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Before you or your contractor start any demolition, make sure to find out if there is lead paint in the house.

If your home was built pre-1978, it likely contains lead paint.  A new EPA law enacted in 2010 to prevent children’s exposure to dangerous levels of lead during renovation requires contractors to be certified in lead-safe work practices. Exposure to lead hazards, even at low levels, is especially dangerous for kids and can lead to lower intelligence, learning disabilities, and behavior issues.  Lead is also harmful to adults, especially pregnant women who can transfer lead to fetuses.

The most common way we are exposed to lead is through contaminated dust, and it’s no secret that home renovation generates a significant amount of dust.

Certified contractors know how to minimize dust, contain the work area, and conduct a thorough cleanup to reduce the potential exposure associated with disturbing lead-based paint. Ask to see your contractor’s lead-safe certification, so you can be sure that they know the facts on these practices.

If you opt to DIY, the law does not require you to be certified to work on your own home. However, it is critical to understand and follow safety precautions. Consider these key steps to work safely.

  • Cover the floor under the work area with thick, plastic sheeting to catch any paint chips or dust. If working on a larger job, construct an airlock out of plastic sheeting at the entry to the work area: this will keep family members and pets out of the work area and contain dust.
  • If disturbing paint, when using a hand tool, spray water on lead-painted surfaces to keep dust from spreading.
  • Use the right equipment, including a NIOSH-certified respirator with a HEPA (High-Efficiency Particulate Air) filter, HEPA vacuum cleaner (not a shop vac with a HEPA filter), heavy duty plastic sheeting, sanders equipped with HEPA filters, or wet-sanding equipment.
  • Keep lead dust from being tracked throughout your home. Wear clothes such as coveralls, shoe covers, hats, goggles, face shields, and gloves. Remove and bag work clothes outdoors and launder separately. And be sure to wash your hands and face when you’re done.

Renovations aren’t the only time to take precautions to minimize lead exposure. General household dust and dirt tracked-in from outdoors are sources of lead in homes.

Consider these simple and effective ways to reduce exposure on a daily basis.

  • Before entering your home, wipe shoes on a high quality commercial grade door mat — or better yet — leave shoes at the door.
  • Vacuum rugs and hardwood floors at least weekly with a HEPA filter vacuum.
  • Regularly clean window sills, floors, and other surfaces. Damp-dusting with water on a microfiber cloth is very effective.
  • Wash hands often.