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A new federal law beginning April 2010 will require all contractors performing renovation, repair and painting projects that disturb lead-based paint in private homes, childcare facilities, and schools (built prior to 1978) to be certified in the prevention of lead contamination.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) document titled What You Need to Know About Lead Poisoning, "Despite laws established in the 1970s to make people aware of the dangers of lead and its poisonous effects, lead poisoning in children remains a common, yet preventable, environmental health problem in the United States." Heavily-leaded paint is in about two-thirds of homes built prior to 1940 and one-half of homes built from 1940 to 1960, according to the US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). "Some homes built after 1960 also contain heavily-leaded paint."

The CPSC recommends that any homes constructed before the 1980s be tested for lead before renovating. You can learn more about lead-based paint by visiting the EPA's website In today's column we'll assume you understand that if you think you have lead-based paint you need to seek expert help before any renovations. Now, we'll tackle the fun stuff: choosing colors that have mass appeal (in case you're selling soon), selecting quality paint, and understanding when to buy paint. For this information we turn to Gabrielle Genevich, branch manager, Sherwin Williams.

Top selling colors, still neutral for mass appeal. "We have a list of our top 50 selling colors. Most are light white or beige. Kilim beige is sort of a light tan color and most often that's what people pick—warm colors that they can use for their entire home," says Genevich.

Genevich says that the new design of homes is what helps to make these neutral colors so popular. "Most of the time people are looking for that one color that they can work throughout their house because so many of the houses now are open and you can see from one room to the next so they want a color that matches everything," she says.

When it comes to selecting color for a specific room, say, the kitchen, Genevich cautions homeowners to not be too tempted by what they see in home makeover magazines. "For instance, people come in and they want a yellow kitchen and they pick out these bright lemon yellows [colors] you see in a magazine and they think it will be amazing in their house but then they get home and it looks like neon yellow. So I always tell people to go for the more muted tones. If you want a bright yellow you might try more of a gold tone, something that is a little more muted so that it doesn't stand out so much. People want to go with big color which is great but you need to do it so that it doesn't overpower everything else," says Genevich. What about paint quality? Do you really need to buy top-of-the line? Surprisingly, Genevich says no. "You don't have to buy the best paint but buying a better paint is going to save you time and money. It's going to save you from having to put three coats on your wall. A better paint will be fast, easy, and error- proof." She suggests buying something in the mid-range for good coverage and value.

"If you have smoke stains on your ceiling you'll want to repaint it but [if that's not the case] you don't need to paint the ceiling to make your house look fresher. You can just do the walls. If you do paint the ceiling you can use a lower-cost interior flat paint," says Genevich.

One final tip before you get started, Genevich says, "Prep work is most important because you don't want paint on your trim, carpet, and floors. Get a good brush and roller that's not going to leave fuzz on your walls.

When's the best time to paint? Well, that's pretty open if it's an interior paint job. However, Genevich has some advice about the best times to buy paint. "Shop around holidays; that's when all the paint stores have good sales." She adds, "If you're going to do a big project where you're painting your interior house it's going to pay to get 25 percent or 30 percent off."

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