One of the simplest ways to protect your children from lead and other hazards that could be found in your home is to hire a professional to test your home, ideally before you move in.
If you are purchasing a home, consider making the purchase contingent on inspections and – in additional to the traditional “home inspection” that focuses on construction qualities and defects (wiring, plumbing, structure, etc.) – you can add a “Hazard Inspection” to the home buying process.
Most home-sellers (at recommendation of their realtors) might not approve a buyer’s offer that specifies a contingency on a hazard inspection, however it is standard to have a sale be “contingent on inspections” and there is no reason you cannot have one of those inspections be for hazards (just keep that to yourself!)
A typical hazard inspection will look for hazards including lead, asbestos and mold – and will use both visual inspection methods and scientific methodology that may include digestive dust-wipe sampling and XRF testing. An “expanded” home inspection may also include a radon test (which the seller will probably have to know about – as equipment needs to be left on site to capture emissions over a specific time period.)
A hazard inspection will let you know exactly where the current hazards are and where the potential future hazards may be (for example if you plan to renovate.) A hazard inspection will also typically generate a final report that will include a summary that prices out each solution required to address the existing hazards. It may even offer price options – (on a range from temporary remediation/ covering up hazards to fully removing hazards.)
I don’t necessarily suggest using the results of a hazard inspection to haggle the price down, as if you are looking at historic homes in specific area of town and find one and it has hazards, likely every one that you might be interested in will have similar potential hazards. I DO recommend having a hazard inspection so that you can go into your home purchase with your eyes wide open and a financial and practical plan for addressing hazards. For our family what this meant was taking two months after closing to fully address hazards before moving in. If you cannot afford the hazard remediation necessary before moving in, it may not be a good choice of a home for you and your family. It is much easier and more cost-effective (not to mention safer for your children) to address any and all hazards before the house is full of stuff and children!
After all I have been through – I KNOW what hazards look like, so with our “new” home (where we moved after the children were poisoned) I waited until after the purchase closed to do the official hazard inspection and then spent two months cleaning up those hazards to make the home safe for our kids to move in. Steps we took included full window replacement and walling off a closet and attic crawl space that were covered with lead-paint and asbestos tiles. We also put a sheet of tempered glass in front of our leaded glass and crystal window so that the children would not be able to touch it and it would not chalk lead into our environment (but we could still enjoy the pretty purple and cut crystal decoration.)
If you are renting a home it is your landlord’s responsibility (by law) to make the home safe for children (and any other residents for that matter.) A landlord cannot rent a home that might cause physical harm to the residents. Many landlords, however, are not aware of this responsibility – especially if they only have one rental home (for example) and it is more of a hobby/investment than a business. As lead can cause physical harm (in the form of brain damage) this includes lead, although many landlords do not realize this.
As a prospective tenant look for potential hazards before agreeing to rent. Counter to what one might think, one of the MOST DANGEROUS potential hazards to your children in a rental property is a unit that was NEWLY RENOVATED. This is so dangerous because many landlords do not yet know that they were required to hire EPA RRP Certified contractors to do work on a pre-1978 unit, so if they used a non-certified contractor that did not use lead-safe work practices that contractor may have contaminated the entire property – both inside the home and the exterior soil, play yard and garden areas.
What can you do as a prospective tenant:
- Be an informed consumer – spend as much time researching your potential future home as you might spend choosing a school or food or other personal items for your child.
- Ask the landlord what year the home was built (some cities have websites like http://www.portlandmaps.com where you can look that information up in advance.)
- Ask the landlord if there was a recent renovation (they usually advertise this a good thing!)
- Look around for evidence of sanding/ scraping or improper containment. This may include fine dust in the home or paint chips in the soil.
- Ask the landlord if they used a certified contractor
- Ask the landlord if they got a clearance test once the work was done (to given confirmed assurances that the home is safe for children to live in.
- If the landlord is uncomfortable with any of these questions or cannot show you evidence of a clearance test or the use of lead-safe work practices in renovation, for your children’s safety I would urge you to consider a different property.
Of course – renovation is not always a bad thing – but recent renovation can mean lead-dust and the amount of lead-dust it takes to poison a child is invisible to the naked eye if spread around a room or a home.
In some states it is required for landlords to keep a lead-hazard certificate on file for the property, however this does not guarantee there are no lead-hazards, it just means that at the time the certificate was issued there were no lead hazards, so it is worth being cautious.
If you have young children please consider renting newer construction homes or apartments, ideally homes built after 1985.