Before remodeling an older home, you must have it inspected for lead-based paint. Here’s how to administer the test yourself, and what to do with the results.
In the early days, lead was added to paint to provide durability, the more lead the better the paint. Lead amounts in paint ranged up to 50 per cent. After 1965, the recommended amount of lead in paint was reduced from 50 percent to 1 percent. It was further reduced to 0.25 percent in 1992, and then to 0.1 percent in 1997.
Lead paint is generally not dangerous in its dried state adhered to the walls, but it becomes a hazard when its scraped off and ingested, or inhaled as dust. Lead is a highly toxic metal that can cause a range of health and neurological problems. Young children under six are especially susceptible, as lead can easily be absorbed into their systems and hinder the development of their brain and organs. Pregnant women are also at risk as lead can pass from the placenta and poison the unborn foetus.
To assuage concerns regarding lead paint in your home, you can hire a professional inspector who will provide a report of the lead levels in and around your home. They can often test soil and dirt and give on the spot lead paint results using a x-ray fluorescence machine. A cheaper alternative, though, is to do it yourself.
Testing Kit Options
Instead of hiring a professional inspector, you can buy a DIY lead paint testing kit for $25. There is only one widely available and EPA-approved kit: the 3M Lead Check Swabs. However if you're willing to fork out a bit more, the Klean-Strip D-Lead Paint testing kit will do the job as well and is available from Amazon.
Both kits employs colour change technology, to provide you with easy to read results in just a few minutes. The Klean-Strip kit is more expensive but is EPA-certified to test both hard (wood trim) and soft (drywall) materials. The colour coded comparison on the Klean-Strip kit shows increments of lead amounts, whereas the 3M kit only shows lead positive or negative. The Klean-Strip kit has a shelf life, so make sure you check the expiration date before using it. The kit provides strips to ensure that it's still valid.
The Klean-Strip kit has everything you need for six test samples and the 3M kit comes in packs of two, eight, and 48 on Amazon.
How to Test Your Paint
To use the Klean-Strip kit shown above, start by using the wipes to clean the surface of the area to be tested, as well as your testing tools (razor blade and scoring tool). Choose an area behind a door or inside a closet to test, as you won't notice a bit of paint missing from the wall and it's less likely to peel away more in a low-traffic area. Attach the included paint chip catch card to the wall and use your scoring tool to start the cut just above the catching card.
Then use the razor blade and remove the paint chip from the wall. You need to make sure and remove not just the surface paint, but any layers below, since the house may have been repainted with non-lead paint many times.
This kit requires a mix of two solutions. Cut the paint chip into about four small pieces and drop them into solution number one. Shake solution number one for 10 seconds, then add five drops of solution number two, and shake again for 10 seconds.
The solution will change colour and you can measure your results against a handy colour coded viewer that's right on the bottle. If the solution is darker than the test colour there is a good possibility your paint has lead in it. There is also another strip to drop into the solution to verify.
This is a very easy test to do and only takes a few minutes.
Here's a demonstration of how to use the 3M lead check swab kit:
The Results Are In
If your test comes back negative for lead paint, then you can green light any remodeling plans with no issue and not be as concerned with general exposure to dust.
If the test signifies that you have lead paint in your home, there's no need to panic, but you need to make sure your contractors have the additional training required to work on homes where lead may be present. You should also test any children in the home for lead exposure. It's a simple blood test that can be administered by your pediatrician.
Do not attempt to remove any lead paint yourself. Consider having your home tested again by a professional risk assessor. They can provide more scientific evidence as to the amount of lead in your home and make lifestyle recommendations based on their findings.