Wisconsin's Lead-Safe Renovation Rule: Frequently Asked Questions

Got a question about Lead-Safe Renovation? Chances are, someone else is wondering, too.

Below, you'll find frequently asked questions posed to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS).

If you can't find the answer to your question, send us an email or call our main office at 608-261-6876.

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Information on this page has been organized into three categories. Please choose one of the following tabs.

Background on the Rule

1. What is the Lead-Safe Renovation Rule?

Wisconsin Admin. Code ch. DHS 163 is frequently called the "Lead-Safe Renovation Rule." It regulates renovation, repair, and painting activities performed for compensation in housing and child-occupied facilities built before 1978. These properties may contain lead-based paint on building components (walls, doors, windows, trim, siding, floors, etc.). Lead hazards are created when old paint is disturbed during renovation, repair, and painting activities.

The rule has five main requirements. Contractors must:

  • Complete a one-day training class and get certified before doing renovation work.
  • Give homeowners and occupants information about lead-safe renovation before starting work.
  • Use lead-safe work practices followed by lead-safe cleaning techniques during renovations.
  • Conduct a "cleaning verification" to make sure the renovated area was properly cleaned.
  • Keep certain records about renovation work for three years.

Read the full text of the Lead-Safe Renovation Rule.

2. Is it a state or federal rule?

It's a state rule based on a federal rule.

Wisconsin’s Lead-Safe Renovator Rule, Wis. Admin. Code ch DHS 163, is administered and enforced by the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, Lead and Asbestos Section, in the Division of Public Health. Wisconsin’s rule is based on a federal rule—the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) 40 CFR Part 745, “Lead Renovation, Repair and Painting Program.” The EPA has authorized Wisconsin to administer and enforce its own rule rather than having EPA administer and enforce the federal rule in Wisconsin.

3. When did the rule go into effect?

April 22, 2010.

4. Why does the rule apply to homes and child-occupied facilities built before 1978?

Starting in 1978, lead was banned from use in consumer paints. Housing and child-occupied facilities built before 1978 may contain lead-based paint.

5. Why is this rule important?

This rule protects children and other occupants from being exposed to lead dust. Dust is created during renovation, repair, and painting activities that disturb painted surfaces. Lead exposure can injure children. It can have lifelong effects on brain development, mental and physical health, well-being, and success. Visit the "What is Lead Poisoning?" page for more information on lead's effects on children.

6. Does the rule apply to me if I'm working on my own house?

The rule does not apply to you as long as:

  • The home is only occupied by you and your immediate family.
  • There is no child with an elevated blood lead level living in the home.
  • None of your home is rented out.

Please note that your municipality may have lead ordinances that apply to you.

The rule does apply to you if you are renovating your:

  • Rental property, even if you live there.
  • Vacant property, if your intent is to sell it or rent it out rather than occupy it yourself.

If you hire a contractor to do renovation work on your home, the rule applies to that contractor.

7. Are there health concerns for adults who conduct renovation?

Yes. Lead is a toxin, and no amount of it is safe, even for adults. It can affect all organs and bodily functions, depending on the amount of it a worker is exposed to, and for how long. In addition to harming themselves, renovators run the risk of bringing lead dust home with them and sickening their families. The DHS Adult Lead Program page has more information about the special concerns of people who work near lead, as well as the effects of lead on the brain, reproductive system, and digestive system.

8. Lead paint has been banned for decades. How can this still be a problem?

Although lead paint was banned for consumer use in 1978, most of Wisconsin's homes had been built and painted before then. Existing lead-based paint on old housing was not removed, and by now, much of that paint is in bad condition.

9. I grew up in a house with lead paint and turned out fine. What's the big deal?

Many of us grew up in homes with lead-based paint. Fortunately, when we were children, that old paint was newer and in better condition. Now, our old houses are being renovated and remodeled for newer generations. That creates a lot of dust. Kids are very vulnerable to eating or breathing dust. They spend a lot of time on the floor, and it's normal for them to put their fingers in their mouths! The amount of leaded dust it takes to poison a child is less than the eye can see.


