Get a better understanding of lead containment when doing a residential home remodel.

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Q: We want to get renovations started on our pre-1978 home, but we’re worried about lead paint and whatnot. What do we need to know to stay safe?

A: If you live in a home built before 1978, there is a good chance it contains lead-based paint. Why 1978? It was during this year that the federal government finally banned lead-based paint for consumer use nationwide (some states had already nixed it).

What’s so harmful about lead-based paint? The lead from paint — as well as lead-contaminated particles from peeling, cracked or damaged paint — can cause serious health problems (like lead poisoning) if not immediately addressed. And, older homes may have window and window sills, door and door frames, and even railings and banisters that also contain lead. So it goes without saying that if you are looking to scrape some paint away or take down a wall, you want to know how to do it the right way.

First things first: You should be aware of the rules — or rule. Established in 2010, the Renovation, Repair and Painting (RRP) Rule comes into play whenever anyone works on a home that was constructed before 1978 because these projects will likely disturb lead-based paint in some way.

The RRP Rule states that firms working on pre-1978 homes must be certified by either the EPA or an EPA-authorized state. (In our neck of the woods, enforcement comes by way of the state Department of Commerce.) In fact, a contractor cannot even conduct an estimate if they’re not certified.

The EPA states that a minimum of one certified worker is required per firm; they can then train other workers onsite. You can search for a certified contractor near you or verify a contractor’s certification number by visiting

Before any work is started, you’ll need to read a Renovate Right brochure, which contains lots of useful information — including the hazards of lead-based paint. The Renovate Right brochure must be given to homeowners before the beginning of construction, and homeowners are required to sign it. To access it yourself, again go to

It’s important to note that these rules are in place to protect you and your family’s safety and health, as well as the workers involved in your project. If the workers you hire are not caring for themselves by following the rules, they probably won’t think much about your well-being, either.

While it can be beneficial at times to take on projects yourself, when it comes to dealing with lead-based fixes, the costs and risks often prove to be prohibitive.

For example, you can’t even pressure wash a house that was built before 1978 without prep because you could spray lead-based shingles off your house. For instance, you must first have containment 10 feet out of the work area, then place signage 20 feet out.

When it comes to lead, homeowners typically don’t have the necessary cleaning supplies, and the last thing you want is a house full of toxins. Thinking of just purchasing cleaning supplies? A negative air machine and a HEPA vacuum cost well over $1,000 on their own. Most professional contractors already have specialty tools like these on hand.

Following the federal and state rules while using their resources helps give you peace of mind and confidence, whether you’re doing a remodel, repair or a simple upgrade.


Joseph Irons is the president and general manager of Irons Brothers Construction, and 2016 president of the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties. HomeWork is the group’s weekly column. If you have a home improvement, remodeling or residential homebuilding question you’d like answered by one of the MBA’s more than 2,800 members, write to