Lead was outlawed as a paint ingredient in 1978, so if your home was built more than 30 years ago there's a high probability that lead paint is on your inside walls. That's bad news because as old paint peels off the walls, it turns into a poisonous dust that can prove toxic -- especially to children's developing bodies. Properly priming and painting over those old coats of lead paint is essential to your family's safety.
Determine If There's Lead Paint on Your Walls
There's an easy and cost effective way to check for lead paint: use an EPA approved home test kit, such as Pro-Lab's Lead Test Kit for Paint & Dust. The kit lets you mail two samples of paint scrapings from your home to a certified test lab, for a cost of $30. The laboratory will send you its analysis within about two weeks. Pro-Lab kits are sold at Home Depot, Lowe's, Menards, Ace Hardware and many other hardware stores, paint stores and home centers.
Clean Your Walls
If it turns out that you have lead paint on your walls, you should be very careful not to disturb it. Wipe off any dirt or grease with a wet cleanser such as Formula 409. If the paint surface is glossy, use a water based deglosser such as Back to Nature Safer Deglosser™, which is designed for safe use on lead paint.
Apply an Encapsulant Primer
According to the EPA, a properly applied lead encapsulant makes your walls completely safe. There are several commonly available encapsulants, but two types are particularly do-it-yourself friendly: ChildGuard from Fiberlock, and Protect-A-Coat from Back to Nature. These can be applied by brush or roller, but they are much thicker than a typical paint or primer. Where a conventional primer might cover 200 square feet of wall, an encapsulant will only cover between 80 to 120 square feet; it depends on quickly your walls absorb the primer. Even so, you will need to apply two coats over a couple days, and then wait an additional day to apply your topcoat. The painter is not required to wear any unusual safety gear to apply an encapsulant.
Apply Your Topcoat
While you could actually use the encapsulant as a top coat, your choice of color and sheen would be quite limited. The encapsulant will perform its job as a long-lasting protective barrier to the toxic lead paint beneath. According to U.S. EPA standards, if an encapsulant has been properly applied to every lead painted surface in your home, there is no need to declare the presence of lead paint in you next real estate disclosure form.
Mike Matthews is editor of Green Building Product News, a national publication that covers sustainable innovations in building and remodeling, and he has spoken at national conferences on green building. He has also served as founding editor of "Paint Dealer" magazine.