Lead-bearing materials can have a significant impact on the process of a residential renovation, as well as the health of homeowners and workers. This post will assist homeowners undertaking a renovation or repair in a home built prior to 1978, while equipping them with valuable information about regulations and best practices.

The Renovation, Repair, and Painting Rule (or RRP) applies when someone works on a home that was constructed before 1978. The Environmental Protection Agency (or EPA) established the rule in April of 2010, with enforcement performed by the Washington State Department of Commerce. The rule pertains to nearly any painted surface, and any time a worker disturbs lead-based paint—which includes cutting into the drywall, doing prep, or demolition.  

The Lead-Certified Contractor

The contractor must first ensure they're a registered firm with the United States EPA or the Washington State Department of Commerce in order to work on an older home. The contractor cannot even conduct an estimate if they're not registered.

The construction company must also have trained workers. The EPA states that a minimum of one certified worker is required per firm, who can then train other workers on site. If you are unsure about a particular contractor’s status, the Washington State Department of Commerce offers a list of Certified RRP firms. You can also verify a contractor’s certification number at the EPA website, or search the EPA site for RRP certified contractors in your area.

The EPA requires that homeowners be notified with a Renovate Right brochure, which discusses the hazards of lead-based paint and includes lots of useful information. The Renovate Right brochure must be given to homeowners before the beginning of construction, and homeowners are required to sign the document. It's available in print or electronically—visit EPA.gov/lead for more.

Be sure to hire a certified firm; the rules are in place to protect the homeowner's safety and health as well as the worker's safety and health. Make sure all the workers in your home are conducting themselves in a respectful manner. If they’re not caring for themselves by following the rules, I doubt they're going to treat your home much different.

Lead and DIY

Many homeowners like to do their own projects, but the costs and risks of lead-based improvements can prove to be prohibitive.

Many times I’ve seen a DIY homeowner begin with good intentions, but without proper training, they end up creating more work, or the project costs them too much money. As an example, you can no longer pressure wash a house that was built before 1978 without first doing some additional prep, because you could spray lead-based shingles off the house. First, you have to have containment 10 feet out, then you have to place signage 20 feet out.

I know some contractors who let their homeowners do the demo, but my team and I usually find that it's not a great savings for them, and ends up being a mess for everyone after to clean up. The same is true of a contractor performing containment after a homeowner has done their own work. When it comes to lead, homeowners typically don't have the cleaning supplies necessary to complete the job well, and the last thing you want is a dusty house full of unidentified toxins. A negative air machine and a HEPA shop vac are going to cost well over $1,000 just for those two pieces of equipment alone. Most professional contractors have ample specialty tools on hand, so they can do the work more efficiently. The person doing the containment should be doing the demo.  

Whether you’re hiring a contractor or doing a DIY remodel, repair, or upgrade, it’s important to understand the rules so that you can preserve your home and protect your family. Following the federal and state rules while using their resources should help give you peace of mind and confidence as you proceed.