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Robert Lamoureux: Lead paint poses poison danger

Your Home Improvements

Posted: January 28, 2012 1:55 a.m.
Updated: January 28, 2012 1:55 a.m.


My home was built in 1975. I was told I could disturb my lead paint during remodeling, but I can’t have a contractor do it because a contractor must abide by certain rules and regulations. I’d like to confirm if this is true or not.      

Ernesto G.


Hi Ernesto,

Yes, that’s true. Contractors have to abide by the Environmental Protection Agency’s lead laws, which are substantial.  

The EPA issued rules of safe practices while working with lead-painted surfaces in April 2008. In April 2010, all contractors were required to be certified — both Firm certified and RRP certified.  Firm certification for the company license, and RRP or Renovation, Repair and Painting certified for staff. 

Affected structures include homes, day care centers or schools built in 1978 or before.

Lead paint began to phase out during the mid-1970s and was banned Dec. 31, 1977. 

Back in the old days, you would buy paint and a bucket of fine lead dust separately. After mixing the paint, a handful of the lead would be mixed into the paint. Lead makes the paint more colorful and more durable. 

Lead is still used by the military and on ship hulls because of its strength, but it’s deadly poisonous — especially in dust or fume form.   

This prompted the EPA to initiate a very thorough set of containment procedures and practices that must be followed whenever disturbing pre-1978 painted surfaces.

These procedures include heavy duty plastic in the work area to walk on; sticky pads to step on when exiting the containment area; sealing the windows, doors, air vents and handlers; HEPA vacuums for tools and personnel; wrapping each piece of debris, like drywall pieces, into a plastic covered package to be placed in locked dumpster or receptacle.

If the debris weighs 220 pounds or more, it is considered hazardous waste and the contractor owns it forever. 

This means after it is disposed of, the contractor can be contacted 30 years later and be told that his waste needs to be moved at “x” amount of dollars per pound.

There are many additional steps necessary for working with lead paint. If a contractor happens to miss one of those steps, like not handing a pamphlet to one of the affected homeowners in a condominium complex, they can be fined $37,500.

Also, California laws are different than national laws, and the EPA laws are not exactly the same as the HUD — Housing and Urban Development laws. As Firm and RRP certified, we are required to know these differences.     

There is a tremendous amount of additional expense and work required to adhere to these laws. More steps and manpower translates into additional costs passed onto the HOA or homeowner.

You as a homeowner, on the other hand, do not need to follow these stipulations. If you want to do all of the strip work and prepping, then call the contractor to complete the project, you could save a large percentage of the cost. 

I would strongly recommend you make yourself familiar with abatement procedures so you can adequately protect yourself. It is critical you learn how to control, contain and dispose of the lead dust properly for the safety of you and your family. 


Hi Robert,

Somebody drove into one of our gas meters. We would like to put in poles to protect the meter bank.  What would you recommend?

Adrine K.


Hi Adrine,

Use black pipe with a 1/4” wall and have it sticking out of the ground at least 42”. Place the pipe at least two feet away from the meters you are protecting.

I recommend 400 or 500 pounds of concrete to be used underground. You’ll need to dig a significant hole to put in five, 90 lb. bags.

You can finish with the concrete or asphalt.



I’ve got a problem. I have a retaining wall 120 feet long and about 2 feet high that has collapsed in my yard. I don’t know if it was loosened somehow when we put in the pool, but it was here when we bought the property. Do I need a permit to rebuild this wall?

Thank  you,

Clyde H.


Hi Clyde,

No permits are needed for a wall 4 feet tall or less. 

Just keep in mind on a retaining wall, you’re going to have to dig an adequate footing and set steel.

If the wall is near your pool, you may want to consider adding a couple of courses and put a wider cap on it for parties. Sometimes you run out of seating space and people will gravitate to walls like that to use as benches and seating.


Hi Robert,

I had some ceiling damage from the rains last week. I took out all of the wet drywall immediately. The contractor said there was mold. Can mold grow that quickly if I opened it up right away and dried it out? What do I do? Thank you,

Len R.


Hi Len,

Regardless of all of the hype and hysteria out there, the only way to know if it’s mold is to have it tested. There are a lot of dishonest guys that prey on these kinds of homeowners fears. It embarrasses me as a contractor that they behave like this. 

Times are tough and that’s when these unscrupulous types come out of the woodwork. Know that insurance companies do not cover mold; so this falls either on the homeowner or the HOA. 

If it’s something you think is other than dirt, then call an independent testing service. If the service says it’s mold, then you’ll want to see the laboratory report stating the type of mold. 

Keep in mind that even if it is mold, there are approximately 300 different types of mold and only three are life-threatening. So, do your own homework and confirm for yourself if you have a problem.

The chances are you’re fine. If you opened up the ceiling immediately and dried it out, it’s probably just dust and dirt unless it’s part of a leak that has been going on for a while. 

We have designed a custom, full-color The Signal/Your Home Improvements T-shirt we will give you if we answer your question. The T-shirt is available to be picked up at our office.

Robert Lamoureux has 25 years experience as a general contractor, with separate licenses in electrical and plumbing contacting. He owns IMS Construction Inc. in Valencia. His opinions are his own, and not necessarily those of The Signal. Opinions expressed in this column are not meant to replace the recommendations of a qualified contractor after that contractor has made a thorough visual inspection. Send questions to



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