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Does your home contain lead? About 75% of homes built before 1978 contain some lead-based paint. You should assume that your home contains lead-based paint if it was built prior to 1978.


How to Protect Your Family During Home Renovations

Home renovations and repairs in homes that contain lead can present a significant risk to children. Young children are at high risk because they like to play on the ground and may put their hands and other objects contaminated with lead into their mouth. Exposure to even low levels of lead can affect brain development, causing learning and behavior problems.

Do-it-yourself home repairs result in many cases of lead poisoning because it exposes families to lead debris and dust that are not contained and cleaned up properly. To keep you and your family safe from lead hazards, it is recommended that home repairs and renovations be done by a licensed contractor in your area.

If you are doing a do-it-yourself project at home, make sure you have the skills and equipment to renovate safely and follow the 3 recommended work practices described under “Lead Safe Practices for Contractors and Painters”:

  1. Avoid creating dust by using water to mist surfaces before sanding or scraping.
  2. Prevent spreading dust by covering the area with durable protective sheeting to keep the dust contained.
  3. Keep your family away from the work area and thoroughly clean up the area before they return.


Testing Your Home for Lead

Lead in your home can present a significant hazard to children that may cause serious, long term health and behavior problems. There are two recommended ways to test your home for lead:

  1. Hire a Certified Inspector/Assessor: The best way to find out whether there are lead hazards in your home or yard is to hire a Hawaii State Certified Lead Inspector/Risk Assessor to complete a lead inspection. See the Lead Firm List for a directory of consultants and contractors registered with the State of Hawaii that can be hired to perform lead-related services.
  2. Collect samples and send them to a laboratory: If you decide to collect samples yourself, be sure to follow proper procedures outlined below. Lead test results are only as good as your testing procedures. The most important areas to test for lead are where your child spends a lot of time, where there is chipping paint or bare soil, and/or where you plan to renovate. Wash your hands and your tools with soap and water after each sample you collect. The samples will need to be sent to a laboratory for testing. We recommend a National Lead Laboratory Accredited Laboratory (NLLAP) for paint and soil and a Hawaii State Department of Health Certified Lab for drinking water. Call the laboratory you choose ahead of time for more specific instructions on collection methods, mailing guidelines, and documentation.
    • Paint Samples: If you have different colored paint, it is a good idea to collect them as separate samples. Tape a clean, plastic bag beneath some paint you want to test. Use a clean scraper or knife to scrape at least the size of a quarter amount of paint into the bag. Be sure to scrape off all the layers of paint, not just the top coat. Try not to get any drywall or wood that is under the paint in the bag. Seal the bag and label it with where the sample was collected (i.e. Sample #1 – bathroom wall).
      • Paint is considered hazardous lead-based paint when it tests greater than or equal to:
        • 5,000 ppm (parts per million); or
        • 0.5% by weight
    • Soil Samples: Bare soil where your child frequents or plays should be the first to be tested. Use a large, clean trowel or spoon to scoop the top 1/2 inch of dirt (approximately 1 cup) into a clean, plastic bag. Collect the sample from the top of the soil that you want to test. If there are paint chips in the soil, these are okay to include in the sample. Seal the bag and label it with where the sample was collected (i.e. Sample #2 – playground). Watch this video for more information.
      • Soil is considered hazardous for lead when it tests greater than or equal to:
        • 200 ppm for residential properties
    • Water Samples: Two types of samples should be collected from each faucet used for drinking or cooking. The first sample is called a “first draw” sample and identifies whether there may be lead in the faucet fixture. To collect this sample, fill a 250 mL bottle with water from a faucet that has not been used for 8-18 hours. The second type of sample is called a “flush” sample and identifies whether there may be lead in the pipes. To collect this sample, let the same faucet run for at least 30 seconds and then fill another 250 mL bottle with water. Repeat this process for each faucet you are testing.
      • There is no consensus on what level requires action. The EPA action level is 15 part per billion (ppb); however this is not a health-based standard, and many experts believe no amount of lead in drinking water is safe.
        • For comparison purposes, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that school water fountains should not exceed 1 ppb, and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires bottled water to be less than 5 ppb.
        • If the “first draw” sample contains lead and the “flush” sample does not, it is likely that the faucet fixture is causing lead contamination.
        • If both samples contain lead, it is likely that the pipes are causing lead contamination. The faucet fixture may also contain lead.
    • Dust Samples: Dust samples require specific materials and expertise, so we do not recommend collecting these samples on your own.
      • Dust is considered hazardous for lead when it tests greater than or equal to:
        • 10 mcg/sq ft (micrograms per square foot) on floors
        • 100 mcg/sq ft on interior window sills


Can I use a lead test kit from a hardware store?

Lead test kits are commercially available at most paint and hardware stores. They contain swabs that change color when rubbed against a surface that contains hazardous levels of lead. However, they have many limitations:

  • They will not tell you how much lead is in the paint you sampled
  • You can only sample paint, not soil
  • They have a very high rate of false positives, changing color indicating hazard levels of lead are present when they are not

If you decide to use a lead test kit, follow the instructions on the package and be sure to test all layers of paint by using a clean knife to cut a small x-shape to expose all painted layers down to the bare surface before using the swab.


Resources for Families

What You Need to Know About When Working With Lead-Based Paint

Renovation, Repair and Painting Program: Do-It-Yourselfers

Steps to Lead Safe Renovation, Repair, and Painting