Sometimes it’s good to hear from those in the field, who are actually doing the work and who know what’s happening. That’s why we recently asked for your opinion on the EPA’s RRP Rules.

As background, the RRP rules (Renovation, Repair and Painting Rules) are a United States requirement imposed by the EPA on all firms performing renovation, repair, and/or painting projects that disturb lead-based paint in homes, child care facilities and pre-schools built before 1978. The RRP rules were finalized in 2008 and became effective in 2010, and we were curious whether or not contractors were following those rules. (Details on the EPA’s website describing who needs to be certified and FQ’s.) (We call them FAQ’s, but the EPA calls them FQ’s, Frequent Questions.)

We received responses from contractors in 35 states, and the responses were certainly real-life. Of the contractors responding who are either general remodelers or specialty contractors, 24% are not certified, and many of them stated that they avoid certification by choosing to only work on newer homes. But a few aren’t certified for other reasons:

“Pay enough taxes and fees already.”

“Don’t know what that is.”

“Not sure what is or if it applies”

From those who are certified, we asked, “Do you do everything that the RRP laws stipulate on every job required? Why or why not?” Just over half of those who are certified gave some version of a Yes answer:

“I try, but I’m sure I don’t do everything right.”

“As much as possible. Some things don’t make sense for the real world”

“We follow most of the rules on interior work. Exterior jobs are difficult because containment is difficult and cleanup is almost impossible”

“Yes. Law. Liability. Play by the rules”

“Yes, mostly. Sometimes the record keeping part is a little weak.”

“Most all. Cheat out on things like changing coveralls constantly.”

“I try to. The rules are unclear and interpreted differently by different people.”

“yes. Because i want to stay in business”

“Yes. It a health issue for my clients as well as to any trade partners.”

And those who gave some version of a No answer provided responses like these:

“No. Not convinced it’s necessary and see it as more bureaucracy.”

“No. Most people don’t want to pay the extra for labor and materials.”

“Probably not because there is so much confusion about what we have to do. The paperwork is so immense it is hard to keep up with.”

“no. too costly, cumbersome, and unnecessary”

“Because people forget the rules despite training. We need a daily punch list.”

And we also started getting some strong opinions:

“No. First it is a trumped up b**s*** law perpetuated by eco terrorists. Second I will not give homeowners a sledge hammer.”

“Absolutely not! The whole lead paint deal is so over blown. You couldn’t find a case of lead poisoning if it slapped you in the face. The whole nanny state has got to stop!”

What part of the RRP laws was most difficult to do as directed?

“documenting and retaining all information”

“Window replacement .When you have a room full of stuff it’s hard to move everything to another room. We become more of furniture movers than window installer.”

“If you don’t have access to the outside in the immediate job area you have to make a plastic enclosed access to the exterior through multiple rooms in order to remove demolition. How do you do that in a multi family condo type situation?”

“Have you ever worked in a monkey suit when it is 95 degrees on a job? It is impossible to run a job efficiently when complying with the RRP nonsense.”

“Just knowing what is directed is the most difficult. Who do we follow? EPA? Local L&I office rules? How do I know? When I ask, I get pointed in different directions.”

“Try containing waste water during pressure washing an exterior house painting job, for one. There is no method addressing this issue by RRP that I have seen. I have done it, creating a moat out of plastic and lumber, but you would need to clear cut all trees and shrubs around a home to do most jobs.”

“Containment and cleaning out the site. Sure, the plastic doorways, (empty) plastic bags and gooseneck knots worked fine in the training, but try to do that with a 35-50 pound bag filled with plaster and debris with sharp edges and embedded nails. Nope, just doesn’t work as well there. Neither does lifting those bags through a small slot cut for a doorway like they showed us in training. And working on top of plastic floor coverings is really tricky.”

