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Taking the EPA Lead-Safe Certification Class

lead-safe certification class

There are many questions that have come up about the way contractors must deal with lead-based paint. For some time now, handouts and brochures have sat on the paint counters of all the local home improvement centers and paint stores. These highlight the many potential issues with lead-based paint. We sent our own Tom Gaige to take the EPA lead-safe certification class. He set a goal to not only get the actual certification but also learn everything he could about the RRP rule and lead paint removal process.


Avoid Fines by Taking the Lead-Safe Certification Class

The EPA required lead-safe certification since April 22, 2010. It behooves residential and commercial industries to become fully compliant. Both individuals and companies must become educated and certified in dealing with lead paint issues according to the EPA and HUD guidelines and rules. Taking a lead-safe certification class makes for one way to ensure you know how to remain compliant.

The program I took would give me a Certified Renovators certificate. I took a class offered by the National Center for Healthy Housing (NCHH) in cooperation with a local contractor trade association. The first thing that is repeatedly drilled into you at the class is that this is a big deal. The federal government is serious about how lead paint gets handled.

EPA-Approved Lead Test Kits

Currently, there are only three testing methods approved and recognized by the EPA. These lead test kits are for use in complying with the RRP Rule.

3M LeadCheck

The 3M LeadCheck lead test kits are designed to be used by a certified renovator. It reliably determines the presence of lead-based paint on wood, ferrous metal alloys, or drywall/plaster. Renovators wanting to use the 3M LeadCheck test kit for RRP compliance can get them directly from 3M or online.

ESCA Tech D-Lead

Based on the results of the Environmental Technology Verification (ETV) report of vendor-submitted lead test kits, the ESCA Tech D-Lead paint test kit can reliably determine that regulated lead-based paint is not present on wood, ferrous metal, or drywall and plaster surfaces. We can’t find this one at Amazon, but it exists elsewhere, including the ESCA Tech website.

State of Massachusetts

Interestingly, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts has a lead test kit. It reliably determines whether regulated lead-based paint is not present on drywall and plaster. The EPA doesn’t recognize this particular kit for use on wood and ferrous metal surfaces.

What the RRP Rule Means

With the Lead-Based Paint, Renovation, Repair, and Painting (RRP) rule, pretty much anyone who disturbs painted surfaces that might contain lead must follow certain prescribed procedures and safety measures. They need to contain the work area, minimize dust, and completely clean up when finished. This rule applies to nearly all contractors or anyone that does this type of work for some kind of compensation. If you work in any type of construction, whether it is electrical, mechanical, plumbing, renovations, painting, or maintenance; you probably will come into a situation where you will need to be certified.

When You Have to Get Certified

If you primarily replace windows and interior or exterior doors, then you have to be certified. If you read this and wonder if this applies to you, it probably does. The rule says several things. If you disturb more than six square feet of lead-based paint on the interior or twenty square feet on the exterior of a building that was built before 1978 and the building is a home, school, daycare center, or anywhere children under the age of six spend time or if there are pregnant women present, then you need to take notice and comply with the rule. No exceptions are allowed.

Lead-safe Certification Class for Fine Prevention

Just to make sure they have your attention, the EPA poses some pretty hefty fines. They amount to a maximum of $37,500 per violation, per day. This doesn’t include any local or state fines tacked on depending on how your local area implements the program. So, if the fear of fines doesn’t get you, the possibility of lawsuits comes next. These rules require not only tests but that you follow proper procedures when working with lead-based paint.

Taking the Lead-safe Certification Class

These details certainly got my attention while sparking my curiosity. I took this class to make sure I understood what industry professionals have to do to stay compliant with EPA and HUD rules. To make the certification process as easy as possible, they offered the particular class I took in two parts. The first portion occurred online at my own pace. The second portion involved a half-day hands-on class with a written exam. I needed to pass this exam before I could become a Certified Renovator.

The Online Class Portion

The online portion of the class took approximately 4 to 5 hours to complete. They divided up the classes into easily-digestible chapters. These covered all the major aspects of the law, the EPA rules, HUD rules, and other background and procedural things you would need to know. You quickly become an expert on all the acronyms and lingo that accompanies the business. At the end of each section, quick quizzes (that you must pass) let you move on.

The barrage of information seemed a tad confusing at times. Most of my confusion came from seeming disagreements between the EPA and the HUD rules. Depending on the situation, you must follow the more stringent guidelines or even a combination of both.  At the successful completion of the online portion, they issued a certificate. It simply stated that I had successfully completed Part One. That made me eligible for Part Two.

