Paint that has peeled, bubbled, or blistered has got to go. But if lead is present—a strong possibility in houses built before 1978—you need to proceed with extra care. To lay any doubts to rest, you can send paint chip samples to a lab, such as Macs Lab's
Home Free; for about $38, they'll give you a definitive answer.
If your paint does contain lead, you'll need to take special precautions during the scraping and sanding phases to protect yourself, your family, and the environment from toxic dust. If the paint is lead-free, you need only don a dust mask and lay down tarps to catch debris before tackling the most crucial part of the project.
New Orleans contractor Joseph Wallis did use a PaintShaver
on this project to capture lead dust. This carbide-tipped angle grinder, which has a dust-collecting shroud that connects to a HEPA-filter vac, can be rented by mail from the manufacturer for about $50 a day.