1. What types of work are considered to be regulated "renovation activities" requiring certification?

Renovation activities that include any work in pre-1978 housing or child-occupied facilities that disturbs 6 square feet of painted/varnished surface in a single room, 20 square feet of painted/varnished surface anywhere on the exterior, and any window replacement. When painted/varnished components other than windows are removed, the total area of the surface removed is considered the amount of painted surface disturbed.

There are few exceptions. Housing specifically for the elderly or for persons with disabilities does not require lead-safe renovation or certification, unless a child under 6 resides or is expected to reside in the housing. If a property is being razed, the rule does not apply. In addition, if a certified lead inspector or risk assessor has inspected the components to be disturbed during renovation work and determined that they do not contain lead-based paint, the rule does not apply. If, at a homeowner's request, a certified lead-safe renovator properly uses EPA-approved lead test kits to test components to be disturbed during renovation and determines none are coated in lead-based paint, the rule does not apply.

  • There is NO exception to the rule for vacant pre-1978 housing.
  • There is NO "opting out" of the rule's requirements, even at a homeowner's request—even if no children currently occupy the home.
  • There is NO exception for window replacement, even if the windows being replaced are vinyl (lead-based paint is often still present on window casings, which are not customarily replaced but can be disturbed during the work).
  • There is NO exception for contractors who only do a pre-1978 job "once in a while."

2. What kinds of activities are considered to be "paint disturbing?"

Paint-disturbing activities include cutting, drilling, planing, sanding, sawing, scraping, stripping paint from a surface in any way, or removing painted surfaces or components from pre-1978 housing and child-occupied housing.

3. How do I qualify to be certified as a lead-safe renovator?

Individuals who want to become certified as a lead-safe renovator must take the initial lead-safe renovation course (eight hours) before applying. A list of Wisconsin-approved training providers is available.

Before you can do renovation work under your individual certification, you also need to be an employee or owner of a certified lead company.

For more detailed information, visit the Getting Certified to Work with Lead-Based Paint page.

4. Where can I get the training I need to become certified?

A list of Wisconsin-approved training providers is available on the Lead Training Providers page. We also accept in-person training taken outside of Wisconsin, as long as the training is accredited by the EPA or a state-authorized lead-safe renovation program (but you'll have to complete a few extra steps when applying—see question 12).

5. I'm a sole proprietor. Do I need to be a certified lead-safe renovator and a certified lead company?

Yes. Individuals and companies have some different responsibilities under the rule. Even if you are the company, you need individual and company certification to do lead-safe renovation work. It's a bit like having your driver's license and your vehicle registered.

6. Does everyone on my crew need to be trained and certified?

No. You must assign a certified lead-safe renovator to every renovation project. That lead-safe renovator must be on site at certain required times, and be no more than 30 minutes away and reachable by phone when renovation work is underway. The certified lead-safe renovator assigned to the project is responsible for ensuring that all employees have received on-the-job training (and that this is documented), as well as for discharging all other responsibilities relating to the project.

For convenience, your company might want to have multiple certified lead-safe renovators on staff. This allows your company to conduct multiple renovation jobs in geographically distant areas at once, and can better allow your lead-safe renovator to oversee job sites and meet all responsibilities without becoming overwhelmed.

7. Does my company need to be certified if I am a subcontractor to a certified lead company? Do I need to be a certified lead-safe renovator, or have one on staff?

Any company that offers to conduct renovation work must be a certified lead company. This means that a general contractor who sells the renovation job directly to a consumer must be certified. It also means that any subcontracted company that conducts renovation work for the general contractor must be certified.

Both companies are responsible for compliance with the rule. If a violation of the rule occurs, each company is responsible.

8. Does my company need to be certified if I subcontract the renovation job out to another company? Do I need to be or have a certified lead-safe renovator on staff if my subcontractor already has one?

