Lead Testing for Homeowners

Reasons for testing an entire house for lead:

To look at this house it is difficult to imagine that it contains lead. This homeowner had his house tested by a Lead Based Paint Inspector using an XRF Analyzer before he began remodeling.

Homeowners testing the house they occupy. Lead based paint was banned in 1978. According to the EPA houses built from 1960 to 1977 have a 24% chance of having lead based paint. Houses built prior to 1960 are much more likely to have lead based paint.

Small amounts of lead dust from the old paint can cause significant health problems for people of all ages, but especially for children under six years of age or pregnant women. Even pets can track it into the house from the outside. Even if a house was built in 1976 and no lead based paint was used at the time it was built, a previous owner could have repainted the house or a part of it using lead based paint after the fact and there is no record of it.

We tested one house built in 1976 (picture on the right) and confirmed there was no lead based paint anywhere except on one wall in the infants bedroom next to the crib. That wall had been painted as an accent wall well after the house was built.

Homeowners should test their own houses if they have any concerns about what their exposure may be to this hazardous material. To see a full list of health threats go to EPA.gov/lead.

Another reason homeowners should test the house they occupy - most remodeling projects (anything that disturbs more than six square feet of a painted surface in any room inside the house or 20 square feet outside the house - see RRP rule at the EPA website for a full description) in pre 1978 target housing requires an EPA certified remodeling firm and EPA certified workman to do the work using lead safe work practices unless the work area has been proven not to contain lead by a certified remodeler using renovator test kits or a certified lead paint inspector/risk assessor using the XRF or paint chip collection. Even removing a component over 6 square feet such as a kitchen cabinet, window or bathroom cabinet from a painted wall constitutes a 6 square foot disturbance in the paint.

Renovator test kits are typically chemical tests that require cutting and scraping the painted surface of all components that are affected by a remodel to apply the chemical through the old layers of paint and then you wait for a color change to determine the presence of lead. Every testing location must be documented with the serial number of the kit used and a copy of the renovator certificate of the worker who conducted the test, along with the results of each test. The homeowner must pass this information on to the next purchaser of the house. These tests are completely accurate when the test report says there is no lead. However these tests are not always accurate when it results in a positive. This is called a false positive reading. If the less sophisticated renovator test kit can’t tell if there is lead in the paint, it will simply result in a positive reading to be safe. Then the renovator will have to follow all of the work practices laid out as if there is lead present and the homeowner will now have a false positive lead reading to transfer with the house. These test kits also cannot test all the different substrates in a house and are not intended for whole house test, just limited remodel.

A lot of contractors think you don’t need lead containment when taking out unpainted cabinets or even unpainted windows because they are not disturbing over 6 square feet of painted surface. The truth is if the cabinet is connected to a painted wall and the cabinet is over 6 square feet then containment is required unless you confirm there is no lead in any of these surfaces. In bathroom remodeling, the tub is over 6 square feet and cannot be removed from the other connected substrates without containment and expensive recordkeeping unless they are proven not to contain lead.

In summary, renovator test kits are destructive to painted surfaces, can give false positives and have to be conducted over and over again at the homeowner’s expense every time a homeowner wants to remodel something.

To do a one-time whole-house test with an XRF is the least destructive, accurate, fastest and most comprehensive way to know exactly where, if any, lead exists in your house. For example, it is more common to find lead paint on the outside of a house than on the inside because it was used more often on the exterior because of the lead paint’s durability against the elements. Just knowing and proving where the lead is or isn’t can save a lot of time, money, stress and record keeping.