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What lurks in Those Seattle Victorian Homes?

Older home with lead based paint

Older home with lead-based paint

As a child, I was initially raised in a very old apartment building in San Francisco, CA.  I spent countless hours looking outside the bedroom window and down at the street, much like the child in the photo above. My mom even tells stories of me as a baby, chewing on the wood of the sills and other painted objects. “We were so poor that we couldn’t afford teething toys…”.

It’s Not Just The Victorians

Most people have some passing knowledge about the dangers of lead poisoning and lead-based paints.  But for many, that knowledge is usually associated with older stately homes, not the typical homes and buildings that we see and pass by everyday.  In fact, lead-based paint might be found in your place of work, your daycare center, or even your own home.  Any structure built prior to 1978 may have a presence of lead-based paint.

Old Homes Can Be Hazardous To Your Health

Prior to 1978, lead was used in quantities considered hazardous in most residential paints. As a coloring pigment it made the paint more opaque, requiring fewer coats. It also helped the paint dry faster and increased durability.  In good condition, lead-based paint poses little hazard, but if it is peeling, cracking, or otherwise not adhering properly, it creates huge health risks.

I’ve shown some beautifully remodeled Victorian homes in areas of Seattle and Snohomish, WA.  But what happens when you disturb the surfaces of those old homes when remodeling? You guessed it! Lead is potentially released into the environment and could subsequently be ingested into the body causing long term health problems and even death.

Paint Is A Cover-Up, Not a Cure

One myth I hear from homeowners quite a bit is that they’ve eliminated the risk by painting over the older painted surfaces.  That is simply not true.  Lead can leach through layers of newer paint. The biggest contributor of lead from lead-based paint into the environment often comes via remodeling (dust via sanding) or through age and deterioration (i.e. chipped/cracked paint).

Federal Law Regarding Lead Paint Disclosures

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), along with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission joined forces and made it a federal law that any buyer, renter, or homeowner of pre-1978 housing must receive certain information about the potential hazards of lead-based paint.  For example:

  • Landlords have to disclose known information on lead-based paint and lead-based paint hazards before leases take effect.  Leases must include a disclosure about lead-based paint.
  • Sellers have to disclose known information on lead-based paint and lead-based paint hazards before selling a house.  Sales contracts must include a disclosure about lead-based paint, and buyers have up to 10 days to check for the presence of lead in the home.
  • Renovators disturbing more than 2 square feet of painted surfaces have to provide the client a pamphlet on lead-based paint hazards prior to starting the work.

Legal Implications

Federal law requires that the above mentioned parties receive an information pamphlet and disclosure about the presence of lead-based paint in homes built prior to 1978.  But what if you, as the receiving party do not receive it in the required time-frame? According to Washington State Law, RCW 64.06.040, paragraph 3, you may rescind the deal at any time up to 3 business days after the disclosure is provided or the transaction has concluded.  If you are a seller in a transaction, it is VERY important that you provide the necessary disclosures to a potential buyer ASAP!

To Buy Or Not To Buy An Older Home?

That is a decision that only buyers can make for themselves.  Older homes often have larger footprints and more land than newer homes.  Older homes often sell for less than their equivalent newer counterparts.  Having been raised in an older home, I think that older homes have much more charm than contemporary homes.  If that weren’t the case, why do so many builders try and mimic the layout and look of older homes?

Take precautions and do your research.  Be a smart buyer/tenant/homeowner and educate yourself on the potential hazards of lead-based paint and lead poisoning.  Everything in life is a trade-off.  Why should your housing be any different?

The EPA has created a pamphlet titled “Protect Your Family From Lead In Your Home”.  You can view and download this document HERE.

What are your thoughts? Do you think the issue of lead-based paint and lead poisoning is valid or overblown?  Leave a comment…

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