New lead rules may drive up home remodeling costs

If you live in an older home and are planning any home remodeling projects, you might need to add some padding to your budget. This spring a new EPA requirement will mandate that special lead testing, work practices -- and extra expenses are also part of any home improvements done to homes built before 1978.

As of April 22, 2010, remodelers will be required to both test those homes for lead and be certified to work within them using strict lead safety practices. That means that once a remodel begins, contractors must seal work areas off from the rest of the home, minimize dust that increases lead exposure risk, and go through a thorough daily cleanup routine including use of a HEPA vacuum.

The main area of concern is exposure due to lead based paint. About 38 million homes contain lead paint, and if your home was built before 1978, the last year lead paint was available; chances are it has lead paint somewhere under all those layers. Even if you are not planning to remodel, homeowners living in pre-1978 housing are smart to take steps to prevent lead paint exposure. Lead can cause neurological damage in children and contributes to hypertension, joint pain and more in adults.

But while the protection you and your family will receive is extremely valuable, this added layer of protection won't come cheap. Requirements for remodeler training, certification and work practices are going to impact the bottom line of any home improvement you plan. Working around lead adds extra steps, materials and documentation, all of which could translate into additional project costs.

Interestingly, the EPA estimated this extra cost to be only $35 per job. However, most remodelers see it differently when they consider the cost of purchasing equipment and materials, as well as ongoing training expenses associated with the new requirements. It's also important to note that the requirements don't require removal of lead paint, only that it is contained to avoid unnecessary health risks. The requirements also don't apply to homeowners doing their own remodeling projects, however, do-it-yourselfers are wise to follow safe lead work practices just the same.

If you are interviewing contractors for an upcoming project in an older home, be prepared to interview them about how they will protect your family from exposure to lead. If you find a remodeler who doesn't mention lead or who delivers low-ball estimates that disregard lead requirements, be careful. Remodelers will be obligated to prove their certification by displaying their lead-based paint license or training certificate to homeowners, and should also specify what a final lead inspection entails.

Ignoring the new lead requirements can result in contamination of your entire home and a far more expensive clean up later, as well as additional risks to the health of you and your family. For more information on lead in remodeling, visit the EPA's Lead Renovation, Repair and Painting site.

Tom Kraeutler delivers tips on hiring home improvement contractors and more each week as host of The Money Pit Home Improvement Show, a nationally syndicated radio program. He is also AOL's Home Improvement Editor and author of "My Home, My Money Pit: Your Guide to Every Home Improvement Adventure." You can also subscribe to Tom's latest home improvement podcast.

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