Learn about the Renovate, Repair and Painting program that requires contractors to test for lead in homes built before 1978. Find out about the steps contractors must take to protect themselves and you from possible lead exposure when they are working on your home.
LESLIE: Well, if you have an older home, you probably have lead paint on your walls somewhere under all those layers. If you ever decide to renovate, you’ll need to safely remediate that paint.
TOM: That’s right. And if you have a contractor involved in that renovation, a new law requires that they be certified in lead-safe practices. Here to tell us about more is our favorite contractor, Tom Silva , the general contractor for TV’s This Old House .
TOM SILVA: Well thank you. It’s nice to be here.
TOM: And Tom, this is a law that’s aimed at contractors but the techniques it teaches really should be followed by homeowners doing their own work.
TOM SILVA: Absolutely. Lead paint  can be dangerous, especially for kids younger than six years old. It can affect their central nervous system. A lot of people think that kids get lead poisoning by eating the lead paint chips.
TOM SILVA: Well, you can but usually they get it by lead dust. So if you’ve got a renovation project going on around your house and you’re sanding the woodwork or you’re ripping trim out or changing a window, the dust in the air can get into their system very easily.
TOM: So what is the new program and how is it going to make us all that much safer?
TOM SILVA: Well, the new program is RRP: Renovate, Repair and Painting. So that means that me, as a contractor, have to be certified in any work that I do in your house if the house is older than 1978. And I, as a contractor, have to assume that your house, built prior to 1978, has lead in it and I have to test for it.
TOM: Now that’s interesting. So are you going to test or you just assume that you have it?
TOM SILVA: Oh, you have to assume and you have to test. If it doesn’t have it …
LESLIE: So you’re doing both.
TOM SILVA: Yeah, yeah.
TOM: Doing both, got it. Got it.
TOM SILVA: So if it doesn’t have lead, then I’m fine; I just make a record of it. And I have to keep that record for three years.
TOM: So this has been quite a change to businesses like yours. You’ve had to get your entire team certified in this new program, correct?
TOM SILVA: Well, I have to have – lead guys in each one of my teams have to be certified and then during the process, those lead guys can teach the other guys how to do it. But they are not certified and they can’t stay on that job by themself.
TOM: Got it.
TOM SILVA: So the certified guy has to be there for the checklist at the end and it’s really, basically, how you contain the area, protect the area, protect yourself and protect the homeowner and the tools that you use.
LESLIE: Now, is there sort of a minimum amount of square footage that requires this process to begin or is it strictly any project of any size?
TOM SILVA: No, there is a minimum. On the inside, it’s 6 square feet of wall space or room space per room and 20 square feet of wall space or area space on the exterior.
TOM: Now that’s not very much. I mean 6 square feet is …
LESLIE: Three by two?
TOM: That’s like changing a bathroom mirror almost. It’s not a whole lot of space.
TOM SILVA: Exactly. No, no. You can eat up that 6 square feet real quick.
TOM: Now, are there special tools that pros need to have because of this law?
TOM SILVA: Well, special tools – I think the big-ticket item that comes to mind right off the top of my head is a HEPA vac.
TOM: OK. And that’s a high-efficiency particulate vacuum.
TOM SILVA: Yep, with a particular filter system and that vac cannot emit any dust into the air and that filter system protects it; protects you and the air. But the way you dress, the clothes that you have to wear, the gloves that you have to don on, the masks – a certain type of mask. You can’t go and use a painter’s mask; you use a HEPA-rated mask around your mouth.
So, there are a lot of rules and regulations. You have to vacuum yourself off when you leave the room.
LESLIE: Oh wow.
TOM SILVA: You have to protect their room and the surroundings; tape everything off. A lot of plastic, a lot of tape, a lot of suits and a lot of masks now.
TOM: It almost sounds like a homeowner’s dream, because you wish that all of your contractors were this neat; now you’re being required to be this neat for some good reasons.
TOM SILVA: Well, yeah, yeah.
TOM: But this has got to add to the cost.
TOM SILVA: Absolutely, absolutely. It does add to the cost. And I – when I took the course they said, "Well, you know, the average cost should probably be anywhere from $150 to $250." And I’ve been doing it for a while now; I’ve been certified for a couple of months and I think that they were a little light on the number.
TOM: Man, you can spend that much in extra masking tape.
TOM SILVA: Yeah. Oh, yeah. Masking tape and plastic. But it’s important. It’s important.
LESLIE: So, as a homeowner, this really should be part of my vocabulary when I’m interviewing potential contractors for my home, right?
TOM SILVA: Absolutely. And as a contractor and you live in that house, I have to give you paperwork that you have to read and sign. And when we first established the rule, you could, as a homeowner, opt out of it and say, "Well, no, that’s alright. I don’t want to do it. You can just do whatever you have to do without" – you can’t do that anymore.
TOM: Well, there’s a lot to follow; there’s a lot of requirements. But let’s face it, it’s done for all the right reasons and it’s definitely going to protect homeowners and especially our children.
Tom Silva, general contractor for TV’s This Old House. Thanks for filling us in on the new law and stopping by The Money Pit.
TOM SILVA: It was my pleasure.
TOM: For more tips, you can visit ThisOldHouse.com.
LESLIE: And you can watch Tommy and the entire This Old House team on This Old House and Ask This Old House on your local PBS station.
TOM: And This Old House is brought to you by GMC. GMC, we are professional grade.