Lead Paint

The EPA’s new RRP rule: When does it apply?

Complex rules say when you must use new lead-safe work practices

June 2010


Every time you want to do any work on your pre-1978 property, you must now ask yourself this question: Does this job require me to use the new lead-safe work practices required by the EPA? Many jobs will. Many jobs won’t. What about this job?

That is the question foisted on almost every small property owner as a result of the EPA’s complex new Renovation, Repair and Painting (“RRP”) rule requiring lead-safe work practices.

            The answer is not so simple. It’s not enough to say the work practices kick in whenever you disturb more than six square feet of interior lead-painted surface or 20 square feet of exterior surface. How do you count the six square feet or 20 square feet? What are the exceptions to the six-feet and 20-feet rules? What does “disturb” mean? When does the rule end and you can go back to old work practices? How do you know if it’s lead paint?

            This article will help you answer these questions. We suggest that you save it for future reference.

            This article will be useful regardless of whether or not you take the 8-hour course to become a certified renovator and whether or not you pay $300 to the EPA to become a certified firm.

            If you don’t take the course and don’t pay $300, then you must hire someone who has – if the job requires lead-safe work practices. Deciding when the new lead-safe work practices are required is what this article is all about.

            It may be helpful to read parts of this article as you need them, rather than read the whole article once through. The new EPA rule is not simple and easy to follow.

The information in this article is based the certified renovator course textbook and on the EPA’s website in its section of Questions and Answers: www.epa.gov/lead/pubs/renovation.htm, click on “Answers to your questions” in the right-hand box.


Is it lead paint or not?

The RRP rule and its requirements have to be followed only with lead-painted surfaces. If there is no lead paint involved, as for example in some unfinished basements or in brick construction, any work practices can be used.

How do you determine if a particular surface has lead paint? The general rule is that you must assume that all paint in pre-1978 housing is lead paint (requiring the new work practices) unless it has been officially proven otherwise. You cannot rely on your own judgment. You must have a licensed lead inspector check every surface and component you plan to work on. Or you can use an EPA-approved lead test kit (on every surface and component). Check the EPA website about the test kit. It is not a slam-dunk. A licensed inspector is presently the best way to go.

The EPA is serious about not using your own judgment. If a whole house has been gut-rehabbed, it is considered new construction and you are allowed to conclude that you do not have to follow the lead-safe work practices. BUT…if only part of the house was gut-rehabbed, you need an inspector to make sure the parts you are working on – even in the gut-rehabbed part – do not contain lead paint. Even if a new addition was added and that’s where your renovation work is to take place, you still need an inspector to test the new addition for lead paint. That’s what the EPA says. In other words, to repeat, you cannot rely on your own knowledge of which surfaces have lead paint and which do not.

Here is another situation where you cannot draw your own conclusions. If new siding was placed over old lead-painted siding and you want to paint the new siding, the EPA says this situation comes under the RRP rule even if the lead-based paint has not been disturbed. Only if a lead inspector or lead test kit determines there is no lead can you proceed without following the rules. It’s the same principle: you must assume there is lead unless there is a specific, official report saying there is no lead paint.


6 square feet rule – interior

            Here is the right way to say the “six-square-foot” rule: The new work requirements kick in whenever you disturb more than six square feet of lead-painted surface area per room per 30-day period.

Since the rule is “per room,” that means you can disturb up to 36 square feet of lead-painted surface area in a six-room apartment before the EPA requires the new work practices, so long as the work is distributed evenly throughout the unit. Painters doing minor touch-ups to the plaster in each room may not be so bothered with how the rule is written. For most interior paint jobs, they will not need to use the whole rigmarole of the new rules.

The 30-day part of the rule means you cannot disturb six square feet one day and another six square feet in the same room the next day. You must count all the work done to a room in a 30-day period.

Here’s a dilemma. What if a job disturbs less than six square feet, but two weeks later you unexpectedly have to do more work in the same room that puts you over the six-square-feet limit? Is it good enough that you started using the required work practices when you go over the six-square-feet limit? Will you be fined (up to $37,500 per violation per day!) if you did not use the new work practices on the first job? The EPA’s website does not answer these questions, so we submitted a question and will report the answer to you in a future issue of the newsletter.


20 square feet rule – exterior

            The rule about exterior work says you must use the required new work practices whenever you disturb more than 20 square feet of exterior surface – period. That surface area is not just one side of a house, but the entire exterior surface area. Once again, you can do minor exterior repair before the new rules kick in. For exterior painting jobs that do not involve much scraping or repair, you may be lucky not to have to follow the rules.


Exceptions: window replacement, demolition & prohibited practices

            If you are at or under the six- or 20-square-feet rules, you are considered to be doing “minor repair and maintenance activities” and do not have to follow the new rules. But there are three exceptions that never count as minor repair: window replacement, demolition and prohibited practices. Whenever you encounter one of these exceptions, the new rules must be followed regardless of square footage. Let’s be more specific.


