Lead Paint Lowdown

New lead paint regulations are set to take effect in 2010, and remodelers who work in pre-1978 buildings will face some major changes in the way they remodel some homes and businesses. Professional Remodeler talked to Matt Watkins, an environmental policy analyst with NAHB, about the new rule.

June 30, 2008
Key Facts

Matt Watkins, NAHB environmental policy analyst.  Photo by Bill Geiger

New lead paint regulations are set to take effect in 2010, and remodelers who work in pre-1978 buildings will face some major changes in the way they remodel some homes and businesses. Professional Remodeler talked to Matt Watkins, an environmental policy analyst with NAHB, about the new rule. The full rule — the lead renovation, repair and painting program rule — is available at www.epa.gov/lead.

What facilities and homes will be affected?

It's really targeting housing that is occupied by children under the age of 6 or that has a pregnant woman residing there. To qualify as a child-occupied facility, there has to be a child under 6 years of age, two different days a week, at least three hours, with a combined total for the week of six hours and an annual time frame of 60 hours.

So this could apply to a home where people are simply seeing their grandkids every weekend?

Could be grandparents every weekend, it could be grandparents who are doing day care. For that matter, it could be the next-door neighbor's house, because they're there two or three times a week.

What type of training is this rule going to require for remodelers?

Training is an eight-hour training course. Six hours in the classroom, two hours hands-on. I guess the model that's out there right now is the current EPA/HUD remodeling course for folks that are already doing work in HUD housing. That said, in addition to what's in that curriculum they'll probably add how to use the pre-renovation lead test kit and the post-renovation cleaning verification.

From a contractor standpoint, does it make sense to send their entire crew to get this kind of training?

I think from an economic standpoint, it would be costly to do that. Lead-safe work practices are pretty common steps, so I think just one person being trained in that and training the rest of the staff shouldn't be a problem.

How big an economic impact do you expect this to have on remodelers?

More than $35 per project. [EPA's estimate of the cost.] I think from talking to some of the remodelers about this, I don't know that we've come up with a quantifiable number, but it's certainly bigger than what has been cited by EPA.

What are the key things remodelers need to be thinking about before they start on a job?

I think initially a remodeler should be thinking, "Should I even bother working in homes that were built prior to 1978?" Then once they've decided, "I think I want to; that's a significant amount of my market," I think they're going to be thinking about insurance. Most liability insurance policies have a toxic materials exclusion, so once lead paint is spoken your policy almost becomes worthless. There really aren't any products out there for a remodeler to get that aren't extremely costly.

Then when they go out, they'll be thinking, "Well, how do I properly estimate a project?" Whether it's replacing windows or doing an addition or gutting a kitchen or bathroom, they're going to have to figure out how to estimate this. This is a new way of doing things. There's going to have to be some education of consumers on why this costs more.

Is NAHB concerned that we're going to see homeowners opt for the untrained contractor or try to undertake it themselves?

That's certainly a huge concern for us, that the economic desire to hire a fly by night or to do it yourself will outweigh the cost of protecting your family. That's the big hole in this whole regulation, that the entire do-it-yourself market has been exempted.

Are there any other parts of the rule that you're concerned about?

There's a record-keeping requirement that EPA has put in the rule that records have to be kept for three years after the job has been completed. The EPA has specifically said that the reason for keeping these records is strictly for compliance. It has nothing to do with protecting children, or protecting the population or protecting the next home buyer. It's specifically there to keep the remodeler in check.

I think there are concerns, like I said, about insurance. I think there are concerns about pre-existing lead conditions. The remodeler might come in and do the windows, but there's lead on the base board and lead on the door jambs and those weren't addressed. Will there be a false sense of security on the part of the homeowner, saying, "Well, we had the windows changed out, so the lead's gone?" Those pre-existing conditions have not been affected by the work that's been done by the remodeler, but could they then come back at a later date and say the child has lead poisoning?

Is there anything a remodeler can do to protect themselves in that situation?

Aside from having a proper insurance policy in place, not really. I think in a civil case it would be their job to try to prove this child wasn't lead-poisoned by something they did.

What were some of the major wins for remodelers in the rule?

The biggest concern we avoided was having a third-party clearance test once we were done with the work. That didn't happen in the rule.

The recertification requirement had been every three years and that got changed to every five years. To a certain degree we got some modified grandfathering; if you've already taken a lead course from HUD/EPA, you only have to take a 4-hour refresher to be certified, so for the guys that have already been certified, it's good for them.

What steps do remodelers have to take after the project?

You implement all of your lead-safe work practices, and at the end of the project, you use a HEPA vac, then wash it down with a wet mop. Once you've done that, starting with window sills, you have to take a wet disposable cloth and wipe down the sill and compare it with a comparison card, and if the dust that's on that sill is less than what's on that comparison card, you're done. If it looks like there's more dust than with the comparison card, vacuum again, wash again and do a wet wipe. If it still looks dirty, you HEPA vac and wash one more time, then do it with a dry cloth, then you're done. Basically, you're going to have to do the cleaning regime a maximum of three times.

Some people are arguing there should be a third-party, post-project testing. Any indication that the rule will be revisited?

This will be the rule for now. I know that health advocates made some squawks when the rule first came out to some of the environmental folks here in town, but since that time we haven't heard anything from them and we've seen nothing anyplace else.


Key Facts

  • The rule takes affect April 22, 2010.
  • The rule applies to projects disturbing more than 6 square feet of painted surface in pre-1978 homes.
  • EPA-approved training should be available by April 2009.
  • The new consumer pamphlet is now available and must be used beginning in December.
  • Violations will carry up to a $25,000 fine.

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