What You Need to Know About Lead When Buying an Older Home


Homes across the US, both new construction and remodels, relied upon lead-based paint until 1978 when the US Consumer Product Safety Commission outlawed the use of such paint (16 CFR 1303) due to the hazard it poses when it chips. Research found that lead was especially toxic to the body and often led to unwanted health problems, such as stomach aches, vomiting, damage to the kidney and nervous systems, memory and concentration problems, muscle and joint pain, to name a few. For children, the health risks resulting from lead exposure are even more damaging and can result in learning difficulties, brain damage, vision and hearing problems, and in some cases, lead exposure could result in death.

With the problems that could arise from lead in the home, the question remains, how can home buyers protect themselves from lead poisoning?

Lead Disclosure in Real Estate Transactions

To help protect home buyers and renters, the Residential Lead-Based Paint Hazard Reduction Act of 1992 requires all property owners selling their real estate to disclose the potential harm of lead paint in the home to all prospective buyers. The federal law requires that all buyers receive the following during escrow:

  • An EPA-approved information pamphlet on identifying and controlling lead-based paint hazards: Protect Your Family From Lead In Your Home (PDF).
  • Any known information concerning the presence of lead-based paint or lead-based paint hazards in the home or building.
  • For multi-unit buildings, this requirement includes records and reports concerning common areas and other units when such information was obtained as a result of a building-wide evaluation.
  • An attachment to the contract, or language inserted in the contract, that includes a “Lead Warning Statement” and confirms that the seller has complied with all notification requirements.
  • Seller’s Disclosure of Information (Here’s a sample in English (PDF) and in Spanish (PDF)).
  • A 10-day period to conduct a paint inspection or risk assessment for lead-based paint or lead-based paint hazards. Parties may mutually agree, in writing, to lengthen or shorten the time period for inspection. Homebuyers may waive this inspection opportunity. If you have a concern about possible lead-based paint, then get a lead inspection from a certified inspector before buying.

The Presence of Lead in US Homes

Although actions have been taken to protect homeowners from the effects of lead, lead is still a significant issue. According to the CDC, it is estimated that 1 in 38 children have elevated levels of lead in their bodies. 

Where is this lead found in the home?

Lead-based paint is the primary source of lead ingestion. For children, it is common for them to chew the lead pain surfaces or the pieces peeling from the walls. However, ingestion is not always so obvious.

Lead can also be found in dust and dirt around the home. For example, a home can be contaminated if lead-painted surfaces are disturbed through remodeling or repairs, or are exposed to heavy use that release lead chips or dust into the atmosphere. Residents of the home can then ingest the lead through the atmosphere simply by breathing in the air.

Additionally, lead can be found in the water. Lead solder was commonly used to join copper pipes at pipe joints. This is especially common for homes built before 1982 and in some homes that rely on domestic wells and municipal water delivery systems.

Testing the Home for Lead During Escrow

If lead is suspected in a home, homebuyers should have the home tested before closing escrow.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends buyers “Hire a certified professional to check for lead-based paint. A certified lead-based paint inspector or risk assessor can conduct an inspection to determine whether your home or a portion of your home has lead-based paint and where it is located. This will tell you the areas in your home where lead-safe work practices should be used for renovation, repair, or painting jobs. A certified risk assessor can conduct a risk assessment telling you whether your home currently has any lead hazards from lead in paint, dust, or soil. The risk assessor can also tell you what actions to take to address any hazards. For help finding a certified risk assessor or inspector, call the National Lead Information Center at 1-800-424-LEAD (5323).”

If the lead hazard evaluation indicates that lead-based paint and/or lead-based paint hazards are found, the buyer has the right to cancel the contract. However, this right does not exempt the buyer from any costs of cancellation if the right to cancel is not made clear in the contingency to the sales contract.”

Protecting Your Family from Lead

However, buying a home with lead can be done, and homeowners can take specific steps to ensure the long-term safety of their families. The EPA recommends:

  • Keep painted surfaces clean and free of dust. Use a mop or sponge with warm water and a general all-purpose cleaner to clean floors, window frames, window sills, and other surfaces weekly. (Remember: never mix ammonia and bleach products together because they can form a dangerous gas.) Carefully clean up paint chips immediately without creating dust.
  • Thoroughly rinse sponges and mop heads often during cleaning of dirty or dusty areas, and again afterward.
  • Wash your hands and your children’s hands often, especially before they eat and before nap time and bedtime.
  • Keep play areas clean. Wash bottles, pacifiers, toys, and stuffed animals regularly.
  • Keep children from chewing window sills or other painted surfaces, or eating soil.
  • Clean or remove shoes before entering your home to avoid tracking in lead from soil.
  • Make sure children avoid fatty (or high fat) foods and eat nutritious meals high in iron and calcium. Children with good diets absorb less lead.

“In addition to day-to-day cleaning and good nutrition, you can temporarily reduce lead-based paint hazards by taking actions, such as repairing damaged painted surfaces and planting grass to cover lead contaminated soil. These actions are not permanent solutions and will need ongoing attention.

You can minimize exposure to lead when renovating, repairing, or painting by hiring an EPA- or state certified renovator who is trained in the use of lead-safe work practices. If you are a do-it-yourselfer, learn how to use lead–safe work practices in your home.”

Remove Lead Permanently

Homeowners can hire a certified lead abatement contractor to remove lead hazards permanently. Abatement (or permanent hazard elimination) methods include removing, sealing, or enclosing lead-based paint with special materials.

Should You Buy a Home Built Before 1978?

There is no correct answer to this question. A home built pre-1978 offers charm and history that newer developments lack. Instead, all prospective buyers can weigh the pros and cons and conduct full due diligence before purchasing a home. With the right help and guidance, a homeowner can navigate the purchase of an older home. 

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