Lowe’s LRRP Fine Underscores EPA Challenge to Replacement Window Industry

Rich Walker
June 27, 2014
COLUMN : Industry Watch

By now, most people with interests in the remodeling industry, and the replacement window business in particular, have heard about the $500,000 fine imposed on Lowe’s Home Centers by the Environmental Protection Agency for violations of the job practices and record-keeping provisions of the Lead Renovation, Repair and Painting rule.

 
Applicable to homes built before 1978, LRRP imposes requirements for contractor training and certification. It also calls for jobsite tasks that include educating the customer about lead-safe methods, implementing an EPA-approved test for the presence of lead, and employing extensive containment and clean-up practices.
 
In brandishing its regulatory twoby- four against Lowe’s, the EPA stated that the settlement “is expected to increase awareness of the RRP rule requirements among the public and regulated community…contributing to a culture of compliance…to protect children from exposure to dangerous lead dust.”
 
Curiously enough, actual lead exposure does not seem to be the issue, tingeing the draconian RRP rules with shades suggestive of a solution in search of a problem. Data from the Centers for Disease Control indicate that, despite RRP’s implementation in 2008, childhood blood lead levels have managed to slightly increase, rather than significantly decrease.
 
Moreover, evidence mounts that the rules create conflicting situations and lead to unintended consequences:
 
  • Many contractors are likely to avoid working on pre-1978 homes since jobs may be less profitable due to RRP compliance costs. The required eight-hour contractor training class, which the EPA says costs about $200 per worker, followed by the EPA registration fee of $300 each, add significant expenses for remodelers to bear in a difficult economy. There is also the cost of lead-test kits, supplies to isolate the work area (indoors and out), replacement respirator cartridges, HEPA vacuum filters and pollution insurance, not to mention lost work days allocated to training. For window replacement, estimates of the additional costs have ranged between $120 and $200 per window.
  • EPA-approved test kits must be employed to determine whether leadbased paint is present. In addition to the cost, the lack of a test kit meeting EPA’s own standard for accuracy is forcing companies to follow expensive procedures even when there may be no need to do so. The current test kits have a 30 percent false-positive test rate, finding unsafe levels where they do not exist.
  • The added costs of compliance will of course be passed onto homeowners wherever possible, making some projects cost-prohibitive. It could also put a damper on efforts to improve building energy efficiency—a particularly germane consideration for pre-1978 structures. This could cause homeowners to postpone the work or bypass the rules by taking it on as a DIY project or by employing a noncertified contractor, all of which tend to subvert the health goals of the RRP rules. Also, as some have observed, homeowners are likely to balk at going on record as harboring lead, a fact they will have to disclose upon future sale of the residence.

Next Steps

 
Awareness throughout the supply chain should be a top priority for the window replacement industry. In their own best interests, manufacturers and dealers that directly handle or subcontract installation should take part in supply chain education as a risk reduction measure.
 
At a deeper level, there remains the ongoing need for a major legislative overhaul to RRP. While everyone agrees with the overall safety objectives of RRP, inherent flaws and overreach in the regulations are killing jobs and severely limiting the replacement of energy-inefficient windows. Your local legislators need to know your thoughts on what needs to be done to make RRP work realistically and in proportion to actual risk.

Rich Walker is president and CEO of the American Architectural Manufacturers Association, 847/303-5664, rwalker@aamanet.org.