Was your house built before 1978?

If so, you might just be living in what the EPA will, as of April 22nd, consider a toxic waste dump.
Say goodbye to simple renovation projects and your beloved architectural antiques, lawmakers are at it again, making you “safer”.
Yes, yes, I know. I’m being a little sarcastic here, but between the CPSIA, the new Food Safety Bills and now this, ill-thought-out bills touted as public safety imperatives are getting a little tiresome. What am I talking about now? Well…
I saw a little blurb on TreeHugger this morning about the passage of an EPA bill last year that I’d never even heard of, but since we’re in the middle of two different renovation projects, this story surely did catch my eye. I followed their source, and according to the GreenPreservationist, who actually took the EPA’s course:
If there is existing lead paint on stock materials, they may well have to go bye-bye and into a hazardous waste landfill… Also, any time a contractor is hired to do work–even minor things like window removal and adjustment, they will have to be certified as someone who practices Lead safe practices and may well have to quarantine themselves into the room that they are working on, wear a full body plastic suit, mask, goggles, two layers of gloves…the whole bit. For real.

Ok, well at first I wasn’t sure wearing a plastic suit sounded all that horrible if you were ripping out walls and sanding 50 year old doors, after all I DID spend a couple years of my life sick as a dog from painting and the related chemicals. But it seemed like there had to be more to it, so I started digging around the documents she linked. I mean, what about DIYers? What about all that gorgeous architectural salvage that I love so much? What about the doors I rescued from a 1936era house about to be torn down? What about the 5″ thick baseboards I’ve been carefully sanding down for re-use? What about the real plaster walls in the house next door?

murray mill

Well, the answers (when I can find them) seem to be a mixed bag. First, home renovators seem to be off the radar, which is good. However, anything requiring a contractor looks like it’s going to get an awful lot more complicated, and potentially see the cost skyrocket.
From the new regulations:
after April 22, 2010, federal law will require you to be certified and to use lead-safe work practices. To become certified, renovation contractors must submit an application and fee payment to EPA.
There are also training courses that must be taken, certifications that must be obtained, and mounds of paperwork that must be kept for three years for each project. There’s a 7 page flow chart in that PDF if you really want to make yourself crazy. One extra little surprise is that landlords are apparently required to abide by these same contractor regulations. (Oh. Joy. Seriously???) Oh, and even simple repainting is not exempt… not if you have to sand, scrape or spackle.

The rest of the bad news looks like it all comes flying in where materials are concerned. Preserved materials are already difficult enough to find, and I think this is going to put an even bigger premium on those that exist.
According to one city’s research into increasing the use of salvage materials through groups such as Habitat for Humanity and their Re-Store:
(an) EPA rule states that all architectural components with deteriorated lead based paint must be disposed of or thoroughly de-leaded. However, the rule does not give any criteria for “deterioration,” which makes the salvage industry hesitant to salvage anything with lead paint, since they are liable for damages under the rule. Furthermore, de-leading most architectural components is more expensive than disposing of them in landfills. The new rule could lead to more disposal and limit reuse or even recycling of building materials that contain lead paint.
howell mill

Much like the GreenPreservationist, I really worry that people will choose to tear down and throw away instead of repair or preserve, simply because the liability of saving materials is going to be prohibitive. I also worry that buildings will not be taken care of properly, because to do so will run afoul of all these new requirements. Better to not replace your drafty windows than to have to hire a contractor for 3 times the price and effort.

I can’t help but wonder who was behind this bill, and if the people who passed it actually gave any intelligent thought to these matters. It sounds like just another knee-jerk reaction which will do little to actually solve any real problem, and make it much harder for the little guy to go about his business.

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26 thoughts on “Was your house built before 1978?

  1. It’s not a bill. It’s a Regulation, specifically 40 CFR Part 745 (CFR is Code of Federal Regulations). The alphabet agencies (BATFE, EPA, DOT, FAA, FRA, NRC etc) can propose a new regulation and after a time, *bing* it’s a law with all of the pertinent requirements and constraints (or not) that congress gives them for implementing their regulatory powers. There is no requirement for congressional action or presidential signing.

    What do you want to bet there are serious criminal penalties for not filing the paperwork correctly. A quick glance shows that it points to 15 U.S.C. 2615 and that has civil and criminal penalties of up to $25,000 per incident and up to one year in jail.

