If you’ve been hired to work on a vintage home, there are a number of concerns. Aging structures can have defects that make working with ladders and scaffolding dangerous. There can be asbestos in the construction, dry rot or weakened drywall. But when working in homes constructed pre-1978, one of the foremost concerns is the presence of lead paint. In homes built prior to 1960, the use was prevalent and the risk of exposure is even higher.
In older homes, lead-based paint was used for exterior and interior paint, on windows, doors and trim. Lead is highly toxic and if absorbed into your body can damage your nerves, brain, kidneys and blood. Exposure can cause high blood pressure, fertility problems, seizures and even death. Nine out of ten homes built before 1940 have lead paint. In those constructed between the 40s and 60s, seven out of ten homes have lead paint, and in homes built between the 1960s and when lead-based paint was banned in 1977, you’ll see it in one in four homes.
#1 Ensure testing is conducted
When working with older homes, you shouldn’t take anything for granted when it comes to the potential presence of lead paint. Even if the property owner tells you they have previously had the lead paint removed, you can’t put your health and that of your workers at risk. The EPA requires lead testing on all pre-1978 homes on the presumption that lead is present, and it will give you peace of mind to know for sure what you’re getting into. If the testing shows the presence of lead, you’ll need to take proper precautions.
#2 Proper preparation
Once you begin work, you’ll be generating dust and debris that are contaminated. You’ll need to contain this in the immediate work area so that you don’t put your workers or anyone that works or lives in the space at risk. Proper preparation is key. Plastic sheeting should be taped down over furniture and floors. And while ventilation is usually your friend when it comes to painting projects, when working with lead-based paint, you have to contain the fumes and dust. That means windows, ducts and doors must be closed, and the doors must also covered in sheeting. This will keep workers not currently working in the rooms with lead paint free of contaminants.
#3 Clearing old and chipped paint away
Before you can put in fresh, risk-free paint, you’ll have to get rid of the old, contaminated paint. This is the part of the project that’s most risky. All workers should always wear protective clothing and respirators in every phase of the work that could expose them to lead. Recommended lead paint removal procedures are wet scraping and chemical paint stripping. Power sanders are not to be used because they stir up lead saturated dust that can be breathed in or swallowed. Scraped off paint should be put directly into a bag and sealed away.
#4 Clean work site daily
Most lead-based paint jobs are multi-day affairs. Unlike with a standard job where you may wait until you’re all done to do your clean up, a higher risk project like this requires that you clean up at the end of each work day. Use a HEPA vacuum to clean up all dust, bag up all the scraped paint chips and debris, seal and dispose of the bags and wash down walls to ensure no residual dust is left lurking. Not only do you need to vacuum the work surfaces, but you need to clean the workers, too. If you’re wearing disposable work clothes and covers, these can be tossed nightly. If not, vacuum off work clothes, including shoes and soles of shoes. All tools should also be cleaned and wiped down at the end of each work day.
Lead dust and chips are the most likely source of contamination. Coming into contact with these can leave your workers (or you) facing serious health risks. After a project like this, be on the lookout for symptoms of lead poisoning, including headaches, irritability, fatigue, stomachache or nausea. Taking proper precautions when working in an older home will allow you to complete the job satisfactorily while minimizing risks to you, your employees and your clients themselves.