Thirty to forty years ago, lead-based paints were the norm. It goes without saying (but I'm going to say it anyways) that if your house is more than thirty years old, there's a good chance that it's caked in lead paint. If you are the original owner of your home, there's a good chance you already know whether the paint on your home's exterior is lead-based or not. If you don't know, or if you live in a home that's had former occupants and owners, and you are thinking about giving your home a new exterior paint joby, be certain to verify if your current paint coating is toxic or not.
Indeed, lead paint is toxic paint. It's widely known that even in the smallest amounts, ingested lead can cause irreversible damaging effects on organs and the brain. Lead is also very toxic to the environment. In fact, lead paint must be disposed according to toxic waste disposal. If you happen to find out that you are in fact dealing with lead-based paint, do the following to safely remove it.
First off, you've got to get yourself prepped. Always wear a respirator when removing lead paint. Nope, a dust mask won't cut it. Eye protection, disposable clothing and gloves should be worn at all times as well. If you are working outdoors on the exterior of your home, place drop sheets (plastic or otherwise) on the ground to catch paint chips and prevent them from contaminating the soil.
Alright, now that you have everything prepped, it's time to start removing the lead paint. Warning: Do not ever use sanders or open flame heat guns to remove lead-based paint. An open flame will get the paint too hot and cause lead to vaporize. If you need to soften the paint for easy scraping and removal, opt for either electric heat guns or the most safest of all - an infrared paint stripper. After the paint has been softened, simply scrape it off and dispose of it as toxic waste at your nearest disposal facility. Call you local sanitation department to find out where the nearest disposal facility is.
When it comes time to sand the surface before putting on a new coat of paint, remember to wear your respirator, eye protection and gloves. Lead residue may still be present. Lastly, and just as important to your health and well being, is to use a soy-based or low VOC paint for the new coat. VOC's are volatile organic compounds, which most typical paints contain in high amount. The best low VOC paint we've come across is SafeCoat.
It's not only safer and minus toxic chemicals, SafeCoat does not contain extenders, drying agents, formaldehyde, mildewcides and fungicides. Furthermore, because of its higher resin content, the finish is of better quality and more durable. SafeCoat is not always easy to find in stores (depending where you live), which is why the green superstore website, GreenNest, is a Godsend. They offer a good selection of SafeCoat paints in their green home building supplies store.