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NAHB has called on the Environmental Protection Agency to drop its plan to require remodelers to perform clearance testing after completing jobs in homes where they either replaced or worked around lead-painted surfaces.
The association also gathered a coalition of related housing industry groups to sue the EPA over the “opt-out” provision, which expired on July 6. The Lead: Renovation, Repair and Painting Rule now applies to all homes built before 1978, a move that NAHB pointed out makes the regulation apply to homes where no small children — the target of the rule — even live.
The two developments during the week of July 4 were the latest of NAHB’s ongoing attempts to bring common sense and cost-effectiveness to the rule, which went into effect on April 22.
79 Million Homes Affected
"Removing the opt-out provision more than doubles the number of homes subject to the regulation," said NAHB Chairman Bob Jones in a July 8 press release announcing the EPA lawsuit. "About 79 million homes are affected, even though the EPA estimates that only 38 million homes contain lead-based paint. Removing the opt-out provision extends the rule to consumers who need no protection."
The Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association, the National Lumber and Building Material Dealers Association and the Window & Door Manufacturers Association joined NAHB in filing the petition with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.
The group challenged the EPA's action on the grounds that the agency substantially amended its lead paint rule without considering any new scientific data and before it was even put into place in April.
"Even under the original rule, the opt-out provision was not available in rental properties or any homes where small children or pregnant women live," Jones said. "That shows that this change provides no additional protection to the people who are most vulnerable to lead-based paint hazards."
Remodelers' and other contractors' estimates of the additional costs associated with the lead-safe work practices average about $2,400, but vary according to the size and type of job. For example, a complete window replacement requires the contractor to install thick vinyl sheeting to surround the work area both inside the home and outdoors — with additional costs for prep time and materials.
A nationally distributed window company is finding installers must charge home owners an additional $70 to $200 per window, to meet both the EPA’s new requirements for lead safe work practices as well as maintain the additional significant required documentation. The range reflects different types of installation practices ranging from replacing only the sash and installing a new window in the frame’s opening to completely tearing out the old window.
"Consumers trying to use rebates and incentive programs to make their homes more energy-efficient will likely find those savings eaten up by the costs of the rule's requirements. Worse, these costs may drive many consumers — even those with small children — to seek uncertified remodelers and other contractors. Others will likely choose to do the work themselves — or not do it at all — to save money. That does nothing to protect the population this rule was designed to safeguard," Jones said.
The High Cost of Dust Wipe Testing
Ironically, NAHB filed its comments on clearance testing just hours before the EPA announced it would extend the deadline to submit letters and petitions on the new rule, something NAHB had asked it to do to provide more time to study clearance testing. NAHB members and others now have until Aug. 6 to submit comments.
“While NAHB supports the use of the rule’s work practices and its training and certification requirements, it makes little sense to further burden the American public with the high price of the proposal’s dust wipe testing and clearance requirements,” the NAHB comments said.
Under the current rule, remodelers must use a white paper cloth to clean the areas where they have been working and then compare the color of the residue on the cloth to an EPA-supplied card to determine whether the lead paint dust has been removed from painted surfaces.
Under the clearance testing rule proposed by the EPA, the remodeler would be required to send testing labs samples from surfaces both in the work area and immediately outside it or hire a certified testing specialist to examine the home.
The new rule adds significant liability to the remodeling firm by making the remodeler responsible for lead exposure issues existing in the home before any work is performed, as well as outside the area in which the renovation work has taken place. The added expense of testing — and accompanying liability insurance — will be passed on to the home owner, making the job more costly.
“NAHB has consistently recognized that having remodeling activities performed by a professional remodeler makes homes safer, yet this proposal will further incentivize consumers to do the work themselves, hire uncertified contractors, or worse do nothing at all,” the comments said.
NAHB also questioned the EPA’s legal authority to codify the proposed requirements. “The proposal is another 180-degree shift from the agency’s 2008 Final Renovation, Repair and Painting rule, yet the EPA has not provided any additional data or evidence to justify dust wipe testing or clearance, and its dust study reaffirms the reliability of the cleaning verification work practice as sufficient for reducing lead dust levels below the current lead hazard standard,” NAHB said.
The comments also questioned the impact of the proposed rule on the energy-efficiency tax credit and other incentive programs, pointing out that the money consumers receive for insulating their homes or buying more efficient heating and cooling equipment will be eaten up in the additional costs required by clearance testing.
“NAHB is equally concerned that requiring dust wipe testing and clearance will further stifle any recovery in the already suffering remodeling industry, compromise presidential and congressional initiatives to retrofit homes through programs like Home Star and the energy-efficiency tax credits and put more Americans out of work,” the comments said.
“NAHB supports the EPA’s efforts to reduce the incidence of lead exposure, but is troubled that the proposed rule does little to meet this goal,” the letter said.
NAHB members can click here to download a letter template to help them submit comments to the EPA.
For more information, e-mail Matt Watkins at NAHB, or call him at 800-368-5242 x8327.