Lead Paint Laws and You

Federal lead paint laws direct how your contractor approaches renovations in your pre-1978 home. Before you begin a project, get the lowdown on regulations.

laws for lead paint
Image: Friends of Head Harbour Lightstation/Flickr

If you are renovating, repairing, or painting a home constructed prior to 1978, federal lead paint laws say your contractor must avoid contamination by taking specific precautions during demolition, construction, and cleanup.

Home owners who do the work themselves are not subject to the laws.

Why Lead Paint Laws?

Demolition, sanding, and sawing stir up lots of dust, which can be messy and inconvenient but usually not toxic. Unfortunately, in homes constructed before 1978, renovation dust might contain lead, which is harmful when ingested or inhaled by adults and children—especially those under the age of 6.

The risks of lead paint poisoning include learning disabilities, nerve disorders, and other health issues. Lead paint laws aim to limit exposure to dust and residue that contains lead.

What Does the Law Say?

If more than 6 square feet of your home’s interior or more than 20 square feet of the exterior will be disturbed by a project, your contractor must be certified and trained to follow specific work practices so no lead contamination occurs.

Contractors who do not comply may be subject to fines of up to $37,500 per day.

Related: Lead Paint Removal: Options and Costs

How Do I Find a Certified Contractor?

Check with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to obtain a list of lead-safe qualified contractors in your area. Obtain several bids and ask to see each contractor’s certificate. Find out what lead-safe methods each plans to use and ask for three references from recent projects involving pre-1978 homes. Talk to each reference.

Although the lead paint laws apply only to contractors, it’s wise to protect yourself and your family by following the regulations and guidelines when you do the work yourself. If you do the work, call the National Lead Information Center at 800/424-LEAD (5323) and request more information.

What Your EPA-Certified Contractor Must Do

Contractors must follow safe work practices and observe these three simple procedures:

Contain the work area. Before beginning the renovation, the contractor must isolate the work area so that no dust or debris leaves the area during the project. Anything that isn’t necessary to the project should be removed, such as furnishings. Anything that can’t be moved, such as built-in cabinetry, should be covered in plastic. The contractor will also close and cover all air ducts and close all doors and windows so dust doesn’t travel throughout or outside your home.

Minimize dust. Your certified contractor must take steps to ensure that dust doesn’t travel outside the work area on clothing, shoes, and tools. Sanders, planers, and grinders must be equipped with a shroud and a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) vacuum attachment. Your contractor may also take other precautions to minimize dust, such as misting surfaces with water before sanding.

Clean up thoroughly. Your contractor must clean the work area daily. When the project is finished, dust and debris should be removed with a HEPA vacuum. The final cleanup step involves wet-wiping and mopping all surfaces, and following with plenty of rinse water. You should inspect the room to ensure that no dust or paint chips are visible. You can also request that surfaces be tested for lead residue.

Jan Soults Walker
Jan Soults Walker

Jan Soults Walker Nationally published home improvement writer Jan Soults Walker has more than 30 years' experience, remodeling several of her own homes and reporting on everything from kitchen sinks to luxurious mansions. Even now, a deck of paint chips still makes her heart sing.