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Is it lead or just a bad paint job?

POV: You’ve just been hired by a family with young children to inspect their hopefully soon-to-be home that they plan on renovating ASAP. Conversations and agreements with your new clients go well, and you agree to meet at the site for the inspection. Upon arrival you start to get an idea for what you’re in for, “a bit of a fixer upper, but nothing too bad”, you think to yourself. But then, you see it; cracked paint on various walls, layers upon layers of it. You’re left standing with the question: could it be lead paint, or have people just been painting over the walls without properly prepping them throughout the years?
Lead paint is a concern that should not be taken lightly, and when it comes to home inspections, it’s something that needs to be taken care of with the utmost care and importance.
What is lead paint and why is it dangerous?
Let’s start with what lead is. Lead is a natural occurring metal that is made within the earth’s crust and can be found in air, water, and soil. Even though it’s natural, it is also extremely toxic to humans and animals. It can cause a disruption in our organs as well as being absorbed into our blood stream and accumulate in our bones. In fact, just the smallest addition of lead into our system can give people life-long health defects, especially if they are aged six and younger. According to the CDC and EPA, the following are just SOME of these health defects that small children are at risk for after lead exposure:
a. Brain Damage
b. Nervous system damage
c. Behavioral and learning disabilities
d. Lower IQ
e. Slowed Growth
f. Anemia
g. Seizures
h. Death in extreme cases

Children are not the only ones affected. If an adult is exposed to lead they could be in danger of having reproductive issues, cardiovascular and kidney issues, as well as hypertension and abnormal bp. If an individual who is pregnant is exposed to lead for long periods of time, they can absorb it into their bodies and pass it on to the fetus which can result in premature birth, problems with the baby’s organs and nervous system, and miscarriages. A lactating parent can also pass on lead poisoning to their child through breast feeding.
Now, you may be asking yourself, “Well if lead is so bad for you, why did they add it to paint?” That answer is easy: it was cheap. Before the 1980’s paint was often manufactured with lead in order to not only preserve paint life, but also to speed up the drying process and withstand moisture. Thankfully in 1978, the Unites States banned the inclusion of lead in household paints as they recognized the health risks related to it, and instead opted for other means to keep household paints looking fresh and lasting longer.
How can you spot lead paint and differentiate it from normal paint cracks?
1. While there is no way to tell based off of a single look if the paint in a home is carrying lead, there are a few signs that can help you decide if you should call in an expert to do a lead examination.
2. The first and probably the most common sign of lead paint is “Alligatoring”. This occurs when a painted surface starts cracking and appears to look like scales on the back of an alligator, hence the term. If the wall looks like it has a thick coat of paint and it is starting to peel, that is usually the first indicator. Another way to test it is by observing whether or not there is a chalky residue after you rub the surface. If you open a window and bits of dust comes off of the frame, back up immediately and call a lead inspector.
3. With non-lead-based paint, improper maintenance and preparation is the most common cause of chipping and cracking. Painting over a dirty surface or over walls that have not been properly prepped, excess of moisture, layering latex paint over oil paint, and long-term water exposure to name a few are all contributors to what eventually will turn into undesirable looking walls with cracks, chips, and bubbles. So, if all of these things can cause painted surfaces to start decaying, how do you know its lead paint?
To call? Or not to call?
If the alligatoring walls and chalky appearances don’t convince you, that there needs to be a certified lead-inspector analyzing the home, there’s a few other things you could do.
1. Check to see when the house was built. If the home was built prior to 1978 before the federal government ban, there’s a good chance that there will be lead paint somewhere in the home.
2. Contact the seller/owner. They should have a history of all repairs and renovations that have been done to the house leading up to their ownership of it. They can also inform you if anyone living in the home experienced symptoms of lead poisoning.
3. Call in the expert. This is the best way and most recommended by the EPA to find out for sure if a home has lead paint. There are certified professionals who specialize in safely handling homes that have years’ worth of old lead paint in them.
What to do when you encounter lead paint?
If you find out you’re inspecting a home which happens to have a few walls coated in this stuff, your next move should be that of immediate action in notifying the buyer and the seller. It is their responsibility to deal with the issue at hand in however they see fit.
Your job as a home inspector is to uncover issues in a living space that may make a home non-functional or could cost the home buyer a pretty penny in repairs. But that doesn’t include finding and identifying lead paint. However, if you happen to come across something that isn’t part of what you usually report but could potentially be hazardous, it is important to notify the buyers and the seller ASAP. Continuing the inspection at this point would be up to you due to the health risks associated with being around this substance.
Now, in the chance that you inspect a home and don’t report a potential hazard either because it wasn’t part of the items you were supposed to inspect or because you simply didn’t see it, OREP has you covered. With OREP you are protected if a client files a claim against you for missing to report lead paint during your inspection. We offer up to 100k protection when it comes to lead paint, mold, and termites. Don’t risk having to deal with potential claim on something that you weren’t even supposed to be looking out for, call OREP today at 1-888-347-5273 to speak to one of our knowledgeable team members and see how we can protect you.
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