Something to Build On

July 20, 2011
COLUMN : Opening Remarks | Management

The Environmental Protection Agency’s decision not to expand its lead paint rules in July was welcome news for the industry. The added costs of compliance to the existing Lead Renovation, Repair and Painting rules were already having a negative impact on remodeling activity, and additional clearance testing requirements would have inflated those costs further.

The costs and their impact on our business was probably not the primary reason for EPA’s decision. Indications that the high costs were leading homeowners to skirt the rules, however, were influential.

According to a National Association of the Remodeling Industry study, more than three quarters of the remodelers surveyed said that potential or current homeowner clients have indicated to them they would opt to do their own remodeling or hire someone regardless of their compliance to federal regulations, because compliance costs are too high.

There’s plenty of anecdotal evidence to support this from window and door dealers as well. Many have complained that they have lost business to “the guy with a pick-up truck.” This result contradicts the intent of the rule, which is to protect children and pregnant women from the possible danger of lead exposure, NARI points out.

“Low incomes, unemployment, tight credit, costlier home remodeling, and larger liabilities in the industry are a recipe for disaster,” says David Merrick, president of Merrick Design & Build Inc., Kensington, Md., and chair of NARI's government affairs committee. “We will have hazardous renovation work undertaken by under-skilled workers or homeowners because of regulations that should be reviewed and re-established with reasonable solutions.”

The EPA, apparently, heard that argument. Whether or not they would have arrived at the clearance testing decision without industry input, it is hard to say. The government’s decision, however, is a clear indicator that the activities of NARI, the National Association of Home Builders, the Window & Door Dealers Alliance, the Window & Door Manufacturers Association, the American Architectural Manufacturers Association and many other groups have been worthwhile.

The question now is where do we go from here. Is there still work to be done with the EPA? Many would like the opt-out clause—for owners of pre-1978 homes with no children under six and no pregnant women—reinstated in the LRRP rules. Many are also concerned about the potential expansion of LRRP to commercial and public buildings. EPA, of course, is also in charge of Energy Star and much more.

What about the Department of Energy? It has its weatherization and R-5 window program. It is also developing the Home Energy Score program, designed to enable homeowners to determine how energy efficient their homes are and how they can be upgraded—potentially with low-cost loans and other incentives.

The government impacts our businesses and our lives in many ways. The recent EPA decision, however, suggests that by coming together within our various industries and industry segments, and then forming coalitions with other groups with similar interests, we can influence the government. It is a big victory to be celebrated, but it’s also something to build on.