EPA Lead Rule 100 days later.

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What about the EPA lead rule?

Remodel Crazy has asked 6 people to give their opinions on the rule, their observations, their feelings and their predictions. And here it comes!

We all have an opinion, is it valid?

Yes, of course. The new lead rule effects everyone who lives in a home, that’s a lot of people. Renters, homeowners and all the other folks who sell homes, work on homes and supply products for homes are effected.

In a nutshell the EPA lead rule for safe remodeling dictates how home repair and home improvement will be conducted on homes that were built before 1978. That is the year lead paint was not allowed in our homes anymore. Its poisonous.

Did we poison our family and environment? Hell yes! Uncle Bob or Tom the painter still insisted lead made for a long lasting job, and it did. Turkish murals from 1000 BC painted with lead paint still show brilliant colors, its a damn good additive for long lasting paint.

The problem.

You can get sick from lead. Pregnant women and children suffer the most from the effects of lead, it may not kill you today but lead poisoning will surely affect you for the rest of your life, and in a bad way.

We will publish 3 articles with 6 people contributing opinions over the next 3 weeks. This week Leah Thayer and Bob Bell.

Don’t Mind the Dust

By Leah Thayer

Leah Thayer, eyes wide open
Leah, eyes wide open.

Gut instinct and anecdotal observations have told me that the RRP hasn’t made a beanhill of difference in how most people remodel their homes, but, seeking scientific evidence, I took a walk. Step one was to coerce my son and his friend away from killing enemy avatars online. In step two, we set off down the nicest street in the neighborhood. This morning as usual, it was abuzz with remodeling activity. Here’s what we saw in the first block:

  • Seven-bedroom Victorian, built roughly 1900, Zillow value $2.9 million. Project includes exterior walkways and patios, rebuilt second-floor porch and who knows what inside, but trucks have been there for weeks. Buzzing and hammering sounds from within; no evidence of “signs clearly defining the work area and warning occupants and other persons not involved in renovation activities to remain outside of the work area,” as specified in the rule’s section 745.85.
  • Four-bedroom shingle-style, built roughly 1900, Zillow value $1.9 million. Part of the side is torn off; open front door reveals front-to-back gut job. No visible precautions involving lead paint or the RRP.

  • Four-bedroom semi-detached, built roughly 1920, Zillow value $1.23 million. Home appears to be draped in plastic, construction activity visible within, RRP activity invisible within and without.

The next block is a hub of painting activity, evidenced by painters’ signs in several yards and scraping sounds. Men atop ladders, wearing white t-shirts and chatting in Spanish, are whacking away at the clapboard siding on a tired foursquare, seemingly oblivious to the possibility that they — let alone passersby and occupants — are inhaling lead dust that could cause everything from brain damage in children to reproductive problems in men and women.

Heads in the Sand

RRP neighborhood awareness
DC Avatar killers doing an RRP tour.

I don’t think my neighborhood is unusual in what appears to be an absence of RRP awareness, nor is it completely unaware. Proof of that includes several homes getting new Pella windows. Unfortunately, the orange warning signs and yellow tape struck have probably alarmed more neighbors — caution!!! toxic house!!! — than it has comforted with the implied assurance that the risks are under control.

Until a few weeks ago, these window projects were the only clear evidence that contractors were complying with the RRP (and/or homeowners were aware of it) around here. Then I read this on my community listserv:

“We have one double-hung window that won’t shut, and [a window company] I have used before and liked has quoted us $307 to install new sash ropes, which I understand because they have to take apart some of the framing. But the estimate also includes a $200 “EPA lead containment fee” which boosts the cost considerably. I understand the new law… but wondered if anyone knows if this fee is out of line? …  I found an article saying EPA estimated the new law would add about $35 to the bill for the average job”.

Surely, if this woman’s contractor informed her of the law and she went on to research it, then the same must have happened with many other contractors and homeowners … right?

After all, most contractors know about the rule … right? In my last year at Remodeling magazine, which ended (voluntarily) in June, I heard remodeler after remodeler express agitas with the RRP’s complications, lack of clarity and invisibility in the public sphere. To the rule’s credit, I also talked to remodelers who said it’s about time. “We don’t want to put our company or workers in jeopardy,” one told me. “We do the right thing.”

