Ann Arbor builders adapt to EPA's new lead paint rules for remodeling older homes
New Environmental Protection Agency rules that tighten the reins on contractors working with lead paint in older houses could create an uneven playing field at a time when remodelers are already hustling for jobs.
For homeowners, it will likely mean paying higher prices if they want to hire a contractor who is following the new federal regulations.
Special to AnnArbor.com
The new rules, which took effect April 22, require contractors working in areas with lead-containing materials to take eight hours of training to become certified and then register with the EPA.
The rules also require new work practices that will increase costs, area contractors said, such as having to buy HEPA vacuums and the use of disposal drop clothes rather than reusable canvas clothes.
Lead in paint was not banned in the United States until 1978 and is in many of the area’s older homes.
In older houses and buildings, the biggest culprit is paint, but lead also hides in varnishes and other clear finishes as well, according to the Southeast Michigan chapter of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI).
Dust is the biggest danger, NARI says. Common tasks like scraping, sanding and using a heat gun all put lead particles in the air. That dust can then be inhaled or absorbed through the skin. Lead dust is so fine, even microscopic, that it can only be detected by chemical testing.
â€¨“The contractors all understand the reason for the training and they know it’s important that they don’t cause exposure to lead that could poison children,” said Kary Amin, vice president of Nova Environmental Inc. in Ann Arbor, which has provides training.
“But it’s not a secret that this is the worst time to be implementing regulations that will cost the homeowner and contractor economically. And (contractors) are angry because they feel the EPA won’t be enforcing it and the bidding process will become apples to oranges.”
There is nothing in the law, Amin said, that requires a contractor to file paperwork with the EPA when they take a job that involves lead paint.
“It only says the contractor must keep records that they must make available if the EPA requests, but it’s after the fact,” Amin said.
The state may assume oversight in the future, he said.
Contractors who follow the new rules will be competing with contractors who don’t, Amin said, giving the bidding advantage to companies not in compliance.
Mike Richard, a third-generation house painter with his family’s Richard Brothers Painting Contractors in Ann Arbor, said he expects costs for jobs that involve lead paint to be 10 to 20 percent higher than before the new EPA rules.
Richard, who has been trained and registered with the EPA, said there was no question he would follow the new rules, but he knows many painters who have not.
“It’s amazing how many (other contractors) haven’t even heard about this,” Richard said. “I talk to people in the paint store, and they have no idea, even though it’s in all of the trade magazines and through trade organizations.”
It’s going to be hard if he doesn’t win a bid and then sees the job being done by contractors not following the rules, Richard said. “People doing the right thing could be penalized.”
Cost of the training runs between $150 and $300, cost to register with the EPA is $300 and the increase in materials costs will vary with the job, Richard said.
Painting and power sanding the exterior of a house with lead paint will require construction of a containment structure and could significantly increase costs, Richard said. Homeowners may opt to just have exteriors scraped and not sanded, he said.
There are other costs: HEPA vacuums start at $500, Richard said. The EPA has estimated following the work practices will increase the cost of a job between $8 and $167, except for exterior work, which requires vertical containment.
Most licensed contractors have gone through the training but many are waiting to register with the government until the oversight question is settled, said Vince Peters, owner of Dexter Builders and president of NARI of Southeast Michigan.
While contractors, at least for now, must register with the EPA, that may change next year if the state assumes oversight. Contractors don’t want to pay to register twice, Peters said. “It’s not easy, it’s not cheap and it’s not going to last.”
Still, most contractors have taken the training and are following the new work practices, Peters said, which includes containing any area that has lead paint lead with sheets of plastic, using disposable drop clothes on the floor to catch lead chips and disposing of the lead-containing material properly.
Most contractors want to comply with the new rules, said Gary Rochman, owner of Ann Arbor-based Rochman Design-Build.
“Overall, I think (the new rules) are a great thing. As remodelers, we are concerned about the home environment and keeping it safe is crucial.”
Rochman said his company followed safe-lead practices even before the new rules. One change for his company is how leaded materials are wrapped when they are transported for disposal, he said.
It’s important for the building industry to respond to safety issues, much as the paint industry was forced to change in 1978 when lead was banned.
“They had to come up with a different technology for a lead-free latex paint that was durable,” Rochman said. “Did that cost money? No question about it.”
As of mid-April, more than 129,000 renovators had been trained nationwide, according to the EPA. The agency estimated there are more than 200,000 renovators who will be working in pre-1978 houses, child care facilities and schools. Training is continuing, according to the EPA.
Janet Miller is a freelance writer and a frequent contributor to AnnArbor.com.