“here’s a stupid example. We’re going to remove the tub and ceramic floor in the bathroom, but we have to clean them and do the ‘wipe test’ 3 times first so we can ‘clear’ the area of lead hazard from taking the walls down, before we can let the crew back into the bathroom to remove the floor and the tub. If we didn’t do it this way, and waited until the flooring was removed before ‘clearing’ the area, we would have apply the full RRP procedures to removing the flooring as well and end up washing the plywood underlayment 3 times after the floor was removed to clear the area. There has to be a better way, but this cleanup was the only ‘approved’ method that was included in the training.”

Talk about real life situations! I wonder if the EPA regulators who came up with the rules have ever worked on a job?

We asked if it increases the cost of the jobs. Some of the responses:

“started first few jobs without adding costs to our bids. big mistake. the tools, equipment, materials were bad enough but the labor costs are extreme.the time in the field is just too long and paying your supervisor to do compliance paperwork is ridiculous.”

“Probably about 2% – 3% on jobs that test positive.”

“Depends on the job. I’d say $500 as an average”

“Yes, 15-30 percent if done correctly.”

“Definitely, about $325 on a $5,000 window-replacement job, or about 6%. To stay competitive on price with non-certified (or corner-cutting contractors that are certified but don’t follow all procedures), since that comes out of an 8% net, that’d mean I make 2% on an RRP job. Since I will not do that, I lose many more jobs now to contractors willing to not do the work ‘correctly’ or simply to homeowners unwilling to have the work done at all for that price.”

“It adds a lot to our projects to hire a certified RRP demolition expert on our projects. A bathroom might cost $4500 and a kitchen is more like $5500 or more to tear out to the framing. I have to mark those costs up and pass them onto the customers. On even a small window and door job, it can add a lot of man hours to our project costs. “

There were positive comments:

“Like any OSHA law, not that hard to comply with if you stop belly aching about it and just train everyone to do it. Over time, it becomes another second nature skill for everyone. You just have to fully pass the cost on to the customer. “

“The best argument I heard ‘FOR’ RRP is it keeps our area super clean during a remodeling project, which IS a good thing.”

“The law has forced me to update my equipment to HEPA vacs, but this is something that should have been anyway and really keeps the dust down when cleaning. Overall, it has really improved my job site cleanliness.”

“I think it is important to make sure people aren’t sanding lead paint or burning it off, however, I don’t see how many people will ever be able to afford to have work done on their house. I think those most in need of lead paint abatement will be or are out of luck.”

“This is a once in a life time opportunity to set professional remodelers apart. We can educate ourselves and our clients about lead and deal with the problem in a professional way and keep their families safe.”

“The biggest reason I got the RRP certificate is for marketing purposes, with the intent of differentiating my business from the others that do not have the right kind of license to do the work they’re bidding on in the first place.”

But there were two major complaints about the RRP Rules, and the first is that homeowners don’t have any stake in following the rules.

“Homeowners have not bought into this program. They have not heard about it and they do not want to pay extra for it especially when there are no children living in the home. They will typically find another contractor that is not RRP certified or do the job themselves in order not to save the extra costs. Luckily we have plenty of homes in (our area) that were built after 1978 so we do not have to depend on working on pre 1978 homes.”

“We believe the homeowner should be fined by using a non RRP certified contractor. If they aren’t held responsible, they are free to choose the cheaper non-certified contractor with no penalty.”

“Where do I start! I could write a book on how unfair this law is to the honest contractor. For example, if the government wants to enforce RRP, they need to make the homeowner liable and not the contractor. Too many contractors are willing to skirt the law making my bids over-priced. I have not won one RRP window replacement contract since getting certified back in 2011. Prior to to 2011 I was averaging (3) window replacement projects at $20,000.00 and up. I will not renew my certification once it expires.”

“It’s silly to have a government regulation but no education program for the property owners. There was an educational program when lead was removed from gasoline. Why not for RRP?”

The second is about the arbitrariness of enforcement:

“I agree with what appears to be the spirit of the law in general and have no desire to put customers, myself, or my crew at risk. But it seems like the government is more interested in penalizing those of us who got certified and want to follow the laws and who have put ourselves on the radar, rather than actively helping us know what exactly we are supposed to do and how to execute the laws on real job sites.