Any company that is offering to conduct renovation work, or actually conducts renovation work, must be a certified lead company. This means that a general contractor who sells the renovation job directly to a consumer must be certified. It also means that the subcontracted company that offers to do the renovation work for the general contractor must be certified. Both companies are responsible for compliance with the rule. If a violation of the rule occurs, each company is responsible.

It's a good idea for a general contractor to have a trained and certified lead-safe renovator on staff, even if not actually conducting paint-disturbing work, to ensure the company can competently oversee its subcontractor's compliance with the rule.

9. How much does it cost to get certified?

In addition to the cost of your training class, which is set by the individual training providers, the fee for lead-safe renovator certification is $75 for two years or $150 for four years. Refresher training is required every four years, so to keep your training and certification renewal dates on the same schedule, we recommend applying for four-year certification. The fee for a two-year lead company certification is $125.

10. How do I apply to get certified?

After training, all you have to do is fill out an application (one for yourself and one for your company, if you're not already working for a certified lead company) and pay the associated certification fee. You can do this online, if you want to pay by credit card or electronic check; otherwise, fill out a printable individual and company application to submit by mail or drop off, if you prefer to pay by check or money order. You may pay for both applications with one check or money order.

11. How do I renew my certifications?

You only need to take a four-hour refresher training every four years. After training, you have the option to get certified for two years (for $75) or for four years (for $150). We recommend applying for four-year certification when eligible, because it will save you from having to submit an extra application and fee after two years. If you only get certified for two-years after your training, you will need to take the extra step of applying and paying to get certified for another two years in order to stay certified.

You can take a refresher at any point within the last year before your training expires (check the date on your blue certification card). Then you'll be eligible to apply for another two-year or four-year certification.

12. What if I take my training in another state? Can I still get certified in Wisconsin?

As long as you take in-person training from a provider that is accredited by either the EPA or a state that the EPA has authorized to run its own renovation program, you can use your training to qualify for certification in Wisconsin. In addition, first-time applicants who complete training outside of Wisconsin must:

  • Pay an out-of-state training processing fee of $25.
  • Provide a recent, passport-style photo for your certification card.
  • Provide a color copy of a government-issued photo ID.
  • Provide your training diploma—either the original, which we'll return to you, or a copy that is notarized as a true copy.

For more detailed information on these additional requirements, see our Lead-Safe Renovator Application (PDF), or call us at 608-261-6876.

13. I just applied for certification. How long is it going to take for me to get my certification card and company certificate?

Starting July 1, 2021, there's no more waiting for a blue certification card to arrive in the mail from DHS before doing regulated work. Individual applicants are qualified to work under provisional certification if they have:

  • Completed the required training course, AND
  • Submitted a complete application for certification to DHS.

Individuals working under provisional certification must keep a copy of their training diploma (marked "copy") with them while conducting regulated work until they receive their "blue hard card" from DHS.

There is no provisional certification for companies. Since companies must be certified before even offering to conduct regulated renovation work, and it can take up to 15 days after applying for a lead company certificate to be issued, it's important to apply for lead company certification well before you plan to offer regulated renovation work. There is no need to wait until you or your employee have completed training before applying for company certification.

14. I'm a licensed plumber/HVAC installer/sprinkler installer. Do I need to be a certified lead-safe renovator?

If you are working under your license issued by the Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Services (DSPS), and you take the initial lead-safe renovation training class (eight hours), you don't have to get certified.

If you do regulated renovation work that's not covered by your DSPS license (i.e., painting a house instead of plumbing a bathroom), you must be trained and certified as a lead-safe renovator and certify your company.

Working Lead-Safe

This page is intended to help with questions outside the scope of the more general information received in training. The basic requirements of lead-safe work are not addressed here.

1. What's different about working in Wisconsin?

Wisconsin's rule specifically prohibits renovators from:

  • Collecting paint chip samples for lab analysis.
  • Using chemical paint strippers containing methylene chloride.
  • Conducting high-pressure water blasting or hydro-blasting unless in a fully contained work area with HEPA-filtered exhaust control and water collection.
  • Using an improperly operating HEPA vacuum.
  • Dry sweeping dust, debris or paint chips in a renovation work area.

