5 Lead Paint Safety Lessons From HGTV’s “Fixer Upper”

The popular show “Fixer Upper,” starring Chip and Joanna Gaines, regularly takes old homes and gives them a facelift on HGTV. Even though viewers understand that not every single moment fits into a one-hour show, many have wondered about the lack of a mention of lead paint, especially as many of the homes are older.

Recently, an EPA employee noticed this same issue while watching the show. The result? Magnolia Homes, the Gaines’ company, received a $40,000 fine from the EPA and the couple agreed to produce some lead paint awareness videos.

The spotlight on Magnolia Homes made a lot of the fans of “Fixer Upper” think about the safety of home renovations and wonder if they might have lead paint in their own homes.

1. Test for Lead

Structures built before 1978 may contain lead paint, even under layers of other paint. The EPA’s Renovation, Remodeling and Painter (RRP) Rule requires that anyone undertaking a renovation on a home built before 1978 take precautions to avoid releasing toxic lead into the air. About 7 out of every 10 homes built before 1978 do contain lead paint.

Your first step should be to test for this issue. Purchase a lead paint test kit from any home improvement store. Carefully scrape away a small section to reveal every layer of paint. Wear a mask when you do this and try not to disturb the paint any more than you have to.

You could also hire a lead testing specialist to test your entire home, but this can end up costing hundreds of dollars. If you’re focused on a specific project, you may only want to renovate one small area, such as a window or a single room.

2. Remove Lead Paint Safely

Removing lead paint is not an easy task. Hiring a professional is your best bet to reduce the risk of lead exposure to a low as possible. However, if you can’t afford to hire a professional or are DIY-focused, then there are some steps you must take to remove lead paint safely.

Remove everything from the work area, including furniture, rugs and curtains. Cover the floor with plastic sheets. Cover the entry into the work area with heavy plastic sheeting that is tightly taped around all four sides of the door. Cut a slit down the middle and hang another plastic sheet over it as another layer of protection.

Purchase or rent the right equipment. You’ll need a NIOSH-certified respirator, wet sanding equipment, a HEPA vacuum and protective clothing, including goggles. Everything must also be cleaned up fully and laundered separately or thrown out to avoid the spread of lead dust particles.

3. Cover the Paint

Another option is to simply cover whichever area has the lead. If the lead paint is under several layers of other paint, the key is to not disturb it by sanding or removing. Even though it might be tempting to sand the area and smooth everything out, this isn’t a good idea as it releases lead dust particles into the air.

Creating a durable barrier protects you from lead exposure. There are a few ways to accomplish this. For a window sill, for example, you can add vinyl or aluminum covering. Just be sure the edges are sealed and the new surface is not removed. Another option is to add an adhesive coating to encapsulate the lead paint. This bonds materials over the paint rather than simply covering the area with another layer of paint.

4. Clean Up Properly

No matter what method you use to contain or remove lead paint, it is vital that you clean the area each and every day and that you fully mist with water the entire area you are working within. This allows you to clean up any lead particles. Otherwise, they might be left and tracked anywhere in the house.

For example, if removing paint from a windowsill, the area around the windowsill should be contained. You would then mist the windowsill with water and wipe up any dust particles, but you’d also clean the walls and floor around the area. Wear protective covers over shoes and discard them before leaving the area for the day.

Place any trash, such as rags used to mop up dust, in 6-mil plastic bags. Secure tightly and you can dispose of them with your regular trash. It is best to not reuse rags at all. If you use a rag to clean up, dispose of it in the plastic trash bag and use a new one the next day. Yes, you will invest a little money in rags, but your family’s health is worth the investment.

5. Don’t Be Afraid

Don’t let the fear of lead paint turn you away from rehabbing a beautiful old home. While there are some precautions you must take to safely work with or remove lead paint, the task simply requires some extra care and attention. The end result is a safe home that has a unique look unlike anything built today.

Holly Welles is a real estate writer passionate about sharing tips for the inexperienced homeowner. You can read her latest tips on real estate and home improvement on her blog, The Estate Update, and follow her on Twitter @HollyAWelles.

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