Local contractors fear that new rules intended to protect residents, students and workers from lead dust stirred up during remodeling will make renovation work on older homes and schools more expensive.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rules that begin April 22 require contractors and subcontractors to be trained on how to deal with lead paint before they work on houses, child care facilities or schools built before 1978. The rules apply to jobs ranging from additions to window installations or painting.
The rule is intended to curb exposure to lead, especially among children who are most susceptible to possible brain damage. The rule kicks in whenever at least six square feet of interior space or at least 20 square feet of exterior space is affected. The fine for not having proper certification is an attention-getting $32,000 per offense.
Ashley Feaster, executive officer of the Hilton Head Area Home Builders Association, said the cost of the required class couple with certification and registration fees likely falls somewhere between $500 and $600 per person.
But it's likely the lead-safe work practices that will drive up costs the most, said David Gaal, owner of Gaal Custom Home Building and Remodeling on Hilton Head Island.
"I think the realization is in the end, the customer is going to have to pay for it, and it's not going to be inexpensive," Gaal said.
Although he primarily works on Hilton Head Island and Bluffton, where he said the majority of homes were built after 1978, Gaal said he took the EPA-required class just in case a job on an older home comes his way.
The new requirements will likely have a bigger impact on communities like Beaufort and Charleston, which have larger concentrations of old homes, said Annie Hansen, executive officer of the Lowcountry Home Builders Association.
Both Feaster and Hansen said the new rules seem primarily like a revenue-generator for the EPA, which will enforce the new rules. Builders already are required to obtain state licenses and local building permits before they can perform work, Feaster said. Now they will have to get another permit from the EPA, she said.
"Maybe there needs to be more education about how to deal with lead paint," Feaster said. "But making it a $500 to $600 venture doesn't seem very practical."
Hansen said she worries the upfront costs could price some smaller contractors who are already struggling out of the older-home renovation market and prompt some homeowners to do jobs themselves or hire someone without proper training to "do it under the table."
The only classes offered in Beaufort or on Hilton Head Island are those hosted by the home builders associations. EPA-certified trainers must be brought in, Feaster said, and the course isn't offered at Technical College of the Lowcountry.
Yvonne Noisette of Trident Technical College in Charleston, which offers the certification course, said, "Within the past two weeks, we've just been flooded. The phone has been ringing off the hook about this."
Phillip Ford, executive vice president of the Charleston Trident Home Builders Association, said the key question is what happens if some contractors don't meet the deadline. "That's my beef with it, besides more government regulation. We just haven't had time to get the word out there and get people certified," he said. "We're talking about training potentially thousands of employees and owners."
Robert Behre of postandcourier.com contributed to this article.