John Adams: Much ado about a big deal

Last week, the law regarding renovations changed in this country. And it's the biggest change affecting renovations, repairs and painting we have ever seen. It applies only to homes and child care facilities built before 1978, but that is still half the homes in the United States.

The law is called the RRP Rule, which stands for "renovate, repair and paint." It mandates a series of steps renovators must now take to minimize the creation and spread of lead-based paint dust, which is extremely harmful to humans. Even minute amounts of the dust can be especially damaging to children and pregnant women.

Part of the new rule requires all contractors who plan to work in pre-1978 housing to take a one-day course on safe handling practices for lead. One part of the class reviews a study in Maine. Researchers traced the source of three children's lead poisoning to their parents' clothing and vehicle. They worked in paint removal and often came home covered in dust. They then passed that dust to their family through contact with clothing and vehicles.

No matter who you are or where you live, you need to know that lead poisoning is a serious national problem, and it is largely preventable through adoption of the required practices. For the most part, they involve plastic sheeting and duct tape.

Thus, I was concerned last weekend when I heard someone on a local radio show refer to the new Environmental Protection Agency renovation rules as "much ado." I had to assume he meant "about nothing." One cannot fault him for not knowing. There has been very little publicity about this new rule.

His seeming indifference is merely a reflection of the lack of knowledge on this subject that prevails in our renovation and construction community.

So, in case you need the facts, here they are:

  • An amount of lead paint dust equivalent to a little pink package of sweetener can be enough to contaminate an entire house;
  • The older a house is, the higher the likelihood it contains lead-based paint. Only one in four homes built between 1960 and 1978 will present a lead hazard. In contrast, fully 86 percent of homes built before 1940 will test positive for the presence of lead.
  • As of last week, it is now a violation of federal law for any renovator or contractor to even offer to disturb more than 6 square feet of painted surface in a pre-1978 dwelling unless he can prove that he is an EPA-certified renovator. The term "disturb" is broadly interpreted to mean any activity that might create dust, including scraping, sanding and cutting.

There are exceptions to the rule, but they are few. I believe we can drastically reduce the incidence of lead poisoning in America through safer practices, but we all need to get on board.

Please go to the EPA website and download the free booklet called "Renovate Right."

For more information, go to

John Adams is an author, broadcaster and investor. He answers real estate questions on radio station WGKA (920 AM) at noon on Saturdays.

For more real estate information or to make a comment, visit