home renovation

Lead Paint: Doing What’s Right

By Jessica Orquina

The first home I owned was built in the late 1800s. When I had it renovated, the contactors talked to me about what they had to do to protect me and their workers from the hazards of lead paint. I was glad to know that the people working on my home were going to be following proper procedures and building codes. Now, I live in a newer building, but I’m also a new mom. I’m concerned about protecting my son from harmful lead paint chips and dust where he plays and learns.

Reputable builders understand the public benefits from their meeting building code and environmental requirements.  They also know it benefits their business, especially when marketing knowledge, skills and reputation to potential customers.

Since I began working at EPA I’ve learned more about the Renovation, Repair and Painting (RRP) rule and how it is implemented. This rule is designed to protect children and other vulnerable Americans from the effects of lead paint.

There have always been suspicions about the health hazards caused by lead. It’s now known that lead is a persistent, toxic chemical that builds up in people’s bodies.  Among other problems, it interferes with the development of the nervous system.  That means it’s particularly dangerous to very young children, where it can cause learning and behavioral disorders. As a result, lead was banned from paint in the US in the mid-70s.

For these reasons, the RRP rule requires workers involved with the home renovation business to be trained and certified in work practice standards.  These standards help reduce the health risks from exposure to lead based paint. The rule applies not only to construction workers, but to painters, electricians, plumbers, and anyone else whose work may disturb painted surfaces. Note to do-it-yourselfers: the risks from lead paint dust are just as great in your own work. The rule doesn’t cover you, but you still should follow lead-safe work practices.

My colleagues at EPA work hard to increase compliance with the RRP rule. For example, we provide plain language compliance resources for construction workers and ask people to submit tips and complaints to us. We also work to bring companies, like Lowe’s Home Centers, into compliance after our inspections found their contractors were not using lead-safe work practices.

As a consumer, remember to make sure you’re hiring certified renovators who use the correct work practices. Contractors that are certified under the RRP rule are encouraged to display EPA’s “Lead-Safe” logo on their workers’ uniforms, signs, and website.  Protect yourself by looking for this logo before hiring a home contractor. Whether you’re installing new windows or finishing your basement, using the correct renovating methods will pay dividends to you and your family, and to the next person that rents or buys your house.  If you hire uncertified renovators, it not only creates potential lead paint risks for your family, but reduces the incentive for other renovators to pay the extra cost to comply with the rule. For more information, visit the Renovation, Repair and Painting Program website.

About the author: Jessica Orquina works in the Office of External Affairs and Environmental Education as the social media lead for the agency. Prior to joining EPA, she served as a military and commercial airline pilot. She lives, works, and writes in Washington, DC.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Snowed Under in our Green House

Jeffrey Levy stands in knee-deep snowHi everyone. If you’re looking for the question of the week, it’ll be back next Monday. Our offices are closed Monday and Tuesday because of record-breaking snow, so our team wasn’t able to post it. And we’re expecting another several inches Tuesday night into Wednesday.

I’m sitting here in my dining room trying to get at least a little work done, though.  Looking around my house, I remember all the green building decisions we made when we renovated last year.  Right from the beginning, we did our best to reduce, reuse, and recycle (thanks for your good comments on that post!). Some of these choices might save us money over time, but our main motivation was that green building and home location is just the way it should be done:

  • zero-VOC paint and low-VOC caulks and adhesives
  • a high-efficiency Energy Star furnace (and air conditioning, for when summer returns), plus an Energy Star dishwasher to replace the original that died a month after moving in.  We kept the other appliances, and will replace them with Energy Star units as they stop working.
  • Energy Star double-paned windows and doors
  • light-colored roof shingles to reflect the hot summer sun
  • compact fluorescent light bulbs (other than on my youngest child’s night table because she keeps breaking them)
  • bamboo floors where the old floors couldn’t be saved, and refinished hardwood and parquet that could (like the appliances, why throw out stuff that works?)
  • kitchen countertops made of recycled glass and bamboo
  • Watersense water-efficient sinks, toilets, and showerheads
  • blown foam insulation that’s keeping us nice and toasty.

We also put the old kitchen cabinets in our laundry room and basement, and donated a lot of extra materials and fixtures to a local organization that sells them again.

The house’s location is also pretty green, since I can easily walk or bike to the subway.  Our kids ride the bus and walk to school, and we’re a 10-minute walk to the library and a small commercial district with several restaurants, a drug store, and our favorite: a local ice cream shop.

Of course, sometimes it’s hard to find a home near public transit, and not every building option is available or affordable.  For example, while wood and other materials were greener, they were too expensive compared with vinyl windows.  But we did as much as we could.

We’re happy with our choices, but we enjoy discussing them, too.  What’s your favorite green feature of your home?

About the author: Jeffrey Levy is EPA’s Director of Web Communications.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Greening My House

About the author: Jeffrey Levy joined EPA in 1993 to help protect the ozone layer. He is now the National Web Content Manager.

image of houseA few months ago, my wife and I bought a house slightly bigger than our current home, but organized inside in pretty strange ways. Since we plan to spend the next 30-40 years there, we decided to renovate it. We want to do it in the greenest way possible. That means reduce, reuse, and recycle through the renovation.

“Reduce” starts with choosing where to live. Both our current house and the new one are about ½ mile from Metro, the DC-area subway; I walk and ride in. We also accepted smaller houses than what was available much further out.

The environment gains from these choices in a few ways: less fuel to commute and less energy used to heat and cool our house. But our quality of life is also better, because my short commute leaves me more time at home, and I’m relaxed on the train instead of driving in rush hour. Not everyone can choose where to live, but I think not enough people put living close to work on their “wants” list when house hunting.

Reducing also means:

  • choosing sustainable, low-emitting cabinets and flooring (THAT decision is a whole blog post by itself)
  • insulating well
  • replacing drafty windows with efficient ones, and
  • finding efficient plumbing (2-mode flushing toilets, anyone?)

It also meant asking the contractor to seal the basement so the heater isn’t running nonstop to keep the pipes from freezing.

“Reuse” comes in several forms. First, we’re keeping the existing appliances. I haven’t done the math, but it’s hard for me to believe that on a life cycle basis, even more efficient appliances are better than getting the full life out of existing ones. It just takes so many resources to create a new item. We also had the contractors keep trim work so they can reinstall it. Old kitchen cabinets will go in the basement. And what we’re not reusing ourselves, we’ll donate.

“Recycle” in this context includes scrap wood, metal, and bricks. We’ve been searching the web for help with that. It also includes recycling stuff we no longer want and won’t move with us (need an old computer power supply?).

Since it’s Radon Action Month, I should also mention we tested the house before we bought it, and it’s fine.

What are your favorite tips and tricks for renovating in a green way? Remember we don’t allow advertising in our comments, so please stick to generic product descriptions instead of specific companies.

UPDATE on Feb. 8. 2010: In a followup post, I discuss many of our decisions and invite you to share your favorite green features of your home.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.