Encapsulating Lead Paint: How to, Can You Seal With Polyurethane?

Does your home date back to 1978 or earlier and you are planning to get it repainted for the very first time?

If so, you may want to put down your sander just yet. You need to understand why repainting in old homes is not as easy as it sounds, especially if you are at risk of dealing with lead-based paint.

Did you know that millions of homes built before 1978 are suspected to have used lead paint? In fact, it is believed that around 35% of homes in the entire country have this type of paint present.

You may think that paint that contains lead is just a trivial matter, but it is not, particularly if it is already damaged. This type of paint is the leading cause of lead poisoning in both adults and children alike. Because of the very fine lead dust that is invisible to the naked eye, no one knows that they are being exposed to it until they experience its symptoms.

And if you are unaware, lead poisoning causes serious health issues and can be fatal.

Don’t worry, you can still get your home repainted, although you need to take additional steps to ensure that the hazards involving lead paint is minimized or removed. One of the fastest ways of doing so is by encapsulation, which basically traps lead paint underneath it.

If you have no idea what it is, we have come up with this ultimate guide when it comes to encapsulating lead paint.

Yes, that old plaster and those hairline cracks on the walls aren’t simply things you can ignore. If you’re living in a place that you rent, you should also know that your landlord has certain responsibilities.

Can You Paint Over Lead Paint to Seal It?

Shortcuts – who doesn’t like that? You might think that painting over lead paint using ordinary paint is the perfect shortcut, but it does not work that way. In most cases, it does not really do anything; it may cover up the paint but the risk level remains the same, especially if you applied it over damaged lead paint.

But before doing anything else, you should first confirm if lead paint is indeed present, and you can use the popular lead check test swabs for that, since it is easy to use and will give you instantaneous results. Since a basic kit only has two swabs, the bulk lead paint test kits are ideal if you are planning to repaint your entire house. With 144 swabs, it is more than enough to test various surfaces of your home.

Once you confirm the presence of lead paint, you need to check its condition. If you do not see any signs of damage at all, such as cracks or peeling paint, you can safely paint over the lead paint, but not before applying an encapsulant.

Simply applying any conventional paint over the lead-based paint, even if the latter is in perfect condition, is not recommended. Ordinary paint is susceptible to wear and tear, especially in high traffic areas; once it gets damage, there is a chance that the lead paint underneath will also be damaged and release toxic lead dust.

To prevent this, you must first use encapsulants that act as the barrier or seal that keeps the lead paint in place. Encapsulants prevent lead paint from chipping or creating lead dust, as well as keep anyone from getting into direct contact with the lead paint. Once the encapsulants are applied, that is the only time you can apply conventional paint over it.

Encapsulants come in three different types:

  • Cement-like Materials that Contain Polymers – these membranes have a curing period and will form a thick coating once set. It is applied just like ordinary cement, which makes use of trowels
  • Chemical Compounds or Polymers – applied via airless spray guns, rollers, or brushes and the resulting membrane is known to be robust but flexible
  • Polyurethane or Epoxy – the membrane it creates is also flexible but tougher. These encapsulants are also applied using a brush, airless spray gun, or roller

But if the lead-based paint is already damaged, you cannot apply encapsulants over it; your only solution is to completely remove the damaged lead paint.

How Much Does It Cost to Encapsulate Lead Paint?

Most homeowners know that addressing lead paint is expensive, especially if you get licensed contractors to handle everything. Fortunately, it does not cost as much to encapsulate lead paint, making it a practical option for most people.

If you plan to do it yourself, you only need to purchase the sealant or encapsulating compound, which has an average price of $50 per gallon or $230 for 5 gallons. This means encapsulating a home that has a square footage between 1,000 to 2,000 will cost around $800 to $1,400.

It is far cheaper to DIY compared to hiring a professional, as it can cost $4 per square foot for the materials and labor of lead contractors. This means encapsulating lead paint in a 1,000 square foot home can cost $4,000, which is a far cry from the average price if you do it yourself.

