Wondering the true facts about lead paint and what to do about it when buying a selling a home in Massachusetts?
Lead paint is a hazardous material that was used in homes all over the United States and was banned in 1978 becasue when lead is ingested it can cause health issues in children under the age of 6. Thier bodies are so little and are developing so, any toxin is suspect.
What happened is there were a lot of homes and public housing projects that were built and painted. As the paint aged it peeled and chipped and kids were playing in the dirt near the house or the paint was peeling or chipping inside the home and the kids would touch the soil or surface, like a window sill, with their hands and put their hands in their mouth and eat the lead paint. This wasn’t good because lead is toxic.
Additionally, when the painted surface was sanded in preparation of a paint job it turns to dust and when inhaled it enters the the body through the nasal cavities or the mouth so it enters the body that way. Scientists found that high levels of leadf can cause brain damage. Back in the 1950s, 60s and 70s many products contained lead in everything from crystal glasses, ceramic pitchers, kids toys and kids jewelry (like for pre-teen). Once the connection was made that lead when ingested is toxic lead became a substance that was banned.
As a side note, there are still products that are manufactured with lead in them especially from other countries. I have had several clients where their kids have had high levels and it came from their toys. There are websites that list out those products so you can check on the Internet for them.
Now getting back to lead paint, specifically, much of the housing stock was built in the United States after WW II when the servicemen returned home from the war and home builders couldn’t build homes fast enough for the demand. These home products were painted and fast forward to 1978 these houses had been painted and now the house has the lead product in it.
So what do you do if the house was built prior to 1978?
There are three things you can do:
1) Know there is a possibility there is lead paint in the house
2) Test for it and
3) Know how to encapsulate it to keep your children safe.
There are two ways to test: 1) A licensed lead inspector can come to the home and test all the painted surfaces. They will be looking a moveable parts and painted surfaced 36″ and below. Windows, window sills, mouldings etc. The machine used to test the paint goes from the surface paint level all the way down to the wood. If there are multiple layers of paint the test will indicated if there is any lead however, it can not tell you what specific paint layer the lead is in. The good news is at the end of the test you will know if there is lead paint and you will have a detailed report as to the location within the home.
2) A surface test. You can buy these tests from a retail outlet. The surface test has a solution you rub on the painted surface and there is a cotton stick that turns color to indicate weather or not there is lead paint in the house.
The loop hole
If you have kids and there is lead paint you will need to decide if you are going to buy the house and if you are selling and you have a lead test done then you will need to disclose there is lead paint.
So here’s the big loop hole. The lead law when buying and selling a home in Massachusetts is that a seller must disclose known lead paint hazards so, if the seller doesn’t know or has never tested then there is nothing to disclose. Under Massachusetts law, sellers must provide the Property Transfer Lead Paint Notification to a prospective buyer and the buyer must submit this form at the time of the offer. All parties involved in the transaction, including the real estate agents, must sign this form. Additionally, if the seller does not know if there is lead paint the seller must provide a 10 day period for the buyer to conduct a lead test.
Any house that is tested in Massachusetts that has lead paint, that address goes into a State Database and you can look it up to see if the property you are researching has lead paint. Now over time, as properties change hands, renovations are completed, the lead paint could be removed however, the way professional painters and lead certified painters mitigate the lead paint situation is to encapsulate the paint. so look at the surface, where the lead paint is located and if it needs to be painted. The paint is not toxic if it doesn’t enter the body so covering it upis safe to do and is what is recommended by the EPA.
When people get into trouble is in preparing the surface for a new paint job. When I was a housing planner, I read about an architect who bought a home in Philadelphia and he sanded all the paint off the mouldings, stairwell and other areas in the house. He was living in the house with his family and the house was full of kids. Turns out all his children had elevated levels of lead and his kids were so sick so it is important not to disturb the paint.
This sounds very scary right? If your child has lead poisoning it IS scary but remember, a lot of the housing stock in Massachusetts is old and a lot of houses were built prior to 1978. so instead of only looking to buy a newer house, if you are a buyer, you may want to understand how to handle the situation so you have more homes to consider.
If you are a seller, as I mentioned you must disclose if there is lead paint and if you don’t know it is ok. Another question I get a lot is: “If there is lead paint, as a seller, Do I need to remove the paint?” The answer is “No”. If the house is older than 1978 and the lead paint has been remediated then you can get a certificate from the State of MA stating so. A lot of people don’t do this and once the children are older then 6 sometimes they don’t care but it is a very useful tool to have when selling your home if there is a possibility of lead paint. It reduces the fear of the buyer!
If you are new to Massachusetts, remember children get tested for lead levels when the enter school and it is a marker that is tracked as they age, especially if they are positive so, the annual doctor exam is another way to monitor and keep children safe.
I have several friends that have lived in homes with lead paint and their kids do not and have never has elevated levels of lead. Their kids don’t play in the soil around the house or eat paint chips so think about how you live and play in the home.
One area that is continually flagged is the windows of homes. single pane windows form homes older than 1978 are not energy efficient as double pane windows. We now know there is 30% heat loss from single pane windows. Many of the pre-1978 homes have changed out the windows. This is one area where there are moveable parts that create lead dust so, if the windows have been changed out then the potential for lead dust has been eliminated and you get the benefit of double pane windows and a lower energy bill.
There is so much to do when buying and selling a home in Massachusetts so before you get started on your home journey it’s best to become knowledgeable and know what to do. There are several links available directly to the health resources and the EPA in this Blog post so please use them.
If you have any questions about lead paint or other issues like radon, asbestos, septic systems please reach out to me I would love to help you. Please also take a look at terms to know when buying and selling a home in Massachusetts!