Lead Concerns Could Bolster Window Replacement

September 22, 2010

"Lead paint could be a good thing for window sales," according to Rick Nevin, a researcher involved with a project that recently received a challenge grant from the National Institute of Health.  Nevin is working with a team from the NYU School of Medicine and National Center for Healthy Housing looking at window replacement in older homes as a means to prevent lead exposure to children and increase energy efficiency.  Several demonstration weatherization projects incorporating lead safe window replacement are now underway in New York State  "to document costs, verify expected benefits, and evaluate evidence of potential benefits," according to the project Web site.

Weatherization projects are often limited to adding insulation and caulking. The higher cost of replacing windows can be hard to justify based on energy savings alone, but the potential health benefits of window replacement are significant, Nevin states. Among public health officials and academics involved in the issue, there is little dispute that window surfaces in older homes typically have higher levels of lead dust than any other interior building component, he reports. Lead paint chips are common in old window troughs, and friction surfaces on old windows create lead dust hazards. The reasons are uncertain, but the data is fairly conclusive that windows represent one of the biggest lead hazards in homes built prior to the banning of lead paint in 1978, according to Nevin.

The demonstration projects now underway in New York will add only incrementally to established findings related to lead, he continues. What is unique about the projects is that they are bringing together public health experts concerned with childhood lead poisoining and officials focused on housing and energy efficiency. "We are bringing together separate worlds to show them the combined benefits of energy savings, increased home values and improved health," Nevin states.

He also wants to make the window and door industry part of the conversation. Acknowledging that lead paint is primarily viewed as "a source of aggravation" by the industry as a result of Environmental Protection Agency regulations, he suggests it also represents an opportunity. Given the research findings about lead dust on windows, it's "absolutely legitimate" for a replacement window salesman to tell owners of many older homes that replacing windows can make those homes healthier, Nevin states.

Looking at data for older homes, hazardous levels of lead dust are almost a certainty for homes built prior to 1940. From 1940 to 1960, chances are about 50/50, and for homes built between 1960 and 1978–the year lead was banned as a paint ingredient–the chances for lead dust are about 10 to 20 percent, Nevin states. "There's a real risk for some homeowners and window replacement is a way to address it effectively." 

The new EPA regulations are likely to spur companies to deliver that message, he adds. "People didn't want to go there," he explains, referring to conversations about lead dust hazards.  "Now, they have to talk about it," Nevin states.  "And lead paint could be a good thing for window sales." 

Specifically, Nevin's Web site for the project focuses on a replacement of single-pane windows, noting that double-pane windows became widely used in cold climates in the 1980s, after the ban on lead paint took effect.  "Single-pane windows in older housing are reliable indicators of lead paint hazards and inefficient energy use," the site states. "Combining lead safe window replacement with other weatherization can reduce energy bills by 50 percent, increase home market value, and could also reduce the risk of asthma and other housing-related health risks."

One of the goals of the current project is to get the available research out there to manufacturers and dealers in a simple-to-understand format that can be shared with homeowners, Nevin reports. Noting that he recently met with officials of the Efficient Windows Collaborative, he also hopes to meet with other industry organizations to promote the "lead safe window replacement strategy."