Are you moving into an older home? While older homes can offer charm and appeal, they can also pose a serious risk to your health. Lead poisoning can cause neurological effects, gastrointestinal effects, reproductive effects, and, in children, impaired mental and physical development. The risks are plenty, but you can protect yourself, and your family, by checking your potential new house for the 3 most common sources of lead exposure.
Time and again, you've heard this phrase muttered—"lead paint used to be a problem". In fact, though, it's an inaccurate assumption to think that lead paint no longer is an issue. Lead paint wasn't banned until 1978, and most homes in America were built before this year. According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, roughly 38 million homes in the country today have at least some lead paint on their walls.
If you're moving into a home built prior to 1978, contact your local housing department and ask for a lead paint and lead paint dust test. The paint test is conducted with an x-ray fluorescent machine while the dust test is done by simply swabbing a dusty area, and then sending the acquired sample to a lab.
While it generally costs between $150 and $300 to have these tests performed, your local housing agency may waive that fee for low-income families.
Plumbing is a less commonly discussed source of lead in older homes, but a dangerous one nonetheless. Homes built post-1986 generally have plumbing made of copper or PVC; homes built prior to this year, however, can have pipes made of lead, or lead-leaching galvanized steel. In fact, up until the 1970s it was common practice for even municipal departments to run lead plumbing supply lines between the streets and peoples' homes.
To determine if you are at risk of lead exposure from the plumbing pipes in an old house, go outside and find where the piping enters the home. Next, use a nail to make a scratch in the piping and examine its appearance.
If the scratched area is the color of a penny, or appears white, then your pipes are made of copper or PVC and are totally safe. If the color of the scratched area appears silver or gray, however, the plumbing is likely lead or galvanized steel, and you'll need to have the water tested to ensure that it's not a safety hazard.
Contact your state drinking water authority, at a site like http://www.valleypumpnw.com, for a list of certified water-testing labs. The process is simple—a water tester will come and collect a sample of the water, and then bring it back to their lab for testing.
Testing a home's drinking water for lead generally costs between $20 and $100, but since lead is odorless and tasteless, it's the only effective way to determine a potential lead-exposure hazard.
The hazards don't end there—even the roofs of older homes could potentially contain lead. The metal is strong and durable, yet pliable, making it a prime choice of material among roof installers for centuries. While lead roofing is considered more of a risk for roofers than it is for people living under the roofs they install, the fact of the matter is that any lead in a home poses the potential risk of accidental handling or ingestion by the home's inhabitants.
While health agencies have not yet begun to crack down on the practice of using lead in residential roofing projects, more and more people are beginning to make the switch to aluminum-based, lead-free roofing materials.
If you suspect that your soon-to-be "new" old home has lead roofing, contact a roofing contractor to inspect the roof for leaks and holes where lead could enter the home. If it's financially possible for you to do so, consider working a lead-free roof into your renovation budget.
Lead poisoning is a very serious risk for those living in older homes. If you're planning on moving into an older home, play it safe by inspecting the above 3 common lead-exposure hot spots.