If you are planning home renovations, expect to pay extra if you live in an older home. A federal court has ruled that a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rule related to lead paint applies to all homes built before 1978 — without exceptions. That means regulatory costs will be passed on to homeowners, even where lead paint poses little-to-no health threats.
Lead paint can be an issue for children under six years old that are chronically exposed to relatively high levels of peeling paint and related dust. Health impacts range from lead poisoning in severe cases to modest impacts on learning ability. Risks exist largely in older homes that are not properly maintained, often in low-income neighborhoods where residents cannot afford proper repairs and upkeep. Lead paint does not pose the same problem for people over the age of six.
Fortunately, the problem has diminished over the past several decades. Since 1997, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that the number of children with elevated lead blood levels found in their surveillance samples has declined from 7.61% to 0.83% by 2008.
Nonetheless, a 2008 EPA rule requires that those contracted to perform home remodeling and repairs must take an eight-hour course and gain certification before they can work on homes that might contain lead paint. Before beginning a project, remodelers must also test for lead paint in these older homes in the areas they plan to work. If lead paint is present, the contractor must implement “lead free-work practices,” as defined by the regulation. According to EPA, these practices are designed to contain the work area to minimize dust, and ensure thorough cleanup.
Originally, the rule allowed homeowners who did not have children six years of age and younger, or pregnant women living in the home, to opt out of lead-safe work practices because the risks of lead in those cases are negligible. But the Obama EPA eliminated that provision in 2010. According to EPA estimates, elimination of the opt-out rule increased regulatory costs by more than $500 million in the first year, by more than $300 million in the second year, and by more than $200 million in the following years.
The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) opposed the elimination of the op-out option rule and argued its case before the D.C. Circuit Court, but the court has recently ruled the law valid. The only hope for change now lies with Congress. Senator James Inhofe (R-Okla.) and Rep. John Sullivan (R-Okla.) both have introduced legislation to restore the op-out provisions (H.R. 5911 and S. 2148).
The Obama regulation’s cost is “substantial,” says NAHB, because it
increases the cost of the rule without providing a corresponding benefit. … NAHB is concerned that home owners will turn to unlicensed contractors, decide to do the project themselves, or defer maintenance instead of paying the additional $2,400 our members estimate is added to the cost of every project subject to the regulation.
An article in The Fiscal Times  detailed the impact on one small business in Ohio:
The new rule’s detailed compliance requirements, related paperwork, and purchases of EPA required equipment added thousands of dollars to the cost of doing business and made it much harder for her [owner Kathy Faia] to compete for remodeling contracts. Business has dropped off by more than two thirds, and she had to lay off one of her workers. ‘I’m just barely hanging on,’ she says. ‘They [the EPA] are over-regulating and sucking all of the fun out of the remodeling business.’
Requiring homeowners without any children in their home to comply with the lead-paint rule does nothing to address lead-paint problems and likely provides zero health benefits. It does make it difficult for many small businesses to survive. And ironically, regulations that make remodeling more expensive could exacerbate the cases where health risks exist by discouraging repairs that would otherwise reduce lead-paint-based risks.