Lead Paint

New renovation rules are tough to swallow

What’s involved & hints of added work costs

April 2010


            The new rules that went into effect on April 22, 2010, regarding lead-safe work practices in pre-1978 properties are anything but simple, low-cost or common sense. Yet that is exactly what a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) spokesman said. Quoting the spokesman: “The rule provides simple, low-cost, common-sense steps contractors can take during their work to protect children and families.”

            Here’s proof the rules are neither simple nor common sense. The National Apartment Association, a group representing the interests of rental property owners, summarized the new rules on its website saying “properties with no children occupying them are exempt” from the rules.

            That’s not true. Even a national organization got it wrong.

            To be precise (read carefully): Only owners who plan to have work done on the unit they reside in can “opt out” of the rules, and then only if there are no children under age six and no pregnant women in the unit and no child-care facility anywhere on the premises.

            You got that, right? You didn’t have to read it twice, right?

            And furthermore, the EPA plans to remove this “opt out” provision in the future. Nice. Now we have to keep up on the latest rule changes.

            The bottom line for landlords: All rental units and common areas must be done under the new rules regardless of whether or not children are present. The reason is that children may later reside at or visit the rental units in question and be exposed to lead dust if it is not cleaned up after every larger renovation.

            Simple? Not if you have to read a rule twice and you still don’t get it. Low-cost? Not if you have to deliver a “Renovate Right” pamphlet to the owner ahead of time, return again for an “opt out” signature and keep the signed document for three years. Common sense? Not when it’s created by pencil-pushing bureaucrats!


Took the course

            Last month SPOA executive director Skip Schloming took the eight-hour course required to be certified as a lead-safe renovator. The course was six hours of lecture and two hours of “hands-on” practice, ending with a multiple-choice, closed-book test. He passed. The eight-hour course costs $200 or more.

            The textbook is three-quarters-of-an-inch thick, half of it consisting of appendices and the other half reviewed page by page during the course. Obviously, an instructor could not repeat everything on every page in six hours, nor could the contractors read every word during the lecturing. Schloming came to the conclusion that to follow the lead-safe work practices correctly was going to require going slowly at the start of the first few jobs and re-reading the requirements carefully.

            The rules are not impossible to follow, but it is likely that contractors will forget some rules, deliberately skip over others and take a while to get them all straight.

            The article below is a summary of the new rules, to give you an idea of what you or your contractor must do and give you a hint of how much it will increase the cost of jobs on your property.






SUMMARY of the new
“Renovation, Repair and Painting” (RRP) rule  


            All work on pre-1978 housing that disturbs six square feet or more per room of interior paint or 20 square feet or more of exterior paint is covered by the new rules unless an inspection by a licensed inspector or risk assessor shows that the specific work surfaces do not contain lead paint. In other words, without a costly lead inspection, one must assume that all surfaces contain lead paint. One might be able to use an inexpensive EPA-approved lead test kit that allows owners and contractors to test for lead paint, but only one such kit has been approved so far and it must be mail-ordered. Not convenient at all.

            Besides the “opt-out” provision described above, all pre-1978 housing is covered except when an owner works on their own unit or a tenant works on their own unit.

            At least one worker on a job must be a certified lead-safe renovator, who can train noncertified workers on the job site in lead-safe work practices. This rule is likely to change, requiring a certified lead-safe renovator on site at all times.

            Firms must also be certified by the EPA. It’s mostly simple but costly. It consists of promising to use lead-safe practices and a check for $300 to the EPA. What’s complicated is figuring out if you are a firm. If you are doing all the work yourself on property you reside in, you do not need to be “firm-certified.” But if you are working yourself on property you own and make income from, you are considered a firm. Contractors with workers are obviously firms.

            All work requiring lead-safe work practices must be done by certified firms using certified renovators.

            Fines for individuals or firms go up to $37,500 per violation per day. That’s a new amount. The old amount was $32,500. Another rule change.


