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EPA rules on lead paint in home renovations will soon take effect

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By Deborah K. Dietsch
Special to The Washington Post
Saturday, April 17, 2010

Hiring someone to renovate your older home is about to become more complicated and expensive. Starting on Earth Day, April 22, contractors working on almost all homes built before 1978 must prove they have the Environmental Protection Agency's stamp of approval to do the work -- or face fines of up to $37,500 a day.

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A new federal rule aimed at reducing exposure to toxic lead-paint chips and dust requires renovators to be trained and certified in EPA-approved methods of containing and cleaning up work areas.

"We're scrambling to learn the procedures as quickly as we can," said contractor Ethan Landis of Landis Construction in the District. On Friday, he and three of his project managers were scheduled to learn the methods during an all-day course run by the Connor Institute in Gaithersburg, for $225 each. "Now that the deadline is here, the real costs are going to become evident," Landis said. "There is a huge upfront cost just for training alone."

The EPA estimates that its new rule will add $8 to $167 to the cost of the average interior remodeling job, but contractors say the expense to homeowners will be much greater. "The EPA has grossly underestimated the costs to comply on any job. I can see my labor costs go up by thousands of dollars," said Vince Butler, who runs Butler Brothers Corp. in Clifton and is president of the Northern Virginia Building Industry Association.

Butler estimates that the extra time and effort required for protecting, cleaning and testing construction areas in pre-1978 homes will add 5 percent to 30 percent in fees on small renovation jobs.

"Expect to add another $500 to $1,000 for remodeling a kitchen, painting a couple rooms or replacing several windows," Landis said. "That is the minimal additional cost to perform lead-safe work practices and associated documentation."

The EPA rule applies to almost every type of renovation -- from paint scraping to window replacement and carpet removal (which can disturb painted baseboards) -- carried out by contractors in pre-1978 houses occupied by young children and pregnant women.

As written in 2008, the regulations allowed some owners of homes built before 1978 to opt out of the requirements. Homeowners could sign a waiver stating that they had no children younger than 6 visiting or living in the home, that no pregnant women were residing there and that the property was not a child-occupied facility.

But a court settlement reached last year by the EPA and several advocacy groups, including the Sierra Club, led the federal agency to remove this opt-out provision from the rule to protect more people from lead poisoning.

The EPA is now seeking to amend the regulation so it would apply to all homes built before 1978, when lead paint was banned. The final determination regarding this revision will be made April 22, EPA spokesman Dale Kemery said.

That will mean only the most minor remodeling jobs are exempt from the regulation: interiors less than six square feet in size and exterior repairs made to areas smaller than 20 square feet.

Housing for the elderly and disabled (unless a child younger than 6 lives or will live there) and zero-bedroom dwellings such as efficiency apartments are also not affected by the rule.


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