Slow lead-safety certification may derail Home Star


WASHINGTON, March 11 – A highly anticipated program that would make homes more energy efficient and provide a significant boost to the nation’s struggling economy could get derailed before it even starts because of a new regulation affecting contractors working on older homes, according to the National Association of Home Builders.

In testimony Thursday before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Connecticut remodeler Bob Hanbury said that rules effective April 22 governing contractors in homes where lead paint may be present will prevent meaningful retrofit work from being done because there won’t be enough certified renovation contractors trained in the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s new Lead Safe Work Practices.

The Senate is considering legislation that includes the proposed Home Star program, designed to provide home owner incentives for insulation and other weatherization projects. NAHB economists estimate that every $1 billion in remodeling and home improvement activity generates 11,000 jobs, $527 million in wages and salaries, and $300 million in business income, making these incentives a big boost for the economy as well as energy efficiency.

“NAHB strongly supports incentives to retrofit older homes and buildings to improve energy efficiency and performance,” Hanbury said. “But to make such a program work, the April 22 deadline for compliance with the EPA lead rule must be extended.”

Roughly 79 million homes constructed before 1978 are subject to the Lead Renovation, Repair and Repainting Rule, Hanbury said. Renovations on these homes, including energy-efficiency upgrades, must be done by contractors who have been certified by EPA in lead-safe work practices.

However, EPA has not approved enough instructors for the required training programs and has not certified enough firms to do the renovation work that the proposed energy efficiency program would generate.

“Consumer awareness of this regulation is negligible at best, and with the intensive media coverage that will undoubtedly accompany Home Star, home owners will rush to call contractors to perform efficiency upgrades in older housing, not realizing that many of those contractors could be doing the work illegally if they are not EPA certified,” Hanbury pointed out.

EPA has estimated that more than 236,000 remodelers, window installers, painters, heating and air-conditioning specialists and other trade contractors must be trained to ensure compliance with the rule. These contractors must complete eight hours of training, pay a certification fee, and employ lead-safe work practices in homes built before 1978 where children or pregnant women are present.

However, EPA has been slow to approve trainers to offer the courses, and in some states there are still no approved trainers. As a result, only about 14,000 people have been certified to date.

With only 135 firms throughout the country approved to offer the training courses, it will be impossible for the remaining contractors to complete the required training before the April 22 deadline, Hanbury said. And an influx of new retrofit jobs under a Home Star-style program would only increase the demand for trained and certified contractors.

“NAHB looks forward to working with you to create a successful retrofit program that provides equal access for all qualified and properly-trained contractors and a true incentive to renovate the oldest, least-efficient housing stock,” Hanbury told the committee.

“We also support the lead paint rule and fully agree with the importance of the safe work practices the rule describes,” Hanbury said. “But at present, it looks like the only way that many of our members will be able to comply is to avoid working in these older homes so we don’t break the law. In an environment where improving energy efficiency and creating jobs are national priorities, that makes no sense at all.”

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