Renovating Homes with Lead Paint

By Heather Rose

Lead paint is relatively common in older houses and the disturbances caused by renovation can be disastrous. Lead was primarily used as a pigmentation agent in most oil paints and a few latex paints until the early 1950’s and as a drying agent into the late 1970’s when governments finally limited the lead content allowed in interior paints. Exterior paints were given warning labels if they exceeded a similar limit, but it is estimated that some exterior paints were up to 70 per cent lead by weight. Currently most Canadian paints do not allow lead to be added at all.

If your house was built before 1980 you may have lead paint on your walls. If it was built before 1950, you most definitely do. There are testing kits that can determine if you have lead paint available at large hardware or health food stores. These kits can also be used on other household surfaces to test for the presence of lead.

If you intend to renovate your home and it may or does contain lead paint, there are a few things to consider – particularly the fact that every method of removing lead paint is dangerous to a degree. The agitation of lead paint creates a deadly dust, which can already be present in high-friction formations like door and window frames.   The safest and wisest course of action is to hire a contractor that specializes in lead and asbestos removal and who adheres to proper industry standards. Replacing small lead-coated things yourself is possible, but health authorities warn not to attempt anything yourself that involves more than a few square feet of material. Some of these smaller items can include radiator panels and door and window frames.  One of the more damaging things that can be done is covering up the lead paint with new paint. Not only can the new paint cause chips or flaking, but preparing for decent coverage involves sanding and other activities that produce dust. Sealing the lead paint with a liquid epoxy that encapsulates and traps the paint preventing future chipping is a better option.

During the renovating or lead paint removal it is especially important to protect family members and belongings from lead dust and perform an intensively thorough clean up afterwords with the use of a HEPA filter vacuum. Pregnant women and children should be removed from the premises completely until renovations are complete.

Has your child been exposed to lead paint? Lead poisoning can produce flu-like symptoms or even none at all. Children are at a higher risk because they play closer to the ground, are often putting their hands in their mouths and have a faster metabolism therefore absorbing things faster. Ways that increase your family’s risk of being exposed include living in a pre-1960’s house with peeling paint or spending a great amount of time in a building (day care, school, business, etc.) with such, regularly visiting or living in a remodeled house and being in close proximity with exposed people who may carry dust on their clothing.

Heather Rose is a Toronto based Journalist, who is a regular contributor to the Muddy York Real Estate Blog.  Heather website is located at


One response to “Renovating Homes with Lead Paint

  1. Great post! If you are not already aware, in April 2010 the EPA is implementing new requirements for working with houses containing lead dust. It is important to remember the EPA’s recommendations for a lead safe work environment. Remember to follow these simple procedures:

    1. Contain the work area. Take steps to seal off the work area so that dust and debris do not escape. Warning signs should be put up and heavy-duty plastic and tape should be used to cover the floors and furniture and seal off doors and heating and cooling system vents.

    2. Minimize dust. Use work practices that minimize the dust generated during renovation and repair by using water to mist areas before sanding or scraping; scoring paint before separating components; and prying and pulling apart components instead of breaking them. Dangerous practices such as open flame burning or torching and using power tools without HEPA vacuum attachments are prohibited by the rule because they generate large amounts of lead-contaminated dust.

    3. Clean up thoroughly. Work diligently every day to keep the work area as clean as possible. When all the work is done, the area should be cleaned up using special cleaning methods including the use of a HEPA vacuum and wet mopping.

    4. Clearance testing. Using a clean rag, wipe the floor of the work area to test if the work area is completely clean. April is right around the corner and certain elements are required now. If you don’t currently have a containment system in use, or if yours is slow to install, check out ZipWall’s new ZipPole system, it is priced at $179 for four 10′ poles, a zipper pack and carrying bag, that’s about half the price of the Original ZipWall Portable Containment System, a great savings. ZipPole URL.. It is a great system for jobs with ceilings up to 10′. Check out the details here:

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