Renovating Safely

EPA Renovate Safely

User-friendly lead-safety guides are available for do-it-yourselfers. A few of them are listed below:

The Lead-Safe Certified Guide to Renovate Right, by the EPA. Contractors are required to give homeowners and tenants this booklet before starting any work that might disturb lead-dust. It is a good start for do-it-yourselfers, but EPA suggests that if you need more information specific to your project you should call the National Lead Information Center at 1-800-424-LEAD (5323).

Renovation, Repair and Painting Program: Do-It-Yourselfers. The EPA’s website recommends safeguards to prevent lead dust from spreading throughout your home, including working safely, having the right equipment and following good work practices.

Lead-Safe Work Practices, Healthy Homes Collaborative. The Healthy Homes Collaborative is an association of community-based organizations committed to eliminating environmental health threats in homes and communities.

The HUD Guidelines for the Evaluation and Control of Lead-Based Paint Hazards in Housing. HUD presents the Guidelines on its website as its fundamental reference for identifying and controlling lead-based paint hazards in air, dust, and soil. This book is not solely for homeowners, so it is more technical and possibly less user-friendly than the other guides.

When you are working with lead-based paint, how you do your work is just as important as what you do. You don’t spread lead dust during your project and create new lead hazards. Note that pregnant women and children should not go near lead dust, neither during the work nor during clean up.

Follow these 7 important steps:

OHHN Renovation Steps

1. Prepare your work area


The key to protecting residents from lead during a large renovation or a small project is to keep lead dust contained within a work area with strong, disposable barriers like heavy-duty plastic sheeting. People and pets must not go into or through the work area until it is properly cleaned and passes a test to show that there is no more lead dust. In some cases, isolating the work-area properly may mean that a part of the home cannot be used while the work is going on. You should plan ahead to figure out how your family can manage. For large-scale projects, you should consider staying out of the home temporarily.

  • Remove furniture, area rugs, drapes and other household items until cleanup is complete
  • Wrap items that cannot be removed with plastic sheeting and seal them with tape. (Heavy-duty plastic sheeting should be made of polyethylene and be 6 mills thick)
  • Cover the floor, walls, doorways, windows, and cabinets with plastic sheeting
  • Any doorway that you will use to enter the work area should be curtained off with two layers of plastic
  • Close and cover air vents in the work area. (You may need to turn off your HVAC system to prevent damage to the system.)
  • If you need to remove doors, windows, or other parts with lead-paint to work on them outside the larger work area, set up a separate, dedicated “dust-room”


  • Keep people away from an outside work area by marking it off with signs, tape, and cones.
  • Close windows and doors within 20 feet of the work area
  • Put in place effective means to contain lead-dust and paint-chips within 10 feet of the exterior wall. You may need to erect a vertical containment system.
  • Secure heavy-duty plastic sheeting to the outside walls with wood strips and staples or tape
  • A “dust-room” for temporarily storing and working on painted components can be set up in a garage
  • Keep play areas safe: move play equipment at least 20 feet from the project. Cover play areas that can’t be moved with plastic sheeting
  • Cover the ground and plants with plastic sheeting to catch debris. The covering should extend at least 10 feet out from the building, and farther out if you are working on the second story

2. Protect your body

  • Do not eat, drink, or smoke in the work area or you might swallow lead dust
  • Wash your hands and face each time you stop work, especially before eating and going home
  • Use an N-100 rated respirator to keep from breathing lead dust
  • Wear disposable coverings such as coveralls, shoe covers, hats, face shields, and gloves to protect your hair, skin, and clothing from gathering dust that you could end up breathing, swallowing, or taking into your car and home.

3. Keep dust down as you work

EPA requires contractors to follow specific lead-safe work practices. It is a good idea for do-it-yourselfers to follow these rules, too. In particular, it is critical that you avoid these prohibited practices:

  • Open flame burning or torching
  • Sanding, grinding, planing, needle gunning, or blasting with power tools and equipment that is not equipped with a shroud and HEPA vacuum attachment
  • Using a heat gun at temperatures greater than 1100°F

We have compiled some guidelines below for common do-it-yourself projects:

  • Removing lead-paint
  • Removing carpeting
  • Installing window-troughs

4. Clean up properly

The work area should be free of dust and debris at the end of each workday, not just at the end of the job.

  • Clean up paint chips immediately
  • Put trash in heavy-duty plastic bags. Wrap components (like trim) that are being disposed of in heavy-duty plastic
  • Vacuum the work area with a HEPA vacuum cleaner. Regular household vacuums release the lead particles back into the air. The Ohio Department of Health has a HEPA vacuum lending program.
  • Clean tools
  • Clean floors, window frames, window sills, and other surfaces throughout the duration of your project

Cleaning method

  • Use a mop, sponge, rag, or paper towel with warm water and a general all-purpose cleaner, and replace them often throughout the job
  • Thoroughly rinse sponges, rags, and mops after cleaning. Don’t use the mop-heads, rags, sponges from the worksite for regular cleaning of the home, or you will contaminate new areas with lead-dust.
  • Use one bucket for the cleaning solution and one bucket for rinse-water. Change the rinse water frequently.

