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Lead-based paint was banned in 1978 and lead plumbing materials were prohibited in 1986. Unfortunately, lead is not a problem that simply goes away on its own. Although lead can be harmless if undisturbed it has the potential to cause serious health risks, especially to children. A home lead test kit is a good first step in identifying a lead problem. If the results come back positive, it's recommended that you hire a certified lead inspector to determine the full scope of the problem.
Lead Testing Options
Homes built prior to 1978 are likely to contain lead-based paint. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA):
- 87% of pre-1940 contain lead-based paint;
- 69% of homes built between 1940-1959 contain lead-based paint
- 24% of homes built between 1960-1977 contain lead-based paint
Lead can also be present in drinking water, soil and dust, and toys. Because lead is so toxic to children (in fact, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC] last year lowered the lead poisoning limit for children), if you have kids, have them tested for lead before moving on to home testing.
Knowing whether your property contains lead paint is particularly important if you plan on remodeling or even sanding. Home sellers, lessors, buyers, or renters may also be interested in lead testing. Whatever your specific reason for testing, here's how to proceed:
Home lead test kits use strips or swabs that change color to indicate the presence of lead. The EPA has a list of recommended test kits, while Consumer Reports rates the following test kits as "Easy to Use":
- Abotex Lead Inspector Lead Test Kit
- First Alert Premium Lead Test Kit LT1
- Homax LeadCheck 5250
- SKC LeadCheck Instant 225-2404 Sampling Test Kit
All of these kits cost less than $25 (apiece) and allow for testing of multiple areas. To test the entire house, however, you may have to buy multiple kits. Consumer Reports recommends buying one test kit that uses the chemical sodium sulfide and one that uses rhodizonate in order to avoid false positives and false negatives on certain paint colors.
Another home testing option—sending samples off to a lab for evaluation—costs about $75 to $100. You should send samples to a laboratory recognized through the EPA's National Lead Laboratory Accreditation Program (NLLAP).
If your child or property tests positive for lead, your next step should be to contact a certified lead inspector or risk assessor. A lead paint inspection is meant to determine whether the home contains lead-based paint and if so, where it's located. It doesn't, however, evaluate the hazard of lead-based paint. For that, you'll need a "risk assessment". A less comprehensive risk assessment known as a "lead hazard screen" is a more limited risk assessment that's often performed on homes with lower lead risks.
Professionals may use x-ray fluorescence (XRF) technology to test for lead. Hiring a pro to inspect your home might cost $350 to $500. A pro risk assessment is a bit more expensive at $450 to $600. A lead hazard screen should cost less. You can read more about different kinds of lead testing here.
The EPA strongly recommends hiring a licensed professional to perform one of these so-called "lead-based paint activities." Learn more about these activities, as well as how to find a certified inspector or assessor, on the agency's website.
Lead is nothing to mess around with. Educate yourself on lead risks and solutions by reading information from the following sources:
- The Environmental Protection Agency
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- Consumer Reports
- The Department of Housing and Urban Development