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Green Communities

Lead-Based Paint and Green Remodeling

The new EPA Renovation, Repair, and Painting rule takes effect April 22, 2010: are your ready?

This photo is the cover of the Student Manual for the 8-hour Model Certified Renovator Initial Training Course, a joint curriculum of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
Image Credit: Environmental Protection Agency

The paint problem

Lead improved paint’s performance; it made paint more durable, moisture-resistant, and faster-drying. That sounds pretty green. Unfortunately, lead also makes paint a human health hazard, particularly to kids. Not even close to green. Tiny amounts can permanently damage a child’s growing brain, resulting in IQ loss, learning disabilities, and behavioral problems. Contrary to the myth, kids don’t typically eat paint chips; they ingest lead dust from ordinary (and frequent) hand-to-mouth contact.

We have not used lead in residential paint since 1978, but an estimated 40% of the existing housing stock in the US contains lead-based paint on exposed surfaces. The older the home, the more likely it is to have lead-based paint. And although lead poisoning in children has dropped dramatically in recent years, the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports that more than 250,000 children between 1 and 5 years old have elevated blood lead levels.

New EPA rule taking effect April 22, 2010

It’s called the Renovation, Repair, and Painting (RRP) rule, and it’s final. The rule applies to “target housing” — any residence built on or before December 31, 1977.

The rule means:

  1. 1. Renovation firms must be certified and pay a fee of $300 good for 5 years.
  2. 2. Renovators must be trained and certified by taking the 8-hour Lead Safety course.
  3. 3. Non-certified workers must work directly under a certified renovator and receive on-the-job training for work practices.
  4. 4. Lead-safe work practices (for set-up, prohibited practices, and clean-up) must be employed.
  5. 5. Renovators must educate homeowners and occupants about potential hazards of lead-based paint exposure (primarily by way of the Renovate Right pamphlet).
  6. 6. Renovators must document for each job how they complied with the rule and retain those records for three years in case they are audited by the EPA.

The first step for a renovation firm is to apply for certification with EPA. This may be done before any staff receive training, although the firm will have to use trained staff starting on 4/22. Firms should apply immediately as it will take several weeks for the EPA to process the application. Each job site that falls under the rule will need a trained individual, known as a certified renovator, assigned to it. A renovator gets certified by taking the one-day EPA/HUD Model Renovator Training Course and passing the same-day exam. The National Center for Healthy Housing (NCHH) posts a calendar of Lead Safety trainings nationwide. EPA lists all accredited trainers. Costs for the training vary but average about $200 – $250. Firms found not to be in compliance with the RRP rule may be subject to fines up to $37,500 per violation.

How the HUD rule compares to the new EPA rule

The HUD Lead Safe Housing Rule (LSHR) covers renovation in federally assisted or owned target housing. The LSHR is tougher than the EPA RRP in the following ways:

  1. 1. Training – either all workers must be certified or the lead renovator must also be a certified Lead Abatement Supervisor.
  2. 2. Preparation – Among other items, EPA-recognized lead paint test kits cannot be used; only a certified Lead Inspector can make the determination.
  3. 3. Prohibited practices – There are three more prohibited practices in addition to the 3 EPA RRP prohibited practices.
  4. 4. Minimum area threshold – HUD has a smaller affected area for interior work than EPA for minor repair and maintenance.
  5. 5. Clearance testing – HUD does not accept visual inspection by the certified Renovator (essentially self-clearance) but requires an independent certified clearance.
  6. 6. Notification – HUD requires pre- and post-work notification to all occupants; the EPA RRP only requires notifications to owners.

There is a handy summary table of these differences in Appendix 2 of the Model Certified Renovator Initial Training Course Student Manual and additional information on HUD’s website.

The added cost of the new rules

There is considerable debate about just how much cost the new rules add to renovation work. EPA estimates of added lead-safe costs per job range from just $8 to $167 (excluding exterior work that requires vertical containment), in large part because many renovation contractors already do some of the required work practices. Some remodeling contractors interviewed by Remodeling magazine think that total incremental costs of complying with the RRP rule could be as much as 10 times higher than EPA estimates.

Dwight Holmes, a remodeler in Brattleboro, VT who very recently took the Certified Renovator’s training, offered this perspective: “It will take several jobs to see how efficiently I can integrate the new work practices. It’s clear that EPA worked hard to balance cost with benefit with this rule, but I can’t imagine the added costs being anywhere near as low as the EPA estimates.”

It’s important to note that there is cost to NOT more carefully managing lead paint dust during renovation: the potential lead poisoning of children, families, and workers. Enforcement of the EPA RRP rule will be an important fairness issue as some renovation firms completely and consistently follow the new rule while others compete unfairly by not fully embracing all of the elements of the new rule.

For work within the Neighborhood Stabilization Program, HUD is encouraging the combination of NSP allocations with Lead Hazard Control Grants. In this way, many costs associated with lead-safe activities can be leveraged synergistically. And for those already complying with HUD requirements, the additional burden of EPA’s rules will be minimal.


  1. steve mindel | | #1

    lead certification
    Builders in Vermont are also required to have Vermont certification. This is achieved through a 4 hour course, usually free, with no expiration.

  2. Cindy Ojczyk | | #2

    lead certification
    Thanks for pointing out that the HUD Lead Safe Housing Rule has some differences from EPA RRP and that those differences are more stringent.

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