Window replacement

            Window replacement of any kind must always be done following the new rules, even if the square footage is less than six feet. Fixing a broken window pane, however, or fixing the broken sash cords or balancing systems on windows are not considered window replacement, even though they entail removing a whole sash and putting it back into place, the same activity as is involved in window replacement. Note, however, that removing two sashes to repair a sash cord or broken pane will probably put you over the six-square-foot rule. The general rule here is: When removing a component, the surface area of the component is what counts in calculating whether or not you are disturbing more than six square feet of lead-painted surface per room.



            Demolition of any kind must follow the new lead-safe work practices. If you take a hammer or a sledge hammer to a painted surface or component in an apartment or do anything in a manner that breaks or destroys the component, it is considered “demolition” and is strictly forbidden at all times regardless of how much surface area is involved. The EPA wants you to use a utility knife to score around components and then pry them apart. Any sort of work practice that keeps components whole and intact is not considered demolition. If you take a hammer and make a few holes in a wall, that’s demolition. If you cut and remove a two-foot by two-foot section of plaster, that is not considered demolition. The key concern here, of course, is whether the work practice generates dust – in particular, lead dust.


Prohibited practices

            Besides the demolition activities described above, certain work practices for removing paint are strictly forbidden at all times. Specifically, the use of open-flame burning or torching, the use of a heat gun above 1,100 degrees Fahrenheit, and the use of high-speed, dust-generating power tools without HEPA-filtered exhausted systems are prohibited at all times regardless of how much surface area is involved. Those high-speed tools include power sanders, power grinders, power planing, needle guns and machines that do abrasive blasting or sandblasting. These types of tools for paint removal can only be used if they have HEPA-filtered exhaust systems attached to them. Obviously, the issue again is reducing the amount of lead dust (or lead vapor) generated by these work practices. Note that power saws, power drills and other power tools not used for removing paint are not considered high-speed tools.


Counting surface area

            In calculating the square footage of surface area, the whole work surface is counted. For example, in cutting off a one-inch strip on the bottom of a 36-inch-wide door, you don’t count just the saw kerf (the groove that a saw makes) but the one-inch strip; it’s 36 square inches. Similarly, if you cut out a two-foot-by-two-foot hole in a wall, the work surface is four square feet. The whole surface area of a component removed during work is counted. If you are just drilling holes, however, only the size of the holes is counted. You can drill a lot of holes before you reach six square feet.

If an insulating company drills holes in walls and blows in insulation in pre-1978 housing, how do you count the six square feet exception? By the size of the drill holes, not the wall area being insulated. It is the disturbed lead-painted surface that counts.


What is “disturbed”?

            Surprisingly, nowhere on its website does the EPA define “disturbing lead paint.” But it does give examples. We assume that “disturbing” means any form of breaking the surface of a lead-painted component in an apartment, which includes even light sanding of the surface. For example, power-sanding a lead-painted fireplace mantel is a disaster when it comes to generating lead dust, but even hand-sanding a whole mantel probably exceeds the six-square-feet rule.

Just breaking apart the various components of an apartment (casings around doors and windows, for example) is “disturbing,” as the break line will generate a small amount of dust. The RRP rule applies to “removing, modifying or repairing painted surfaces or painted components.”

If a painter paints without disturbing any lead-painted surface or less than six square feet per room, the new rules do not need to be followed.


After the demolition or prep work

            Most renovation and repair jobs start with “demolition” and end with installing new materials or “new construction,” no matter how large or small the job may be. If all the lead-painted surfaces have been removed or prepped using the RRP-required practices and made ready for the “new construction” part of the job, the RRP rules may not need to be followed during the rest of the job IF no lead paint is going to be disturbed any further. The key here is not disturbing any lead paint in the rest of the job, since you have already gone over the six-square-feet rule.

But you still cannot go all the way back to your old work practices. Any window replacement and any demolition must always be done with the new work practices. And at no time can one use prohibited work practices: torching, using a heat gun of 1,100 degrees Fahrenheit, and using high-speed power tools without HEPA filters for paint removal.


Emergency renovations

            You do not need to follow the new lead-safe work practices for emergency work done in response to a situation where delaying the work would result in damage to property or harm to individuals. However, when the emergency work is completed, you must follow the meticulous cleanup and cleaning verification rules at the end of the job. If you did the emergency repair work yourself or with an uncertified worker, you would need to hire a certified worker and a certified firm to do the cleanup and cleaning verification.

Since work done without following the lead-safe work practices may spread dust further out from the work site into the rest of the house, making the cleanup job a good deal more difficult, it probably is best to follow the lead-safe work practices as much as possible during the emergency.


That was simple, right?

As best we can say it, these are the rules that apply to deciding when you must use the new lead-safe work practices. Once you decide that you must use them, the lead-safe work practices must begin. Either you follow the work practices yourself (after taking the 8-hour course to become a certified renovator and paying $300 to the EPA to become a certified firm) or you hire someone who is a certified renovator and certified firm and who will use the lead-safe work practices.