Mark Robert Halper Photography

The Environmental Protection Agency’s decision a few weeks ago to remove the opt-out provision from the Renovation, Repair and Painting rule just adds to the list of unintended consequences of this ill-considered and ill-timed mandate. The rule’s intent is sound — protect homeowners, particularly pregnant women and young children, from lead poisoning — but the EPA’s handling of the rule couldn’t be much worse.

I say “ill-considered” because of the EPA’s gross underestimation of the number of contractors and workers who would have to be trained and the time it would take to train them. The original estimate was that about 235,000 contractors would be trained by the April 22, 2010 deadline; the EPA website says the actual number was 160,000. We will be lucky to have 235,000 trained by the end of the year.

Where did the original estimate come from? If they had asked me (they didn’t), I would have estimated that at least 1 million contractors would have to be trained, especially when you include all of the affected trades. Even if the folks at the EPA realized that only a small percentage of the industry could be trained in the first year, did they really think the rest of the industry would simply shut down?

To say “ill-timed” is kind; the timing is terrible. Here at the end of a deep recession, the RRP rule will make some remodeling jobs 5% to 15% more costly, will cause others to be postponed or abandoned, and will encourage some homeowners and some contractors to either break the law or try to get around it. That just serves to undermine the support of the very consumers the rule is designed to protect. Plus, the RRP rule will either derail or reduce the effectiveness of Home Star, which, if and when the jobs bill is passed, will infuse $6 billion into the energy retrofit business.

The fact is that even on a job where the RRP rule is followed to the letter, there is a tacit opt-out. That’s because in most cases where lead is found on one window or on one run of trim, it will be found on all windows and all trim. Unless the homeowner decides on a whole-house remodel, they effectively opt-out on what is often the greater source of potential poisoning.

What now? First, apply for EPA certification [PDF] (750kB file and get your team trained.

In the meantime, hire a third party to test for lead on your projects. Not all homes built before 1978 contain lead paint, or it may have already been removed in a previous project. If there is lead, either turn down the job or consider partnering with a certified RRP contractor to take care of the demolition. Finally, become more active in your industry. This won’t be the last government mandate. Remodelers have a stronger voice when they speak together.

To any association leaders reading this, that means one voice, not two.

—Sal Alfano, editorial director, REMODELING.