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Community and Q&A

Making a House with Lead Paint Safe

leadphobe | Posted in General Questions on

Attention other lead-phobes – this question is for you.

As a father of young children, I’m really afraid of lead paint.  It seems in old houses, even if the most of the paint is in good condition, there are always crevasses and corners where deteriorating paint can be found, contributing to contamination by lead dust and small particles within the home.  Unfortunately, 95% of the single family housing stock in our area of the upper midwest was build in the 1920s or earlier.  Given this, I think my family has three options for future housing:

1) Keep renting our safe 1980s apartment and acknowledge that many kids grow up without a backyard and they are fine.

2) Buy an old house, ideally with a brick exterior and poor interior condition, and fully gut the interior.  However, I really doubt we could afford to do this.

3) Buy an old house and try to meticulously rehab the interior.  This option is what I would like to ask about.

I am wondering if anyone could speak to their experiencing rehabbing an older home to make sure with a high degree of certainty that all lead paint is encapsulated such that there is no generation of lead particulates.

I’m well aware of the standard advice about how to do lead safe work and focusing on high friction areas like windows and doors.  I’m looking for other extremely contentious people who may have gone so far as sealing the cut edges of wall/ceiling penetrations and underneath baseboards in order to be sure there is no friable paint able to migrate into the living area.

Even better, has anyone done serial dust wipe testing in their home to confirm the efficacy of their efforts?  I’m interested in any seemingly above-and-beyond efforts folks have used to get in-home lead levels as close to zero as possible.  Unless I can convince myself that this is possible, I think we are staying in our 1980s apartment.

Thank you!

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  1. walta100 | | #1

    Can any hazard be taken to zero?

    I say no, the dumb things people do knows no bounds.

    Seems to me there must be homes for sale that are less than 40 years old as on average we move every 7 years


  2. GBA Editor
    Kiley Jacques | | #2

    Hi Leadphobe,

    This article is rich with resources and advice for how to deal with homes that have lead paint: Managing Lead Paint Hazards . Perhaps the most salient takeaway: “If you want to permanently remove lead-based paint from your home, you should contact a certified lead abatement contractor. Don’t try to do the work yourself.”

  3. twoodson | | #3

    Having gut rehabbed a 115 year old house with lead paint everywhere and watched certified pros do the same, I can say it’s probably not safe for children at the level of protection a DIYer or the average pro can provide if you are living in the building. Said differently, consider doing something between gut rehab and DIY. Buy something and have the windows and obvious “fryable” internal and exterior trim replaced (It’s a fools errand I have run many time to strip most of these details. Replacing is both easier and cheaper.). Clean meticulously before moving in with TSP.

    1. jonny_h | | #4

      As I'm in the middle of remodeling a leaded mess, I looked up your recommendation to clean with TSP and came across a study from the EPA: -- The key takeaway is that phosphate content isn't actually related to lead removal efficacy, and most common cleaning agents would work:

      "Based on the primary conclusions of this study, EPA recommends that either a general all-purpose cleaner or a cleaner made specifically for lead should be used for both general cleaning and for post-intervention cleaning. Household cleaning using one of these cleaning agents is likely to remove more leaded soil and dust than does water alone. Finally, the study indicates that the effort put into the cleaning may be more important than the choice of cleaner."

      Other precautions: Look up EPA RRP requirements. Obviously put plastic down to contain as much as you can. Get a garden mister and wet down areas while working to keep the dust down. Use PPE -- not just a dust mask -- I'm using a half-mask respirator with P100 filters. And get an actual HEPA vacuum to clean up -- not any old vacuum with a "HEPA filter". There are "OSHA / EPA RRP compliant" kits for some shop-vacs, usually including both a certain filter and bag, and that'd be the minimum -- I've got a Rigid shopvac with the HEPA kit for, like, vaccuming big chunks from siding removal. I also have a couple of more professional-grade HEPA vacs made by Nilfisk. You want to look for something that talks about its filtration class, has instructions on using it with hazardous materials, and has an individually tested and certified HEPA filter. They're expensive, but can give you piece of mind that your vacuum isn't just spewing the finest / worst dust back into the air. My family is also living somewhere else, and I shower and put on clean clothes after working (and then shower again later), and wash my work clothes twice in a different washing machine. Also wore a disposable Tyvek suit for the actual lead-painted-siding removal part. Everything will be extensively cleaned before we move back in, I'll be doing a lot of testing, and honestly at some point I'll probably remove soil around the house and replace it with new topsoil -- I know some paint has escaped my precautions, and I'm also certain that over the past 65 years, precautions definitely weren't taken.

      After an asbestos fiasco using a "professional" remediation firm, and getting very little interest in the project from other lead remediation firms, I just decided to do it myself. I wish I could have paid someone to just take care of it and have complete confidence that it'd be done right, but that doesn't seem to be a thing in my area -- but more than that, I wish that I had just built a new house on a clean site!

  4. andy_ | | #5

    A couple other points on vacuuming to add...
    That Ridgid (or really any) shop vac with the HEPA filters can blast lead dust off the floor and all over the house if you're not careful where the exhaust is pointed. The back end will be blowing a lot of air around. You can mitigate it by running another vac hose off the rear port and outside (assuming you've got the HEPA filter and bag so you're not just moving the lead dust outside). You can also leave the vac outside the space and run a hose extension.
    A dust separator connected before the vacuum is nice too since it cuts down significantly on how much debris even makes it to the bag and filter.
    Another key tool is the air scrubber. Besides removing the particles in the air, set up correctly with some dust barriers it will generate negative pressure in the work space so the dust is less likely to move to the rest of the living area.

  5. 1910duplex | | #6

    I sadly, have a lot of experience with this, living in a 1910 house which had failing lead paint on exterior wood trim, as well as failing lead paint in some places in the basement, and non-failing lead paint in kitchen.

    Unless you replace the original windows (or do a total-removal dip strip) you cannot get rid of lead dust in window wells is my experience now that I've done an intense amount of stripping in the parts of the window wells/window frames I could reach.

    That said, there are things you can do. I put rubber treads on all the steps to the basement so there is no contact between feet and painted surface. I was told by a lead abatement professional that wiping the window wells with 409 weekly is a great way to cut down on the hazard.

    I think if you tested all the door frames during a house tour (there are electronic doohickeys that can do this without cutting into it and rubbing the tester on it) and the house already had replacement windows on it, and you don't see failing paint, you can feel pretty good about it. There is lead encapsulating primer that is good for 20 years that works well on non-failing painted surfaces that have a lead layer somewhere. That can work on walls or trim that are not going to be facing friction from doors.

  6. twoodson | | #7

    I would also say, having your children tested for lead exposure on a regular basis is a good idea. Even if you liven a lead-free home, there is no guarantee they won’t end up playing in a sandbox at a friends house where someone decided to recycle their deteriorated lead painted plaster walls in 40 years ago.

  7. leadphobe | | #8

    Thank you all so much - your insight and experience is greatly appreciated.

  8. Expert Member
    NICK KEENAN | | #9

    If you don't have enough to worry about --- another thing to check is the lead content of the soil outside. If the house was painted regularly with lead paint for a century or so a lot of that paint ends up on the ground as it wears off. And kids eat dirt.

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