Running a lead-safe job site costs less than you might
think and pays big dividends in comfort, cleanliness, and
by Ron Haviland
Since June of 1999, remodeling contractors have been
required to notify building occupants of possible lead hazards
before doing all but minor work on buildings constructed before
1978. Under the terms of Rule 406, as it's commonly known, the
contractor must give each household an EPA pamphlet entitled
"Protect Your Family From Lead in Your Home" and obtain
signatures to prove that the notification requirement was met
(see "Get Ready for the Lead Information Rule," Notebook,
Not surprisingly, receiving and signing for the pamphlet
produces some anxiety on the part of many remodeling customers.
To put them at ease — while protecting both their health
and that of our workers — our company, Design Plus
Kitchens and Baths, follows a series of on-the-job safety
procedures that we learned from a lead-safety consulting firm.
It took some time and effort to get started, but the
out-of-pocket cost was very reasonable. Apart from training
costs, we spent about $2,000 to come up to speed originally,
and yearly operating costs are a few hundred dollars at
That small investment provides several benefits. It
practically guarantees that our customers and workers won't
suffer from work-related health problems caused by lead
exposure, and it protects us from associated legal and medical
costs. Because lead-safe practices result in a clean,
well-managed work site, it leads to happy customers and good
referrals. Finally, it's a valuable marketing tool. I know of
at least two jobs we got from competitors last year because
their only response to customers who asked about lead
containment was to tell them not to worry about it. If you can
provide specific answers to people's concerns, you're adding
value to your whole operation.
Laying the Groundwork
Unless a potential client brings it up, I don't say much about
lead safety during initial sales calls except to mention that
all of our people have been trained in lead-safe work
practices. That prevents clients from being alarmed when you
pull out the lead-safety pamphlet at contract time and ask them
to sign off on it.
The real discussion usually takes place at the
preconstruction meeting, a week or two before we start work.
Our operations manager and the lead carpenter get together with
the homeowners and brief them on the specific lead-control
measures we'll be taking. We let them know where we'll be
setting up dust-control partitions, which define the areas of
the house they are free to use and those that are off limits to
them during work hours. We've been telling clients those things
for years, but when we explain them in terms of lead safety,
people actually seem to listen.
It's important for the customer to understand that lead-safe
practices are not the same as lead abatement, even though some
tools and techniques are common to both. In lead abatement, the
objective is to clean up and remove a known lead hazard. This
is a specialized discipline that requires extensive training
and certification. The lead-safe remodeling practices we use
are intended only to prevent paint particles and dust generated
in the course of a job from contaminating the work area or
spreading to other areas, including the outdoors.
Because lead was removed from paint in 1978, any house built
after that date can be assumed to be lead free. In practice,
though, we follow the same lead-control measures no matter what
the age of the home is. That prevents our crews from developing
bad habits that might carry over to other jobs. And because
lead safety is largely a matter of thorough, systematic dust
control, it means that all of our customers — not just
those with pre-1978 homes — are rewarded with a virtually
dust-free job site.
average job runs for 10 weeks or more, so it's worth the time
it takes us to build a good solid partition that will stand up
for that time. None of the manufactured barrier wall systems
that we've seen look rugged enough to stand up to long use, so
we don't use them, even though they're faster to set up and
Instead, we make our partitions from 6-mil poly and 1x3 wood
strapping. If we're sealing a doorway or window opening that
will later be refinished, we'll squeeze the edges of a poly
sheet between four pieces of strapping, screwed to the jambs,
with a gasket of foam sill-seal material between the strapping
and the jambs to ensure a good tight fit (see Figure 1). At the
end of the job, we putty the screw holes before painting. Where
there's no need to worry about the existing wall finish, the
poly can be taped directly to the wall.
1. The work area is separated from the job site
with site-built partitions of 1x3s and 6-mil poly.
Closed-cell foam sill sealer between the strapping and
door jamb provides a good seal.
If we can't drive screws into the finish, we cut the
strapping to fit tightly and tap a few slightly oversized
crosspieces into the opening to exert enough pressure to hold
everything in place. When the work area is negatively
pressurized during work hours, the poly will tend to bulge into
the room, so it's important to apply it to the outside of the
strapping instead of the inside. Air pressure will then hold it
against the framing, rather than pushing it away. We don't use
staples, which weaken the poly by making holes.
Zipper doors and tee
locks. To provide limited access between the work area
and the living space beyond, we use self-adhesive zipper doors
we get from a local supplier (Zip-Up doors from Pro-Tect).
They're easy to use — you just peel off the backing,
stick the seven-foot zipper to the poly, unzip it, and slit the
poly with a utility knife to make the opening (Figure 2).
Figure 2.Self-adhesive zipper doors are
easily applied to poly partitions, providing access
while maintaining negative pressure in the work area.
Minor holes in the poly partition can be repaired with
Zipper doors are convenient, but it's difficult to carry
material and debris through them. For our main access point, we
use a poly "tee lock" that workers can push through when their
hands are full (Figure 3).
3. The "tee lock" that serves as the main
entrance to the work area starts as a double layer of
poly stretched across a doorway. The outer layer is
then cut loose on the sides and bottom, forming a flap.
The inner layer is slit across the bottom and up the
center, in the shape of an upside-down letter T. It
admits needed makeup air when the air handler is
operating but not so much that the work area loses its
We try to plan the job so that the homeowner doesn't have to
pass through the work area to reach other areas of the house,
but sometimes it's unavoidable. When it is, we'll sometimes
mount a poly-covered screen door in a partition, allowing for
easy passage after we've vacuumed the site and gone home for
the day (Figure 4).
4. A poly-covered screen door on spring-loaded
hinges can be useful if the homeowner has to pass
through the work area during off hours. The poly should
be applied to the living-space side of the partition,
so air pressure sucks it inward against the