Buying An Older Home? What Every First-Time Home Buyer Should Know About Lead Contamination

Posted on: 27 September 2016

Buying a home is a proud moment for any family and even more so for the first-time home buyer. But if the home is one that has been contaminated by lead, the dream of home ownership can quickly become a nightmare for the family living there. If the home was built later than 1978, home buyers can be assured that lead-based paints were not used in the construction process, but those considering homes that were built in the decades prior to that time frame should be aware of the likelihood that some level of lead contamination is likely to exist. In addition, it is important to know how to tell if the threat has been dealt with or whether the risk still exists in the home. If you are a first-time home buyer who would like to learn more about lead contamination and the threat it can hold for your family, the following information can help address these concerns. 

Basic lead exposure facts

According to recently compiled statistics published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) there are currently at least four million households in the United States where children are at risk from exposure to high levels of lead in their home environment. This type of exposure often occurs with no symptoms, even though it is known to be a serious health issue. By the time lead exposure is suspected, children may already have dangerously high lead levels and be experiencing serious physical and developmental issues

The most commonly known forms of lead exposure in the home usually result from:

  • lead found in the home's water supply due to old plumbing pipes or fixtures that contain lead
  • lead-based paint on the surfaces of the home, especially when the paint is deteriorated or disturbed, causing it to flake or emit particles that can be eaten or inhaled by children
  • lead found in the soil around the home that may be tracked into the home and ingested or inhaled by children
  • lead contamination of food through lead exposure in cooking or eating vessels

Even though lead-based paint didn't became illegal for use in residential housing until 1978, its usage was tapering off in homes built before that. In fact, according to information provided by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), only about 24% of homes built between 1960 and 1977 are likely to contain lead-based paint, while as many as 69% percent of homes built between 1940 and 1959 contain lead-based paint and approximately 87% percent of homes built before 1940 are believed to contain lead-based paint. 

How home buyers can decrease the risks

Even though older homes can carry a higher risk of containing lead-based paint, home buyers who are interested in purchasing a home built before 1978 can take steps to determine the level of risk before purchasing. 

The first step in assessing the risk of lead can be done by buyers while viewing the home before making an offer to purchase. Look for damaged surfaces where layers of paint are chipping, flaking, or peeling away and exposing older paint underneath, both inside and outside the home. In addition, check windowsills for paint flakes or dust and look for cracks in the ceilings and walls that may allow the dust from old layers of lead-based paint to filter down onto surfaces in the room.

While older homes that have been completely repainted do offer less risk because the lead-based paint is encapsulated behind the fresh paint, buyers should still consider additional testing to ensure the home will safe for their children to occupy. To have this type of lead testing done, consider hiring a state-certified inspector who can accurately test the home for the presence of lead-based paint, as well as provide you with a written risk assessment that offers additional information about the issue and suggestions for dealing with it. 

Buyers can choose to make their offer on the home contingent upon this type of lead-based assessment. By doing this, they can negotiate possible solutions with the seller if lead-based paint is found in the home or retain the option of dissolving the sales contract, should those negotiations fail.