COLUMNSGenericHome Guru

Home Guru: What to Do if You Know Your Home Has Lead-Based Paint

We are part of The Trust Project
Bill Primavera
Bill Primavera

By Bill Primavera

Was your home, condo, co-op or apartment built before 1978? If so, there is every likelihood that lead-based paint was used on the walls and trim, which can be a matter of concern when it comes time to repaint or renovate.

How well I remember my first paint job when I was on my own, a college freshman with a somewhat shabby studio apartment, really a big room with a shower and sink, that was partly below grade level in a 1920s home. The walls of that room were a dingy shade of gold that seemed to have years of cloudiness layered on them by many former occupants who were smokers. I recall a friend of mine, an art student, told me to just put two coats of quality paint on the walls as the best sanitizer ever, and I’d have a totally new place. And, he was right.

The paint rolled on effortlessly in a way that paints today don’t perform. I didn’t give a second thought to the content of that paint and why it may have performed so well. But it had to be because it was laden with lead.

Today New York State requires that realtors have sellers and buyers sign a disclosure acknowledging what they know or don’t know about the existence of lead paint on any given property when it is sold. Exposure to lead paint dust or chips can cause serious health problems, particularly to children and pregnant women.

For children, symptoms of repeated lead exposure can range from behavior problems and low IQ to growth delays.

The dangers of lead paint had been known for many years prior to the discontinuance of the product in 1978, but the industry chose to keep that information to itself, even disclaim it. In fact, early on, one of the major producers had “Lead” in its company name and actually boasted to consumers that its paint was beneficial to health because of its durability and washability.

The issues today involve awareness of peeling or chipping lead paint that may be ingested by children and airborne dust that may result from sanding as prep work for repainting.

In my own case, when I painted many times prior to 1978, thankfully the walls did not require sanding. Unwittingly, after lead-based paint was no longer available, I contained exposure to lead simply by rolling on the new paints that were lead-free.

I admit that my first experiences with the new non-lead paints were disappointing in terms of how they went on, by comparison.

It’s been a long time since I’ve done a paint job or renovation on my own. But today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) mandates that any contractor or worker who conducts renovation work in a pre-1978 property must be trained and certified in EPA Renovation, Repair and Painting (RRP) if it is to disturb lead-based paint.

Homeowners may do the work themselves, but it is important to do it properly so no new risks for lead exposure are created. During the work, the homeowner must avoid stirring up dust or creating fumes containing lead.

For homeowners who attempt the work themselves, here are some general guidelines.

Seal off the area using plastic sheets.

Disconnect heating/cooling ducts to the area under renovation.

Remove all furniture, food and other items from the construction area.

Cover the floor with tarps or plastic.

Avoid sanding, torching, grinding, sandblasting or using a heat gun on surfaces containing lead paint.

Clean up the construction area often using a HEPA filter vacuum and damp mop.

Wash hands often, especially before eating.

Additional information can be found on the National Lead Information Center website ( or by calling 1-800-424-5323.

The possible presence of lead paint in a house shouldn’t be a deterrent as long as two basic rules are followed. If the paint is in good condition, it can simply be contained with a fresh coat, but the surface should never be sanded. If the surface needs work, that’s the time to call in a professional to undertake the proper methods to deal with it safely.

Bill Primavera is a Realtor® associated with William Raveis Real Estate and Founder of Primavera Public Relations, Inc. ( His real estate site is, and his blog is To engage the services of The Home Guru to market your home for sale, call 914-522-2076.



We'd love for you to support our work by joining as a free, partial access subscriber, or by registering as a full access member. Members get full access to all of our content, and receive a variety of bonus perks like free show tickets. Learn more here.