Most home inspectors do not have the specific licensing to test for lead-based paint. However, there are a few who do. Home inspectors take into account the age of the home when examining it, and note any areas or signs of lead-based paint in their reports. In spite of the fact that lead-based paint cannot specifically be spotted with the naked eye, based on the following information, homes of a certain age are considered likely to have lead-based paint or plumbing.
Lead was widely used in homes built before 1978. According to the EPA (link) it’s ranked as one of the most common causes of lead poisoning in the US as nearly 87% of homes built before 1940 contain lead-based paint. Homes built between 1960 and late 1970’s typically come in around the 24% mark.
So where does that leave a new homeowner or seller concerned about the paint containing lead?
Unfortunately, you cannot tell if there’s lead paint just by looking at it but you can deduce it’s likely due to the age of the home and other factors. The paint in a deteriorating form does provide a visual clue. When lead based paint ages, there’s one specific scaling pattern typically noticed. If you see a “scale-like” pattern in the worn paint you should suspect (along with age of home) it’s likely lead-based and may want to consider testing. The industry refers to this pattern in deteriorating lead paint as “alligatoring”. It is not unique to lead paint exclusively, but it can be reasonably deduced that the paint is old and the home is also, it’s most likely lead-based.
As a practical matter, most homes have been painted many times over, so the lead paint is contained beneath the layers and is not harmful when enclosed. It becomes harmful in a room where it’s chipping, cracking and particles are falling into living areas or soil.
Lead was used everywhere
Lead has been used in a variety of products, including paint used on children’s toys, ceramics, pipe and plumbing material. Exposure can even come from lead being in soil and getting into drinking water, due to corroding plumbing materials. Homes built prior to 1986 are more likely to have lead pipes, fixtures and solder. Antique lead crystal or lead glazed pottery or porcelain also contained higher levels of lead and should never be used to store food or liquids. The lead will leach from the container into the liquid or food.
Why Is Lead Paint Dangerous?
Lead is a known neurotoxin causing a variety of health problems and it is particularly dangerous to children causing behavioral, developmental and learning deficiencies. When absorbed in the body, it causes damage to the brain and other vital organs. Lead poisoning doesn’t have a single telltale symptom but early symptoms of lead paint exposure include headaches, nausea and fatigue, abdominal pain, muscle pain, loss of appetite, memory loss and more. Young children and pregnant women are at higher risk. Children mainly higher at risk because they spend a lot of time on floors and are often exposed from touching or ingesting paint chips or lead based paint dust from crumbling paint surfaces.
When is Lead Based Paint Dangerous?
Like asbestos in home and building materials, lead-based paint is the most dangerous when it deteriorates by chipping, cracking, peeling and putting particulate matter into your home. If your going to sand walls with this paint on it, the dust and flakes become airborne and most toxic if inhaled. Consider any DIY projects to include supplies like gloves and filtered masks. Larger renovations should consider sealing the area so the dust does not travel to other areas of the home and get into air ducts. Lead chipping from home exteriors falling into soil can contaminate the soil also.
The Governmental Ban on Lead-Based Paint
The government banned consumer use of lead-based paint in 1978. Although a fewer percentage of homes being built in late 70’s and early 1980’s have been known to use it, you can be reasonably assured that anything built between 1940-1959 is highly likely to contain lead-based paint unless it had been renovated and repainted. In 1992 Congress pass the Residential lead-based paint hazard reduction act.
This setup the requirement that the seller disclose any “known” information on the home containing lead based paint or lead based paint hazards before the sale of the home. This act includes leasing and rental units also. It applies to all rental and residential homes built before 1978.
Unfortunately, contractors who may have still had large inventory of this paint, continued to use it as it has been found in homes built as late as the 1990’s, although that is rarer than finding it in a home built prior to 1978.
What is Required In a Lead Disclosure?
- Provide an EPA approved pamphlet (link here) on identifying and controlling lead-based paint hazards. It’s called the “Protect Your Family From Lead In Your Home”
- Disclose any known information on lead-based paint or lead-based paint hazards. Sellers and landlords must disclose the location of the lead-based paint or hazards and the condition of the painted surfaces.
- Include a Lead Warning Statement to the contract or lease. This confirms the seller/landlord has satisfied all notification requirements.
- Sellers must allow a homebuyer a 10-day period to conduct a lead based paint inspection and assessment for lead based paint hazards. However, the seller and homebuyer can mutually agree, in writing, to shorten or lengthen the time period for this inspection. Homebuyers may waive this inspection.
- The party that owns the property is typically responsible for paying for lead testing.
Lead Based Paint Inspections: How Do Home Inspectors Test for Lead Paint?
Top Floor Home Inspection does not offer lead testing services, however there are specialty lead inspectors and equipment used to determine the safety of the paint in your home. We encourage a buyer to hire a qualified lead testing specialist if this is a concern.
There are 3 types of lead paint testing methods:
- Paint Chip sampling
- XRF (X-Ray Fluorescence) handheld machine
- Home Test Kits
Paint Chip Sampling
An EPA certified, lead based paint inspector will come to the home and may take paint chip samples from surfaces that are known or assumed to contain lead-based paint. This type of sampling requires at least a 4 inch square size of paint removal. The sample is then out to a lab for testing. If the lead in the sample exceeds .5% (5,000 parts per million lead by dry weight) the paint is considered to be lead-based.
XRF Handheld Machine
Less damaging to the surface, a lead paint inspector may start assessment by using a special hand held tool called an XRF analyzer that fires x-ray beams into paint samples and the results will determine how much lead is present. XRF is considered the best tool available to detect lead paint. It provides accurate and reliable measurements across different surfaces. It provides immediate results without damaging any painted surface and can test large number of areas in a home in a short period of time. The XRF is used by trained and certified lead inspectors.
Lead Paint Test Kits
There are home lead test kits available that a seller or homeowner can use to check the paint. The at home lead test kits use special chemicals that change color to indicate the presence of lead paint. They are not considered as accurate as testing samples or the XRF analyzer, but it’s a start.
The EPA recommends specific lead tests kits that have a less than 5% chance of showing a false negative result. Keep in mind, the kits only detect the lead in the outer layer of paint. Lead paint was often covered up by newer paint layers but it’s a start.
If you are considering buying a home that is older, it may have been renovated or there are years of paint applied covering any lead based paint. If it’s in good condition, the paint itself is not a hazard. The point at which it becomes dangerous is when it deteriorates or begins any flaking. Renovation becomes tricky in this situation also. If you plan on renovating you may want lead testing. The only way to truly know if an older home contains lead paint is through testing with a licensed lead inspection professional. Homebuyers can be reasonably sure a home built prior to the 70’s, will likely have lead based paint and perhaps even plumbing. Top Floor Home Inspection will inform you in your home inspection report if there are areas of concern or deterioration, and whether there is a likelihood of lead paint.
EPA RECOMMENDED LEAD PAINT TEST KITS
3M LeadCheck: The 3M LeadCheck test kit is the most affordable option we found, typically costing $14.99 and widely available at stores such as ACE hardware or Home Depot.
Sources of Lead Exposure: CDC information about childhood lead poisoning prevention.
WebMD: Testing for and Removing Lead Paint , Health Effects of Lead Exposure in children and Lead-based paint inspections.
Why Lead is Dangerous: 4 Health Concerns by the Cleveland Clinic