LEAD FAQ’s – To Test or Not to Test – that is the question

As the property owner you have a question you should seriously consider, due to the increased costs of the EPA’s RRP rules, should I get my house or areas that are being worked on tested for lead, or should everyone just assume lead is present and proceed accordingly? In order to start answering that question, let’s first start off looking at the testing procedure.

What are the chances my house contains lead?

Per the EPA 35% of all houses, contain lead. The EPA has calculated that 86% of the houses built before 1940 still contain lead, which drops down to 66% for those built between 1940 to 1959, and drops down even further to 25% for those built between 1960 to 1978. Now, even if your house was built after 1978, be forewarned – there is still a chance that it contains lead. While the sales of lead paint and paid installation of lead paint was outlawed, there was nothing to prevent homeowners from using previously purchased paint or stain.

How much does testing cost?

This answer depends on which type of testing you want performed, what needs to be tested and who does it. You can have samples sent to an approved laboratory, you can hire a specialized Licensed Evaluator, or you may have it done by the Certified Lead Renovation (CLR) Firm you are planning on using. For the first two options or if you are using another CLR besides us, you would actually have to call and find out, as the prices vary based on numerous items.

What is this lead test and what is a test section?

The lead test we use is actually quite simple. The first step is to expose the different layers of paint on a section of a window, trim, wainscoting, etc… This is as simple as a making a v-notched groove about ¼ inch to an inch long exposing all the paint layers down to the bare wood. We would then use an EPA approved test swab to test this section. If the swab or area turns pink to red, lead is present and the EPA’s RRP procedures must be followed. If the section or swab does not turn pink or red, we must then verify that the swab is valid and test it on a confirmation card. This test card has a chemical that mimics lead and should turn pink. If the test card does not turn pink, the test must be redone with another swab.

How many test sections have to be done?

Well this is a hard question to answer without knowing what your project entails, but let’s look at one quick example – window replacements. In this case, you would probably need to have the window itself checked along with the interior and exterior trim. If the windows and trim is representative of all the other ones in the house, the testing is done, if not you will need to test the different affected areas.

Ok, the cost is not outrageous, why wouldn’t I want to test?

There are a couple of valid reasons, you might not want to have the testing done – the first being once a test comes back positive, you have to keep those records and disclose that if and when you go to sell or rent the house. If you are asked about any known issues by your insurance company or Mortgage Company – you have to disclose it. If you babysit kids, have someone working on the house (CATV installer, carpet installer, etc…) you have to disclose it. In some cases, going from the “assume every house has lead” to positively tested for lead can lead to a perceived loss of value.

After that warning, why would I want to have my house tested then?

If your child has been tested and has high lead levels in their blood, you might not have a choice but to have the house tested. You will need to find out why it has happened and how to stop the poisoning from getting worse. In some cases, it is not the actual paint, but contaminated ground outside, the water pipes in the house, or it may come from some other source. As an FYI, you would not be calling in a Renovation Firm; it would have to be a Certified Lead Inspector and Abatement Contractors.

You might also be in a house that has undergone major renovations since 1978 (or never had lead paint or stain applied), do you really want to pay the additional costs associated with the RRP provisions if you do not have to? (See Link Above)

I see there are pro’s and con’s – what’s best for me?

Unfortunately, there is no easy answer to this or many other questions related your home, without someone actually seeing it. All we can really do here on the HRC is strongly suggest you find the best contractor in your area that not only is certified, but also understands the subject.

  • http://moveablecubicle.com/ Portable Storage

    Awesome Explaination on the lead test, what is a test section and understand it’s need.

    Portable Storage

  • http://praservices.com/ Phil @ Bath Remodeling

    Followed your link from the discustion on Construction Business Owners Group .
    Excellent article!

    • SLS Construction

      Thanks Phil – it has been a pretty interesting discussion, which takes on new meaning in Illinois where if they test & it is positive, they can’t do the work due State regs…

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Stephen-Masek/100002349132551 Stephen Masek

    What is missing is how much lead-based paint is in the buildings EPA studied.  The same for the other government studies.  Fortunately, consultants have decades of experience, so we can provide more detail.  My company has been in business twenty years, and we have tested thousands of buldings.  Since we started keeping detailed statistics in 2010, we have found that half of the residential buildings in southern California built 1960 to 1977 we have tested contain no lead-based paint, and half just a little.  That fits with our memories of our earlier work.  Even the older ones do not have it everywhere.  There is however a neighborhood bias – the fancier areas have more elad-based paint.

    Thesting is properly thought of as the process of backing down from the silly and expensive assumption that all of the paint is lead-based paint.

    • SLS Construction

      Hey Stephen I was wondering why I haven’t heard from you on here. So what your saying is if you live in Cali you have a 50 / 50 shot of testing positive instead of 25% – interesting
      Thanks for popping in & commenting