Trying to remove it will create a greater hazard then leaving it
in place, and painting over, (encapsulating), it.
Sanding or burning the paint off with a torch, will create persistant dust
or lead oxide powder that is somewhat dangerous to adults and very
harmful to children.
If you feel you must remove it, a liquid paint stripper will keep it in
a form relatively safe to handle.
We have an obligation to disclose and to hand you a government printed pamphlet on the matter!
As with most facets of buying a home, you should direct all technical questions with a licensed contractor who specialises in the problem that has come up! In the case of lead paint and how to deal with it, you need to go to a general contractor and ask what would be the best and safeest action be for our potential home!
I would treat this like any other important issue and get at least two opinions on this! Do not go to just a painter many have a license but a county license may not mean anything more than they paid for a license, General contractors are more liable to the work they do and to what they need to know to make proper fixes to a home! Some will give you free advice and then an estimate of what they can do for you, others may ask for a fee for their advice, simply put, your Family is too important to try and scrimp on fees, so in this case invest in theanswer and be sure the safety of you family is there!
There are companies who specalize in the removal of lead paint and asbestos. It will take proper licensing and they have to follow strict guidelines for the removal and disposal of lead and asbestos. I recently worked in a property that had both Lead and Asbestos and the inspector who evaluated the property gave this information to us.
Even though the worst contamination situation would be if the paint is old and chipping..I would get it removed from all living areas if at all possible .
For more information about lead paint see the government information at http://www.epa.gov/lead
If the home you'll be living in is more than 30 years old, chances are high that there is lead paint on the walls. To see how many surfaces have been coated in a lead paint, check the surfaces with a lead tester available at most paint stores. You may need to check several layers of paint in order to determine if there is any lead paint since any new applications of paint will not necessarily show the presence of lead. Although, as the others have already mentioned, many coats of paint will often "seal" lead paint away from the inhabitants, doors, windows and window sills that have lead paint should be checked as surfaces (like door jambs) that "rub" against other surfaces can quickly expose and cause lead particles to become airborne.
If your home does test "positive" for lead paint there are several things you can do to contain or remove the paint. First, so long as the current paint coating is not chipping or broken, lead can be held safely under coats of paint. If the surfaces are chipped, you may wish to encapsulate the areas with a special paint intended to "bond" to the lead paint and to keep it from becoming exposed. This is not just regular paint, but a special encapsulating paint for lead painted surface--talk with your paint store to get more information about this product. If the lead paint is on the walls, the paint can be "encapsulated" by simply covering over the surface with wall paper or with another 1/4" sheet of drywall.
If lead is present in doors or door jambs or window sills, it is often less expensive to simply remove and replace those elements than to try to strip the lead paint from the surfaces. Unless you are familiar with removing these items in a manner that provides the least "surface disruption", it's best to leave both removal and replacement to a qualified contractor.
If you would like to remove the lead paint, there are several extremely good sites with information on how to remove small sections of lead paint. Check out handyman Ron Hazelton's site at http://www.ronhazelton.com/archives/howto/lead_paint_removal.shtm for more information.
Grace Morioka, SRES
Area Pro Realty
San Jose, CA
The second best thing is to repaint the house, and not disturb any of the lead paint - no sanding, etc.
It's beyond my expertise to determine whether removing lead-based paint is cost-effective, but I do know that it ain't cheap.
Abating the problem totally can be quite costly or dangerous if done by an untrained.
It generally helps to monitor these painted areas for chipping and other signs of deterioration that should receive immediate reapplication when damage is present.
It becomes a hazard when it becomes airbourne. Lead base paint around older windows that slide up and down can cause airbourne particles as can peeling paint. Painting over it is usually enough to mitigate it.
If you want to remove it from the house completely, then you should get someone who knows what they are doing. It can be quite involved and expensive to do.
Painting over lead paint still allows the lead to remain.
mechanical removal would come down to either scraping or sanding. Sanding will create a lot of dust. That will get into your lungs without a professional grade respirator ($30-50)
I would look at chemical stripping. Just keep the sunshine away until the stripper does its job. It will evaporate in sunlight and high heat to quickly.