If you got a sweet deal on a fixer-upper that was built before 1978, chances are you're going come across lead paint somewhere in the house. Beautifully painted window trim that tests positive for lead paint isn't necessarily the end of the world — but it quickly becomes a problem when the paint starts to deteriorate and chips or flakes away. So if you happen to have a flaky window sill you're suspicious of, give it a quick test and don't fear the results. You've got a lot of options for taking care of this potentially hazardous problem.
Important: There are many ways to DIY this, but read all you can beforehand about the best method for your home, and assume an appropriate level of risk management for yourself and your family. And don't do anything yourself if you're pregnant, or while your kids are home.
1. Call in the Pros
If it's in the budget, call in the pros. Years of experience will help them quickly determine the best way to tackle your issue. They may suggest any of the methods below — but it will cost you. The upside? You aren't exposing yourself to any of the potentially hazardous materials. Letting a pro handle the extraction, and controlling the environment while they are doing so, is really the only way to be sure you don't expose yourself and your family.
This method is essentially covering up anything that is painted with lead-based paint. If your plaster walls test positive: cover them with new drywall. If the trim or siding on the outside of your home tests positive, cover them with aluminum or vinyl. The problem is still there, but it can't really cause harm if it's completely enclosed. While this method is acceptable, you'll still have to notify potential buyers that you have enclosed lead-based paint under certain layers in your home, should you ever decide to sell.
Looking for the easiest method? This is it. A gallon of encapsulation paint will run you $50 and up, but if you do it yourself, this ends up being the most cost-effective method. The encapsulate creates a watertight bond and seals in the lead-based paint. The instructions on the paint usually involve a decent amount of prep work but, after those steps are taken, all that's left to do is paint over the effected area. While this method is great for trim and walls, it isn't the best option for areas that see high traffic or friction, as the layers of encapsulate could eventually wear off.
If using a wire brush, or wet-sanding inch by inch, on the effected area sounds like a good time to you, consider this method. The work is tedious and often involves potent, equally harmful specialized paint removers, but it will effectively remove the lead-based paint. If you plan to use an electric sander it will need to be equipped with a HEPA-filtered vacuum. Clean up is just as important as the removal in this case: any dust or debris generated by the project needs to be wet down (to keep particles from becoming airborne) and completely removed to avoid harm.
5. Total Replacement
This method is pretty straightforward: you (or your certified contractor) rips out everything that has been painted with lead paint and then installs all new materials. Expensive? Yes, but probably the best way to have total peace of mind that there will be no lead-based paint whatsoever in your home. Plus, you'll have all new windows and doors, which are probably more efficient than their older precursors.
6. Leave it Be
If the lead-based painted surfaces in your home are in good condition and you don't see any chipping, or they are on areas that don't get friction and you don't have small children visiting or living with you, you can always just leave it be. Lead-based paint becomes an issue when it starts to deteriorate. Keep in mind however, you'll need to make potential buyers aware of the fact that there is lead-based paint in your home should you decide to put your house up for sale in the future.
7. Combine Approaches
Often times, homeowners will opt for a combination of encapsulating low-traffic areas and walls, and removing paint from high-traffic areas like door jams and window frames. If you suspect you have lead-based paint in your home, a simple test can put your mind at ease. Check out our easy how-to if you're planning to test an area in your home.
For more information, contact your regional EPA office, or visit EPA.gov/lead to learn how to protect your family from exposure to lead.