Could The New Lead Safety Rules Kill Renovation and Preservation?

lead safety rules renovation preservation photo cover

In 2008 the EPA announced its new regulations for working with anything painted before 1978, when most paint contained lead; on April 22 these regulations become law. Carla, AKA the Green Preservationist, just took the course and summarizes the impact:

Preservationists, remodeling professionals, and deconstruction advocates really need to start paying attention to these new laws as they will raise the cost of repairs and restoration projects by a substantial amount, and may also impact the existing warehouse stock of materials used for restoration and rebuilding.

lead safety rules renovation preservation photo cover carla
Carla scraping column, without mask, bug suit or respirator

Many years ago I worked on the decontamination of a radioactive building, and not a few asbestos contaminated buildings, and these regulations don't look too different. Now, all those old windows that I tell everyone to save have to be treated with special care, no more buying old doors and trim if it has any paint on it at all.

If there is existing lead paint on stock materials, they may well have to go bye-bye and into a hazardous waste landfill (vs. a typical landfill, which will add yet another added expense). Also, any time a contractor is hired to do work-even minor things like window removal and adjustment, they will have to be certified as someone who practices Lead safe practices and may well have to quarantine themselves into the room that they are working on, wear a full body plastic suit, mask, goggles, two layers of gloves...the whole bit. For real.

lead safety rules renovation preservation photo cover practices

Unlike asbestos, where a single fiber can kill you, lead is cumulative and affects children under six far more than it does adults. Carla has probably been exposed to a lot more of it than I have, and she says " I think I've got a few years left in me."

Seriously, I spend a lot of time proselytizing that renovation creates labour intensive green jobs that can put a lot of unskilled people back to work. Now, on April 22, they become highly skilled and regulated jobs that require special tools, expensive bug suits, goggles and double gloves. People will just tear the things down instead.

Half the buildings in America need to be made more efficient. I suspect that the default move now will be simply to haul them to the dump, if every single building built before 1978 is now considered toxic waste.

More on renovations:
The Carbon Footprint of a Renovation vs New Construction
Quote of the Day: Bill McDonough on Green Renovation
Renovation Uses Twice As Much Labor, Half as Much Material as New Construction


treehugger slideshows