There are also different encapsulating compounds out on the market, and one of which is Lead Stop, which is manufactured by Dumond. However, not all encapsulants will work on all surfaces, that is why it is important to check which ones will meet your needs. (not sure if you should include this part right now, but it can be used if you have plans to sell similar items).

Can I Remove Lead Paint Myself?

If you want a more permanent solution when it comes to dealing with lead-based paint, a complete removal is your only option. But compared to encapsulating lead paint, this is a much more dangerous task because the chances of being exposed to lead is higher.

There are a myriad of ways to remove lead paint, and the most common are:

Wet Sanding

The surface with lead paint must be made wet first by spraying water or by applying wet sanding sponges on it. Water will trap any lead dust that is generated by sanding, which lessens the possibility of lead dust becoming airborne. You don’t need to make the surface dripping wet, but it should remain wet at all times while you work.

After wetting the surface, you can use either sandpaper or sander to remove the paint. Manually sanding the surface using sandpaper generates less dust but is slower, compared to using a sander. If you prefer power sanding instead of sanding by hand, make sure that your sander has a HEPA vacuum attachment to immediately collect any dust produced by sanding. Power sanding is messy and creates a lot of dust, which is what must be avoided.

HEPA filters are a must when it comes to dealing with lead paint because these filters are capable of trapping very miniscule dust and other particles, including lead, that ordinary filters are not equipped to do.

Wet Scraping

Hand scrapers, wire brushes, and other similar tools are used to scrape off the paint by hand. Just like in wet sanding, the surface must be wet first before you start scraping. Wet scraping is also time consuming and labor-intensive, but the creation of lead dust is minimized.

The goal of wet scraping is to simply remove any loose, cracked, or peeling lead paint, but not to remove all lead paint present.

Dry scraping and sanding can also be done, but because it will generate a lot of lead dust, this is not recommended. And in some states, dry scraping as a means of removing lead paint is even prohibited.

Wet Planing

Similar to wet scraping, wet planing scrapes off paint but instead of scrapers, a plane is used. Because of the tool involved, wet planing is only done on wood surfaces. Wet Planing is also ideal for high impact or friction surfaces, like edges of doors and windows.

Heat Removal

Heat guns are used to soften the paint, which will make scraping easier. But because too much heat can create toxic lead fumes, open flame heat guns and heat guns set to temperatures exceeding 1200 degrees Fahrenheit must not be used. Appropriate h eat guns should only be used at a maximum of 1100 degrees Fahrenheit.

Using Chemical Strippers

A more recent innovation, there are chemical strippers intended to remove lead paint. It works by trapping the lead paint to it like glue and once the paint strippers are peeled off, the lead paint safely comes off with it. This is now considered as the safest method to remove lead paint because zero lead dust is generated.


Aided by high-powered equipment, high pressure water or abrasive blasting is also used to remove lead paint. Water blasting is done in homes, while abrasive blasting is catered to industrial surfaces, such as bridges with lead paint.

Because of the amount of mess it creates, this method is only used on exterior surfaces. While the water used to remove paint is also capable of trapping lead particles, you must cover all surfaces where water contaminated with lead can end up. Even if lead is naturally occurring and present in the soil, too much of it present can cause soil contamination.

And since you are working outdoors, this means placing protective coverings on the ground, trees, plants, and other surfaces.

Among all these lead paint removal methods, the power sanding and heat removal methods are not advisable for DIY work. These two can generate the most amount of dust and toxic fumes that can be harmful to anyone, especially those involved in the work.

Even if only licensed contractors are required to observe lead-safe practices in accordance to the Renovation, Repair, and Painting Rule, or the RRP Rule, homeowners who plan to DIY the task must also do so. While the RRP rule does not technically apply to homeowners working on their own homes so they are free not to follow these practices, they are strongly encouraged to do so, since this type of work increases their chances of lead exposure.

These lead-safe practices help prevent those working with lead paint, as well as inhabitants of the affected home, from acquiring the health hazards associated with it. Even if the lead paint has already been removed, lead dust that can be easily inhaled or ingested may still linger in various parts of your home.