    Have you looked at the fees? The accreditation fees are $870 for the course for inspectors, risk assessors, supervisors, workers and project designers). Re-accreditation courses have to be had every 4 years costing $620 per person. There are lower cost fees for just working with the paint.

    I think you’ve just hit the epiphany i had years ago and why I appear to get so polemic when it comes to “green” and “protecting the environment” buzz words. And why I have started to grossly dislike the EPA along with other alphabet agencies and to want to see less federal government all around.

  2. Thing is, this isn’t even green. It’s advocating throwing away recyclable products, the wearing of disposable plastic suits and using disposable plastic sheeting everywhere… uh, I have to stop now.

  3. For the love of god…
    To expand on my quick FB comment.
    My background: I am a structural engineer working for a firm that specializes in the rehabilitation of historic buildings. ie, this sort of stuff is what we do.

    These regulations are very boilerplate, very standard, and already in place for any and all non residential buildings, and have been for decades. They are basically legalese for “clean up after yourself.” That is all. They are already in every competent engineering or architectural firm’s General Notes, not just for hazardous materials but even for things like sawdust and silt, and practiced by any competent contractor.

    No one is telling you to throw away that antique door you found. What they are telling you is that if it has lead paint, clean it up properly. It is lead. It is poisonous. Do not throw it away in the regular trash where it will end up in a non hazmat landfill not designed for it and leech into the groundwater. 100 years from now, when you are long dead and a family of 5 moves in to your house, they deserve a clean place, and not to have little Timmy grow up retarded because your dumb ass sanded down lead paint decades ago but *OOPS* forgot to cover up the air ducts and now the fan is blowing lead dust into little Timmy’s crib.

    Lori: Are you seriously arguing the right to throw lead dust around for a green perspective? Sure, they make you use plastic sheeting. If you have a better way method of dust containment trust me: We are all ears, we would love to hear it and my boss would be the first to implement it.

    Ryan: As for regulations for buildings and “less govt.”, you have no idea. There are literally half a dozen pages of regulations on just stairs and guardrails. It goes up from there. The International Building Code is thousands of very dense pages long. These few codes are _nothing_ compared to the overall.

    And you know what? It’s a Good Thing. Every one of those thousands upon thousands of codes and regulations is there for a reason, reviewed every year, and agreed upon as needed by the industry at large. It makes our jobs easier, not harder, and it’s the reason you never worry about a roof collapsing on your head when it rains.

    All this is doing is bringing residences up to speed with public use buildings with regard to lead paint. I am quite frankly surprised that it took this long.

    • Yes, Andy, I actually AM arguing this isn’t green. Am I saying kids should be sniffing lead dust? Of course not, don’t be ridiculous. But I am saying that these regulations are shortsighted, and don’t seem well thought out given the scope of what they are trying to cover.

    • Andy, and these need the force of Federal law?

      If Lori and Wayne renovate their rentable property they’re both going to have to go get certified. That’s $1300 of costs for them right there. Then they’ll have to file paperwork. Failure to do so, up to $25,000 fine.

      Yeah, that’s REALLY reasonable.

      And Andy, I am VERY cognizant of the scope and breadth of federal regulations. It’s still way too large and way too cumbersome.

  4. Of course I am reading it. What you seem to be saying (if I understand) is: These laws are expensive for private homeowners to comply with, and that you especially find the licensing and registration fees obnoxious, and to dodge those laws some people might do counterproductive things.

    Right? Well, the regulations are pretty straight forward. You can sum up most of them with: Cover everything in plastic, don’t burn lead, wipe everything when you are done. Literally. I’m telling you, go read it. Not super expensive. The registration fee might be expensive, but a couple of hundred bucks one time for a contractor that does this is trivial. Permits for renovations routinely run much higher than this per job.

    Second: Even if there is lead paint none of this even kicks in unless you start sanding, scraping, etc. Or if a kid can bite it. Teehee. 745.65(3)

    And finally, this whole section doesn’t even apply to you. At all. Ever.

    “The training requirements in §745.90 and the work practice standards for renovation activities in §745.85 apply to all renovations covered by this subpart, except for renovations in target housing for which the firm performing the renovation has obtained a statement signed by the owner that the renovation will occur in the owner’s residence, no child under age 6 resides there, no pregnant woman resides there, the housing is not a child-occupied facility, and the owner acknowledges that the renovation firm will not be required to use the work practices contained in EPA’s renovation, repair, and painting rule.”