Apparently this is the minority view. While it’s impossible to say whose head is buried more deeply in the sand (contractors or consumers), I do know that a majority of remodeling and painting crews around here speak English as a second language. If their bosses don’t tell them about the RRP, it’s likely that nobody will. And that my neighbors, despite being a disproportionately wonky group with a generally paralyzing grasp of arcane zoning regulations and historic preservation laws, probably have seen little of the “wide variety of outreach and educational activities aimed at building owners, occupants, and the renovation industry” that an EPA official told me, last November, the agency would execute.

Then again, I never cease to be amazed by people’s lowest-cost approach to home remodeling. Besides, who wants to pay a hefty surcharge that nobody else seems to be paying — and all for an alleged “rule” that nobody has heard of? A Philadelphia remodeler told me a client (a pregnant lawyer) “planned to live in the house during reno. We put it in the contract that lead was likely in the house and by signing she would assume that risk despite our warnings. She tried to redline that out of the contract.” Thankfully, the remodeler talked the client out of that plan.

My point? Most homeowners don’t know about the RRP, and many of those who do see it as bureaucratic overkill or a DIY impetus, or both. Remember that listserv post about the small window job? I followed up with the woman who wrote it, and she concluded our conversation this way: “The end of the story? My husband just fixed [the window] himself, and saved us $500.”

Leah Thayer is a former senior editor at Remodeling magazine and the founder of daily5Remodel.com, a forthcoming web-based daily providing industry-specific news, best practices and community. Subscribe to her pre-launch blog at http://daily5remodel.blogspot.com. Follow her on Twitter (@LeahThayer).

Leah Thayer
daily5 Business Intelligence

The first Hundred Days

By Bob Bell

How is it going with RRP?

Bob Bell
Bob Bell, Bells Remodeling Duluth,MN

The EPA’s Renovation, Repair and Painting rule (RRP), is not all bad. No question, too much lead in the bloodstream can be deadly. How does lead get into the bloodstream – by ingestion.  As is too often the case with government, it assumes everyone is a violator and attempts to create a bulletproof solution without fully understanding the problem.

The rule tends to picture the contractor as the perpetrator and completely exempts the DIYer (probably because of cost) thereby making the safer treatment so much more expensive that many homeowners will opt for complete avoidance and do the very thing the rule purports to stop.

Because the danger is probably overstated in terms of its real presence, the public will view the contractor as the potential offender and homeowners will either ignore safe practices through ignorance or for cost savings – all of which could be overcome with an educational program explaining the hazards and precautions.  This method might have won favor had only the government side bothered to investigate and talk to responsible people in the industry. I have yet to see any numbers of children that have elevated blood levels that was caused by remodeling jobs done by professional remodelers!

Where are we headed with RRP?

Why has remodeling been singled out as the only place that children can get lead poisoning? Remodeling is only a small source of potential lead in the atmosphere, what about: the ground, with lead from leaded gasoline?  Toys?  Schools?  Day care centers? Playgrounds? Lead water pipes that bring water into the home?

The contractors on are the hook for life, even if they follow all the rules because the contractors don’t know if anyone in a family or the neighbors have elevated lead levels before they start a project. Any one can turn in a contractor, not just the homeowner.

How can you protect yourself if you change two windows in a house, the rest of the house would have lead paint, how can you prove it wasn’t your job that gave someone an elevated lead level?

The only reasonable way for all those involved is to have all people who reside (and regular guests) in the home tested for blood lead levels before and after the work is completed. The question is: who is going to pay for the cost and who performs the test?

The only ones who will survive are the large companies that can have 2 or 3 people certified and go from job to job. Smaller companies don’t have the man power to do that.  The added expense for the small contractor is going to put them out of business or drive them underground and work in the black market.

I believe that remodeling was singled out because the industry is fragmented and made up of many small contractors that don’t have an effective lobby in Washington.  This is one more example of Government “experts” thinking that they know better than we do about anything!

See you in a week/ The Paul

3 COMMENTS

  1. Good reading! These EPA regs remind me of the ban on DDT. DDT was developed to kill the mosquitoes carrying malaria and yellow fever mainly in South America and was banned in the US and elsewhere when found to be toxic. Trouble is, more people are dying from these reborn disease epidemics than DDT ever killed.

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