The slowing real estate market in many areas of the country finds buyers a little less eager than in they were in recent years to rush into a transaction without a very careful look at what they are buying.

This means that home inspection reports are being heeded, and potential environmental issues, such as lead-based paint in older homes, are becoming matters for concern or negotiation with sellers.

With regard to lead-based paint, the government is now considering regulations requiring remodeling contractors and other paid professionals engaged in home renovation work to be trained and certified in lead-removal practices.

The proposal, which would affect houses built before lead-based paint was officially banned in 1978, has not been welcomed by the housing industry, which believes that the rules would add to the cost of renovation projects as well as the length of time it takes to complete them.

The confluence of slower market and rule changes has resulted in more interest in testing and remediation of lead-based paint, as well as alternatives to removal, which can be costly.

One alternative being looked at by a growing number of professionals and consumers alike is encapsulation. Encapsulants seal lead-based paint to a surface, thus preventing the release of paint chips or dust that can be ingested by children under 6 years old -- the group most at risk for lead poisoning from the paint.

The encapsulant can be either a liquid or adhesive. Conventional paint isn't an encapsulant.

The encapsulant sets up a barrier between the lead paint and the environment, so that lead-contaminated dust cannot be released into the air or on surfaces with which human beings come in contact.

All encapsulants contain polymers -- chemical compounds -- that allow them to adhere to surfaces. Just that fact is interesting because paint manufacturers in the 19th century began adding lead to paint because lead made the paints adhere to surfaces better than the milk-based paint that had been in use.

One encapsulant has polymers that form a flexible, resilient membrane. The encapsulant is applied with a brushes, rollers, or airless spray guns. Then there are epoxy or polyurethane polymers that form membranes with flexible, hard surfaces. This kind of encapsulant also is applied with brushes, rollers, or airless spray gun.

There also are cement-like materials, applied with a trowel, with polymers that form a thick coating when they cure.

Encapsulants work best on clean, dry and solid surfaces, and can't be used on walked-on areas or surfaces that rub together when you use them. Surfaces that are badly deteriorated should be covered over with drywall or other hard materials, or the lead should be removed by a certified remediation professional.

Friction areas include window jambs, glides, headers, some stops and parting beads; inside, close-fitting door jambs and stops; floors; stair treads, and thresholds. Cabinets with friction surfaces, such as drawers and cabinet doors, should be examined before encapsulation. Where friction exists, using a plane or smoothing the surfaces in summer manner is suggested.

One of the major drawbacks of encapsulation is that the surfaces on which the material has been applied requires periodic inspection to be sure it is intact and doing its job. You have to follow the manufacturer's guidelines for testing, preparation and application. Different surfaces require different encapsulants, and only reading the information supplied by the manufacturer can tell you that.

Encapsulants may peel off improperly prepared surfaces that have old undercoats of paint, and can be damaged by water leaks from roofs or pipes. As is usually the case with regular paints, encapsulants can be applied only when the air temperature and relative humidity are conducive to it.

One advantage of encapsulating lead based paint rather than removing it is that occupants can remain in the house while the work is being done, although they should not be in the same room while the encapsulant is being applied.

Encapsulating is less expensive than removal by far, and sometimes safer, because removal usually raises a lot of dust that may not remain within the cleanup area set up for safe removal.

Surface preparation for encapsulants is governed by the condition of the lead-based paint. If the lead paint is intact, then no preparation is required. The surface should be dry and free of grime, dirt, dust, grease, mildew and smoke residue from tobacco products or combustion of wood in a stove or fireplace. If the surface is glossy, then chemical deglossers or wet sanding should be used first. Damage should be repaired before work begins.

Water-based encapsulants don't mind damp surfaces, but will not adhere to the surface properly if the surface is very wet.

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