What to look for in a lead contractor

Federal law requires that contractors performing renovation, repair and painting projects that disturb painted surfaces in homes, child care facilities, and schools built before 1978 be certified and follow specific work practices to prevent lead contamination.

Make sure your contractor is certified, and can explain clearly the details of the job and how the contractor will minimize lead hazards during the work.

  • Verify that a contractor is certified by checking EPA's website or by calling the National Lead Information Center at 1-800-424-LEAD (5323). Or, you can check the Illinois website to see if your contractor is lead-safe certified by highlighting "worker" in the second row, and selecting "go."
  • Ask if the contractor is trained to perform lead-safe work practices and to see a copy of their training certificate. Check to see if the training certificate meets the EPA's certificate requirements.
  • Ask what lead-safe methods the contractor will use to set up and perform the job in your home.
  • Ask for references from at least three recent jobs involving homes built before 1978, and speak to each personally.

Always make sure the contract is clear about how the work will be set up, performed, and cleaned.

  • Share the results of any previous lead tests with the contractor.
  • You should specify in the contract that they follow the work practices described in "For Property Owners: During the Work." (below)
  • The contract should specify which parts of your home are parts of the work area and specify which lead-safe work practices will be used in those areas. Remember, your contractor should confine dust and debris to the work area and should minimize spreading that dust to other areas of the home.
  • The contract should also specify that the contractor will clean the work area, verify that it was cleaned adequately, and re-clean it if necessary.

If you think a worker is not doing what he or she is supposed to do or is doing something that is unsafe, you should:

  • Direct the contractor to comply with regulator and contract requirements.
  • Call your local health or building department, or
  • Call EPA's hotline at 1-800-424-LEAD (5323)

If your property receives housing assistance from HUD (or a state or local agency that uses HUD funds), you must follow the requirements of HUD's Lead-Safe Housing Rule and the ones described above.

During the work

Federal law requires contractors that are hired to perform renovation, repair and painting projects in homes, child care facilities, and schools built before 1978 that disturb painted surfaces to be certified and follow specific work practices to prevent lead contamination.

The work practices the contractor must follow include three procedures, described below:

  1. Contain the work area. The area must be contained so that dust and debris do not escape from that area. Warning signs must be put up and plastic or other impermeable material and tape must be used as appropriate to:

    • Cover the floors and any furniture that cannot be moved
    • Seal off doors and heating and cooling system vents.

    These will prevent dust or debris from getting outside the work area.

  2. Avoid renovation methods that generate large amounts of lead-contaminated dust. Some methods generate so much lead-contaminated dust that their use is prohibited. They are:

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

    There is no way to eliminate dust, but some renovation methods make less dust than others. Contractors may choose to use various methods to minimize dust generation, including using water to mist areas before sanding or scraping; scoring paint before separating components; and prying and pulling apart components instead of breaking them.

  3. Clean up thoroughly. The work should be cleaned up daily to keep it as clean as possible. When all the work is done, the area must be cleaned up using special cleaning methods before taking down any plastic that isolates the work area from the rest of the home. The special cleaning methods should include:

    • Using a HEPA vacuum to clean up dust and debris on all surfaces, followed by
    • Wet wiping and wet mopping with plenty of rinse water.

    When the final cleaning is done, look around. There should be no dust, paint chips, or debris in the work area. If you see any dust, paint chips, or debris, the area must be re-cleaned.

To learn more about how to renovate, see the EPA's Lead-Safe Certified Guide to Renovate Right.

After the work is done

When all the work is finished, you will want to know if your home has been cleaned up properly. Here are some ways to check.

Ask about your contractor's final cleanup check. Remember, lead dust is often invisible to the naked eye. It may still be present even if you cannot see it. The contractor must use disposable cleaning cloths to wipe the floor of the work area and compare them to a cleaning verification card to determine if the work area was properly cleaned.

To order a cleaning verification card and detailed instructions visit the EPA lead website or contact the National Lead Information Center at 1-800-424-LEAD (5323).

You may also choose to have a lead-dust test. Lead-dust tests are wipe samples sent to a laboratory for analysis.

  • You should specify in your contract that a lead-dust test will be done. In this case, make it clear who will do the testing.
  • Testing should be done by a lead professional.

If you choose to do the testing, some EPA-recognized lead laboratories will send you a kit that allows you to collect samples and send them back to the lab for analysis.

Contact the National Lead Information Center at 1-800-424-LEAD (5323) for lists of qualified professionals and EPA-recognized lead lab.

If your home fails the dust test, the area should be re-cleaned and tested again.

Where the project is done by contract, it is a good idea to specify in the contract that the contractor is responsible for re-cleaning if the home fails the test.

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Additional information for…
Property owners
  • The do's and don'ts of home renovation
  • What to look for in a lead contractor
  • How to find a lead contractor
  • Required disclosures to tenants
  • Right of inspection
  • Right of notification of lead hazards
  • Notifying landlords about possible lead in homes
  • If a landlord won't address a lead hazard
Childcare providers
  • Childcare provider responsibilities
  • Educational information
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