Mark Robert Halper Photography

Thank goodness that’s over — 2009, I mean. For most remodelers, 2009 meant another year of reduced revenue, another round of layoffs and overhead cuts, and another year of vying with a growing number of competitors for a dwindling number of jobs at much reduced prices. The result is an industry that is not merely a smaller, leaner version of what has gone before, but one that is fundamentally different in its makeup. What the new remodeling company looks like and how it fits into a transformed market in 2010 is the question we set out to answer in this months’ cover story, which begins on page 34.

As if tight credit and dwindling leads weren’t enough, a couple of additional developments are sure to have an effect in the coming year. One is the new lead-safe practices rule that takes effect in April; the other is the energy bill that is almost certain to be taken up by Congress in 2010.

Lead-Safe Practices

The Environmental Protection Agency’s new Renovation, Repair and Painting (RRP) rules go into effect in April 2010. The practices themselves seem simple — inform the homeowner, seal off the work area, keep the dust down, and clean up thoroughly — but the certification process is shaping up to be a real challenge. For work in buildings constructed before 1978, remodelers need two certifications, one for the company and one for at least one individual who will perform or supervise the work.

The up-front costs, which include the training fees as well as equipment, such as HEPA filter–equipped vacuum cleaners, don’t make much of a dent when amortized across a year’s worth of work, but how much the procedures themselves will cost each job in materials and reduced productivity is still an open question. (The EPA’s estimate of $35 seems a tad low.)

Frankly, the problematic part of this for me is the potential for finger-pointing should lead exposure problems develop in a home where remodeling has taken place. With all of the DIY work being done these days, blood lead levels could already be elevated among a home’s occupants.

And when it comes to finding blame, homeowners almost always fall into the famous logical fallacy, posthoc ergo propter hoc. The literal translation means, “after this, therefore because of this.” More typically, remodelers hear the argument put this way: “You were here last, so it’s your fault.”

I don’t have a solution, short of refusing to work in a pre-1978 home unless the owners are willing to pay for tests to determine preexisting blood lead levels. That’s easy for me to say, but the potential liability is huge.

Energy Retrofits

On the more positive side is the likelihood of legislation that will spur additional investment in residential energy improvements. Once health care reform is out of the way, the Senate will turn its attention to the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 (ACES), also known as the Waxman-Markey bill, which passed the House in June.

Although the bill calls for long-range residential energy reductions in the International Energy Conservation Code, in the short term Section 202 of the bill would fund energy retrofit rebates for existing residential and commercial building under its Retrofit for Energy and Environmental Performance (REEP) provision.

Unlike the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which provides tax rebates based on installation of qualified products, REEP bases the rebate amount on actual performance improvement. If the bill passes with REEP intact, it will mean more work for both energy auditors and home-performance contractors.

We can debate the particulars of both of these developments, but in the long run, I think they benefit the industry. Lead-safe practices are, at bottom, elaborate dust-reduction practices, and a dusty, dirty jobsite is still the number one complaint of remodeling clients. And the energy-efficiency rebates will standardize sound building practices that have been around for 30 years or more.

Change is rarely a choice, but it’s almost always an opportunity.