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Most homes built before 1978 likely contain lead-based paint, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. If the lead paint is underneath layers of newer paint and does not need to be disturbed, it may not pose a health risk. But, the EPA advises, "deteriorating lead-based paint (peeling, chipping, chalking, cracking, damaged or damp) is a hazard and needs immediate attention." Especially if children live in or visit the home frequently, the lead paint should be removed to prevent childhood lead poisoning, which can cause damage to the brain and nervous system as well as slowed growth and development. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), “at least 4 million households have children living in them that are being exposed to high levels of lead. There are approximately half a million U.S. children ages 1–5 with blood lead levels above 5 micrograms per deciliter (µg/dL), the reference level at which CDC recommends public health actions be initiated.”

Depending on the condition of the lead painted surfaces, encapsulation may be an option and is less expensive than removal, which can cost $8–$15 per square foot. The extent of lead paint in a home determines the total cost, but average costs for lead paint removal are $5,000–$10,000 or more if the home has a lot of deteriorating lead paint that needs to be removed.

Testing

The EPA has verified two commercially available lead paint test kits to test for the presence of lead-based paint on wood, ferrous metal, plaster or drywall.

  • 3M LeadCheck Swabs, pack of two: $10–$13

  • KleanStrip D-Lead Paint Test Kit: $9–$13

A painting contractor can also test for the presence of lead paint.

Removal versus encapsulation

The cost to have a contractor remove lead paint depends on how much lead-based paint must be removed. Joe Hernandez of V&G Enterprises, a general contractor in Hamden, Connecticut, says removing lead paint can be extremely time-consuming. He estimates that lead paint removal increases the cost of a residential interior or exterior paint project by 20 percent to 50 percent. Wesley Arey, who owns J&A Painting with his father in Staunton, Virginia, agrees with that estimate, adding that lead paint removal on an exterior paint job is likely to add a few thousand dollars to the total cost. The process of laying drop cloths below the work area, scraping off the lead paint, then collecting and properly disposing of the lead paint shavings requires extreme care. Arey and his father are certified in the safe removal and disposal of lead paint, which is not unlike asbestos in the care required for remediation.

Encapsulation is another way to deal with lead paint. This process involves covering the lead paint with a specially formulated liquid compound, such as Dumond Lead Stop, which can be painted over with acrylic or latex paint. This method is typically much less expensive than removing the lead paint before repainting, but the encapsulation compound costs more than standard paint or primer—from $55–$75 per gallon, depending on the brand.

Additional carpentry work

If a home is really old, a lead paint removal project may include carpentry or restoration work. Arey of J&A Painting bids carpentry work at a rate of $30–$40 an hour for labor, plus the cost of materials such as lumber, paint, primer and so on. Carpentry costs can vary based on the extent of work needed and whether the painting contractor can do the work or a carpenter must be brought in.

Certification

Under the EPA’s Lead-Based Paint Renovation, Repair and Painting (RRP) Rule, beginning April 22, 2010, firms performing renovation, repair and painting projects that disturb lead-based paint in homes, child care facilities and kindergarten classrooms built before 1978 must be EPA- or state-certified and must use certified renovators who follow specific work practices to prevent lead contamination.

Additional precautions

When dealing with lead paint on a home’s exterior, Arey of J&A Painting says there are a variety of additional precautions to be aware of. For example, it’s not a good idea to use a pressure washer to clean the paint surface before repainting because that could disturb the lead and create a hazard. A contractor with experience in this area will know what to do and what not to do.

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