Is it safe to live in a house with lead paint?

It is safe to live in a house with lead paint IF the paint shows no signs of deterioration. However, we encourage you to read the entire article to understand better why the answer is not quite that simple.

That is the very brief answer to the question, but there is much more to the question than just this. More angles and questions to be asked. The questions to ask are not always easy, and the answers are not always easy either. This issue is complicated in many ways.

It can be safe to live in your home even if painted with lead-based paint. First and foremost, there cannot be any signs of any cracks. But are you sure that this is also the case? Are you sure that the paint used on your house more than 40 years ago doesn’t show signs of aging? Your house has survived for a long time, but is that also the case for the paint?

While there may be lead-based paint examples that have survived many years, this certainly isn’t always the case. It is far from common that the old paint is still 100% in good shape today. And even if the interior paint is still flawless, is this also the case with the exterior paint?

Table of contents

  • The exterior
  • A dishonest contractor
  • A simple breeze
  • What are some of the consequences?
  • So, who is especially at risk?
  • Are you a landlord?
  • Being a landlord means financial gains
  • Is this a real concern you should be thinking about?

The exterior

Has the exterior paint withstood more than 40 years of the weather’s beating? Constant wind, occasional rain, and varying temperatures. Not to forget the burning rays of the sun. The chances are that the exterior paint is showing signs of aging. The paint used outside may be of a higher quality. But there are still limitations to how long the paint can withstand the weather conditions. Eventually, the paint will show deterioration.

Factors of deterioration

  • Constant wind
  • Occasional rain
  • Direct sun
  • Hot summers
  • Frost during winters
  • Passing of time

What happens when the exterior paint starts showing issues, while the interior paint may still be in good condition?

The exterior paint is probably the first one that will start being an issue. You may have thought it is okay because you do not have to deal with an inside issue. That’s not necessarily the case. The reality is that you should know the state of your paint for certain. To know that, you can find a test kit that can tell you whether your paint on the outside of your home is dangerous.

And while we’re on that subject, we also recommend you to read another article that we recently published. The article covers a related topic – whether all homes built before 1978 have lead paint.

Suppose that you’re in a situation where you have tested your home, and the results came back negative. In that case, you might be happy with the result.

However, there may also be a risk that you didn’t do enough or the correct testing. Unfortunately, a single or just a few testing may not be sufficient. In reality, you should not rely on the result of one simple test from one surface and accept this result for the whole house. You may not want to test every surface, but this is how you get the most reliable results you were looking for.

A certain paint that has been used in the kitchen is not necessarily also used in the bathroom. Maybe the different functionality of the various rooms has required different paint types. Or perhaps a remodel of the house was done at some point, and another paint was used.

If you were to remodel your home today, would you even know what paint was used during the last remodel? Some people may keep unused paint in their basement, but mostly this is not the case. Often you can’t or won’t use the same paint.

People often move. That also means that many different stakeholders have had a say in which type of paint has been used.

Different homeowners or contractors may have had different preferences or possibilities throughout the years. The contractor ran out of the batch of paint used, and another type was used instead. Maybe even unknown to the homeowners.

A dishonest contractor

Take an example where the contractor ran out of the initial type of paint. What if the subsequent choice ended up not being quite as good as the first one? Or perhaps the correct safety precautions weren’t followed at that time.

The contractor may have been limited time-wise and needed to be done with the project.

Maybe a more inexpensive and less safe choice or paint method was used. Cutting a corner meant that the higher quality of paint wasn’t chosen. Even though maybe it should have been the higher quality according to the contract, most likely no one would realize.

Even if someone did realize, it would be too late to do anything about it. Many years later, perhaps someone would realize that the paint didn’t age quite like the rest of the home. Asking the contractor many years later will not be possible, and maybe he’s not around anymore.

Let’s assume that the paint chosen was lead-based.

So, you’re now in a reality where you have different rooms that may have been updated at different times. Maybe even by several different contractors?

Perhaps the contractor who built your home is still around. They won’t accept the liability and deal with the situation many years later and abate the bad paint. Do you even have records that prove that they were responsible for your present situation?

So, we have established that it is very unlikely that you know whether or not there is lead in the paint. At least not without having tested every single surface in your home. And the reality is even more complicated than that.