    The end. No pregnant women or children under 6 in your private home? Then this does not even apply to you or anyone you hire. Your home is your castle.

    If there are pregnant women or children under 6 in your house, well, I don’t think it’s totally egregious to make people take a few steps for lead.

    • If it were as simple as the scenario you’re putting forth, I wouldn’t have a problem with it, like I said in the entry. But it isn’t.
      The group of 12 houses where I got our doors would have been completely demod and landfilled. The doors, moldings and casings, windows, cabinetry, flooring and trimwork that people were allowed in to rip out themselves would never have been reclaimed.

      Make these things gudelines, sure. Educate the public, sure. The rest of this? Leave it where it belongs, with the people who really do large enough projects to absorb the costs and leave the little guy (who has far more incentive to clean up after himself in the first place) alone.

      • Why would the stuff not be reclaimed?

        This law does not apply to private homes that don’t have kids under 6. At all.

        The little guy is left quite alone.

  5. Oh, it also doesn’t apply if it’s

    (1) Two square feet of deteriorated lead-based paint per room or equivalent,

    (2) Twenty square feet of deteriorated paint on the exterior building, or

    (3) Ten percent of the total surface area of deteriorated paint on an interior or exterior type of component with a small surface area.

    So that little DIY project to restore your windowsill? Go for it. Legal.

  6. Yeah… that was a particularly egregiously written phrase.

    “One extra little surprise is that landlords are apparently required to abide by these same contractor regulations.”

    I dunno if it was intentionally misleading or not, but building codes almost always (and this one is no exception) specify “owner”, not “landlord”. And by “almost always” I mean “every single one I’ve ever seen, but I haven’t read the IBC cover to cover yet, so I might be missing one.”

    That sentence is just sort of incendiary and misleading.

    Just trust me on this one, pretty please. This thing is wholly and totally unremarkable. It’s merely bringing lead paint dust in line with other mildly hazardous substances in the same category. It is boilerplate, it is routine, it has the same half dozen loopholes that all similar ones have. These codes bend over backwards to exempt private homes and DIYers, not that you can’t just blatantly ignore all these regulations anyway.

    It’s aimed at big projects, the EPA is not going to come knocking on your door for a kitchen renovation, trust me.

    As for discouraging reuse, trust me, the Fed, and states are bending over backwards to encourage it, believe it or not. LEED is all the rage right now, and the Federales are doing what they can to help that along. The building codes as a whole is very excited about you renovating those doors, as long as you don’t kill anyone.

    They aren’t out to get you. Just believe me on this one.

    • I’m not intentionally misleading anyone. The EPA document specifically states property owners of pre-1978 rental prperty must be certified.
      Last time I checked, “landlord” and “owner of rental property” were the same thing.

      You’re still missing my point about the doors, btw.

      • I get your point about the doors. You don’t get mine about the scope, intent, details, and limitations of these regulations.

        Are you sanding lead where a 5 year old lives? No? You are fine. Yes? Put the damn doors in a closet and wait til next year when junior is 6 and do it then.

      • Andy, I said in the entry itself that it looked like DIY projects were in the clear. You trying to convince me of something I wrote in the initial post is confusing and pointless.
        I really don’t think you get my point about the doors, if you did you wouldn’t have even mentioned sanding them.

  7. Soon it won’t matter if you have a 6 year old in the house or not. The EPA is removing the exeptions, so no matter what your age if the house tests positive for lead the contractor will be forced to follow the EPA guidelines. $37,000 per day fine if he doesn’t.

    • Of course I would mention the sanding. You have to mention the sanding. This whole stupid thing is about sanding.

      It will not impact DIY home projects at all, as you said yourself.

      It will not impact projects done by larger contractors because they are already doing everything outlined in that code to contain sawdust, mortar dust, silt, and a slew of other contaminants that are already regulated just as strictly.

      I think ya gots the wrong impression of me here. I’m not trying to argue, sell you, convince you, etc. etc. I’m just trying to explain that this really isn’t as big a deal as you think it is. It’s some standard shit. It reads exactly, almost word for word, with about a dozen other such codes already in place. Just replace “lead dust” with “X dust”. Hell, contaminant (lead and other) containment has been standard contract language forever. This is more formalizing and standardizing what’s already normal than anything else.

