. Medical investigations have found that children absorb as much as 50% of lead, while adults only absorb a tenth of that. 

Another problem with lead ingestion is that it is slow acting, so you may not realize your child or pet has been affected until he/she presents serious mental or nervous system issues. The good news is that lead poisoning can be treated but damage that lead causes cannot be reversed.

Lead Paint is an Important Consideration When Renovating

So why is this important if you are buying or renovating a home? Well, you may know about asbestos, but did you know that many older homes were painted with lead paint? This old paint can be a health risk to the people that live in the home. 

If you are renovating or even gearing up for a good maintenance job for your home, you need to be aware of the risks you take, especially in homes built before 1970. Homes that are this old can continue to have this paint, and they require special attention when removing or making it safe for children, pets and adults.  

Note that breathing or ingesting lead paint flakes or dust can lead-to-lead poisoning, which can damage all of your organs. These are just a few of the negative effects it can cause:

  • Kidney damage
  • Blood problems
  • Brain damage
  • Infertility
  • Miscarriage
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Anemia
  • Cognitive damage in children
  • Delayed puberty
  • Immune deficiency

What are the Symptoms of Lead Paint Poisoning?

Ingesting lead from flaking paint is a high dose of poison because lead grows in the body. The poisoning results in emergency symptoms that come on suddenly and unexpectedly. The symptoms might include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Vomiting
  • Weakness and muscle problems
  • Problems with walking
  • Seizure
  • In worse cases coma

When a person has these symptoms, they are the result of severe lead exposure, and remember we said that children and animals are the most susceptible. This means that you do not necessarily have to have lead paint flying all around for your child to experience these symptoms. Simply touching, eating, or ingesting small lead paint flakes can cause these symptoms. 

What is the Cure for Lead Paint Ingestion?

The first thing you need to do to treat lead poisoning is to find and remove the source. Therefore, if you have just bought an older home, one that was built before 1978, you need to check the paint and remove it. However, if it can’t be removed, then you need to seal it. Moreover, the best way to do this is to call in a professional painting contractor to help. 

If the lead poisoning is severe, you need medical emergency services where they will bind the lead through activated charcoal binding treatment. Even so, you should note that even with treatment, you might not be able to fully reverse the effects of the lead exposure. 

Prevention is Key 

Now that you have heard the worst of it, you gotta know that lead poisoning is totally preventable, even in older homes, and the fix is easy. You just need to get a professional contractor to come in and either remove the old lead paint for you, or at the very least, seal off that old lead paint and prevent chipping or dust from getting into the air where you, your children or your pets can breath it in and get this horrible illness caused by poison. 

Where Do You Start? 

The first thing you need to do is to determine if your home has or could have old lead paint. This can be paint on the walls, the doors, window seals and even the ceiling. Ok so let’s rule out the easiest determining factor. How old is your home? This is a very important factor, when your home is newer than 1978, then you really don’t have to worry about this problem. Painting contractors and builders stopped using lead based paint after 1978. 

Does my home have lead paint?

The dangers of lead paint were not known until the late 1970s, and this type of paint was banned from home use in 1978. However, before this time lead was a common ingredient in house paint. Prior to 1960, almost 70% of all homes used lead paint, and after that about 30% of all homes had lead paint until 1978, when its use was banned in the U.S. If you are questioning if your home might contain lead paint, you can get it tested by a home inspector, or you can test it yourself by purchasing a lead testing kit from your local hardware store. 

The census bureau lists more than 40 million homes built in and around 1950s and even more in the following decades. This means that the chances are high that many of these older homes still contain lead paint, and that can be a problem. 

What To Do About Lead Paint? 

Initial Inspection - The first thing you should do, especially if you are new to the older home is do an initial inspection. In fact, if you are in the buying stage, you should get a thorough professional inspection. If you already own the home, do a walk through, inspect your windowsills, your doors, walls, trim. Check for flaking paint, move your window dressings and see if there is some dust in the air. This means there is paint dust in the air. Now you need to determine if this paint dust has lead. 

How Do You Test for Lead Paint? 

Before you start your renovation project, test the paint on the walls, both exterior and interior, for lead. Note, lead paint only becomes a danger when it is disturbed or damaged. If you see flaking ur chalky flakes you need to test as the paint may be leaving lead contaminates in the house and these can go airborne and may cause health issues with you or your family. Here are a few ways you can conduct a test.

  1. Use a test kit. These products are available at your local hardware store. They are very simple to use, just follow the instructions and the test will indicate whether lead is present at 0.5% or more.
  2. Use an XRF machine which gives an instant and accurate reading for lead content.
  3. If both of these options seem a little too over the top (and expensive), call in a professional painting contractor who has special testing equipment for lead contaminants.

How Much Does Lead Testing Cost? 

As we mentioned before, you can test for lead paint using a kit you pick up at a hardware store for about $60, but you need to know that this is not an official evaluation method approved by the EPA, and according to them, these tests can fail. One of the reasons for the unreliable results is that the lead paint is buried under a few layers of non-lead paint. 

If there is lead in your home, that does not mean you necessarily have to remove it. There are no laws that require you to take it out, but you do need to manage it and keep it from harming your family. You manage the problem of lead paint in your home by using appropriate lead-safe work practices, and hiring a professional   contractor to minimize your risk. 

Lead Safe Vs.. Lead-Free

A lead free home does not have any lead in the house, whereas a lead-safe home may have lead but it does not represent a danger to the household members. 

Will Removing the Lead Paint Increase the Value of the Home?  

The issue and risks people experience in older homes is not very well known at this point. But that is changing, and more people are becoming aware of the risk of lead paint poisoning. In turn, this will create the demand for lead-free homes. 

Lead Paint is Not A Danger Unless... 

Lead paint is only dangerous if it is flaking or becomes chalky. If the paint in the older home is in good shape then there may not be a need to do anything. However, if the paint is in bad condition your best recourse is to get a professional in to repaint your home and either remove or seal int he lead paint and eliminate the health risks.

  • Damaged paint may easily cause health issues you are not prepared to deal with. If this is the case in your home, then your best course of action is to call in a professional painter. Of course, it is not impossible to remove the paint yourself. However, the process is complicated and will require special safety equipment and a lot of time on your part

You should also note that the removal of lead paint requires proper disposal methods. Obvious paint removal methods such as scraping, sanding or using heat guns is not appropriate in this case and will usually increase the problem of lead flakes becoming airborne.

​Renovating a house with lead paint

If you plan on doing a renovation and you suspect lead paint then you need to consider how you will get it removed, and if it is a substantial amount of paint, you really need a professional to manage the removal process. 

Bottom Line

Don’t get into trouble here. An older home is lovely, a real piece of American history and while you can handle much of the renovation work, you don’t want to deal with the paint. This is an area you want solved by painting professionals, and you can always consult with the Boston Painting Co pros. They will know how to remove and safely dispose of lead pain left in the home.