The United States Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) recently issued lead-paint rule will substantially impact remodelers and maintenance professionals.
“It’s going to affect any house or structure built before 1978,” says Matt Watkins, an environmental policy analyst with the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB). “Remodelers will have to either prove that there is no lead paint in the area that’s being worked on or will have to incorporate lead-safe work practices in that area to prevent any additional lead hazard from being created in the dwelling.”
The EPA has put a price tag of $35 per job in compliance costs, but Watkins expects costs will exceed that estimate, citing additional time required for lead-safe work practices, additional materials such as disposable plastic or impermeable drop cloths, and the cost of a required eight-hour training course.
Concern over cost and compliance issues, aside Ada Duffy, president of the Milwaukee Lead and Asbestos Information Center, notes that the lead issue isn’t exactly a new one for remodelers; they’ve had to deal with Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards for worker protection for some time, as well as lead-safe practices when working on federally funded projects.
“A lot of contractors who are working smart are already using many lead-safe practices — they just don’t know it,” she says, referring to those contractors who maintain a clean jobsite as a matter of customer satisfaction.
Certification in lead-safe practices also can be employed as a sales tool, she notes, adding that lead-paint dust generated from the sashes of older windows can be a significant motivation for their replacement.
Covered facilities include residential, public or commercial buildings where children under age 6 are present on a regular basis as well as all rental housing. The rule applies to renovation, repair or painting activities. It does not apply to minor maintenance or repair activities affecting less than 6 sq. ft. of lead-based paint in a room or less than 20 sq. ft. of lead-based paint on the exterior. Window replacement is not considered minor maintenance or repair.
Certain work practices are prohibited for every renovation, including minor maintenance or repair jobs. These prohibited practices are: open flame burning or torching; sanding, grinding, needle gunning, or blasting with power tools and equipment not equipped with a shroud and high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) vacuum attachment; and using a heat gun at temperatures greater than 1,100 degrees F.
After the renovation is complete, the firm must clean the work area. The certified renovator must verify the cleanliness of the work area using a procedure involving disposable cleaning cloths.
One criticism of the rule involves the method for ensuring that lead dust is adequately cleaned up and removed. The Alliance for Healthy Homes and the National Center for Healthy Housing, both of which were generally supportive of the new ruling, would like to see a more stringent method employed. The NAHB, on the other hand, favored a no-visible-dust-and-debris-standard. The EPA standard is a compromise that requires a wet-cloth test in combination with a comparison standard.
Another area of concern is that the EPA ruling contains no safe-harbor provisions for remodelers who comply with the regulation, Watkins notes. Their liability protection under existing insurance policies, which may contain pollution exclusions, also is an area that warrants attention, he says.
Additional information is available at www.epa.gov/lead.
Recovery Will Be Slow
Falling consumer confidence and a weakening economy are inhibiting remodeling spending according to Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies. The center’s Leading Indicator for Remodeling Activity (LIRA) reports that homeowner spending for home improvement activity will continue to decline, falling by an annual rate of 4.8 percent through the end of 2008.