The paint inside your home may be safe and somehow have managed not to deteriorate since it was used. The outside paint has not been submitted to the same conditions. It may not be quite as obvious as the inside paint. The deteriorating outside paint discharges lead dust particles onto the ground. They can now contaminate in various ways. It may be that the particles are only lying on the top of the ground. But there is also another very likely possibility.

The other possibility is that you occasionally have the windows open to the outside on a nice summer day. Lead dust is being released and is now not just to be found on the ground but also entering the house with the breeze.

A simple breeze

You were trying to do something good by opening the windows. Still, it’s a breeze that could have detrimental consequences on your family’s health.

We have all been told that you should go outside. We should get some fresh air. If opening up the windows means that you are bringing in many lead particles, it is a major issue.

Perhaps the interior paint turned out to be in good condition, showing no signs of aging. On the other hand, the exterior paint had all sorts of cracks and other signs of deterioration. This ultimately meant lead dust was still entering your home. All of that happened in your pursuit to stay healthy and bring some of that summer or spring air inside.

Opening up the windows was one of those things that you thought you could easily do, even recommended. However, the contrary can be the case. And there are more ways deteriorating exterior paint can affect you and your family.

Perhaps your family is much like the standard American family. And if you have children, there is an even bigger risk that you can be exposed without you even knowing.

Remember how we mentioned that the particles from the problematic lead could also be contaminating the soil?

Suppose you are like many American families and are interested in raising curious and independent children. In that case, you may have a vegetable garden. This is one of the activities that can raise their curiosity and introduce them to the culinary world.

What better way to introduce them to the culinary world and at the same time promote their responsibility than to plant your vegetable garden behind the house?

This project may be the reason why their blood lead levels are elevated.

Perhaps you and your family enjoy spending the Sunday afternoon in the garden taking care of those carrots and tomatoes that you planted. You also use it for the food you are cooking. From where do these plants get their nutrients?

They are not just getting all the good nutrients from the ground. They’re also absorbing some harmful particles. That means that your tomato plant could be taking in those lead particles. In your process of encouraging your children to eat more vegetables, they’re being exposed to heavy metals. Those deliciously tasting miracles from your backyard are now becoming dangerous. They can be a reason if your child is having issues in school.

Health risks

  • Liver disease
  • Development delay
  • Cognitive decline
  • Kidney problems


Concentration or thinking difficultiesHypertension
Tingling, pain, or weakness in the hands and feetPain in the abdomen
Motor or mobility issuesMood disorders
Pain in the joints and musclesWeight loss

What are some of the consequences?

Lead is a horrible material when it enters the body. It will have all sorts of bad consequences. You’re not talking about the seasonal flu that will affect you for a little time before it passes.

No, this material accumulates in your body and stays there your entire life. That’s why you won’t simply be recovering from exposure to it. When you or your family are exposed to it, the lead will stay in your body and do the damage it will inevitably do. For children, that means that it can lead to serious consequences in school.

Developmental delay and cognitive decline are consequences that can be experienced. That is why it is recommended that your children get tested for lead several times through their childhood.

It may seem unimportant to do these blood tests for your children, right? After all, you make them eat the organically grown vegetables from your backyard. That is, without realizing that those vegetables are the exact reasons why they are facing those difficulties.

It may not be possible to revert the exposure that has already happened. But reading this page and learning about the dangers of lead is at least a good first step.

It will also be able to help you in your next actions and allow you and your family to live a safer life in the future.

Did you know that even though your home may not have been built before 1978, there’s still a risk that the soil is contaminated? If there was another house built there before, proper abatement might not have been done.

Suppose you plan to grow vegetables in your garden and want to avoid unnecessary lead exposure. In that case, there are steps you should take. Our first advice is to encourage you to test the soil. The alternative is to make sure that you are using soil that isn’t at risk of being contaminated over time.

It’s easy to buy a load of soil for your aspiring vegetable garden rather than relying on the soil in your garden. That way, you avoid any contamination over time with various pollutants. When you buy high-quality soil from a reliable supplier, you ensure that you are not exposing your family to danger.

So, who is especially at risk?

We would love to say that no specific group in the population is more at risk than others. The reality is that a lot of public housing has unfortunately been built at a time when lead was added to paint. The reason is that it increased durability. The health of the inhabitants was often not taken into consideration when making decisions on materials to use for the construction.

If you do live in public housing, we very much encourage you to take steps to find out when it was built. Ensure that the necessary testing is done, especially when the paint is starting to show problems.

