Those of us who restore historic windows eventually get HEPA vacs to help with the cleaning we need to perform after our work in people’s homes; not to mention that it’s required by the EPA.
HEPA vacuums aren’t the most easily obtainable tool on the planet and they aren’t cheap. I’ve gone through several types and brands. My first was a backpack version made by a company named Nilfisk. I bought it seven years ago and it still works great. I’ve also one by a company called Pro-Team. It’s maybe five years old and it still runs great.
I bought the first through a company specializing in safety equipment called Aramsco. I might have purchased the second through the same, and both set me back about $600.
But then I found a deal.
$300 for a HEPA vac that had a sweet backpack frame. Super comfortable and made by a company called Tornado. Over time I ended up with three of them before I just couldn’t take it anymore.
The vacuum itself worked fine. But the bags. No matter what I did, the bags inevitably broke inside of the machine, rendering it useless. At first, I thought it was a fluke. A bad batch of bags. So I got another batch, then another, then another until I finally got the picture – I needed to find another brand of bag.
So, I did and they were just as bad. Bought another bag – worthless. I was getting pretty gun-shy until I finally just threw them all in the trash. $1000. Gone. Whatever.
Why keep a tool that doesn’t work? It’s like an allegiance to an extension cord without a plug on it. I couldn’t fix the problem and it was wasting my time. So, they are gone.
Imagine my surprise when, walking through Home Depot, there was a HEPA vacuum made by DeWalt, specifically for the EPA’s RRP rules that nobody follows (except us, lol).
I had often wished they’d have one, but ever since the EPA got their law passed in 2010 that terrorizes anyone who ever looked at an old window, I’ve not seen one at Home Depot or Lowe’s. As a matter of fact, most of the time they haven’t carried anything anyone would need to be compliant with the EPA’s RRP rule.
But here was the vac. $300 bucks. Since no vacuum could be worse than the three I’d just thrown away, I bought it.
It worked great! It has a fancy plug on it where I can plug another tool, straight into the vacuum and the vac comes on when I turn the tool on!
It rocks! I have a DeWalt sander that hooks right up to the vac and it works great. I couldn’t have been more pleased.
Let the Conspiracy Begin
As soon as I could afford another one, because sometimes we have two people work at the same time, I made a beeline for Home Depot – and they were blasted sold out.
I thought, that’s funny, it’s their most expensive vac and it’s sold out – I’ll just go to another store. This must be a fluke.
The other store was sold out too, except for the one on the shelf and it was marked down. I was in a hurry to get the kids so I couldn’t risk finding the wrong Home Depot person. I’d just come back.
I did and it was gone.
I asked the Home Depot guy “Hey man, where’s the cool yellow and black vacuum?” He was like, “What vacuum?” I took out my phone to look it up on the website, and not only was it no longer available in stores, it wasn’t available online either – anywhere in America.
That was weird, to say the least. It didn’t make any sense. Why would they put something like that on the shelf and then pull it before anyone even had a chance to buy it?
I mean I bought one. I wanted another one.
It was so weird. Something’s not right, I thought to myself.
But I moved on.
Following the Rules Isn’t a Failsafe
That was about the time our Historic Homes Workshop had started.
I’ll never forget it.
We were in the middle of a class getting 10 people (what’s known as) “RRP Certified.” It’s basically where you pay a teacher $200 to tell you how to keep the EPA off your back so you can work in peace.
You can pay an extra $300 to “get your firm certified.” We were in the middle of that class – that I intentionally held in the living room of an historic house – and I remember looking out… and what to my wondering eyes did appear, a guy in a car with New York plates taking pictures of the house, in which and while we were getting certified.
Then at lunchtime, the neighbor, whom I have known for years, comes over to tell me that the EPA was just at his house and wanted to see all his documentation. It was the very dude that was taking pictures of the house we were in.
I was like NO WAY! What are the chances that THE day we’re having the RRP classes, that the very EPA that is out to fine people $37,000 (per occurrence, per day) for not being compliant with their regulations, is out hassling people on our street?
Why didn’t they come see me? I’ll never know.
As it turns out, they did come see me. I just wasn’t where they thought I was. They thought I would be at the office, so while I was gone, they popped in. But our offices were closed for the workshop.
We were out at the EPA’s RRP class. The guys in the shop gave them my card and they emailed me – “We want to see all of your documentation.”
EPA is Not Focused on What Matters
What they mean is, “We don’t really care whether you actually worked safely with lead. We want to see if you are able to keep all the paperwork we require you to keep for three years.”
We are EPA certified.
We use lead safe best practices – religiously.
We have hundreds of happy customers.
I don’t have a single one of the documents they require me to have on file for EVERY JOB we’ve done for the past three years.
I was scared out of my mind. I am going to die.
My business is going to burn down and everything I’ve worked for is going to evaporate – I’m screwed.” I really thought this.
I am probably screwing myself and attracting the EPA to myself, by simply writing this. I am not about to put on a pretense like… I have everything right… I’m all perfect and my entire act is all together, and all that crap.
You can be like that if you want to, but I can’t do it.
Think about this for a second.
Some things we learned in that lead safe RRP class… for homes built before 1978, you have to work in a lead-safe way. You must:
- Put up a sign
- Lay out miles and miles of plastic
- Use a HEPA vacuum
- Use baby wipes
- Fill out paperwork
- Have the client sign this and that
- Keep all that paperwork and documentation for three years
No Grace For Window Restorationists
There’s an exception to the rule – if you disturb less than 6 square feet of a painted surface, you are exempt. Exempt that is, unless you work on windows.
