Though much of the nation is still dealing with wintry conditions, the arrival of spring this week means we should all be flinging open our windows soon enough. Here's a reminder that if your home was built before 1978, the trim and sills around those windows might be covered in lead paint. Repeated opening and closing of old windows could be enough to disturb lead-painted surfaces, sending harmful dust into the air. Window replacements and other home-improvement projects present even greater risk of contamination.
Under the Environmental Protection Agency's Lead Renovation, Repair, and Painting Rule, remodeling pros must follow strict lead-safety practices when they work on pre-1978 homes, or run the risk of receiving tens of thousands of dollars in fines.
The EPA lead rule does not apply to homeowners, but don't take chances with lead paint on do-it-yourself projects. The perils of poisoning include brain damage and diminished mental and physical development, especially for young children. Consumer Reports has evaluated several lead test kits, many of which are simple to use and effective. If your home tests positive for lead, we recommend you hire an EPA-certified inspector to confirm its presence. You may also need to hire a contractor with special training to handle the harmful lead.
Consumer Reports often gets the question, "Can't painting over lead-based paint with today's lead-free paint contain the problem?" The EPA is adamant that this is not enough to eliminate the risk of contamination, and we agree, since future chipping or peeling will expose the lead. But if your home is lead-free and you want to paint around windows, use our Ratings of interior and exterior paints to find a product that delivers top protection with the fewest VOCs. The health risks of VOCs may not be as great as those associated with lead, but the fewer chemicals that enter your home, the better.