The Looming Lead Liability

Remodelers need to get ready for the new lead paint laws

January 31, 2010

April 22.

That's the day the new Lead Renovation, Repair and Painting rules become official and the remodeling industry will have to face a significant change to the old way of doing business.

We surveyed remodelers about the new rules in our monthly research, and not surprisingly most have a negative view of the regulations. This is an industry where people do not like to be told what to do.

There will be plenty of remodelers who will opt to ignore the rules. The same guys who aren't bothering to pull permits, pay workers comp and just generally give the industry a black eye will be there to offer homeowners a cheaper, albeit inferior and less safe, alternative. In fact, 15 percent of respondents to our survey said they don't intend to get certified to work in pre-1978 homes under the new regulations — and 17 percent weren't sure if they would. (You can see the full results of our study on p. 30.)

If you have a real business with real responsibilities, you can’t afford to ignore the regulations.

You probably can't afford to stop working in pre-1978 homes altogether, unless you're in a Sun Belt boom state. I know some remodelers who are seriously considering it. On it's face, it seems like a ridiculous idea to cede such a huge part of the market to your competition. After all, NAHB estimates pre-1980 homes make up 61 percent of remodeling projects. In our research, 97 percent of remodelers report doing at least some work in pre-1978 homes. Although it wouldn't work in the Chicago area where I live, I could see someone pulling it off in Las Vegas or Phoenix.

If you're not lucky enough to be in that situation, there's little choice. The reality is that if you have a real business with real responsibilities, you can't afford to ignore the regulations. The fines are astronomical — currently $37,500 per day per incident. Replace 10 windows and that's 10 incidents or potentially $375,000 in fines per day. And don't forget that the states can take over the program as long as their requirements are at least as stringent as the EPA's.

That's probably not the biggest danger, though, as significant as it is. The remodelers that really know this subject well are most worried about the potential for lawsuits. Bob Hanbury, president of House of Hanbury Builders in Newington, Conn., has been working on lead paint issues for years as part of the NAHB's Lead Work Group and says that's the scariest part of the issue.

We've all seen those asbestos and mesothelioma commercials littering the airwaves. It's only a matter of time before an army of lawyers realizes the potential windfall that can come out of lead paint, and you don't want to be on the wrong side of that issue. Following the regulations — and obtaining good liability insurance that includes lead paint coverage — is the best way to make sure your business can survive. If you can't do that, it might be time to think about moving somewhere warmer.

Follow me on Twitter @ SweetEdit or contact me at or 630/288-8170

About the Author

Overlay Init