A new survey of remodelers regarding the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) recently launched rule regarding renovations in homes with lead paint indicates remodelers are counting--sometimes unsuccessfully--on their local building supply dealer to help them deal with a rule that they're following more out of fear and duty than out of concern over lead paint's health dangers.

The online poll last month of Remodeling magazine's reader panel found that 28% of the 157 respondents say their local building supply dealer is the primary source of supply for the tools and materials they need to do work related to the EPA's Repair, Renovation, and Painting (RRP) rule. In contrast, only 10% named big box stores as their primary source, while 24% said their go-to source is a specialty store and 29% said they go online.

Among the 24% of respondents whose firm has not yet been certified to do work under the rule, the reliance on building material dealers is even greater. About 41% of those respondents say they're counting on their local building supply dealer to be the primary source of tools and supplies compared with 16% for big box stores and 8% for specialty stores.

But the poll also found that some remodelers may be disappointed in what their local suppliers stock. While 42% of respondents said all of the RRP tools and supplies they need are available from their current suppliers, 38% of remodelers said their suppliers carry only a portion of what they need, and 20% said the RRP tools and supplies they need are not available from their current suppliers at all."

"This data suggests that building materials suppliers may have an RRP-related business opportunity to capitalize on," wrote Remodeling, which analyzed the survey in conjunction with industry consulant Shawn McCadden (see his EPA rule blog). In additional comments to ProSales, McCadden said that opportunity involves training as much as products.

"The required certified renovator training really only touches on the work practices, and really only concentrates on containment," he said. "What is missing from the training is real 'proactive' lead-safe practices that actually prevent or limit the creation of dust in the first place. Demos and training at local lumberyards and or local trade events gives retailers the opportunity to show, demonstrate and sell not only a long list of supplies, but also tools and equipment that speed up the work, prevents or limits dust and therefore actually decrease the cost of doing the work by reducing the amount of cleanup at the end of a job.

"One strategy might be to create compliance kits containing all the typical supplies a renovator would need to do the work," McCadden continued."I suggest retailers need to rethink how they sell these supplies as well. Some stores I have been in have a separate section for all of these tools and supplies. Others don't even know what I'm talking about when I ask."

The RRP, which was issued April 22, 2008, and took effect on the same date this year, is intended to protect children and pregnant women from lead-based paint, exposure to which can lead to learning disabilities, behavior issues and reduced intelligence. It requires contractors performing renovation, repair and painting projects that disturb lead-based paint in homes, child care facilities, and schools built before 1978 to be certified and follow specific work practices to prevent lead contamination. (See EPA fact sheet.) Ignoring the new rules can lead to fines of up to $37,500 per day.

The results participants were skewed toward people who were aware of and abiding by the rule. About 61% said their companies are RRP-certified today and 13% are in the process of completing the certification. In contrast, The Connor Institute estimates only 10% of all remodelers who need certification have completed the required coursework.

That said, Remodeling reader panel members aren't exactly strong believers in the need for parts of the program and whether it will work as it is intended. One example involves the proposed rule that the EPA unveiled on May 6 that would require dust-wipe testing after many renovations covered by the rule, and in some cases also require the renovating firm to demonstrate that any lead dust remaining in the work area is below legal maximums. Only 18% of the survey respondents favored the dust swipe testing amendment while 49% opposed it, 20% were undecided and 13% were unaware there had been such a proposal.

Asked to identify their two top concerns, 53% said they worried about increased liability claims regarding their work, 29% fretted over whether they could charge higher prices to cover increased costs mandated by the rule, and 24% cited increased upfront costs.

Scofflaws and what to do about them were prominent in readers' minds. A total of 26% said they feared illegally operating competition, putting that issue third among the 12 fears that remodelers were asked to rank on their worry list. Some observers have suggested that this ultimately won't be a problem because law-abiding dealers will turn in remodelers who ignore the law, but the survey indicates that by no means is that the universal plan.

Two percent of respondents said they already have turned in a contractor who was doing work without proper certification and 20% said they'll do so, the survey indicated. Another 27% were thinking about doing so, 12% definitely won't, and the biggest group--at 39%--weren't sure how they'd respond.

Looking solely at remodelers that have yet to be certified, zero have already turned in a competitor, 8% definitely will do so, 11% are thinking about doing so, 16% definitely won't, and 51% aren't sure.