Feds impose new rules for getting the lead outA big rule change for home contractors is coming next month. But a lot of contractors — and even more homeowners — don’t even know about it.
By: Candace Renalls, Duluth News Tribune
A big rule change for home contractors is coming next month. But a lot of contractors — and even more homeowners — don’t even know about it.
Contractors who work with older homes should be donning protective suits and using plastic sheeting beginning April 22 when disturbing surfaces that could contain lead paint.
That’s when a little-known federal regulation takes effect requiring contractors to follow strict lead abatement procedures — similar to those used in asbestos removal — in homes built before 1978.
The new U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulation means added costs in time and money for contractors that probably will be passed on to customers in higher project costs.
Bob Bell, owner of Bell’s Remodeling in Duluth, says the new rule probably will increase projects’ costs by
10 percent to 20 percent, from window replacement to home additions.
“We’ll lose two hours a day of productive time doing all these extra things, even more for outside work,” he said.
Besides protective suits and masks and a wall of plastic sheeting, contractors must use warning tape, post their training certificates, keep others out of the work area, take down the plastic and carefully fold it each day, vacuum with a hemp vacuum, wash the area and give it the white glove test, safely dispose of the debris and keep records of what’s done.
But there are more concerns ahead.
Although contractors who work with older homes are required to get the lead safety training before they do such work after April 22, a small portion in the Twin Ports have actually gone through the training, said Paul Manning, executive officer of Arrowhead Builders Association.
The association has been offering the EPA-certified training on how to safely contain and dispose of the lead dust, debris and paint chips. The eight-hour class, taught by an EPA-certified trainer, costs $225 per person.
“A big part of it is not enough trainers out there, but people aren’t going through the training,” Manning said.
Despite the approaching deadline, the association’s latest class was canceled Thursday because not enough people signed up. And it’s unlikely all those who should get the training will.
So far, 90 people have received the training in the Twin Ports. But Manning estimates that at least 1,000 should get it, if just one person from each contracting business was trained. Once certified, that person can show the company’s other workers the correct procedure. But during the cleanup process, the EPA-trained person must be involved in the cleanup, Manning said.
All this is happening as the home improvement season kicks off. It also comes as Homestar, a proposed federal program that would provide incentives to homeowners to insulate and weatherize their homes, is being considered in Congress.
To prevent uncertified contractors from breaking the law, the National Association of Home Builders is lobbying to have the April 22 deadline for compliance extended so more instructors can be approved to train contractors.
If contractors get caught doing the work without being certified or not following EPA’s lead abatement procedure, they could face hefty fines of $32,500 for each instance.
Who needs the training?
“Just about everybody,” Manning says.
It applies to remodelers, painters, plumbers and electricians, anyone who sands, scrapes, cuts away or disturbs more than 6 square feet of painted surface in homes built before 1978 when paint contained lead. That includes sanding, replastering, wall and ceiling removal, weatherization and window and door replacement.
The requirement also applies to older schools, day care centers and other facilities where young children congregate.
“There can be lead on the bottom of seven layers of paint,” Manning explained.
The rule, issued by the EPA to protect adults and children from hazards of lead exposure, does not apply to homeowners.
There’s also a loophole for contractors: If the property owner certifies that no children younger than 6 and no pregnant woman occupy the premises, the procedure doesn’t have to be followed.
But Manning sees a possible liability issue for homeowners. If they waive abatement procedures and sell the house, they could be sued by the next owner, he said.
For contractors like Bell, who are licensed and already taking safety precautions when working around lead, the regulations seem excessive.
“There are lead dangers, but contractors usually plastic off the area they’re working and clean up after they’re done,” said Bell, who primarily works on older homes and holds several remodeling certifications. “It seems like what they’re doing is penalizing the legal and professional contractors because they’re following the rules.”
“I’m just a small contractor with two employees,” Bell continued. “There’s getting to be so many rules and regulations and fees, I spend the majority of my time trying to figure them out and how to comply and what they cost.”