Published 26 October 2019
According to a recent report from Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies, consumers spent in excess of $424 billion on remodeling projects in 2017. The only dangers encountered by the majority of the homeowners and contractors who performed the work were those associated with poor planning, clumsy use of equipment (almost 275,000 people were injured after falling off a ladder or stool!), or a genuine lack of common sense. Others, however, found themselves injured by a substance that seldom comes to mind — lead.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website, CDC.gov, says that “lead has no useful purpose in the human body” and “can affect every organ system.” While lead is deleterious to every human being, it’s especially harmful to children. “More than half a million U.S. children are now believed to have lead poisoning”, according to the CDC.
The agency went on to say that exposure to lead may result in near-term emergency symptoms, such as severe abdominal pain, cramping and vomiting. In the long term, lead poisoning can result in a long list of additional maladies, which include loss of developmental skills, reduced I.Q., kidney damage, aggressive behavior, convulsions and even death. The bottom line is that virtually no level of lead is safe for humans.
So, what does remodeling and lead have in common? The simple answer is lead paint. What is lead paint? In the most basic of terms, it’s paint to which lead compounds have been added. The heavy-metal additive makes paint more washable and moisture resistant, quickens the drying process, and is used as a pigment to add color. Its use began during the colonial period of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in Europe and America and continued in the U.S. through 1977, when the EPA banned the substance in residential applications. It is in those homes and apartments built prior to 1978 where lead paint is most likely to be present today.
Fast-forward to 1996, when the EPA put in place regulations mandating that owners and managers of properties built prior to 1978 not only disclose to prospective purchasers or renters whether they possess any knowledge or reports pertaining to lead paint, they must also provide their prospects with a 10-day opportunity to assess whether lead paint is present. The Residential Lead-Based Paint Hazard Reduction Act applies to all owners, property managers and Realtors involved in the sale or lease of pre-1978 properties, where children are typically present (more on that below).
In 2010, the EPA expanded their regulations to include contractors who make repairs to properties built prior to 1978. According to the new Lead Renovation Repair and Painting Program, “Firms performing renovation, repair and painting projects that disturb lead-based paint in homes, child care facilities, and kindergartens built before 1978 must be EPA or state-certified and must use certified renovators who follow specific work practices to prevent lead contamination”.
The EPA defines renovators as “home improvement contractors, maintenance workers, painters and other specialty trades”. The agency wisely exempted from the rule property owners who do their own renovations. The rule is triggered when a renovator hired by an owner “disrupts over 6 square feet of painted surface per room in an interior, or over 20 square feet of painted surface on an exterior or involves window replacement or demolition of painted surfaces,” according to the EPA.
The percentage of U.S. homes that may contain lead paint has diminished steadily over the years. It is estimated that lead paint was used in around 9-of-10 homes built before 1940 and dropped to around two-thirds of homes built between 1940 and 1960. One-in-4 homes built between 1960 and 1978 may very well contain lead paint.
According to the good people at the Dona Ana County Assessor’s Office, there were 57,334 residential homes, condos, multi-family properties, townhomes and mobile-home-land combinations taxed as real estate in 2017. Of that number, 18,465, or 32.2%, were built prior to 1978 and are therefore subject to lead-based paint regulations. If you an owner of a pre-1978 property and intend to personally do renovations, knock yourself out. If you hire a renovator to do all or part of the work, it’s advisable that you make sure that the renovator you hire is properly certified.
Having said that, even professionals can sometimes find themselves behind the 8-ball. Take celebrity renovators Chip and Joanna Gains, for example. The stars of HGTV TV’s Fixer Upper were found to have violated EPA’s safe handling rules when renovating 33 properties dating back to 2015 and were assessed a civil penalty of $40,000. In addition, they were required to spend $160,000 to abate lead hazards in the affected homes and produce a video on the subject.
For information on how to avoiding finding yourself behind the 8-ball, log on to www.epa.gov/lead. You may be glad you did.
See you at closing.
Gary Sandler is a full-time Realtor and president of Gary Sandler Inc., Realtors in Las Cruces. He loves to answer questions and can be reached at (575) 642-2292 or Gary@GarySandler.com.