Ask The Expert


Hi Robert,
My home was built in 1975. I was told that I could disturb my lead paint during remodeling but I can’t have a contractor do that or else he will have to abide by certain rules and regulations. I’d like to confirm if this is true or not.

Ernesto G.

Hi Ernesto,
Yes that’s true. Contractors have to abide by the lead laws as set forth by the EPA, which are substantial.
The EPA issued rules of safe practices while working with lead painted surfaces in April 2008. In April 2010, all contractors were required to be certified — both Firm Certified and RRP Certified. Firm Certification for the company license, RRP, or Renovation, Repair, and Painting Certified for staff.
Affected structures: homes, day care centers, or schools built in 1978 or before. Lead paint began to phase out during the mid 1970s and was banned Dec. 31, 1977.
Back in the old days, you would buy paint and a bucket of fine lead dust separately. After mixing the paint, get a handful of the lead and mix that with the paint. Lead makes the paint more colorful and more durable. It is still used by the military and on ship hulls because of its strength, but it’s deadly poisonous. Especially in dust or fume form.
This prompted the EPA to initiate a very thorough set of containment procedures and practices that must be followed whenever disturbing pre-1978 painted surfaces.
These procedures include heavy duty plastic in the work area to walk on; sticky pads to step on when exiting the containment area; sealing the windows, doors, air vents, and handlers; hepa vacuums for tools and personnel; wrapping each piece of debris, like drywall pieces, into a plastic-covered package to be placed in locked dumpster or receptacle. If the debris weighs 220 pounds or more, then it is considered hazardous waste and the contractor owns it forever. This means after it is disposed of, the contractor can be contacted 30 years later and be told that his waste needs to be moved at “X” amount of dollars per pound.
There are many additional steps necessary for working with lead paint. If a contractor happens to miss one of those steps, like not handing a pamphlet to one of the affected homeowners in a condominium complex, they can be fined $37,500. Also, California laws are different than national laws and the EPA laws are not exactly the same as the HUD — Housing and Urban Development — laws. As Firm and RRP certified, we are required to know these differences.
This is a tremendous amount of additional expense and work required to adhere to these laws. More steps and manpower translate into additional costs passed onto the HOA or homeowner.
You as a homeowner, on the other hand, do not need to follow these stipulations. If you want to do all of the strip work and prepping, then call the contractor to complete the project, you could save a large percentage of the cost.
I would strongly recommend that you make yourself familiar with abatement procedures so that you can adequately protect yourself. It is critical that you learn how to control, contain, and dispose of the lead dust properly for the safety of you and your family.

Robert Lamoureux of IMS Construction, Valencia, CA, has 30 years experience as a Commercial, General, Electrical, and Plumbing contractor. The opinions expressed in “Ask the Expert” are not to replace the recommendations of a qualified contractor after a thorough visual inspection has been made.

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