So, you’re buying a pre-1978 house. It’s a given that my inspection report is going to advise you that any painted surface or wood coating may contain lead and should be handled so as to minimize potential health risks.
This past week, however, I was stumped when a real estate agent asked me to refer a risk assessment professional to evaluate whether lead presented an actual hazard in a house I inspected for her. I promptly put on my researcher’s hat – I was, after all, a newspaper reporter and editor earlier in my professional career – and learned from a NC Dept. of Health source that there are no certified lead professionals in the Fayetteville area with the proper credentials to safely and legally do a lead inspection or risk assessment. I further reviewed databases from the state, listing companies licensed to do lead abatement and renovation; the closest ones I found were in Sanford and Pembroke.
That makes it pretty difficult for my home inspection client to follow the recommendation in my report! I’m basically telling her not to disturb painted surfaces herself without reading up on the potential hazards and following practices to minimize health risks, or else hire a company to handle any abatement or renovations for her. Good luck getting a quote from a certified contractor if he’s traveling an hour or more just to take samples!
It occurred to me that becoming certified as a lead inspector could be an opportunity for me to broaden my home inspection business. So, I did a little research about that, too. I’m not afraid of investing a little time and money in career training; there were hundreds of hours of classroom and practical (hands-on) training, study and exam preparation, fulfilling certification requirements, etc. to become a home inspector and maintain my NC license, after all. How much effort could it be to certify as a lead inspector?
I eventually hooked myself up with a training firm in Cary, and was able to discern quickly what some of the stumbling blocks would be. I could take a three-day class, followed by certification testing and the usual state fees for certification – no problem there – but for practical purposes, I’d need to invest $15-20K in an X-ray fluorescence spectrometer to do on-site testing of paint samples. One can buy consumer-available lead test kits – some of which provide on-site results and some that require lab testing – but at best, those solutions tell a story only about the paint chips or dust that are taken as samples. IMHO, there’s not a lot of value to that, since a negative result on one sample is no guarantee that the sample not taken is lead-free.
The lead risk assessment instructor I spoke to – who stood to gain by enrolling me as a student – kind of felt the same way about this that I did.
Further, he offered some statistics that I think should help reduce some anxiety my clients might have about taking possession of a pre-1978 home. Of houses built between 1960-78, he said, only about 25% contain lead paint; of houses built from 1940-1960, the percentage is higher, 67%; it’s houses built 1940 and prior that have a high likelihood, 90%, of containing lead paint.
So, here’s my take-away for homeowners and real estate agents engaged in the prospective purchase of a pre-1978 home:
- I’m still, of course, recommending caution in handling loose paint chips and paint that has deteriorated to dust, due to age, especially for families with young children;
- Reading up on the potential hazards of lead and following the recommendations from the EPA seems a prudent piece of advice. The best consumer documentation for this is a “Renovate Right” brochure, available at http://www.greenandhealthyhomes.org/sites/default/files/renovaterightbrochure.pdf.
- Consider the condition of the existing paint in the home; is it loose, chipping, or deteriorated? Do you plan on doing maintenance or renovations that will disturb painted surfaces? If so, what is your comfort level doing the work yourself (following safety guidelines for handling paint that may contain lead)? No one is stopping you from doing this work yourself. If you’re uncomfortable doing it yourself, know that it may be difficult finding contractors in the Fayetteville area that have the proper certification to do renovation and remediation for you. If they’re coming from far away, you’ll need to expect to pay more for their services. Be careful hiring contractors who can’t show you proof of abatement/renovation certification.
A little free advice from your friendly neighborhood home inspector. – OZ