I’ve been remodeling all types of homes since 1975. As a conscientious renovator, I became certified in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s RRP program, though I did not and do not fully agree with the need as stated by our government. Having said that, let me share my recent RRP story with you.
A client contacted my company to renovate his bathroom in his 1913 house. The existing ceramic-tile walls and floor were wet bed with wire lath; the remaining walls and ceiling consisted of plaster on wood lath. Because of the age of the house and the original construction materials, I knew I had no choice but to do a full lead-safe job. After explaining the new RRP requirements to an uninformed customer, we got the job.
July 25, The Job Begins
Plastic is everywhere, taped and fitted. The doorway is covered with a double-plastic curtain, weighted down, perfect. Wet wipes and the HEPA vac are ready.
July 26, Demo Begins
We don our protective suits, respirators, glasses and gloves. At 8 a.m., we enter hell. It’s humid and 90 F plus with no air conditioning, and the window is closed because of the RRP requirements.
One minute into the job, the gloves fail. Obviously, thin rubber gloves aren’t impermeable to shards of broken ceramic tile, concrete and wire lath. Additionally, these materials are tearing our protective coveralls.
Five minutes in, the required respirators, N100s, are pinching off our nasal passages; we are breathing through our mouths sounding like water buffalo during mating season. The heat and sweat are unbearable. Pass the water jugs! Wait, are we allowed to remove the respirators to take a drink? I can’t see through the sweat burning my eyes.
We are bagging and wrapping the debris as we go, which is pointless because the wire lath, shards of broken tile and chunks of concrete are piercing the plastic.
At 10 a.m., we take a break. Sweat is dripping from our clothing, and heat stroke is a real concern. I’m beginning to think the number of construction professionals who will succumb to heat-related deaths because of RRP will outnumber those who might benefit from the regulation. To put it very nicely, we all want to find the person who thought RRP was a good idea and make him join in the fun.
At 10:30 a.m., I am sealed in a tight, dusty, hot room again, wondering why I agreed to take this job.
At lunch, feeling barely alive, we realize we are not even halfway finished with the job.
At 12:45, my team votes to not wear the coveralls or rubber gloves. The respirators stay put. We only work until 2 p.m. because we are exhausted and feel the need to vomit. We decide to save the rest for tomorrow. Did I mention it is 90 F plus and freaking humid?
Because of RRP, a demo job that typically takes 12 hours took 36. We used 60 contractor-size plastic bags, two 10- by 50-foot rolls of plastic sheathing, three rolls of duct tape, one-half of a 30-sheet tack pad, six respirators, one and one-half rolls of painter’s tape, 8 quarts of Gatorade and countless amounts of water. Let’s not forget one $140 HEPA-vac filter.
I recall the teacher of my RRP training class saying the cost of compliance would be minimal. Really? This particular project had triple the labor, plus $250 in additional materials. I thought he was lying when he said it; now I know he was.
If my anger overtakes my sarcasm, I make no apology. I am furious we allowed RRP to happen to our industry. I will no longer work on pre-1978 homes. Owners of these older homes must be prepared to pay dearly to have work done on them or just continue to use unlicensed, uncertified wannabes and hope for the best. Normally, I’d criticize Joe homeowner for looking for the cheap way out. Now, I would do the same.