This article has handled some of the issues extensively. We found it important to give you a detailed insight into the possible risks. As you are aware, lead paint in a home is not to be ignored. The health consequences are very real. Testing is important and should be done both inside and outside. The soil should also be tested if you intend to eat the products you grow there yourself.

Are you a landlord?

If you are a landlord, there are also other things that you should be making sure you are doing. Perhaps you may be ready to accept the risk of living in the house yourself. But if you are renting out the unit, you should be certain of its condition. Therefore, we recommend that you have a contractor come by with either the 3M lead tests that we sell or an XRF testing device.

When you are a landlord renting out your property, the question isn’t just whether you feel sufficiently safe living there yourself. It is also whether or not you are providing the necessary information to a new tenant that they are required to have.

Our recommendations are always to reach out to your local building community and investigate their requirements. Certain states are much more strict than others. It is not uncommon for landlords to get fined significant amounts of money when they don’t comply with the relevant laws. Suppose you imagine that you have a property which you are renting out and making a nice return on money from. If you are not complying with the local legislation, you may get a considerable fine. Sometimes, a state starts looking into cases where the landlords have not provided the necessary documentation. In those situations, you could even get a fine as large as $37,500.

Some landlords may also find pleasure in doing a lot of the home improvement work themselves. It may be a great way to save money on a project.

You can make a lot of money if you buy a property that is perhaps a little older and chooses to put the work into it. You can increase its value considerably. That’s great!

You may be able to do a lot of the work yourself if you plan to live there. The RRP rules may be different if you do it to make money on your investment. Suppose you aren’t living in the house yourself. In that case, it is very hard to argue that you were doing it without the financial gain being your motive.

Why would you take the project upon yourself in the first place if your intention wasn’t to make money from renting out the place that you own?

There is always an inherent risk associated with the purchase of the property. On top of that, you would also ask yourself if you are ready to accept the extra work. You will have extra responsibilities and challenges and be facing other troubles if you are a landlord. Perhaps you end up renting your place to someone who has difficulties paying the rent on time. Consequently, you have to find the money for the mortgage somewhere else.

Being a landlord means financial gains

It is a very hard case to argue that you were remodeling your house without expecting a higher return on your money. If you are putting in an entirely new kitchen, you will also expect to be able to raise the rent in the future. It wasn’t to increase the value of your rental property. Therefore, you need to be compliant if the EPA asks for documentation for the various remodeling projects.

Suppose you are a landlord who enjoys doing many home improvement projects yourself. In that case, you should know the possible implications of being a landlord. If you only own homes built after 1978, you can keep doing the home improvement on them yourself.

That ensures that you have the necessary licenses that you may be asked to provide. If you own a home built after 1978, life will be easier. Then you will not have the burden of documenting the testing for lead when upgrading your unit.

Is this a real concern you should be thinking about?

We are often asked by people whether or not they really should be concerned with RRP regulations. Is this an issue in today’s world with all we know about painting? They ask us what the wording means. Suppose you’re a landlord or a contractor. In that case, it may be tempting to ask yourself whether you really should be concerned about the probability of getting fined by the EPA. Should you just be dealing with the situation if that ever happens?

Our answer is always a resounding yes. You should be concerned about it as the consequences of ignoring the rules can financially cripple you. You may not think that it is likely that the EPA will come to the town that you live in. But there is always a risk that it will happen, and the effort of preventing is well worthwhile trouble.

Risks if not complying to regulations

  • Health risks to those living there
  • Health risks to those visiting
  • Financial consequences if renting out
  • Legal consequences if reported to authorities

Another and more likely scenario is that it isn’t the EPA that comes asking for the documentation. Another situation to be prepared for is often forgotten. A tenant likely reports a landlord for negligence if he or she discovers a problem of this kind. Or perhaps if some of the fundamental rights have been ignored.

Yes, you need to ensure yourself. You need to live up to both the federal and state requirements when informing homeowners of the potential risk of lead exposure.

Are you a landlord and want to investigate deeper into these things yourself? In that case, we recommend that you continue reading on the EPA’s website. There are situations where it may be safe to live in a house that has lead paint. But in most situations, you will want to be sure that you have done the necessary and legally required testing. This testing can be done with an XRF machine or lead testing kits.


Legal regulations
1978Lead prohibited in paint
1992Lead prohibited in consumer products
2008 (+2010 + 2011)EPA’s RRP rules (updated)

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