At the end of the project

  • Remove plastic sheeting carefully, fold it with the dirty side in, tape it shut, and dispose of it
  • Make sure all trash and debris, including building components, are disposed of properly
  • Vacuum all surfaces, including walls, with a HEPA vacuum cleaner
  • Mist and scrub the work area with a general-purpose cleaner on a wet rag or mop, changing the rinse water often until dust and debris are removed
  • Once the surfaces are dry, vacuum all surfaces again with the HEPA vacuum vacuum cleaner
  • Inspect the area for dust, paint chips, and debris, and clean again thoroughly if you find any
  • Test the area for remaining lead-dust

Cleaning body coverings

  • Each time you leave the work area, HEPA-vacuum off your body coverings so the dust stays inside. (DO NOT use compressed air to blow the dust off your clothing covers or clothing)
  • Disposable protective clothing covers can be stored in a plastic bag and reused if they are fairly clean
  • Small tears in clothing covers can be repaired with duct tape
  • Every time you step off the plastic or paper floor-covering, remove your disposable shoe covers and wipe or vacuum your shoes– especially the soles
  • A large disposable tack pad on the floor can help to clean the soles of your shoes.
  • Outside the work-area, do not touch other people until you have taken off your work clothes and shoes
  • Wash your work clothes separately from family laundry

5. Dispose of Waste

Follow EPA rules for disposing of waste.

Solid waste

EPA does not consider the debris and waste from residential renovations to be hazardous waste. Prior to disposing in a landfill, prepare and transport the material carefully to prevent spreading lead dust and paint chips:

  • Bag and seal all waste before removing it from the work area
  • Use heavy plastic sheeting or bags to collect waste. Seal the bag securely with duct tape. Consider double bagging waste to prevent tears. Large components should be wrapped in protective sheeting and sealed with tape
  • Don’t carry waste through unprotected living areas
  • Store waste in a secure container or covered dumpster until it is taken to the landfill
  • Do not transport wasted in an open truck bed


  • Filter the paint and debris from water used for clean-up
  • If local laws allow (call your local sewer authority), dispose of the filtered waste-water in the toilet, NOT in a sink or storm drain
  • If you cannot dispose of the water in the toilet, collect it in a drum and dispose of it according to local regulations

6. Test for Lead Dust

If you choose to do the testing yourself, you can buy EPA-certified lead-test kits.

After you have finished the job and the clean up, test the work area to be sure that it is safe for your family to use again. You may not be able to see lead-dust, and dangerous levels of dust may remain.

Types of tests include:

  • Using a cleaning verification card for assessing clean cloths wiped on the work-area surfaces. To order cleaning verification cards, contact EPA’s National Lead Information Center at 1-800-424-LEAD (5323)
  • Taking dust wipe samples and sending them to a lab for analysis.

The EPA strongly recommends that you hire a professional to do the testing.

To find qualified lead-test professionals and EPA-recognized lead labs in Ohio, search the Ohio Department of Health’s database. If you choose to do the testing yourself, you can buy EPA-certified lead-test kits. See Protecting Your Family from Lead for more information.

7. Maintain the Renovated or Repaired Area

After all the work you’ve done, you won’t want to go back and have to do it again. If the paint remains intact and you keep the surfaces clean, the lead-hazard should not return. Controlling moisture is a big part of paint maintenance, because moisture causes peeling paint. Some sources of moisture inside the home are unvented bathrooms and cooking areas, leaking roofs, and gutter failure. It is a good idea to test for lead dust, especially if there is a child or pregnant woman in the home, every two years.

Essential Maintenance Practices (EMP’s)

In 1995 HUD designated a set of six Essential Maintenance Practices (EMPs) for keeping painted surfaces in safe condition and for keeping records of maintenance and repairs. The Ohio Department of Health incorporated Essential Maintenance Practices into Ohio’s Lead Law in 2003. The EMP’s were not designed specifically for do-it-yourselfers or homeowners, but for owners of rental properties. Nonetheless, you may want to use them.

Using the EMP’s reduces the possibility of lead-exposure in the home and establishes a record of proper maintenance in case a resident is poisoned. This protection of the owner’s liability is called “Rebuttable Presumption,” meaning that properly kept maintenance records will stand as a challenge to the assumption that the poisoning occurred in the home.

Removing lead-paint

  • Spray the work area surface with water (avoid electrical outlets)
  • Mist areas before and during sanding, scraping, drilling and cutting
  • Wipe the area you are sanding often and rinse the sponge in a bucket of water, straining out any paint chips and disposing of them in heavy-duty plastic bags
  • To remove painted components, like baseboards or wainscoting, first score them with a utility knife; do not pound or hammer
  • Use wet sanders
  • NO open-flame burning or torching of lead-based paint
  • DO NOT USE machines that remove lead-based paint through high-speed operation such as sanding, grinding, power-planing, abrasive blasting, or sandblasting, unless the machines are used with a HEPA exhaust control
  • DO NOT operate a heat gun on lead-based paint at temperatures higher than 1,100 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Before applying new paint or wallpaper, wash the walls with a solution of water and an all-purpose cleaner and let them dry completely

Removing carpet

The Lead Free Kids website warns that removing old carpeting can release lots of lead-dust into the air. To avoid spreading dust:

  • Mist the entire surface of the carpet with water
  • Roll the carpet inward to avoid spreading dust to other areas
  • Wrap the carpet and pad in thick, plastic sheeting
  • Tape seams closed with tape
  • Vacuum floor with a HEPA filter-equipped vacuum cleaner after the carpet is wrapped but before you remove it
  • HEPA-vacuum the floor again after you remove the carpet

Installing window-trough inserts

A window-trough is the area between the interior window sill and the storm- window frame. Window-troughs collect dust blown in from outside and often contain high amounts of lead. In older houses, they are often painted with lead-paint that can degrade into dust. Cleaning window-troughs can be difficult, especially if the wood is no longer smooth. You can line your window-troughs with an insert of sheet-metal or vinyl. Read instructions and watch a photo demonstration.

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