If you will remove lead paint yourself, make sure that you are equipped with the right safety gear and equipment for the task and cleanup afterwards, which includes:

  • Protective clothes that will cover as much skin as possible, goggles, coveralls, gloves, shoe covers, and other related clothing and accessories. Make sure that these will be laundered separately afterwards.
  • A disposable face mask or respirator specifically intended for such work. Those with a HEPA filter N-100, P-100, or R-100 that are NIOSH-certified are recommended.
  • Coverings to seal off the work area, such as heavy-duty plastic sheeting or tarpaulins, and tape to keep the seals in place
  • Plastic bags for any debris generated and cleaning materials. You should ideally have separate buckets and rags for your cleaning solution and water for rinsing.
  • Vacuum cleaner with HEPA filters. Ordinary vacuum cleaners have a chance of releasing lead into the air, so they should be avoided.

While removing lead paint should ideally be handled by the pros, it can still be done by homeowners like you. Just make sure to follow lead-safe practices before, during, and after removing lead-based paint, including cleanup.

It is also vital that you work wet so that the chances of lead dust becoming airborne are minimized.

How to Encapsulate Lead Paint?

Encapsulation is not the only way to cover up lead paint. You can also deal with lead paint by covering it up – literally – using the enclosure method.

Lead paint enclosure involves installing a solid cover over the surface where lead paint is present. But instead of using encapsulants, materials such as plywood, aluminum or vinyl claddings, tile, acrylic sheets, drywall, underlayment, paneling, etc. are used. Do note that installing wallpaper or contact paper over lead paint is not considered a method of enclosing it.

However, this is also a temporary fix. Once the enclosure is removed or damage, you are again at risk for lead exposure.

Damaged lead paint must first be removed before the enclosure is installed. You also need to address source problems, like leaks, first, since these can weaken and ultimately damage the enclosure.

Installing the enclosure is not just placing it over the surface. You need to ensure that it is also sealed off properly, particularly at the seams or edges, to prevent any lead dust from escaping. Even if it is just a temporary fix, you must install it like it will be a permanent addition over a surface.

Encapsulating vs Abating Lead Paint

By now, you already have an idea on the basics of lead paint encapsulation, as well as other means of dealing with lead paint. All these are actually the different methods of lead abatement, which is defined by the Residential Lead-Based Paint Hazard Reduction of 1992 as a means of permanently addressing lead paint hazards.

Take note that the law’s definition of permanent is not the same as what we know of. In this case, what is considered permanent by the law is a fix or method of addressing lead paint that surpasses twenty years in terms of effectiveness.

From this definition alone, we can see why all these four methods fits their definition of permanent:

  • Replacement or changing the component of a house, such as moldings, doors, and windows with lead paint with a new one that is completely lead-free
  • Encapsulation
  • Enclosure
  • Removal

Often confused with the RRP rule that focuses on activities that may disturb lead paint, the goal of lead abatement is only to remove lead-based paint hazards permanently. However, this does not necessarily mean removal of lead paint, that is why encapsulation and enclosure still fall under this category.

You are already aware that the condition of the lead paint is a big factor when it comes to the effectiveness and longevity of encapsulants. But, there is another key factor that you need to be aware of, which is the surface.

Unfortunately, not all surfaces are suitable for applying encapsulants, and those that they can be applied to include:

  • Non-glossy surfaces. Glossy ones must first be treated with chemical deglossers or undergo wet sanding to roughen up the surface, since encapsulants stick best on rough surfaces.
  • Undamaged and architecturally-sound areas. Any damage present must first be repaired before adding encapsulants.
  • Surfaces that are dry, clean, and free of contaminants. Note that there are encapsulants that are water-based and can work on damp, but not dripping wet, surfaces and still be effective. But, it should not be applied over surfaces affected by water leaks and excessive moisture.

Encapsulants must not also be applied on surfaces or areas where it will be frequently exposed to friction, such as in high traffic areas. These areas are those where people frequently walk on, touch, or interact with, such as doors, windows, floors, thresholds, cabinets, stairs, drawers, etc.

These areas and surfaces easily succumb to wear and tear, which greatly affects the longevity of encapsulants. If the surface paint is damaged, the encapsulant underneath may soon be affected, which may eventually cause lead to be released to the atmosphere.

