Are You Ready for the EPA Lead Rules?

John G. Swanson
February 12, 2010
COLUMN : Opening Remarks

April 15 usually looms large on the calendar, but this year April 22 looms even larger for many in the industry.  "Our world in the remodeling business is going to change dramatically," predicted Paul Toub of Kachina Lead Paint Solutions, speaking to participants in a Window & Door Dealers Alliance webinar focusing on new Environmental Protection Agency lead paint rules that go in effect on that date.

For those unaware of the rules--and as of last December, more than half of WDweekly readers responding to our regular weekly poll said they were unaware--the EPA has put forth new rules addressing remodeling work in pre-1978 homes because of concerns about lead paint. Those rules initially required contractors, including companies installing replacement windows and doors, to provide information on the potential dangers of lead paint dust.  As of April 22, contractors working in such homes will have to test for lead paint and, if it's found, follow lead safe work practices to minimize potential exposure to residents and workers. Some dwellings may be excluded, but there are no exceptions for companies working in such dwellings. They need to be registered with EPA and they need to have workers trained and certified in lead safe work practices.

If your company is involved in replacing windows and doors in older homes, I hope you have registered with the EPA already. The process could take some time, so if you haven't, there's certainly no time to waste. The same is true of getting workers trained and certified in lead safe work practices. Information on getting that done is available in a special section of the EPA Web site at www.epq.gov/lead. The company of Paul Toub, who offered the WDDA webinar on the new rules, also offers a significant amount of information on his company's site at www.kachinaleadpaintsolutions.com.

Since window and door jobs being sold now may not be installed until after the April 22 effective date, my hope is that if your company is involved in this type of work, you're already beyond that stage. There are many other issues related to the new rules you also should be considering already. Do you have protocols in place for educating homeowners and working with them on necessary paperwork?  Do you have not only certified employees, but have you provided the necessary on-the-job training on relevant lead safe work practices for other employees?  

Another issue is insurance. A number of dealers and contractors on top of this issue have noted that general corporate liability insurance will not cover claims associated with lead–now more likely to crop up with increased awareness of lead issues and contractor responsibilities to address it. Companies need to look at "pollution" insurance for this type of coverage, and they also need to be sure those policies include lead.

Of course, such insurance doesn't come for free. It is one of the new costs involved in doing business, if you're interested in doing business in pre-1978 homes at least. Training, certification, additional paperwork, testing for lead, and supplies, and steps necessary for lead safe work practices also add to the costs.

Everyone agrees that lead paint dust is dangerous, especially to young children. None would question the fact that home and building owners and contractors should be willing to make reasonable investments in proper precautions to minimize exposure to residents and workers alike.  The potential costs of the EPA program, however, raise legitimate concerns.  EPA estimates the cost of the program at $35 per job. That, according to most remodeling business executives, is a severe underestimate. 

Many see the added costs dampening the remodeling market, just when it's starting to recover. The other concern when it comes to the additional costs is potential for more jobs to go to non-professionals willing to ignore the new legal requirements. Despite potentially large fines, there are reasons to believe enforcement of the new rules will be lax.

Those issues aside, it will be essential for professional companies to get a handle on the costs involved in this program and pass it along to their customers, Toub noted in the WDDA webinar. He advised pulling those costs out–whether they are $25 a window or $50 window or whatever manner a company chooses do to it–and showing them to customers. Making it clear those costs are specific to the government requirements provides evidence that you are doing business legitimately and professionally, and may make the customer think twice before opting for someone that's cheaper, but may not be following the rules.

Like many of you, I question the wisdom of the new EPA regulations–not the intent, of course, but some of the details and the potential impact.  Such issues as which homes will be covered and what lead test methods can be used are still unanswered less than two month before the effective date of the new regulations. That adds unnecessary challenges for remodeling and replacement contractors and dealers.  

The reality appears to be with us, however, so I will point to one window dealer, at least, that appears to be trying to make the best of it.  Tom Higgins of Superior Products Home Improvement in Colorado, one of our 2009 Dealers of the Year, recently started promoting educational seminars on the new lead paint rules.  He has questions about the EPA program himself, but he is being proactive, looking to educate consumers about the new rules and how to protect their children from the dangers of old lead based paint, how to protect their property values, and how to protect themselves against contractor fraud.

At this point, we all have to adapt. We can hope the impact is not as bad as some predict, but we also need to brace ourselves for more uncertainty.