Credit: Illustration: Barry Blitt

Ever hear the expression, “Get the lead out of your pants”? It means get moving.

At the end of last year, the Environmental Protection Agency began moving on lead paint. For years the agency required that contractors hand off a pamphlet about safe lead removal to any client living in a home built before 1978. Now the regulations go beyond information-sharing, and the EPA is serious about enforcement. If you install windows in houses built before that year, you need to know what's required.

First, you still have to supply the homeowner with a pamphlet, now called “Renovate Right.” It explains the potential health hazards of lead-based paint and how to safely remove it. The homeowner, at that point, can sign a waiver giving you the go-ahead to remove the paint any way you want or can opt to have it removed according to EPA specifications. EPA specs involve posting the work area, sealing it off with plastic sheathing, and extracting the paint with strippers or machines using vacuum attachments to minimize dust. Then there's cleanup.

By 2010, if you work in houses with lead-based paint, you'll also need to have someone on staff who is certified to safely remove lead (requiring an eight-hour training course), and your company must register as certified in lead-based paint removal.

The penalties for ignoring the new lead regs are steep: $37,500 per infraction per day. You may also risk a civil suit from homeowners down the road.

The EPA estimates the cost of compliance at $35 per job. It is in no sense realistic for window replacement. Factor in the time spent cordoning off the area and removing dust, and you may be adding as much as 50% to your labor cost.

In addition, you may end up having to present customers in older homes with two prices: one with and one without EPA-compliant lead-paint removal. In either case, you'll need a customer signature somewhere in the job folder.

We're well past the point of debating whether it's fair for today's contractor to be responsible for yesterday's paint formula. Your employees need to know all this, and so do customers.

At some point, safe lead-paint removal will be just another facet of your installation process, one you may want to tout in your marketing materials. Expertise could work to your advantage. But right now, it's not something you can afford to ignore if you want to stay in business.

Jim Cory, Editor