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Removal of toxic materials in the home is critical to the health of all occupants. It also increases the resale value of the home and ensures the success of proper home inspections. Older properties are prone to toxic heavy metals such as lead. The method of removal and the associated costs differ depending on the application and extent of the infiltration in the home.
What Is Toxic Lead?
Toxic lead is found in several products used during home construction. It was also used in gasoline in vehicles prior to 1971. Leaded gas was eventually phased out of production, but the toxic metals still leach into the environment. Lead is a bluish-gray metal that is naturally occurring in the earth's rock. The toxicity comes from burning or consuming lead-based materials.
Uses of Lead and Testing
Lead was once used in many different applications around the home, including paint, soil, plumbing and pipes. Each use requires a distinct form of testing.
Lead paint is one of the most common forms of exposure in the home. In fact, real estate transactions under the FHA loan program require lead-based paint screenings during inspection. It is considered the most common concern in homes built before the 1970s. Wall paint and some plaster tints used to contain lead as a binding agent. A lab test can be done in the home to determine how much lead is in the paint in parts per million.
Older homes in urban areas may contain a higher concentration of lead than suburban or rural areas. This is due to the number of lead-based vehicles that caused exposure along the streets and lots of these homes throughout the years. The heavy metal leaches into the soil and makes it difficult to raise vegetable gardens or become potable for city water systems. An aggregate soil test will determine the amount of lead available.
Lead in the plumbing can be a source of trouble for drinking water. According to the EPA, lead can enter the water through corrosion of pipes and fittings over time. A high-impact reverse osmosis filter can eliminate this problem in most homes. However, a test usually is able to determine lead content based on the age of the home and the amount of minerals in the water. This determines acidity levels and how the minerals act with water that sits for a long period of time in the pipes.
Remediation techniques involve total removal or mitigating techniques such as encapsulation or lowering exposure due to environmental conditions. Each technique should be determined based on the wear and tear of the home as well as the test results of household products throughout the home such as paint.
A lead abatement strategy is very similar to asbestos abatement. This involves completely removing the lead-based product from the home as efficiently as possible. Usually, a home inspection can determine the possibility of lead exposure, but a risk assessment is more thorough and can lead to discussions about whether there should be abatement.
The work area for abatement is typically based on the existence of extensive amounts of lead-based paint in the home. The most common forms of abatement are enclosure, removal and replacement. The enclosure method uses a wall covering or paneling to cover the area. Replacement and removal sound similar, but replacement involves completely replacing the lead paint with new material. It's typically done around windows and doors. Removal is a more risky procedure that involves loose dust and on-site vacuum systems. These vacuum systems contain a HEPA filter and require all sealed openings to be closed to avoid going into the furnace system.
Encapsulation is an encasing technique that covers the lead paint in a liquid solution to prevent further flaking into the environment. The products used for encapsulation typically start at $35 and up per container.
Advantages and Disadvantages
Abatement of lead in the home has a tremendous long-term benefit if done properly. Total abatement is not a temporary treatment; it completely removes the paint or material from the house. The reverse HEPA systems used by professionals eliminate the need for a touch-up in the future. The downside to this system is the fact that it creates a large amount of dust and fumes. Extra care must be taken to ensure that none of this material gets into the HVAC system or outside environment. It only takes a trace amount of ingestion to result in poisoning.
Encapsulation techniques that use a liquid solution or a covering technique to apply new material over the old are less difficult to install and can be effective in wall sections. In most cases, the process can completely transform the home. It also prevents extra dust from floating in the air into the HVAC system. However, it cannot be considered a cure to some of the more complex problems. Some forms of molding and woodwork are extremely difficult to encapsulate if the molding is very ornate. Paneling enclosure systems are also limited to smoother surfaces. Some forms of plaster can be difficult to work with.
Managing lead abatement in pipes and plumbing is an effective way to finish removing lead from the home. It can eliminate concerns of water from tainted groundwater entering the home. However, simpler solutions such as a reverse osmosis filter can eliminate these contaminants efficiently if the area is small. A larger area with extensive plumbing can be more expensive and would require additional filters over time.