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How EPA Lead Paint Rules Increase Renovation Costs

New EPA Lead Paint Rules Increase Renovation Costs

We love renovating homes. It’s fun. It’s a way to give a house a fresh new look and update. And thanks to the EPA, it’s now a new way to gouge homeowners. New EPA lead paint rules take effect on April 22. They require contractors and trade workers to be EPA-certified and follow specific work practices to prevent lead contamination. In 2008 the federal agency executed a study to determine what home remodeling, repair, and renovating activities create dust. They used this data in creating the new regulations.

New rules include providing plastic floor covering, protective clothing for workers, and following specific debris removal guidelines. Surface contaminants will need to be tested by an outside agency when the work is completed and contractors will be required to retain records documenting adherence to the rules and confirm the absence of lead-based paint. Fines can exceed $37,500 per day per incident if the new rules aren’t followed.

Who is Subject to EPA Lead Paint Rules

All contractors and tradesmen who will work on renovation and repair projects in housing and child-occupied buildings are subject to EPA lead paint rules. This includes remodelers, plumbers, carpenters, and even painters. That $1000 project you had in mind? Better figure on $1250 or more.

Fortunately, homeowners who do their own work are exempt. The only reason this is true, I am convinced, is because somebody at the EPA realized that enforcing these new rules on homeowners would be near-impossible to accomplish. They’re right.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that this basically equates to a not-so-hidden tax on homeowners, schools, and other commercial establishments. Those entities will now pay significantly for all the new red-tape. It’s not that we think lead paint isn’t harmful or that we don’t think working safely isn’t “a good thing.” It’s that we just can’t, for the life of us, remember the last time we invited children to stand by for extended periods of time while we demoed a 1920s home. We also don’t remember the last time a demo job ended without the entire area is fully cleaned up, removing all potential for significant lead paint debris contamination. Oh, that’s right—that’s because that would defy common sense.

These new EPA lead paint rules are going to apply to buildings built prior to 1978 and will affect jobs ranging from full-blown renovations, down to simple window replacements, and paint jobs. If the job covers more than 6 square feet – it’s now regulated. Members of the National Association of Homebuilders (NAHB) estimate the added regulations will increase project costs anywhere from $500 to $1,500 for projects costing over $5,000. Of course, the EPA disagrees, feeling that these regulations will yield only a modest $35 increase per job.

And we wonder why the government gets into debt.

The Difference Between Larger and Smaller Jobs

The difference between a larger job and a smaller one isn’t as big as the EPA would have you believe. After all, whether the job is big or small, you still have to carry out the same procedures and testing. You still have to use certified workers, and you still have to pay your licensing fees. If anything, smaller jobs will show these new costs more readily.

In typical “think of the CHILDREN!” fashion, environmentalists and health advocates lauded the new regulations as being way overdue. They seem ecstatic to force everyone else to pay for regulations, certifications, testing, and procedures that may not actually help any kids avoid contaminates given the success of existing laws do which already address lead paint issues and have reduced the amount of lead available to consumers and guidelines for its removal.

The argument is that a significant percentage of childhood lead poisoning cases involve dust stirred up by renovation work. Lead poisoning in children is dangerous partly because there are no obvious symptoms until higher levels of poisoning are reached. At this point, you can experience stomachaches, cramping, and other symptoms.

EPA Lead Paint Rules – An Issue of Timing

The timing of these new EPA lead paint rules couldn’t be worse. As an industry scrambles to stay on its feet in this dismal housing market, contractors are now forced to learn about the new rules, achieve certifications, and integrate the new costly procedures into their bids. Many are balking at rules that are simply intrusive and backward, while others aren’t even aware of the new rules or what is involved in achieving the necessary documentation and certification. With the economy suffering a massive downturn, headed up by the housing market, this is a new problem that American contractors simply don’t need right now.

“A bad economy is not a good excuse to poison children” – Rebecca Morley, executive director of the National Center for Healthy Housing

Our Specific Issues with These New Regulations

The law of unintended consequences is a law that is most often ignored by politicians and regulators – frequently to the detriment of all. In the case of the new EPA rules, there are many different problems we foresee, the least of which is the added cost per job, which could easily equate to a 20% “hidden” tax on homeowners. Government agencies will be all too happy to collect this additional revenue source and the economy will suffer as a result through a reduction in the scope and frequency of remodeling work. For every dollar the regulators collect in fees and fines, a dollar is taken out of the economy.

Noted below are some of our chief concerns and comments about these new regulations:

  • According to the new regulations, surface contaminants will need to be tested by an outside agency when the work is completed. This is not only silly, it shifts the point of “safety” into one of “scientific experiment.” Why bother submitting a sample after the fact? To show that you didn’t really need to use all those precautions in the first place?
  • The new regulation applies to all homes, even those without children living in them.
  • According to scientific researchers who’ve looked at the problem, in the 1970s, when leaded gas was the norm, the average blood lead level for all American children was 25 micrograms – nearly 10 times today’s average. If such a lead level, which is higher than most cited in the studies leading to this EPA ruling, really damaged intelligence or health, scientists point out, half of all adults in America today would be walking around with severe impairments. Maybe they are all working at the EPA.
  • The EPA estimates that 236,000 renovators nationwide need to be trained in new practices, but only 14,000 across the country have taken the required one-day certification course offered by EPA-accredited trainers. It will be interesting to see how well these new rules are enforced in an economy that seems to be pushing back on all fronts.
  • Homeowners will almost certainly turn to unlicensed workers rather than pay higher costs for companies who follow the federal rules.
  • The new rules mandate the excessive use of plastic and force workers to wear booties on plastic sheeting. So in exchange for reducing lead dust, we can kill workers by forcing them to work while standing on ‘slip and slides’.

Our Workaround

We’re always here to lend a hand. In an effort to reduce your costs and help you make the most out of your renovation dollar, we present this potential workaround. If you don’t have children, or – like most sane people – plan to remove them during construction and clean well before reinserting them into your home, consider doing your own demolition.

That’s right. Tear it out yourself. You’re allowed to and there is no licensing required to do so.

Then, when you “suddenly” realize you are in over your head, invite several bids to complete the job once all the lead has been removed from your home and the work area is clean and ready for the construction process.

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