Time Saver Tips for EPA Rule Remodeling.


The EPA Lead Rule is coming, so whatta ya gonna do?

Paul Bilodeau of Grand Rapids Remodeling

This article is written by Paul Bilodeau, a Grand Rapids remodeler who has been using techniques for safe remodeling for over 15 years. Paul Bilodeau explains on his website how his super clean jobsites leave his customers safe and satisfied. With the EPA deadline coming up soon Paul Bilodeau’s tried and true work practices are what contractors need to hear concerning what best practice they will use to be compliant and still earn profit from this aspect of upcoming remodels in target housing.

Work with lead and be safe.

By Paul Bilodeau

If remodeling contractors aren’t already aware, the game has changed due to a new federal mandate. Contractors remodeling homes pre 1978 must have lead safe training by April 22nd 2010 and comply with the regulation. These lead safe work practices can be a daunting and time consuming task for inexperienced remodeling contractor. The extra man hours can add up on a given project and consume profits. This article attempts to give some insiders “tricks of the trade” from a former lead abatement contractor to help reduce man hours and keep material costs down while complying with the new mandate.

Plastic sheeting is your friend. Known as “poly” to abatement contractors, it covers your work area and makes for quick clean-up. Always purchase clear poly. As suggested by the EPA standards, cover the floor at least 6 feet out and construct walls with 4 or 6 mil. In addition, place a sizeable scrap of the heavier poly in the middle of the work area before covering the floor. This scrap will come in handy during tear down.

The author has found 12’ widths are most useful. This covers nearly any ceiling height, and accommodates traditional floor plans for most rooms so there’s less splicing.

Be sure to have two kinds on hand. Painter’s plastic can be used to cover shelves and articles around the room. It’s far less expensive and comes in handy for just covering the odds and ends.

Cut a runner from containment to the dumpster before work begins. Make it wide enough to carry supplies and materials. During rainy weather, make sure there is a mat of some kind to wipe workers feet before reentering the house. Poly is very slippery when wet.

Demo materials are often sharp and heavy. This is a problem when bagging the debris as the sharp edges poke holes in the bag and a trail of dust marks your path to the dumpster. A solution and time saver is to have plenty of garbage cans on hand. The trick is to fill the garbage can with the liner inside containment. When full or heavy enough, gooseneck it and leave in the container. The container can then be hauled to the dumpster and disposed of.

When dealing with heavy dense debris, it helps to have a container with wheels, as dragging a heavy garbage can will eventually wear holes in the poly runner. As demo proceeds, the bags should be staged at the doorway within easy reach. The bags or garbage cans should be grabbed from outside containment to save time going in and out of the doorway. Also, have one worker in containment stage the bags by the door and one worker outside that can reach in and grab them.

For a plaster tear out, an old piece of paneling can help workers have a place for the plaster to “land”. It’s also useful to scoop up the debris and bag. The paneling should be placed finished side up so there is a sealed side to vacuum up or wipe down. Any wood product is fine as long as it’s painted or sealed. Open wood is one of the most difficult to clean for lead dust, as the open pores and grain of the natural fiber harbor and lock in the dust. 5 gal buckets can be used for dumping the old broken plaster. Just line them with 6mil small kitchen size bags and carry the bucket to the dumpster.

When work is done, take the walls down first and collapse them gently on the floor poly. Then simply roll up the walls and the floor on the scrap you first laid down to dispose. This scrap catches the inevitable debris that escape from the roll when fitting it in the garbage bag and saves the time of vacuuming. The scrap can now be rolled up and disposed of also. After a contractor gets a few jobs under their belt, set up and tear down should go quickly.

The new EPA standard expects the remodeling contractor to isolate the work area, utilizing temporary poly walls. This is a standard in the abatement industry, and can be done quickly and efficiently no matter what the size or shape of the project.

The method of affixing the containment walls must first be addressed. Many contractors often tape the poly to the ceiling, forming a perimeter around the work area. This is acceptable and common, but has several issues. First and foremost it is very time consuming, also it can be very difficult to attach the tape to a textured ceiling or uneven surface. Due to the weight of the poly, the tape can fail and bring the wall down. The work must then be halted and time taken to reattach it. Finally, upon removal, the tape can peel and destroy the surface it was stuck to. These issues can be costly and add many man hours to a simple project.

Consider extend able poles. These poles are reusable, reducing labor and issues associated with using tape. Often marketed as cargo bars for pickup trucks, these ratcheting poles extend and clamp the poly to the ceiling no matter what the height or surface. The poles also negate the problems of disturbing the wall and tape destroying the surface upon removal. Although prices differ throughout the region, extendable ratcheting poles can be purchased inexpensively.

Plan the containment area by ratcheting the poles in place where the wall will be. Give yourself plenty of room to work, and plan an area by the containment entrance to stage the bagged debris. Once the poles are where you want them, roll out the poly and wrap it around the poles, defining the perimeter and determining the length. Give yourself a little extra, it’s no fun trying to stretch poly to the wall.

Having the poly cut to size, start unfolding it at one end to the full width. With a step ladder, take the tension off the first pole and tuck the plastic over the pole. Then ratchet the pole up, trapping the poly between the ceiling and the pole’s top foot. Repeat the process going down the length of the wall. Finally, tape the edges to the walls to seal the containment. The time it takes to set up the walls is of course determined by the size of containment but is far less then taping the poly to the ceiling without the issues of tape.

