Older homes—they don’t make ’em like that anymore. Most buyers or renters of older homes prize a quality of construction that’s often missing in more modern homes. However, older homes can present hazards too, and the most significant one is lead paint.
Paint Has Been Lead-Free Since 1978
Lead was widely used in house paints before it was pretty much regulated away in 1978. As a result, if you buy a house that was built before 1980 you have to assume that there’s lead in the paint. (Why 1980? Because you have to assume that houses built in 1979 and 1980 might have been painted with stored-up paint.)
An EPA Brochure Is Required
As a result, if you buy or rent an older home, the seller or landlord has to offer you a lead-paint brochure called Protect Your Family From Lead in Your Home. This brochure, put together by the Environmental Protection Agency, tells you about the potential dangers of lead paint, including infertility, headaches, delayed growth in children, and high blood pressure.
Knowledge Of Lead Paint Must Be Disclosed
The seller or landlord also has to disclose whether he or she has any actual knowledge of lead in the home. I’ve been a real estate agent for a few years, and I can tell you one not-very-surprising thing: Sellers and landlords never seem to have any actual knowledge of lead.
Undisturbed Paint Is Usually Safe
That’s the bad news. The good news is that lead in undisturbed paint is usually okay. It’s not like asbestos, where you have to make plans to get it removed; on the contrary, this is one case where it’s better to let sleeping dogs lie. In fact, I don’t usually advise my buyer clients to even test for lead. (The EPA booklet goes out of its way to point out that home-based lead-testing kits may not work).
Lead Poses The Biggest Risk To Children
The big exception to letting lead paint be is when you have kids, especially little ones. The danger in lead paint is when it chips and gets into the air, or when you eat it. As a result, it’s not usually a problem for adults, because we don’t go around chipping paint and licking it off walls. Toddlers, however, do.
Be Careful With Renovations
So if you’re buying an older home, and you have kids under, say, six years old, budget to remove chipping paint, and to paint over any ancient pre-existing paint. If you decide to do a restoration, do the expensive kind, where your contractors wear respiratory masks and screen off the renovated area with tarps.The EPA has a list of contractors approved to work with lead paint on its website.
Tell us in the comments: Have you ever painted a room or a home? How did you choose which paint to use?