Lead Testing: How and why home inspectors offer this service
By Aubri Devashrayee
Over the past decade, there has been increased awareness about the dangers of lead-based paint in homes built before 1978. According to The Mayo Clinic, there is no safe blood-level for lead. In other words, any trace of lead in the blood is categorized as unsafe. And, the population most at risk is children from ages one to six.
With increased awareness of the relationship between lead exposure and health risks, many home inspectors have chosen to offer lead inspections. In this article, we explore why these inspectors offer lead testing and what recommendations they have for those considering offering the additional service.
Why do inspectors test for lead?
When asked why they offer lead testing, the home inspectors we asked said that they began offering the service for one or more of the following reasons:
1. They want to protect clients from the dangers of lead poisoning.
According to the Mayo Clinic, the first step that must be taken in preventing lead poisoning is removing “the source of the contamination” and taking steps to reduce its ill-effects if it can’t be completely removed.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says that finding and mitigating lead contamination can help avoid health issues associated with lead poisoning, including learning disabilities, slowed growth, hearing problems, anemia, and, in rare cases, seizures, coma, and death.
That’s where home inspectors come in. By determining where lead is located, home inspectors help keep homeowners safe.
2. Their region has a high percentage of housing with potential lead risk.
Properties that were built before 1978 are more likely to have lead-based paint and dust. Therefore, cities, complexes, and subdivisions that are older tend to have more demand and need for lead testing.
“If somebody wants to go [into the] business [of testing lead], they have to do it in old places with old buildings,” said Guillermo Velez, a lead inspector in New York.
But how can home inspectors determine whether their region is at risk? You can see if your state has a high percentage of housing with potential lead contamination on the United Health Foundation’s map of national housing with lead risk.
However, keep in mind that the overall housing in your state may not be representative of the housing with lead risk in the area you inspect. When Matthew Beatty from Beatty Home Inspection began offering lead testing, he was surprised to find a lack of demand in his region.
“I do a lot of newly constructed homes and homes that have been renovated,” Beatty said.
Because of the lack of interest in his area, Beatty decided to stop offering lead testing.
Beatty and Velez are both in New York, the state with the highest percentage of potential lead risk, but the regions and buildings they inspect are very different. Beatty primarily inspects houses in a growing area with new builds. Conversely, Velez primarily inspects old apartment complexes in the heart of New York City.
Investments for Lead Testing
If you would like to offer lead testing with your home inspections or as an additional service, you must get the appropriate certification, no matter which state you are in. To get certified, you must take an approved lead inspection course and pass the test administered. Keep in mind that earning this certification can be expensive. In fact, certification is often the most expensive aspect of offering lead testing.
“The number one [investment] was just [becoming] educated,” Beatty said.
The EPA administers lead inspection courses and tests in the following states.
- New Mexico
- New York
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
If you are not in one of the states listed above, your state government has EPA-authorized lead-based paint programs. To see which courses are approved in your state, you can visit the EPA’s Lead-Based Paint Abatement and Evaluation Program Overview.
In our research, we found that, although it varies by state, the cost of certification courses ranges from $150 to $575, with renewal courses around $150.
Although there are many lead testing kits to choose from, not all of them are EPA approved. In fact, there are only three lead testing kits that the EPA recognizes:
The pricing for these tests ranges from $26 to $141. Cost depends on the brand, how many tests come in a package, and the retailer you buy them from.
In addition to the tests themselves, you will need personal protective equipment (PPE). The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) advises the following gear for those working with or around lead:
- Shoe covers
When dealing with lead hazards, OSHA also recommends wearing goggles or a face shield. However, these PPEs are not as important to your safety as the equipment listed above.
An endorsement is a form that either modifies or adds coverage to your insurance policy. Most home inspection insurance policies exclude additional services like lead testing. Thus, the insurance company will not provide coverage for those additional services without an endorsement. So, if you perform lead testing or want defense and indemnity for claims involving lead testing, you have to add coverage to your policy with an endorsement.
Typically, insurers charge a flat, annual fee around $50 for a lead endorsement. However, some insurance policies offered by other providers may give you lead coverage outright with a sublimit.
Sublimits cap certain risks, usually additional services, defined in your insurance policy, which gives you less coverage per individual service. For example, a home inspector who purchases $1,000,000 / $1,000,000 in coverage with a $100,000 sublimit receives only $100,000 per claim and per policy period for lead-related allegations. So, when choosing your coverage, you must be sure to take sublimits into account.
Limit your liability against lead-related claims.
Carrying a lead endorsement is one of the most important things you can do to protect against lead-related claims. However, there are additional risk management techniques you can employ to safeguard your business. Here are some suggestions:
1. Make sure clients are not present for the lead inspection.
While having clients attend inspections can help mitigate risk during some inspections, it is the exact opposite with lead inspections. To keep your clients safe, and to avoid possible claims concerning lead exposure, request that your clients do not attend your lead inspections—even if they are willing to wear the necessary safety equipment.
2. Change your PPE in between lead inspections.
For your own safety, it’s imperative that you wear appropriate PPE during lead testing. However, if you neglect to change safety gear in between inspections, you could be spreading lead contamination.
“Because I don’t want to get any lead outside the apartment inside, and inside the apartment outside, [I always change safety gear],” Velez said.
Even during an inspection of the same property, you can possibly spread lead contamination from one area to another. Velez has a solution:
“I make sure, from sample to sample, I change my gloves. Because if one windowsill is contaminated and I don’t change my gloves, and the next window is clean, the clean window will probably come back positive [for lead],” Velez said.
3. Help clients with properties with high lead levels take appropriate next steps.
Lead inspectors are not lead abatement professionals. While some inspectors get certified for both, it is a conflict of interest to be the abatement professional of a property you inspected. That’s why it’s important to have abatement referrals you trust to give to clients.
If you are referring your client to any other inspector or contractor, it is highly recommended that you request that that referral add you as an additional insured to their insurance policy. This ensures that, if you are named in a claim regarding their lead abatement services, their insurance coverage will defend you.
Lead Testing and Your Home Inspections
Does your region have a high percentage of housing with potential lead risk? Do you feel that you have a duty to your clients to protect them from lead poisoning? Do you inspect a lot of homes built before 1978?
If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you may want to consider offering lead testing.
This article was published in the ASHI Reporter in February 2021. See how this story appears in print on pages 6-7 below.