When was lead used in homes?

Apr 18, 2019

In our previous blog “When was asbestos used in homes?” we covered materials commonly used in older homes that may contain asbestos and when they were used. As a prospective home buyer or a homeowner contemplating renovation activities, not only should asbestos-containing materials be a concern but also lead-based paint. In this blog, we will discuss when lead paint was used in homes.

Lead-Based Paint Basics

Lead-based paint as defined by the EPA is any paint in which the lead content is at 0.5% (5000 ppm) by its weight. Lead-based paint was banned by the EPA is 1978 after knowledge of its health hazards affecting the public became apparent. Lead-based paint is derived from lead-based pigments such as white lead (lead carbonate), which has been used since the days of Pliny the Elder. While lead paint was banned in the late 1970s in the United States, the League of Nations attempted to ban its use in the 1920s. Even Benjamin Franklin wrote a letter to a close friend about how lead affects the populace in cities. Lead paint was used for its durability and ability to make bright colors more vibrant.

Where can Lead Paint Be Found in Homes?

Lead paint as the name is applied can be found in homes built before the late 1970s on painted surfaces such as walls, ceilings, windows sills, and window troughs. Lead-based paint in good condition or encapsulated by new layers of paint pose minimal health risks. It becomes a health risk once these painted surfaces begin to peel and crack. Higher risk areas are window troughs as they are high impact locations which can become degraded faster than painted walls. While peeling paint is a high concern, the biggest health risk with degraded paint isn’t the larger chips itself, but the lead dust it creates. Lead dust has been shown to drive up lead blood levels in those exposed. The primary route of exposure is via ingestion.

When was Lead Used in Homes?

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, over 87% of homes built before 1940 may contain lead paint. During the onset of World War 2, lead became more expensive as it was used in the war and lead alternatives became more accessible in paints. During 1940 to 1959 the lead prevalence in homes was around 69%. As lead was seen as more durable as it alternatives it became to be viewed as a premium product. As titanium dioxide based paint became more prevalent and the health effects of lead more apparent; lead usage significantly dropped in homes. Between 1960-1977, lead paint was only present in 24% of homes built in that time period.


Lead-based paint has the potential to be in homes built before the late 1970s. Based on the data provided by the EPA, it appears that the older the home the more likely lead is to be present.  While these numbers of lead prevalence in homes drop with time, before renovating or purchasing a property it is recommended that the home is tested in order to avoid potential lead exposure. In 2008, the EPA instituted the Renovation, Paint, & Repair (RRP) Rule. This requires that renovators are certified in lead-safe practices to protect themselves, the occupants, and prevent the spread of lead dust in a property during renovation activity.


Franklin, B. “Ben Franklin’s Letter on Lead Poisoning.” New Solutions : a Journal of Environmental and Occupational Health Policy : NS, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 1 July 1997, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22910081.

Protect Your Family from Exposures to Lead.” EPA, Environmental Protection Agency, 12 Feb. 2019, www.epa.gov/lead/protect-your-family-exposures-lead.

“Lead Renovation, Repair and Painting Program Rules.” EPA, Environmental Protection Agency, 13 Nov. 2018, www.epa.gov/lead/lead-renovation-repair-and-painting-program-rules.