This article was originally published in the September/October 1997 issue of Home Energy Magazine. Some formatting inconsistencies may be evident in older archive content.
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Home Energy Magazine Online September/October 1997
Getting the Lead Out of Windows
By Nancy Boone
Nancy Boone is State Architectural Historian of the Division for Historic Preservation in Montpelier, Vermont.
Flaking paint and paint dust from old windows is a potential source of lead hazard. To eliminate the hazard of lead paint you can either remove the paint or remove the window. Deciding which to do, of course, depends on cost and, in the case of historic buildings, the desire to preserve the window material.
Human exposure to lead from windows can occur in three basic ways: from lead dust that forms by paint abrasion in friction areas; from peeling and flaking on frame or sash; or by the fumes, chips, or dust generated during removal.
Several methods of paint removal exist; wet scraping and chemical removal are the preferred choices because they have less potential for generating airborne lead dust. Abrasive dry sanding and dry scraping create dust and should be avoided.
Wet scraping involves misting the surface with water, then hand scraping the surface to bare wood. Chemical stripping can be hazardous and is best done by a professional off-site. Generally, the glass is removed and the sash is dipped in a chemical bath or coated with a gel solution. The chemicals are caustic, and the resulting slurry is a hazardous waste.
Sometimes the jambs can simply be covered and not stripped. Vinyl jamb liners, which often include a spring balance system, are a popular choice and effective if properly installed. Other options for covering a painted (or unpainted) surface include aluminum coil stock, vinyl, and even duct tape, all of which have been used to create a smooth, cleanable surface in the window well, although preservationists have voiced concern over the potential moisture problems that could develop in a window well covered in impermeable material.
If a window is too far gone to justify repair, or if repair is too costly, replacement in-kind windows can be installed. The rule of thumb in Vermont is if 75% of a home's windows are in poor condition, then they all should be replaced. Otherwise, a combination of repair and replacement may be appropriate.
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