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Community and Q&A

What to do About Lead Paint on Siding

Michael Bluejay | Posted in Green Building Techniques on

I have a 1955 house that probably has lead in the exterior paint in the 7″ clapboard.  (I’m waiting on the test results.)  The paint is peeling.  It seems my options are:

(1) REMOVE THE LEAD PAINT.  This seems extremely labor-intensive if I do it myself and incredibly costly if I hire it out.

(2) REMOVE THE SIDING AND LANDFILL IT, then install brand-new siding.  Lots of flaking paint will get loose this way despite my best efforts.

(3) INSTALL NEW SIDING OVER THE EXISTING SIDING. (I’m thinking T1-11.).  The cheapest approach, but I don’t know if this is kosher.  The existing paint on the original layer will continue to peel, and possibly fall down through the cracks to the ground and lead to contamination.  (No pun intended.)  (Okay, maybe a little.)  I know I’d have to be careful with flashing the windows.

(4) PREP THE SIDING AND PAINT OVER IT.  My understanding is:  Wear P-100 mask and disposable suit, catch all shavings on tarps, do not pressure-wash afterwards.  This would probably be my choice if I can’t side over the existing siding.

Thoughts?

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Replies

  1. Austin G | | #1

    I would just paint over it. Scrape only the areas that are the absolute worst. They make some incredible primers anymore than can make a paintable surface out of just about anything.

  2. Michael Bluejay | | #2

    My wife really wants me to put fiber-cement T1-11 over the existing peeling wood lap, unless that's contraindicated, so I'm hoping to get some more opinions on whether that's a good or bad idea and why.

  3. Jason S. | | #3

    "...waiting on test results" Why wait-- the box stores definitely carry single-use lead tests. They look like little markers. Red means lead.

    Wear PPE while scraping, prep and repaint. Siding over the existing would complicate trim. Removing the siding will scatter dust everywhere. Attempting to wholly remove the paint from the siding sounds like an exercise in futility.

  4. Walter Ahlgrim | | #4

    From what I understand lead exposure is a big deal if you are a child not so much if you are an adult. If a child is living in the home any attempt to remove the lead is very likely to create the most lead dust and the highest possible exposure to the child.

    If you have a child the best idea is not to live in a house built before 1980.

    If the child most live thru remediation encapsulation of the lead is the next best idea.

    Walta

    1. Andy S | | #9

      Not true. Lead exposure at all ages can still cause some serious health issues like chronic fatigue and cognitive impairments. It's worse in children because it can also cause developmental deficiencies on top of the other lead related health impacts.

  5. 1910duplex | | #5

    We don't have lead on our exterior walls, thank god, but did have badly peeling paint on the exterior trim around our windows. Around here, the most common solution for that is to cap that trim with aluminum siding.

    Instead, we hired painters to scrape what would come off, then use lead-encapsulating primer and paint over. You can definitely still see remnants of old paint under the new job.
    That was second floor and above. We tackled first floor ourselves, with chemical stripper, and for the stubborn bits we couldn't get off, a paste to feather the high bits, then lead-encapsulating primer and painted over.

    It.Was.So.Much.Work. And even though we removed every bit of lead paint visible to the eye inside the window tracks, I can still see lead paint dust sometimes.

    My questions for you are these:
    Is this a safety issue for your kids/future kids? If so, I would say replacing windows or spending $$$ on a FULL restoration of original windows (where they take them out and chemically dip) is the most important step.

    Exterior lead dust caused by scraping or removing siding can be handled with lots of heavy duty plastic on the ground, and as long as you're not putting a sandbox or leaving bare dirt near those walls, it's going to probably be okay in the future.

    You have the right idea on technique for #4 (we wore the full moon suits, n-95s, which our hired guys did not), but aesthetically, it's not going to look as good as new siding.

    fwiw.

