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Wisconsin’s Laws on Lead Safe Renovating to Backfire

Tomorrow is the big day — April 22nd, the day that the new EPA rules on lead safe renovating go into effect. This will be a challenge for many contractors country-wide but Wisconsin renovators will have an even tougher go of it because legislators, who clearly know nothing about renovating, have decided to make it even tougher for contractors to do things right and make a decent living.

Lead Safe RenovatingThe US Environmental Protection Agency is making it really difficult on renovators. There is a special exhaustive process that must be taken by contractors to ensure that an area they work on is not contaminated by lead dust. The problem is that many of the problems that have happened in the past were done by contractors — the problems of the past were caused by homeowners (who are exempted from the new law) and landlords looking for a quick fix.

Now lead poisoning is a real problem and the EPA recognizes that. They set a standard so that any home built prior to 1978 must be tested for lead paint. If the area to be renovated has more than 0.5% of lead paint in it, lead safe renovator practices must be applied. Compliance requires each contractor to spend about a thousand dollars per crew on education and basic supplies, but each job they sell will now cost a contractor several hundred dollars in supplies just to do their job to the letter of the law. There is an exception in 49 of the 50 states however — if a standardized test which you can buy at most hardware stores for just $20 shows the area is negative for lead paint, the lead safe renovation time and cost do not apply. Many homes, even homes built prior to 1978 will test negative as not ALL homes built prior to 1978 contain lead paint.

Here’s the rub — Wisconsin decided to get tough on contractors. The Wisconsin state requirement is that anyone with more than 0.06% of lead in the area to be renovated must apply all lead safe renovator processes to each job. The average cost to the contractor is about $100 per window. The problem is, that homes CANNOT test out of this unless a costly lab process is done to assess whether lead of those small amounts is present. For instance, an x-ray machine that can test for these amounts is over $40,000 each. You can contract with a lab to have it done, but they will test the job on their schedule and when they can come out to a customers home.

How is a legitimate contractor going to price out a job in Wisconsin? They don’t know if they have to charge to cover their costs of lead safe renovating or not. Contractors will take one of two approaches. One, they will simply assume that lead of those levels is present and apply the process for lead safe renovating to all jobs prior to 1978. The alternative is that many contractors, in order to stay competitive with the many people in the industry who lack the proper licenses in the first place, will simply not use lead safe renovating processes.

Wisconsin legislators should do the common sense thing and suspend the stricter laws that Wisconsin renovators must comply with until such time that a commercially available test that can measure lead amounts as small as 0.06% are available on the market. If they do not, more contractors than not will be ignoring the new lead safe renovator requirements.

Wisconsin has chosen to institute two new fees for contractors already struggling to make a living. One requires you to first pass a nearly $300 all day course before the government takes their fee, and the other one appears to be just a fee for fees sake.

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