Lead-Safe Certification Class Day Two

Part Two was the more fun day. I got up at 3 AM and drove 4 hours to my nearest learning center. The hands-on class went from 8 am to 12 PM. Upon arriving at the learning center, we sat down for some helpful presentations and question and answer time with the instructors. The hands-on class tangibly reinforced all the critical aspects of the online class. This make sure it was drilled into our heads.

We discussed the health problems associated with disturbing LBP (Lead-Based Paint). It seems to affect young children with sometimes life-long problems. Primarily, this dictated why the rules deal with homes, schools, and daycare facilities. I found it perplexing that 30+ years after abolishing the use of lead-based paint, it now presents such a huge issue. Whatever happened to the hundreds of millions of people who grew up prior to 1978 when lead-based paint was used extensively?

Hands-on with Lead-Safe Certification

They dedicated a portion of the class to hands-on testing methods. At the time, this made for the only method in existence. A Certified Renovator had to use approved methods to detect the presence of lead in the paint. While we now have three test methods available—only one existed when I took the class.

Oddly, Lead-Check was also manufactured by only one company. You can certainly purchase other lead testing kits at your local home improvement or paint stores, but cannot use these to test for lead. The EPA has not approved them. 

When it first came out, the best way to get Lead-Check was via mail order! During my class, orders were running about 6 weeks behind. Now you can buy this kit on Amazon or just about anywhere.

Setting up and Containing the Work Site

We talked about how to properly set up a worksite. That included how to contain the work area and how to minimize dust. For those of us in the renovation business, some of these topics fell under “best practices”. We use similar methods to minimize the spread and inhalation of demolition and drywall dust.

Two big takeaways included minimizing dust and using a HEPA dust collection system whenever possible when using power tools. Some specific clean-up procedures minimize contamination to other parts of the building and innocent bystanders. Some precautions primarily protect the inhabitants of the building. Others protect and train workers so they understand the implications and proper safety procedures on the jobsite.

Protecting Furniture and Openings

I had fun taking part in the lead-safe certification class. In particular, the hands-on portion broke us up into teams to set up a proper workspace. We had to use proper containment methods that included protecting furniture, existing surfaces, and HVAC openings. An instructor supervised each step of the way to ensure that we did things according to the rules. To help make it a little easier, they handed out some handy checklists and books.


Some parts of the procedures were a little overwhelming or tedious and it made it nice to be able to glance at the checklist to make sure we were doing all the right things in the right order. When we all completed the practical part of the class, they handed out the test. Fortunately—it featured multiple-choice questions. In order to pass the program, you had to score 80% or better on the test.

Certified Firms and Renovators

Even though you become a Certified Renovator, the company that you either own or work for still cannot legally do lead paint-related work until they become a Certified Firm. To become a Certified Firm, a company must first employ at least one Certified Renovator and then they must submit an application to the EPA along with a fee.

Since each state can decide if they want to fall under the jurisdiction of the EPA or under their own guidelines, then you might have to file some other paperwork and fees to your state as well. Just in case you missed it, every time you turn around, you will need to fill out a form and pay a fee. Oh yeah, and if you think can do all these forms and fees quickly to get certified, think again. Currently, the EPA is quite a few months behind on processing applications.

Lead-Safe Certification Enforcement

As we went through our lead-safe certification class, the question of enforcement came up. How would the EPA monitor jobs? How might they track if a company handles a job properly? The EPA simply lacks the staffing at this time to even begin to effectively monitor and check work sites. Additionally, the particular state I took my class from does not have the budget needed to fully implement or enforce the EPA rules.

At this time, the only way you might be caught improperly doing work is if someone turns you in or if there is a future lawsuit that arises from the work that you did. For each job that you do once you are certified, you have to keep records of all aspects of the project including, who worked on the job, their experience level, what you did on the job, what paint was disturbed, and what testing you did among other things. These records must be kept on the job site until the completion of the project and then you must keep the records for 5 years after the job. Strangely enough, we never did find out exactly what you have to do to get a $37,500 dollar fine.

Making a Mountain Out of a Mole Hill?

Though the course of this class I did find it a little ironic that we are making a big deal about a problem that was put to bed over 30 years ago. With the ridiculous amounts of money that have been invested into this program so far, it is ludicrous that it can not be fully or easily implemented because the logistics of testing, the lack of testing supplies, and enforcement have not been figured out yet. Given the down economy combined with a dismal housing market, what we have here is yet another setback that will not help turn things around. In fact, it would be a modest estimate to say that it will easily cost double to renovate a structure that has lead-based paint issues per the new EPA and HUD rules.

To add insult to injury, many of the homes and structures that have lead-based paint fall into the realm of low-income housing which means that ultimately the government will end up paying directly for the additional cost through their grants and programs which in the long run actually cost you and me.  For more information about the EPA lead-based paint renovation rules check out this link.

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