If the surface, but not the lead paint, shows signs of deterioration, such as a wall that is loose or becoming separate from the lath, encapsulating is still not advisable. A damage surface will soon affect the lead paint present, which in turn can affect the encapsulant.

This possibility is the biggest disadvantage of encapsulating versus other methods of abating lead paint. Other cons of lead encapsulation that you should know of are:

  • Wrong installation, particularly when installing over lead paint, will eventually cause lifting of the encapsulant and eventual peeling
  • It needs to be regularly checked for any signs of damage, as encapsulation can fail over time
  • You must test it onsite before applying the encapsulants over all the lead paint present to determine if it will properly adhere to the surface
  • Certain encapsulants can produce hazardous waste
  • Weak or thin encapsulants can be easily broken or chipped
  • If thick encapsulants are required, this may cover up decorative elements of the surface, such as in moldings
  • Different surfaces may require different types of encapsulants, lessening its cost-effectiveness

Despite these disadvantages, lead encapsulation may be the ideal way for you to deal with lead paint because of the following advantages:

  • It is inexpensive compared to other lead abatement methods
  • It does not generate harmful lead dust, making it one of the safest methods of dealing with lead paint
  • Requires little to no preparation
  • Quick to apply
  • Since the encapsulant is applied in smaller sections, those living in the same house can simply stay in another area of the house and not vacate the premises while encapsulation is ongoing.
  • You have a wide variety of options available out on the market. Aside from the traditional ones, manufacturers are also coming up with encapsulants that are environment-friendly and poses no harm to its users.

Lead paint removal poses a greater risk, that is why this type of work is often state-regulated and is best done by professionals. Not only that, the upfront costs are higher and removing the lead paint means moving out temporarily until the work is done, which results in additional expenses for homeowners. Workers must also install barriers in the site to contain lead particles that become airborne or any substances contaminated by it, such as water.

So, if you want a quick, easy, and cheap but still reliable method of dealing with lead paint, encapsulation is your best bet. But if you want a more permanent solution, the best way is to get the lead paint removed.

Steps of Encapsulating Lead Paint

If you decide that encapsulating lead paint is still the best option for you, you need to be aware of the different steps involved in the entire process. The actual encapsulation work is not the only aspect you should be focused on; preparation and cleanup are equally important.

Before you start encapsulating lead paint, you must do the following preparations, aside from wearing the safety gear we mentioned earlier. Note that these also apply to other lead abatement methods:

  • Switch off the HVAC system and seal off all air vents and ducts using plastic sheets and tape. Make sure that there are no gaps for lead particles to enter.
  • Transfer your belongings that are placed in the same room or area where you will encapsulate the paint.
  • For items that cannot be moved, cover them up with plastic and add tape to seal.
  • Close all doors and windows.
  • Protect your floors by covering them up with plastic

Once the preparations are complete, you can now start with the actual encapsulation, which involves these steps:

  1. Check the paint layers to be encapsulated to see if the it can withstand wear and tear and will let the encapsulant adhere to it by doing coating adhesion tests.
  2. If suitable, do a patch test first. Wipe the surface clean and apply your chosen encapsulant to a small portion, ideally measuring 6×6 inches of that surface. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions when it comes to the appropriate thickness of the encapsulant.
  3. Wait until the patch is dry to touch. If you see any cracking, bubbling, or any visible effects on the encapsulant applied, you need to use another type of encapsulant or choose another lead abatement method. The longer the wait, the better it is because some encapsulants may take days before it shows any signs of cracking or peeling.
  4. If the encapsulant passes the patch test, prepare the surface where it will be applied to. Manufacturers have different instructions for doing so, but you ultimately end up with a dry and clean surface.
  5. Apply the encapsulant by following the manufacturer’s instructions for it. Typically applied like paint, make sure that the encapsulant layer is even and meets the required thickness.
  6. Allow it to dry undisturbed.
  7. Follow the cleanup instructions of the manufacturer.

Make sure to check your local laws for any policies involving lead encapsulation. Some states require those who will encapsulate lead paint to undergo training first and fulfill various requirements, even if they are only working on their own homes.

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