Dooley Real Estate

Contractors put on the spot...Renovation costs likely to rise...

New federal regulations concerning safe lead based paint practices went into effect, coincidentally or not, on Earth Day last week (April 22nd), complicating the lives of contractors and owners of homes built before 1978. Prior to that date lead was used in paint manufactured in the United States to improve adhesion and durability (Europe began banning lead in paints in the 1920’s). Since 1992, sellers and landlords have been required to disclose results of any lead testing done on their properties. But, since very few property owners have ever had testing done, the requirement has had relatively little impact locally. Not so with the new rules which require virtually all residential contractors be certified in and follow safe practices when working in houses built before 1978 (EPA brochure).

Lead has a long and deadly record: Pewter (a compound of tin and other metals-including lead) tableware has been blamed for widespread lead poisoning since Roman times. Lead piping used in early water systems has a similar history—in fact the word “plumbing” comes from the Latin word for lead, plumbum. The use of lead in paint and in making felt gave rise to the expressions “mad as a hatter” and “crazy as a painter.”

The new lead paint rules adopted last week (read here) originally allowed the owners of pre-1978 houses to opt out of the new standards. This would be done by providing their contractors with a statement acknowledging that they'd received the brochure and that no children under 6 or pregnant women reside in the home. This opt-out clause lasted for a day. On April 23rd, reportedly as part of a settlement with advocacy groups, including the Sierra Club, the EPA announced the rescission of the opt-out provision to take effect 60 days from publication in the Federal Register, or early July.

How much housing is affected by the new rules? Here in Connecticut, if one looks at Hartford County for example, 79% of the homes were built before 1978. The vintage homes that define New England and northwest Connecticut are all subject to increased renovation costs—which could depress the prices of the stately-but-slightly-shabby Colonial or the “fixer-upper” which have been popular staples of the local real estate market.

Although the EPA minimizes the cost effects, builders and trade associations estimate that the certification and safe practices requirements will add between 5 to 30% to the cost of painting and renovation jobs. Homeowners who perform work themselves, while strongly urged by the EPA to obtain and read the “Renovate Right” pamphlet, are still apparently exempt from the requirements. So if your spouse has been suggesting that the kitchen needs repainting, you might consider doing it yourself.

Finally, while reducing the threat of lead based paint in our housing stock by placing the burden on contractors and the costs on the homeowner may seem an unfunded mandate, the hazards of lead are so pernicious, it is probably in all our interests to bite the bullet (lead, of course) and prepare to comply. Be sure to have a thorough conversation with all the contractors who work on your property about their certification and making sure that their estimates include all the necessary compliance measures.