How to Have a House

Living with and understanding a home.

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House painting and lead based paint, it’s good to know what you’re getting into.

It’s that time of year.  Exterior house painting.  Professional house painters, and I mean the exterior painters, have come out of hibernation.  You see them in your neighborhood.  Squinty eyed at the bright sun and pale from winter’s cloak.  Like roofers, concrete flat work installers and ants these tradesmen work like mad in the warm weather, save for winter and lay low when the temperatures drop.  Some of them have plenty of winter work but for the most part they are hungry and aggressive when the spring thaw comes.  Like the rest of us craftsmen they mean business after a long winter of rich food, holiday parties and winter expenses.

But first things first when it comes to lead paint. Indoors or out lead is no laughing matter.  The federal government passed strict laws about lead paint around 2008.  Simply put they laid down the law concerning dust and lead paint management.  A lot of painters and craftsman raised a stink! Ticked off at another government regulation in a seemingly simple occupation.  I’ll get some flack for this but I believe the painting and remodeling industry brought this upon themselves.  While the effects of lead on home dwellers, especially children, was being confirmed more dramatically  than ever, painters and remodelers pushed the envelope of messy, careless and filthy work practices. I’ve been amazed over the years to walk into a house and see basically little or no barriers between a renovation job area and the living space of the home.  For some reason a lot of workers think that just because there is going to be some dust, there may as well be a lot.  Do that now in a home with lead based paint and get caught by the EPA and the fines can be steep.  It’s a hard law to enforce for indoor painting but the exterior painters are getting with the program.  It’s way harder to hide a paint job outdoors.

Basically EPA compliant painters and remodelers attend a one day class outlining the EPA standards of lead dust containment and signage.  They are required to use an EPA approved HEPA vac and they spend a lot of time putting up a lot of plastic walls and floors.  It’s a commitment and costs some money.  For me it cost about $1400 to take the class, buy the vacuum and improve some tools.  Honestly, outside of the cost I’m glad for the regulation.  I was tired of working hard to set up my job sights for clean work when a lot of other remodelers were laughing all the way to the bank through dust laden smiles.  I was tired of watching customers dumbfounded by the seemingly non-existent attention to clean work.  I watched a company ruin so much of one of my customers personal belongings during a job in her basement I helped her fire the company while I stood by her side.  While the workers were packing their tools out of the house I reminded them they would be mad too if they had come home to that much dust and dirt on their Harley, gun collection or ’68 Chevy. Good riddance.

If you’re hiring an exterior painting company this summer to paint your house ask them if they are EPA compliant and if they implement the process. This will be a simple test to see how professional the company is and how long they plan to stay in business.  If they practice EPA lead compliancy, chances are you’ll get a really clean paint job inside or out.  This goes for your next remodeling job too. It’s the painter’s responsibility to test your home for lead, however, you can test your house for lead before you hire.  EPA approved lead test swabs are available at most home improvement stores.  Lightly sand your walls and trim all the way through in a small spot.  Wear a dust mask and keep the kids away.  Test the paint.  If the swab turns pink, it’s lead.  You can visit the EPA web sight and learn what precautions and measure are required to reduce lead dust. 4 mil plastic, duct tape, zipper doors, sealed HVAC registers, tack mats, sealed doors and windows, jump suits, gloves and respirators. Oh, and lots of signage.  It’s a considerable task.  Those of us in the business estimate a 10-20% increase in the cost of the job if lead is present.


Even if your painting your house yourself, know the lead status of your home.  By all means this is not a shortcut to take just because your doing the work.  Your lungs, blood stream and bones will be glad you did the right thing.