A New Perspective
by Trey Barrineau
April 26th, 2018

Thoughts on the Lead Paint Rule

The news this week was not ideal for window installers — or for some people in older homes who might need windows replaced.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released the results of a mandatory two-year study on the economic impacts of the unpopular Lead: Renovation, Repair and Painting rule (RRP). After looking at the evidence and weighing comments from the construction and building products industries, the agency decided to leave this well-intentioned but flawed regulation in place with no modifications.

“Based on EPA’s Section 610 review of the 2008 RRP final rule, its amendments, and comments pursuant to lead test kits, the Agency has concluded that there is still a need to mitigate lead-based paint hazards, that no new technology has superseded the need for the rule, that it serves a purpose that is distinct from state and local governments’ as well as other agencies’ rules, that it is not too complex, that there have not been any changes that have introduced any significant additional burdens on small entities subject to it, and that it continues to be reliable, effective, and safe,” the agency concluded in its report on the study. “Therefore, the rule will be continued without change.”

“Not good,” Paul Kilrow, an window installer from Massachusetts, wrote on DWM’s Facebook page after reading the story we posted on Wednesday.

Everyone agrees that it’s important to reduce lead paint risks in homes. It’s been proven to cause a slew of mental and physical health problems, especially among young children. Poorer Americans face an even bigger threat from it. EPA says lead paint, which was banned in 1978, is still present in more than 30 million homes, most of which are older, substandard housing units. It’s good that the EPA wants to limit its presence in residences.

That said, there are common-sense RRP reforms that the agency could have enacted, but didn’t.

Opt In for the Opt Out

The simplest would have been the reinstatement of the opt-out provision, which was removed in 2010. This allowed the owners of homes in which there are no pregnant women or children under the age of 6 to “opt out” of the intrusive and costly requirements to reduce lead paint dust that’s stirred up during renovations such as window replacements.

“EPA concluded that reinstating the opt-out provision of the rule’s work practices would make the RRP rule less protective and effective,” the agency wrote in its report.

In responses to comments from industry stakeholders, EPA said research that wasn’t available in 2010 indicates that lead paint has wider-ranging health effects than previously thought, so the opt-out provision won’t be coming back.

This is where the lead paint rule’s good intentions run into its unintended  negative consequences. I know, because I’m a homeowner who would be a perfect candidate for the opt-out provision.

My wife and I live in a house built in 1954, and we have no children under 6 on the premises. We know we’ll need to replace windows within the next few years. However, we’re going to think twice about it because of the extra expense related to lead paint remediation.

I bet there are many other homeowners out there having the same thoughts.

Energy Efficiency vs. Lead Abatement

Are the costs associated with the RRP rule affecting another key environmental goal of the federal government – reducing energy consumption and greenhouse gases? It’s certainly possible.

According to the most recent Residential Energy Consumption Survey from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, in 2015 there were still more than 48.5 million homes with single-pane windows. That’s about 40 percent of all households, and it’s a good bet that a significant percentage of them are older residences with lead paint.

In fact, a discussion about the importance of getting rid of single-pane windows was part of the very first story I ever wrote for DWM. I covered a discussion session about possible specification revisions to Version 7.0 of the Energy Star program in December 2014 at EPA’s headquarters in Washington, D.C.

At the event, an early question from EPA administrators – “What changes to the specification should EPA consider in the future to realize significant national energy savings?” – received a simple, direct answer.

“Promote the replacement of single-pane glass,” said Joe Hayden, the senior engineer at Pella Corp. “It will save energy and create jobs.” Several attendees seconded Hayden’s idea.

It’s a commendable goal that would yield vital benefits. However, it’s hard to accomplish if replacing those old windows is prohibitively expensive thanks to onerous, costly lead paint work procedures. And achieving it is harder still when that burden will disproportionately fall on our poorer citizens.

Let’s hope the EPA makes needed modifications to the RRP rule that can strike a balance between preserving the health and safety of children and encouraging much-needed window upgrades across the country. That’s a win-win for everyone.

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  1. The opt-out provision was routinely and widely abused.
    Very few contractors today are complying with RRP.
    The current regulations have a lot of issues but the industry had years, if not decades, to come up with a better solution.

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