  6. Expert Member
    Kohta Ueno | | #6

    You didn't mention the option of any exterior insulation/overclad, so I'm guessing that's not under consideration. But if you were considering it, encapsulating the lead paint behind insulation would be an option. I have commonly seen spray foam used as a 'bombproof encapsulation' option (i.e., flaking paint won't 'filter out of the wall' over time)... but of course, there are the negatives of spray foam to consider. But more information on this type of retrofit here:

    What Would John Straube Do? (NESEA 2009)
    https://www.buildingscience.com/sites/default/files/Straube-WWJSD.pdf

    BSI-048: Exterior Spray Foam
    https://www.buildingscience.com/documents/insights/bsi-048-exterior-spray-foam

  7. Michael Bluejay | | #7

    @Jason S.: I bought multiple of the lead test pens at Home Depot and every single one failed the verification that the test was a good test. I could buy even more, but I'm not gonna trust this important decision to a sketchy product. I don't intend to remove the lead, for the reasons I mentioned: too much time or money.

    @Waltel Ahlgrim: Lead is unquestionably dangerous for adults as well as children. The science says it can cause cardiovascular effects, increased blood pressure and incidence of hypertension, decreased kidney function, reproductive problems, abdominal pain, depression, cognitive issues, and nausea. Look it up on EPA and CDC, for starters.

    @1910duplex: The house is currently vacant, and I'm not gonna make my decision based on the age of the expected occupants. Occupants can change, and lead is dangerous to even adults as well as children.

    @上野さん: Extra insulation is out for me because of the cost.

    My question now is, is siding over the existing siding safe, or should I scrape what's flaking and put on a thick specialty primer?

    1. Austin G | | #8

      Siding over the top without encapsulation seems to me that it would do very little if you’re that concerned about lead exposure. Sure it will prevent someone touching the exterior... but how often are you physically touching the exterior?

      Encapsulation with primer/paint will seal the dust and particulate.

    2. Andy S | | #10

      T1-11 over siding is not a good idea mainly because, well...it's ugly AF! If it's a 1950's house with 7" lap, that's probably really nice tight grain knot free cedar. The house was also probably designed to have horizontal lap siding so having vertical panels will change the look and most likely not for the better.
      Beyond the aesthetic impact, there are real practical challenges applying sheathing, let alone flimsy T1-11 sheets over an uneven surface. There are also any trim intersections to deal with and I suspect even if you get them perfect they won't be able to keep water from getting under the T1-11.
      My own house is a 1940's single story with horizontal lap and had pealing lead paint when we bought it. I scraped and painted the worst parts as a band aid to hold for a few years, but finally stripped and repainted the whole thing myself a few years ago. I tried the less toxic removers, the scrapers, a specialty grinder, and wound up using a heat gun for most of it. I know that's not for everyone, but in my case the heat gun was the fastest and most effective method and got through many layers of paint and down to bare wood rather quickly. A little sanding (with a HEPA vacuum attached) and the wood was like new. I'd also advise to pick your battles, as in the back of the garage that's covered by bushes and never seen might not need the same level of attention as the front of the house around the entry.

    3. Walter Ahlgrim | | #11

      I did not see it if you answered the question is there a child living in the house?

      I have no doubt that some level of lead is bad for adults it is just that almost no sensible person knowing exposes themselves to that much.

      The question is if you are so concerned, why would you ever even consider living in or near an old house.

      Walta

  8. Andy S | | #12

    Walter, of course nobody would knowingly expose themselves to lead (unless they were very cavalier about the danger). But it's not intentional overexposure we're concerned with here. Lead gets in adults through breathing in the dust of the lead paint that has fallen off and gotten ground up in the dirt around the house and then kicked up or tracked inside. It's not a huge exposure at once, but a small exposure that builds up over an extended period. Just like radon and other pollutants, it's consistent small exposures that can cause cumulative harm.
    That also doesn't mean we have to avoid all old homes, just that we should take reasonable precautions so that we don't create unnecessary hazards.

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