Purchasing a home with lead paint and piping.

Home Inspector with Massachusetts Home Inspections MA. License#566

Lead - What is it?

Lead has been mined, smelted, and compounded for thousands of years. Lead is a neurotoxin metallic element that was historically used in paint, gasoline and plumbing materials for many years. Lead was easy to work with for a variety of purposes, which is why mining and smelting of lead has caused millions of tons to be spread into our environment. Lead poisoning occurs only when too much lead accumulates in the body.

Generally, lead poisoning occurs slowly, resulting from the gradual accumulation of lead in bone and tissue after repeated exposure. However, it is important to note that young children absorb 50% of a lead ingestion while adults absorb only 10%. Pregnant women should be especially cautious of lead exposure. The presence of lead dust can cause difficulties during pregnancy. Lead enters the bloodstream and can pass the placental barrier from the mother to the unborn child. The fetus can then be poisoned before birth.

Lead is very dangerous for children under the age of six because it is absorbed more readily into their blood and stored more easily in their bones and internal organs. Lead can be absorbed by the body, primarily through the lungs and stomach. If a child is overexposed to lead it can cause disastrous consequences including the possibility of irreversible brain and nervous system damage. Lead poisoned infants, children, and fetuses can suffer from permanent learning disabilities, behavioral problems, hearing problems, developmental delays, reduced hand-eye coordination and other serious health conditions. Even children who appear healthy can have lead poisoning. If you think your child or other family members may be at risk, contact your physician or local health department for testing, immediately.



DRINKING WATER - is a potential source of lead. This is usually from lead in solder, fixtures and lead piping in the home. Some water pipes in homes built before the 1930's were made of lead, especially the main water pipe that penetrates the foundation. In both old and new homes, lead solder was also used in copper piping. Both of these can be a source of lead in your drinking water. I will be inspecting all visible piping within the building and any lead piping that is found, will absolutely be noted and highlighted in the PLUMBING section of your inspection report.

A variety of lead pipes


HOUSE PAINTS - Most houses built prior to World War II had lead-based paint applied to the interior or exterior surfaces. It was used until 1978, when it was banned. Some of these paints still remain inside older homes and may be particularly hazardous if in poor condition (chipped or peeling) or if disturbed by sanding or abrasion (creating lead dust).

Lead was used in paint because it lasted forever in the environment and never broke down into a harmless substance. The amount of lead in paint was reduced in 1950 and further reduced again in 1978. Houses built before 1950 are very likely to contain lead paint while houses built after 1950 will have less lead in the paint. House paints sold today have very low levels of lead.


Lead paint that needs immediate attention

Lead dust is released from chipping and peeling paint; home renovation projects that disturb lead paint; and lead paint ground up by friction, such as on window sashes, porch floors, etc. Because children naturally engage in hand-to-mouth activities, they are more likely to accidentally ingest lead.Over many years, painted surfaces usually crumble into household dust. This dust clings to toys, fingers and other objects that children normally put into their mouths. This is the most common way lead gets into your child's system.


Children also get dangerous lead levels into their bodies by chewing on lead painted surfaces. Some young children even eat paint chips that are peeling or chipping. The taste is what makes them come back for more. Believe it or not, Lead paint taste sweet, so children and pets are attracted to the taste of lead paint. In accordance with Massachusetts law, any unit or single family home with an occupant who is less than six years old must be deleaded.



To determine the presence of lead in paint, dust, water, and soil is best done by trained professionals. Massachusetts requires all lead inspectors to be state-certified.

Professional testing companies use three basic methods to measure lead in paint:

1) X-ray fluorescence (XRF) uses portable detectors that X-ray a painted surface to measure the amount of lead in all the layers of paint. This type of testing is done in the home and disturbs little, if any, paint.

2)Laboratory testing of paint samples involves removing samples of paint from each surface to be tested, usually from an area of about two square inches. Samples are sent to laboratories for analysis. This method leaves a bare spot on each surface tested.

3)Spot checks are performed with swabs. Swabs do not tell you how much lead is present and their reliability at detecting low levels of lead has not been determined. Professional testing for lead in paint is highly recommended. If you are seeking a professional lead inspection in order to obtain a Certificate stating that a specific home is free of Lead paint, I do not issue lead Certificates. You must contact a Lead Abatement company from your area.


Despite efforts to reduce lead in the average American home, the Department of Housing and Urban Development estimated that as of December 2004, 38 million homes in the United States still contained lead paint to some degree. HUD also figures that 25% of the country's residential buildings contain significant lead-based paint hazards. That's about 24 million homes with either deteriorating lead-based paint or lead-contaminated dust.

In 1992, the Lead-Based Paint Hazard Reduction Act required disclosure of known lead hazards at the time a house is sold or leased, if that home was built before 1978. (Houses built before 1960 are classed as high risk and are almost certain to have at least some lead-based paint.

Problems with the 1992 act stem from the lack of testing in many older homes. If you purchase an older home, the interior and exterior need to be tested thoroughly for the presence of lead-based paint before you can occupy the home safely.

Comments (2)

Kevin Corsa
H.I.S. Home Inspections (Summit, Stark Counties) - Canton, OH
H.I.S. Home Inspections, Stark & Summit County, OH Home Inspector

Great info on lead. Consumers need to be more aware of lead in the home, and what it can do.

May 23, 2008 12:42 AM
David Valley

Thank you Kevin.

I agree. That's what made me post this topic.

May 24, 2008 11:42 PM

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