Historic Buildings and Lead Paint | Wisconsin Historical Society

General Information

Historic Buildings and Lead Paint

Historic Buildings and Lead Paint | Wisconsin Historical Society
EnlargeImage of someone misting the painted surface with water while scraping to reduce the amount of lead dust.

Misting the painted surface with water while scraping is recommended to reduce the amount of lead dust created. Source: Bob Yapp

You do not need to take drastic measures to eliminate lead paint from your historic house or building. Lead paint is only a hazard if it is unstable, so the mere presence of lead paint is no reason to destroy the historic fabric of your structure. Only a lead paint professional can analyze paint to determine the presence of lead. However, every historic structure contains lead paint, so you should assume the paint in your house or building contains lead.

If you need to remove old paint from your house or building, there are safe and cost-effective ways for you to remove or work around the lead paint. Procedures to safely remove lead paint down to the bare wood surface should not cost more than 10% above the cost of a hand-scraped paint removal job.

Educate Yourself About Managing Lead Paint

If you own or live in a building built before 1978, you should thoroughly educate yourself about smart lead paint management in your home and building. Removing lead paint from siding, window jambs, window sashes and trim is a safe, quick and easy process if you know how to do it — or if you hire an experienced contractor to do it. The dust generated from unstable lead paint has the most potential to create a lead poisoning hazard. Therefore, efforts to manage lead paint focus on eliminating lead paint dust.

Hire a Contractor with Lead-Safe Certification

Wisconsin’s “Lead-Safe Renovation Rule” requires contractors (but not property owners) who works on properties built before 1978 to be certified by the state as a lead-safe renovator or a lead-safe company. Certified lead-safe contractors use safe practices for managing lead dust on the job site.

The Wisconsin Department of Health maintains a list of contractors who can perform work related to lead. The list is organized into these three contractor categories:

  • Lead abatement contractors, which include painters.
  • Lead-safe renovation contractors, who are contractors certified to do remodeling work on properties containing lead paint.
  • Lead investigation companies, which are lead-testing companies.

Each contractor on the list must be state certified as a company and the individuals who perform the work must be employee certified.

Manage the Lead Paint in Your House or Building

You can manage the lead paint in your historic house or building by using these practices:

  • Dust your house weekly to remove lead dust.
  • Use an EPA-approved HEPA vacuum to vacuum your house or building. These vacuums take in the dust but do not release a significant amount of dust back into the air.
  • Eliminate any painted surfaces that rub together and generate lead dust. For example, you might have a painted door that rubs against a painted door jamb.
  • Never dry-scrape old paint. Mist the wood with water first to prevent the spread of lead dust.
  • Do not remove old paint with a blower-type heat gun, which heats to a dangerously high temperature. Lead paint becomes a toxic vapor at about 650 degrees Fahrenheit. Instead, use an infrared paint removal tool. Infrared tools will not heat the paint above 600 degrees. They are approved by the Environmental Protection Agency to be safe for removing lead paint.

The information presented here is not intended to provide comprehensive technical advice or instructions on solving historic preservation issues. Any information contained or referenced is meant to provide a basic understanding of historic preservation practices. Read full disclaimer.