Contractors found to be doing any of these activities can be subject to additional, distinct penalties.

2. If I'm removing gutters from the painted fascia board on a pre-1978 home, am I "disturbing" enough painted surface for lead-safe work practices to be required?

If the gutters are unpainted and attached every few feet by nails or screws, the areas of disturbance would likely be just the nail/screw holes and would not add up to 20 square feet. However, if the gutters are painted, then they must be counted in the square footage determination and would most likely meet the 20-square-foot minimum for the rule to kick in.

3. What if I'm doing a project where it's just not possible to comply with a work practice requirement? For example, I cannot lay 10 feet of plastic sheeting on the ground when the house next door is only 7 feet away from the house I'm working on. In addition, I cannot lay plastic sheeting on a floor I am hired to refinish.

When you encounter a situation where you believe it is impossible to comply with the work practice standards in Wis. Admin. Code ch. DHS 163, thoroughly document the reason. Use other methods to contain dust and debris to the work area (for example, build a mini-containment using taped plastic sheeting to surround your work area above, on the ground, and to all sides), and always make sure the area is cleaned up afterwards. Document the methods you used to work safely. Photos are recommended. Include this information in your post-renovation report, and maintain it with the other records you are required to keep for the project for the next three years.

4. A competitor underbid me on a job I wanted, and got it. I happened to drive by and see that they weren't working safely. Here I am, spending money on plastic sheeting and duct tape, and they're working without containment, let alone training and certification. What can I do about this?

We rely on tips and complaints from members of the public, including from contractors who know what safe work looks like, to find contractors who are out of compliance. If you submit a complaint, we can investigate the contractor for compliance with the rule. If we determine the contractor is out of compliance, we may take an enforcement action.

5. What if I don't comply with the lead-safe renovation rule? I haven't been caught so far...

By complying with the lead-safe renovation rule, you demonstrate your commitment to doing the quality work required to protect your customers and their children from lead poisoning. When contractors do good work, word gets around, and that can help your business grow. It’s a win-win situation!

Companies and individuals found in violation of the lead-safe renovation rule can be subject to enforcement action. Penalties range between $100 and $5,000 per violation, per day. It's better to get on board with lead-safe renovation now. You may find yourself paying considerably more if you wait to be caught.

6. It seems like customers just want things done cheaply. How am I supposed to convince them to pay for lead-safe renovation when uncertified companies will do the job for less?

Most customers do know that, at least in some ways, you get what you pay for. When it comes to lead-safe renovation, the added cost of hiring a trained and certified firm that will work safely is minor compared to the lifetime heartache that comes with having a lead-poisoned child. You can communicate the value of lead-safe renovation by educating your customers about the danger of lead dust and what can happen when renovation is not done safely. Let them know that a tiny amount of lead dust, far less than the eye can see, is enough to poison a child.

Include your lead-safe certifications in your advertising: yard signs, business cards, brochures and websites are great places to mention it. Let customers know that you're a contractor who will work tidily and leave a clean site behind when you finish the job. Every customer can appreciate that, not just those with small children.

7. What kind of vacuum do I need to use to clean up my work area?

For interior cleaning, use a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) vacuum. For exterior cleaning, use a wet/dry vacuum (sometimes called a "shop vac") fitted with a drywall bag and HEPA filter.

What's a HEPA vacuum?

Wisconsin Admin. Code ch. DHS 163 defines a HEPA vacuum as a vacuum cleaner designed by the manufacturer to have a high−efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter as the last filtration stage. The vacuum cleaner must be designed so that all the air drawn into the machine is expelled through the HEPA filter with none of the air leaking past it.


For background on this guidance, see the Bureau of Environmental and Occupational Health (BEOH) Memo 2022-01, Exterior Lead Abatement and Renovation Cleaning Activities: Wet/dry vacuum with HEPA filter and drywall bag is OK. (PDF)

Last Revised: March 8, 2022