“The RRP law looks great on paper and in the eyes of the politician but in reality it’s just costing the legitimate companies more to operate. We are the targets, not the side job or under the table guy.”

“I recently completed a project complying with RRP while 2 projects down the street were done without regard for the rules. When I talked to regional EPA office they said that they would write a letter to the building owner if I would provide an address. Really? We have to compete with these guys and all that EPA is willing to do is write a letter after the violation occurs.”

“Being involved with remodeling groups on the local and national levels, I have friends who have been fined by the EPA. 100% of the fines have been imposed for ‘improper’ paperwork. None of the fines were the result of anything being improperly done on the jobsite. Typically the EPA inspector goes to the building permit office and looks to see who has taken out multiple permits. Then they go to the contractors office and request to see their paperwork. Contractors who cooperate with the inspector and retain an attorney to ‘negotiate’ typically get the fines reduced. One local contractor I know was fined $200,000 for giving out the wrong pamphlet/having the landlord sign rather than the tenant. He got the fine reduced to $57,000 and some ‘community work’. I don’t know how much his attorney cost.”

” . . .  it’s penalizing contractors rather than homeowners (decision-makers), it’s driving more contractors ‘underground’ where rules are not followed, permits not pulled, which means municipalities lose control of their process, and it’s making contractors who DO certify be easier to regulate/whack than non-certified contractors.”

“Lead dust is a problem, and I am pleased to see there are now some official guidelines on how to handle and dispose of it. But the way this whole program has been set up and run smacks strongly of a government agency out of control and looking for sources of funding. Registration and training – good. Scary stories in the training program that most trainees ignore because the circumstances don’t apply to them – stupid. Fines that are so out of line with practicality, and threats of fines that could put you out of business for even the smallest infraction or paperwork error – ridiculous. Yes, I can see why many small contractors won’t register or renew their registration.”

“Too much red tape and threats. (In our state) they charge $300 PER YEAR for the certification but have no method of enforcement and no budget for enforcement. … if you call in a violator, they will ‘try’ to get someone to visit the job if they have time. Clients will not pay my firm more for proper mitigation if no one else is even talking about it. We just stopped working on houses that test positive for lead. We gave up the certification as have most of my professional remodeling peers here.”

And a few responses that sum up the concern many have concerning the RRP Rules:

“We try to do everything required. Are we in total compliance? It depends on who you ask. There are a lot of opinions flying around on the internet, and it becomes very confusing as to what is actually required by the law and what is someone’s interpretation of the training (not the law itself). If you go to the EPA site for clarification, it often becomes more confusing because some of their answers just don’t seem to have any basis in reality.”

“None of us will really know if we are doing it correctly until a disgruntled client, competitor we took a job from or mad tenant complains and the EPA shows up for an audit. We are making a good faith effort to comply in order to protect our clients, workers and we are hoping that will be clear in the event of an audit.”

Comments from Michael

A few years ago I was asked to do a class for contractors on the paperwork requirements as outlined by both the EPA and by OSHA. After several weeks of research, many meetings, tons of materials read and calculations completed, we found that even a small job can and does cost the contractor $500 to $700 in labor, materials and supervision to get done. Our survey responses support those figures. So much for the EPA’s claim that the cost of this new requirement would be less than $50 per job.

I’ve also talked to many contractors since these new laws were started and while the government agencies are trying to do what they think is right, the homeowners aren’t buying it. The elimination of the dust and debris that contains the lead is important, but not important enough to pay the extra money to have it done. In other words, once again the bureaucrats are writing rules and regulations that the buying public simply won’t pay for. That was also stated clearly by our readers in this survey.

My suggestion? This situation won’t change until licensed contractors refuse to work on any house built before 1979. When the owners can’t find someone to do the work, and they find out doing it themselves is not as easy as they thought or as easy as the guys at the big box stores told them it would be, they’ll start demanding that the EPA adjust and revise these rules so the jobs can get built. I probably won’t see this happen in my lifetime, but it’s an approach I think would work.

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