A new federal law, designed to protect young children from toxic lead, will impact hundreds of thousands of renovation projects in Florida, experts say — possibly raising costs for everything from kitchen upgrades to exterior painting.
The Renovation, Repair and Painting rule, which went into effect April 22, applies to almost all housing constructed before 1978 and to buildings where young children are likely to be present, such as day care centers and preschools.
Work crews, supervised by a certified lead renovator, must first test exterior and interior job sites for lead. If found, they then must do time-consuming preparation and leave homes and buildings spotless when finished. (Contractors for years have been required to use special practices if lead was discovered on a job, but nothing required them to test before starting renovations on most private homes.)
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which drafted the regulation, estimates 400,000 Florida renovation projects will be affected annually.
Paint in residential homes is the primary target of the new law, although bathtubs and other fixtures in a home can contain lead. For years, lead was a standard ingredient in paint, used to brighten colors and extend wear. Lead was banned for residential use in 1978 after research found it could cause brain damage and learning disabilities in young children.
The most common way youngsters get lead poisoning is through household paint and lead-contaminated dust, said Robert Anderson, lead poisoning prevention coordinator for the Palm Beach County Health Department. Hundreds of children younger than 6, the most at-risk group, test positive for high lead levels in Florida, with 274 new cases recorded statewide in 2008.
"Anyone living in a home built prior to 1978 should be worried," Anderson said. "Renovators should be following the rules and explaining them to (homeowners)."
The law requires homeowners to be given, and sign for, a "Renovation Right" lead hazard pamphlet before work begins. Construction employees must be certified as renovators through EPA-approved training every five years, at a cost of about $250 to $350. Contracting or construction firms also must register with the agency.
Coral Springs contractor Antonio Correal was at a facility in Fort Lauderdale recently for training that would qualify him to be the certified renovator on any of his job sites. He and about a dozen men suited up in paper coveralls and practiced sealing off doors with plastic sheeting.
Like most contractors, Correal isn't sure yet exactly how the new laws will change his business or his fees. But he imagines the cost for jobs like replacing windows, which involve interior and exterior construction, could go up as much as 20 percent.
The EPA estimated compliance would cost contractors $8 to $167 a job. In the beginning, however, expenses may be higher until the process is streamlined and the technology more advanced, said Seagull CEO Jim Stump.
"In the long term, it will become just the way we do business," said Stump, who runs one of five Florida EPA-accredited instruction programs. Seagull has trained about 3,000 to 5,000 renovators.
Tom Ricci, secretary/treasurer of BT Builders Inc. of Pompano Beach, said he is surprised more contractors haven't rushed to get a renovator certified. "This will have a significant impact," he said. "The contractors, from what I see, are not taking it seriously. But the EPA is."