Decision logic charts

            Apparently with a goal to make things simpler for renovators, the certification course includes eight full-page “decision logic charts” to guide decision-making. Each chart contains boxes connected by “yes” and “no” arrows. Inside the boxes are lists, often long lists, of the conditions required to make each decision. You read the boxes and follow the arrows to your final decision.

            It’s not simple.


Containing lead dust

            The basic concern is to minimize and contain lead dust generated at a work site, to protect works, the occupants and the premises. For interior work, the work area is sealed off from the rest of the house using heavy-duty plastic and duct tape to cover floors, doors and air ducts. A special double-flap plastic entryway is made on site for workers to enter and leave without bringing dust with them. Pre-engineered containment systems are recommended to help contain dust better.

            As many possessions as possible are removed from the work area. The rest, like pianos, must be covered with plastic taped to the floor.

            Occupants are warned by signs posted before work begins to stay out of and away from the work area. Workers are suited up in special full-body coveralls with hoods or painter’s hats and with HEPA-filtered face masks, rubber gloves and shoe covers. Workers need to wash their hands and faces frequently, dispose of their coveralls at the end of each day, vacuum their clothes and shoes, and shower when they get home – each day. No one can eat, drink or smoke in the work area. The work area needs to be cleaned frequently and at least daily.

            All tools and ladders brought into the work area must be cleaned before they go out. All demolition debris must be wrapped and taped in plastic before being removed from the work area and disposed of. When plastic bags are used for debris, they must be closed using a HEPA-filtered vacuum cleaner to suck out any lead-dust-contaminated air in the bag, then taped shut with a “goose-neck” knot.

            All this is for interior work. Similar rules apply to exterior work.


What you can & can’t do                     

            You can’t use an open-flame torch to remove paint nor a heat gun above 1100 degrees Fahrenheit. These tools generate lead-contaminated vapors that are especially dangerous. Power sanding, grinding, planing, cutting (all power saws) or blasting are prohibited unless the power tool has a HEPA vacuum attachment.

            What you can and must do is spray all work surfaces with water prior to sanding, scraping, drilling or cutting. Framing, door and window mouldings and other building components must be pried and pulled apart instead of pounding and hammering. Paint on components should be scored with a utility knife before pulling them apart. Since hand-sanding and scraping is slow, new power tools with a HEPA vacuum attachment will probably have to be purchased by workers and contractors.


Cleaning up

            Besides ongoing cleaning during the work process and at the end of each day, a final, thorough cleaning must be done at the end of the job.  The final cleaning starts at the farthest-away corner and at the top of the wall, working towards the exit door of the work area. Walls are cleaned top to bottom with a HEPA vacuum or a damp cloth changed frequently. Floors are cleaned last with a wet mop.

            After cleaning, the work area is visually inspected for any leftover dust by the official certified renovator assigned to the job. Any visible dust triggers another cleaning. The certified renovator then does a “cleaning verification” wipe test on all horizontal surfaces (window sills, countertops and floors), using clean wet disposable wipes to wipe down up to 40 square feet of surface area before changing to a new wipe cloth. Each wipe cloth is compared to a “cleaning verification” card – a photograph of a used wipe. If the job-site wipe is whiter than the  photograph, the job site passes the cleaning verification inspection. If the wipe is darker, the job site fails and must be cleaned again.

            In some cases, an independent certified lead inspector or risk assessor must do the wipe testing.



            Posted at the job site must be warning signs, copies of the certified firm’s and certified renovator’s certificates as well as written documentation that non-certified workers were trained by the certified renovator. This paperwork must be saved for three years.

            Besides the above, the following written documents must also be saved for each job for three years: designation of a certified renovator to the specific job; information on the use and results of EPA-approved lead test kits to determine which surfaces have lead; any official lead inspections; proof of the pre-renovation education of the owner or occupants (handing out the “Renovate Right” pamphlet); any “opt-out” certification by the owner or occupant, if allowed; and any other signed and dated documents, such as contracts, regarding the job.

            This paperwork requirement may be the way that the EPA traps property owners for violations of the new rules. If you don’t keep the paperwork or don’t have it, there’s no proof you followed the rules.