5 Signs of Lead Paint in Your Home or Building

Do you have concerns about lead paint, or suspect that there is paint in your home that might contain lead?

Lead paint is a major concern for families living (or planning to live) in old houses or apartment buildings.

Exposure to lead from old paint on walls, windowsills, and other frequently-touched surfaces can lead to a variety of serious health problems, especially for young children and pregnant women.

In this article, we’ll introduce 5 common warning signs of lead paint in your home or building.

How to Tell if Your Home Has Lead Paint

In New York City, the use of lead-based paint was banned from residential use in 1960. Outside of NYC, it continued to be used in new housing until it the federal lead paint ban in 1978. However, the danger of lead paint still exists in many older homes and buildings built before these bans went into effect.

While it’s difficult to visually confirm if the paint in your home is lead-based or not, here are 5 signs that indicate a higher risk of lead paint exposure.

  1. Pre-1960 Homes
  2. Alligatoring
  3. Chalking
  4. Multiple Sub-Layers of Paint
  5. Lead Exposure Symptoms

These signs should help you determine whether or not you should get your home or building tested for lead.

The most accurate method for lead paint testing is X-ray fluorescence (XRF), which requires a special machine operated by an EPA-certified lead inspector. Click here to learn more about certified XRF lead testing in New York City.

Home lead test kits are also available, but the results are not as reliable. Currently, there are only 3 lead test kits recognized by the EPA: 3M™ LeadCheck™, D-Lead®, and the State of Massachusetts Test Kit.

5 Signs of Lead Paint

#1: Pre-1960 Homes

The first indication that your house or building might contain lead paint is that it was built prior to 1978 (or 1960 in New York City) before the use of lead paint was banned. According to statistics from the EPA:

  • 24% of homes built between 1960 to 1977 contain lead paint.
  • 69% of homes built between 1940 to 1959 contain lead paint.
  • 87% of homes built before 1940 contain lead paint.

If your house or building was built after 1978, the chances that it contains lead paint is extremely low.

On the other hand, if it was built before 1940, you should ask the seller or landlord whether or not it has been previously tested for lead paint. If not, you may want to consider getting XRF testing or lab analysis to determine whether or not lead paint poses a risk to you and your family.

#2: Alligatoring

Lead paint tends to chip and crack in a distinct geometric pattern called “alligatoring.” It starts as a slight cracking that grows wider over time, forming many small patches that resemble the scales of an alligator.

That’s because lead paint is an oil-based paint. Alligatoring happens to oil-based paints, which are relatively rigid and brittle — but not to water-based paints such as latex and acrylic, which are more elastic.

Over a long period of time, expansion and contraction of the underlying surface due to temperature fluctuations creates this pattern of cracking.

It’s important to note that not all oil-based paints contain lead, so seeing paint crack in scaly patterns isn’t enough to be 100% certain that the paint in your home is lead-based.

However, lead was one of the most popular pigments and drying agents used in oil-based paint prior to 1978, which makes alligatoring an important sign to look out for.

#3: Chalking

Chalking is another form of paint deterioration that points to a higher likelihood of having lead paint.

If you rub or wipe the surface of the paint with a dark-colored cloth and find a chalky residue transfer onto the cloth, that means the paint is chalking. This white, chalky substance is created when longtime exposure to moisture and UV light causes certain paint components, such as lead pigments and binding agents, to oxidize.

When lead paint deteriorates, the chalky paint residue may contain traces of lead. If a child touches a painted surface, the residue may transfer to their hand, which can be dangerous if it is licked or ingested.

Chalking occurs naturally with all types of paint but it’s more apparent in oil-based paints, which oxidize faster than water-based paints. Therefore, a painted surface in your home with extensive chalking is more likely to be oil-based, giving you another reason to test it for lead.

#4: Multiple Sub-Layers of Paint

Older sub-layers of paint are more likely to contain lead paint — especially those that were applied before 1960.

Painters usually prefer to paint over old or deteriorating layers instead of stripping it before applying a new coat, creating layers of paint that resemble the rings of a tree. As a result, lead-based paint in older homes might be hiding under coats of non-leaded paint.

If you find peeling or chipping paint containing more than one layer, that means that the older paint underneath has loosened or deteriorated and might be allowing lead-containing chips or dust to escape.

Pay particular attention to surfaces that get a lot of wear-and-tear, such as windowsills and doorframes, which tend to be more frequently painted over.

#5: Lead Exposure Symptoms

Last but not least, noticing symptoms of lead exposure or lead poisoning is another important sign of lead paint in your home.

Lead builds up in the blood over a period of months and years, and causes a range of serious health problems. Some of these symptoms only appear when the amount of lead in blood has already reached a dangerous level, so you should treat lead poisoning symptoms as an alarm rather than an early warning sign.

According to the Mayo Clinic, symptoms of lead poisoning in children include:

  • Developmental delay and difficulty learning
  • Irritability
  • Loss of appetite and weight loss
  • Sluggishness and fatigue
  • Abdominal pain
  • Vomiting
  • Constipation
  • Hearing Loss
  • Seizures

Lead isn’t only dangerous to young children. For adults, common symptoms of prolonged lead exposure include:

  • High blood pressure
  • Joint and muscle pain
  • Difficulties with memory and concentration
  • Headaches
  • Abdominal pain
  • Mood disorders
  • Fertility problems

Is Your Home at Risk for Lead Paint?

If you’re concerned about finding any of the signs of lead paint above, don’t hesitate to reach out to us. At Green Orchard Group, we are a team of EPA-certified lead professionals with over 25+ years of combined experience in lead assessment and abatement.

We’re happy to answer any questions you might have and provide recommendations. Contact us today to let us know how we can help you.