Leading The Way Without Lead

Lead safe practices protecting homeowners & employees

With all the new professionals that have joined our team in the past three years, owner John Murphy, felt it was worth taking time our of our extremely busy schedule to make sure everyone—designers, project managers, carpenters, & painters—all understood and respected the dangers of lead in the home. He also wanted to re-emphasize what is expected to keep Murphy employees and clients safe during the remodeling process—from demolition to final walk-thru.

Pau Nygren shares insights into lead safe best practices during the remodeling process. (Upper left corner) Michelle Sass signs for her hearing impaired father, Murphy Bros. carpenter Ivan Sass

So, we brought in a lead testing specialist to share the latest technology on the subject and share some sobering stories about remodels where either homeowner or contractor ignored lead paint regulations to their peril. He also shared his testing procedures/reports and some basic facts we’d like you to know about lead, including the fact that Murphy Bros. is and has been EPA Lead Safe Certified since those regulations were enacted.

Typical lead analysis report showing rooms that pass, have led present and fail due to high levels of lead exceeding EPA standards

The chances of significant lead in your house are not a given, even if your home was built before 1950. However, the EPA’s regulations on potential lead hazards are clear and must be treated with great respect. More widely known as the RRP (Renovation, Repair and Painting) regulations, It was enacted on April 22nd, 2010 and stipulates that contractors, painters and all other trades that disturb more than 6 square feet of surfaces in buildings built before 1978 are required to be certified to follow proper procedures to safely control lead dust while performing their work.

While lead can be found in many building materials, paint, varnish, ceramic tile, plaster, bathtubs, plumbing lines, water, toys, jewelry are most common. Even older car keys were coating with a lubricant that contained lead. So, in the days before key fobs, if your baby brother used to entertain himself by sucking on your parent’s car keys that might explain his odd behavior. It’s just a guess.

The most common rooms where lead could be found are the kitchen and bathroom. Why? Bathrooms often have a lot of ceramic tile as well of course bathtubs, which were made with coatings and materials that contain lead. It was fashionable during the early decades of the 1900’s to use brightly colored paint on one accent wall in the kitchen. Those colors were vibrant and long lasting because of the lead in them. And of course it was more expensive than white paint or pastel colors, so it typically got limited use. So, when lead is found it is most often in paint or varnish on trim, doors, windows and some walls, interior and exterior.

XRF lead testing device. Very Star Trekish. Drop it and you'll owe $30,000!

Our presenter, Paul Nygren, is also a specialist we use when lead paint is suspected or in the case of any home that meets the EPA regulations for mandatory testing. He uses a very expensive, XRF (X-ray Fluorescence) analyzer, which is a hand-held instrument capable of seeing through up to 100 layers of paint without any damage to the surface which also analyzes the material to determine if lead is present, and in what quantity. The analyzer information is then added to a report showing the lead found at each individual spot tested.

When potential clients call us we always ask when the home was built, not because we are collectors of trivia, but because we have to know legally if it is a pre-1978 home that it must be tested for lead. And, of course, it is because we care about the health of our clients and our employees who must be in that environment every day.

There are some in our industry that don’t feel lead is that big a deal since it isn’t as common today. We do. Common sense alone tells us that what we no longer put in our gasoline probably shouldn’t go into our bodies either. Though children under the age of 6 and pregnant women and their unborn children are at greatest risk, even low levels of lead exposure can build up in your bones over time. Exposure can lead to learning disabilities, decreased growth, hyperactivity, impaired hearing, and brain damage. In higher doses it can kill you.

You’d be surprised to learn that comprehensive lead testing is not a major expense and is a great way to understand any potential challenges of repairing and maintaining your property. On the other hand, it is comforting to know the areas where there is no lead as well. While the cost depends on the number of rooms/surfaces that are being tested, a definitive report can be generated within only a few days. In some cases where lead is found, it is suggested to just encapsulate it with paint or another building material. Lead abatement (removal) on the other hand, is much more expensive and can only be done by certified/authorized specialists.

Too much? Consider weighing the cost against the value of your own peace of mind for you, your family and pets. Of course there’s the resale of your home to figure in as well. Don’t think a certified “passed” lead inspection wouldn’t help the prospects of selling your home? Think again.

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