Representatives from the National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI) have been lobbying Washington on behalf of its members and the industry in general regarding the challenges of the Lead Renovation, Repair and Painting Rule (LRRP).

Aside from meeting with EPA officials, NARI has been in meetings with the United States Small Business Administration as well as the White House’s Office of Management and Budget. NARI is also lobbying for hearings by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and Senate Small Business & Entrepreneurship Committee.  This lobbying effort has accelerated due to the findings of NARI’s LRRP Work Group, which conducted a survey among its members that found the LRRP Rule is somewhat lacking.

Essentially, the survey results show that the LRRP Rule is putting children and pregnant women in danger while deterring homeowners from using EPA-certified remodelers/renovators. NARI’s data indicate that most consumers are not sufficiently aware of the rule and therefore are not hiring the needed EPA-certified professionals. Further, despite the failings of the current myriad regulations in place, the EPA is poised to add another regulation, a move that will surely affect the remodeling industry as well as consumer safety.

The new amendment would require “lead clearance testing” in homes built prior to 1978, which will add even more costs for homeowners already burdened by the increased costs in place due to the existing rule. However, the new requirement will only apply when contractors do the work. The concern is that once homeowners discover this loophole, they will do the demolition and renovation themselves to save money, according to David Merrick, president of Merrick Design and Build in Kensington, Md. “Ultimately they risk lead exposure because homeowners are not trained in lead-safe work practices,” he said.

Mark Paskell, a contractor and business coach in Sterling, Mass., says that the new amendment’s intentions are good but “Unfortunately the actual methods and strategies to release it and then get it out and enforce it have been less than desirable,” he says. “I personally believe that the amendment is going to cripple a lot of guys. Unfortunately it will cost a lot more than they think it will cost.” He added that the new rule should be aggressively reworked to reflect reality or it should be totally repealed.

There are those who think the current EPA regulations are too lenient. “Remodelers got off easy with RRP,” says Michael Anschel, principal, Otogawa-Anschel Design-Build in Minneapolis. “I believe NARI should be lobbying to be included in future decisions so that they can help develop best practices that achieve the results the government is looking for that work. The biggest issue with RRP right now would be that it doesn't go far enough and the measures it does require seem hypocritical in some instances.” He elaborated by stating that the LRRP rules provide some significant loopholes that a “less conscientious contractor could take advantage of,” he says. “Because the testing is not third-party verified, a contractor could produce ‘negative’ test results.”

Paskell echoes Anschel’s concerns about “less conscientious” contractors, adding that those professionals who are trying to do the right thing by the EPA regulations are going to suffer the most because the new amendment will create an un-level playing field. “The reality is that thousands and thousands of jobs are going to illegally operating contractors, and guys who are following the rules are losing out because consumers want the cheapest price,” he said. Paskell adds that the groups flourishing as a result are less-than-desirable: contractors who don’t follow the rules, laid off employees working for cash so they can still get unemployment compensation, and undocumented workers.

For its part, the NARI LRRP Work Group has also raised a number of concerns from its findings after surveying over 1,500 remodelers between March and June. Only one-quarter of those surveyed reported doing any lead clearance testing at all. Regardless of cost variations, the majority of respondents reported that significant cost is added to a home improvement project with the addition of lead clearance testing.

Based on the number of concerns the Work Group found, it is making several recommendations to the EPA:

• The EPA should revise the rule to define the desired outcomes and provide a tool box of options to address varying conditions.
• The EPA needs to educate the general public about the rule, clarify the contractor's responsibility under this scenario, and assess the effect of homeowner-initiated projects on childhood lead poisoning.
• EPA and states with oversight should provide a regular newsletter with necessary updates.  The website should be overhauled to address the topical information needs of the user.
• The EPA should clarify the responsibilities of subcontractors and define a "certified renovator of record" as a single point of contact throughout the project. 
• The EPA must ensure that training programs and materials are up to date and internally consistent.

Despite the constant torrent of negative economic numbers rolling in each month from the housing industry and the economy at large, the remodeling sector’s resilience has been a small bright spot. The fear from NARI, its members, and the remodeling and contracting industries in general is that even more regulations could threaten many of the small businesses who do this work. Some companies work within margins that are so narrow to begin with that further regulatory compliance could be a detriment to accepting certain jobs, a prospect no remodeler wants to be faced with even in the best of times.

Anschel does approve of NARI’s efforts to partner with the EPA and work on recommendations rather than create an adversarial relationship with lawsuits, but he does not agree with NARI’s push to allow for homeowners to opt out of the paperwork portion of compliance. “It adds a nominal cost to the project (according to my staff). I suspect the unorganized business struggles with this more than anyone (large and small),” he says, adding that he also disagrees with NARI asking for the opt-out provision to be reinstated because a perfect test doesn’t exist. “Granted, it would have been good to see the EPA have a test kit that was more reliable on the market, but I don’t believe in letting the perfect get in the way of the good.”

Paskell remains undaunted in his belief that the intention of the lead clearance testing amendment is good; it’s just the execution that concerns him. “Contractors just want to do the right thing,” he says. “They don’t want to poison themselves or their workers or their clients. That’s a given. It’s just a question of how we’re getting there. And how we’re getting there is ludicrous. They shove it all on top of us and now we’re left to fend for ourselves. Most of us are not union so nobody is fighting for us. And I mean nobody!”
--Mark A. Newman, senior editor, REMODELING