      • see, for me it isn’t about the sanding. the sanding is something that happens here, in my house, on things I already own, and no one is looking over my shoulder. You’re still trying to reassure me about something I’m not even really worried about. yet.

  8. WTF… You aren’t worried about the sanding? This code is 90% about sanding. The other 10% is telling you not to blowtorch lead paint. Which you shouldn’t need a law to tell you.

    If you don’t care about sanding, and you don’t care about DIY projects, and you don’t care about bigger firms that can pay the cost… then what exactly is it? I must now admit to being confused.

    Ryan: I counter your libertarian snarking with this observation: San Francisco 1989 vs Haiti 2010. Tell me why exactly do we want Boortz and Ayn Rand writing our building codes?

  9. Andy, I am QUITE cognizant of the requirements for building codes. I work in a data center, I’m familiar with NFPA regulations and requirements. I’m familiar with NEC principles and requirements. However, regulatory compliance has been getting BIGGER and taller and bigger for a long time.

    I am for example ALSO aware of the scope and breadth of the FMCSA regulations. In part because I have a collector Military truck. The fun part with that is the number of enforcement agents who WANT to treat it as commercial, even when there’s a letter from the Federal officers who state clearly according to specific regs that it is NOT a Commercial Truck. I’ve even talked to LESS aware staff in the FMCSA who are NOT aware of that exemption. Which means that the state level enforcement is really hit or miss if they understand the exemption. Usually they do not. Fighting this sort of thing is NOT easy.

    More interestingly is my current fight with the local zoning folks about the very same truck. They say it’s a “business vehicle”. It has an antique tag on it, isn’t used for a business (really it isn’t) but they don’t care. So they charged me, we went to court, in the course of those proceedings, they charged me TWO more times. Eventually with a cost of about $3500 in legal fees I won. The Recorder’s court Judge dismissed the charges. (the statue is vague and unenforcable) Then the county appealed, directly contradicting their own arguments in their first brief with what they submitted in their appellate brief. NOW they argue that it is NOT a “business vehicle” and is now not allowed in a Residential District. (how’s that for fucked up legal arguments?) My attorney already filed his brief and at this point, I’m waiting on a judge to grant or deny the county cert. Legal costs at this point have topped $4500 and I’ve spent another $1500 on it, not to mention time.

    So don’t talk to me like I don’t have a bloody idea as to what is and is not covered by the scope of zoning and building codes. I’m quite cognizant of the needs and requirements. However, given that I’m looking at federal regulations requiring me to replace the windows, doors, and roof on my house before I can sell it, I’m pretty certain your ideals of “reasonable” are just a bit bloody short.

    As to Haiti 2010 vs SF 1989, exactly what part of collapsed government built highway doesn’t stick out like sore thumb for you? I saw blown concrete/rebar pilings in photos from both earthquakes. Codes didn’t help one bit there did they?

    Why do we want Big Brother (Oceania/1984) mandating and regulating every part of our lives? We’re so far away from Ayn Rand that that might as well be 1801.

  10. Very interesting conversation. I have a child under the age of six, two in fact. The younger one with a lead level of 16 after buying an 1830’s farmhouse and signing a waiver that said “no known lead paint”. We have original 1830’s windows, which brought his lead level up to an 11..then down to an 8, then summer came and the soil outside tested at over 400mcg and his level went to 16. We are going through the Lead Paint Hazard Reduction Program.

    Windows..oh beautiful lead coated 1830’s windows. We want to keep them and have them restored. We are not allowed to because we are using “federal” money for lead reduction. We must replace with ugly wood look alikes with vinyl jamb liners. But it is OK to leave the lead coated doors in the house, and despite the fact that the soil level is considered “hazardous” they are ignoring that and not treating it, as the law says they have too.
    It’s all a bunch of half ass crap. We have appealed to every historical society and preservation trust we know and none of them can help us. Either we replace the windows or we don’t get the federal money and nothing gets done to the house, we can’t even put them in our garage so we can strip them later (using a conractor!). Bullshit.
    There has to be a balance somewhere between preservation, safety and personal freedoms.

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