Does a home inspector check for lead paint?
Wednesday, August 28, 2019
The Standards of Practice of both of the national home inspector associations and the State of Florida do not require testing for lead paint as part of a home inspection of older homes. Some inspectors offer testing with a kit such as “3M Lead Check Swabs,” which are EPA approved for 95% accuracy against returning a false positive when used according to manufactuer’s instructions. But there are a couple of problems with this type of test:
- It is a destructive test that requires cutting away a chip of paint down to the substrate and testing leaves a pink stain on tested surfaces. So it will be necessary to get the seller's permission to before doing the testing.
- Test kits will evaluate only a few surfaces, so you do not get a definitive answer as to how extensive the areas of lead paint are around the home.
- The EPA only approves their use to determine the presence or absence of lead when used by a “Certified Renovator.” Becoming a Certified Renovator requires taking an EPA approved course and passing a test. Not all inspectors are a Certified Renovator.
Another type of test is non-destructive, does not require the permission of the seller, and can evaluate every wall and trim surface. The inspector uses a specialized tool called an XRF gun that uses X-ray fluorescence to determine if lead is lurking in the paint surfaces. Because an XRF gun is very expensive, usually an inspector that offers this type of testing does it exclusively. The inspector will check each wall and trim surface in every room and around the exterior of the home and provide a detailed report of the findings, and one inspector in our area that does XRF lead testing charges around $400 to evaluate a house.
Lead Paint History
According to the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission, lead was used as a pigment and drying agent in "alkyd" oil based paint. "Latex" water based paints generally have not contained lead. About two-thirds of the homes built before 1940 and one-half of the homes built from 1940 to 1960 contain heavily-leaded paint. Some homes built after 1960 also contain heavily-leaded paint. It may be on any interior or exterior surface, particularly on woodwork, doors, and windows. In 1978, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission lowered the legal maximum lead content in most kinds of paint to 0.06% (a trace amount).
EPA Lead Paint Regulations
The presence of lead paint in a home that was built before 1978 will reduce the value of the property, because of the safety issue of potential lead exposure over time from livng in the home and the expense of remediating the lead. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a "Lead Renovation, Repair and Painting Rule" (RRP Rule) which requires that contractors doing renovation, repair, and painting projects that disturb lead-based paint in homes built before 1978 have their firm certified by EPA, or a state authorized by the EPA, use certified renovators who are trained by EPA-approved training providers, and follow lead-safe work practices. The safe work practices involve protection for the workers, containment of the area of work, safe disposal of lead-contaminated materials, and it’s not cheap.
So lead paint testing is important when evaluating both the value and safety of a pe-1978 home you are considering purchasing. Also, see our blog posts Why is there a lead paint disclaimer in my real estate sales contract? and Are there any minimum inspection standards that a Florida licensed home inspector must meet?
While the Standards of Practice set minimum standards, a home inspector may choose to exceed them, or the inspection may be limited to less than what is outlined in the standards when agreed to by the homebuyer and specified in an inspection agreement. A four-point insurance inspection would be example of a limited inspection.
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