With the walls now complete, the doorway needs to be installed. It is important to limit the dust that migrates but also permits workers egress. Remember that all bags of debris and materials have to pass through so make it big enough. As described before, a staging area should be planned in containment by the door area.

Many times the worker can use an existing door and just attach the poly door to it. A time saver is to make a poly door that is reusable. First, cut a piece to fit over a standard size door. The measurement of the poly should be 38” X 84”. Cut the upside down “T” and covering dust flap. Now, apply duct tape around the perimeter and fold over the edges making a “picture frame” around the edge. Duct tape the flap over the “T”. The masking tape to attach the poly to the casings can be removed and applied over and over without tearing the poly. At the end of the job, just roll it up for the next project. The reusable door should be able to be installed in 2 or 3 minutes vs. taking 10 to 15 minutes to make a new one every time.

Although white suits are not required by the EPA mandate, they are nice to protect the worker from bringing home the dust after work. Putting on a white suit and removing it after leaving containment is far faster than vacuuming off all the workers clothing, but there are some things to consider.

White suits are sized small, medium, large and extra large. Purchase them at least a size bigger than the workers shirt size. During years of abatement work in white suits the author has found “large” is generally the size used by most, save for the most portly of workers that might need an XL.

During the summer, work in white suits can be very hot. Working in shorts and t shirts is acceptable but the temptation to shed any more clothing should be avoided. White suits are translucent and nobody wants to see more of their fellow worker than need be.

White suits generally come in one piece with footies. These footies tear during work very easily and will be tripping the worker in no time. Since the EPA guidelines are not abatement the footies can be cut off at the ankles and the ends taped with masking tape around the ankle. This will give much more traction and ease of movement.

Negative Air Unit

Negative air is the key to keeping dust from migrating past containment. The importance of an air mover in containment cannot be overstated. It will save the contractor many hours of cleaning the perimeter of the containment due to the inevitable escaping dust through the door. Without proper ventilation, the air inside of containment can get saturated with dust from demo, making the work dangerous and intolerable.

Many companies sell them in a variety of styles and sizes. They can be readily looked up online and be purchased ready to go out of the box. These units can be pricey and the small business owner may consider them out of reach. The author has several units that were all constructed in house costing under $100.00 a piece. The following is a guide to constructing one in house for the small business owner.

Whether purchased or built in house air movers all do the same thing, move air. The higher the air exchange rate, the better but since they are carried to every site, size becomes an issue. The typical width should not exceed 30” and best if the total width is less than 24”. Most interior doorways are smaller than the 36” standard entry door. Remember the EPA’s mandate is homes pre 1978, and as most remodeling contractors already know older homes doorways can be small. The size of the unit is not as critical as the volume of air it moves per hour with the squirrel cage.

Squirrel cages from residential HVAC systems can normally be purchased cheaply to move the air and are a good choice for an air exchanger. Make sure it is clean and in good working order. The squirrel cage can be mounted to any material of choice, but the unit must be air tight and be able to be wiped down. Wood is fine as long as a quality semi gloss is applied for clean up. Handles and wheels are very useful and should be included; remember the unit has to be portable.

The intake for the dirty air should be filtered to save the squirrel cage from clogging up with dust. Although an exhaust tube can be used to expel the dirty air, there are times when there isn’t a nearby window or door to use and the air inside of containment must be expelled indoors. In that situation, the air must be HEPA filtered to remove potential lead dust. A typical home furnace filter unit that holds two standard air filters can be incorporated in the air mover for this issue. The first air filter should be a less expensive model that filters out about 90% of the airborne particles. This filter will save the second expensive HEPA filter behind it from clogging up quickly. It can also be vacuumed off every so often and cleared. The cheaper filter can be thrown away after the job is complete where the expensive HEPA can be reused. After the work is complete, the HEPA should be vacuumed and stored in a clean, sealed plastic bag.

A standard metal ductwork fitting can be installed on the air mover to attach the exhaust tube to. The tube is taped to the fitting and exhausted out a window or door. The tube itself can be purchased at an abatement supply house or found online. With the unit caulked and painted it’s ready for the first job.

The air scrubber should be mounted to the poly wall. Placing the air scrubber in the containment area gets in the way and the exhaust tube can be tripped over and damaged. Furthermore, the unit will have to be vacuumed and wiped down after every use. A far better and faster way is to attach the air scrubber to the poly wall outside containment. Simply wheel the air scrubber up against the poly wall and with a sharp utility knife, cut around the filter area. Blue tape or masking tape can be used to seal the cut opening to the metal air scrubber’s filter housing.

Grand Rapids Remodeling


  1. Paul,
    Thanks for posting. This is the type of practical help we need.

    Your article seems to imply that the exhaust from the air mover does not have to be filtered if it terminates outside?

    From what I understand this is not going to fly with the new rules.

    What type of set up do you use to filter at the exhaust side?

    I like the idea of building our own air movers w/ HEPA filters.
    Hopefully we don’t find out the hard way from another agency that these little machines need to be UL Listed, DEQ / EPA / OSHA certified to meet certain specifications.


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