Window people are not exempt.
At any time.
Window people are a lot like me. We are:
- Good with our hands
- Good with people
- We care about your home and your belongings
- We are kind and conscientious with your kids
- Seriously committed to excellence and the outcome of your project o
- Our integrity is critical to our success
We are really good at all of this and all the things related to quality outcomes and good experiences.
But there’s one thing a lot of us have in common – we suck at paperwork.
I suck at paperwork. Really bad.
Before I hired my current business advisor, accountant, and office manager (three different, awesome women), I had my books so screwed up that my business advisor, who’s been in the business for 30+ years couldn’t make heads or tails of my profit and loss statements, balance sheets or any other business documents I woulda, shoulda, coulda, supposed to have been keeping.
Over the past few years they’ve gotten it all straightened out for me, but I had to pay thousands. Multiple thousands. I knew it was screwed up, but I had no idea how bad I had screwed it up until I had to start paying to fix it.
I know every craftsperson isn’t as deficient in these areas as I. But I suspect craftspeople are who they are, not because they are good at paperwork.
Why I Believe the EPA is Policing the Wrong Things
So, tell me why, out of all the things the EPA could police, do they choose to police paperwork? Because it scares the hell out of us, that’s why, and it’ll keep people out of the business.
Keep people out of the business? Why would the EPA want to do that? That doesn’t make any sense.
It does if you follow the money.
Think about it. 80,000 historic buildings in my backyard, with 20 windows each is 1.6 million windows, valued at $750 per window equals 1.2 billion dollars. That’s a LOT of freakin’ money. Businesses like mine have to beat people off with a stick sometimes because once they find out that you do what you do, you can’t keep them away.
There have been times when I had to stop driving my van to jobs. I had to stop putting out yard signs. I let all my business cards run out. I could not take ONE more call.
So, I start putting people into business because there just aren’t enough people doing hands-on work in these historic homes communities, and there haven’t been for years.
We Have to Save the Windows
People will rightfully say, “You have to save the windows! They mean so much to the house and the neighborhood.” But there’s nobody to do the work. So, we HAVE to put people into business because there is such a void.
But there’s a force out there that doesn’t want me doing what we’re doing. I call it the “infectious machine.” The window replacement window has worked tirelessly to create a market for itself – that exact billion dollar market I described above.
They sensed a downward trend in the supply of craftspeople to work in the historic neighborhoods and came up with a cash cow alternative.
Windows are not like doors. A house might have two exterior doors and 20 windows. Windows are the way to go. They can make them cheaply, with disposable materials, with artificial intelligence (robots) and be the answer to needing no one working in the trades.
Just rip out the old and staple in the new.
Window Replacement Company’s Disposable Windows Winning Your Business For Life
All they have to do is convince one homeowner to switch to disposable windows and bang – they have that house for life. And that house gives permission to the next house and the next and the next and the next until the entire neighborhood becomes a rechargeable battery for the corporations.
Think about it. What could be a better cash cow?
Set up a factory, design robots to make windows, sell them at a high-profit margin and have little three-man crews rip out the old and install the new ones?
“We can lobby the government to pass laws that make it appear like they care about people’s well-being, but they are really designed to keep the little people from rising up and doing what would otherwise be obvious – just repairing the window that was designed to be repaired.”
The EPA passes laws that come down on little entities like Wood Window Makeover who have owners who suck at paperwork – to keep them from rising up and taking the business away from the corporations.
Think about it. You, the reader. Whoever you are.
When is the last time you ever heard anything about anyone promoting the RRP rule stuff?
When is the last time you saw a sign at Home Depot or Lowe’s reminding people to work lead safe?
When is the last time you saw one of those stores selling supplies or offering classes that made it easy to be compliant?
My guess is that many readers haven’t heard of any of this stuff.
So, it makes sense that my vacuum was taken off the shelf. It was denied access to the general public. It’s as though someone behind the scenes saw what happened, and made the course correction as quickly as they could so as not to anger that “big someone” behind the curtain.
“What the heck are you doing selling that vacuum? Who put that out there? Who authorized that? Pull it immediately! What do you want to happen? You want us to lose our funding?
Good news for me. My beautiful daughter and I randomly visited the Home Depot in a different part of town, and sure enough – they had one lonely DeWalt HEPA vac sitting on display with the price marked down from $300 to $262.
I had time, so I asked the Home Depot guy if I could have the display. He was like, “Uh, I don’t know…” So, after I explained what I’d found with the other stores and the total cleansing even online, he called the supervisor and got permission to sell it to me. I asked the next inevitable question – “can you mark it down even more?” He gave me $20 bucks off and walked with a proud me to the register.
He wasn’t paying attention after he gave the instructions to the clerk and walked away to his next task, but I had to stop him before he got away.
The price on the screen said $68. There had to be a mistake. This was a $300 vacuum. It was marked down to $262, then $20 off that.
But he assured me it was right, but he couldn’t grant the $20 discount, after all. I stomped on my own foot. So, I got it for $88. Yay!
Every once in awhile, a dog finds a bone.
The point of all this is simply this. There’s a billion-dollar pie in my backyard and want myself and people like me to get as much of that pie as possible and slather it all over themselves.
There’s an enemy out there who doesn’t want you and I to have any of that pie.
Why else do you think the EPA singles out the window people?
And it’s not just the window restorers, it’s the little people that replace them as well. They don’t want them rising up either. Why else would it be so hard to get the things you need to be compliant?
Why doesn’t Home Depot and Lowe’s have what people need to do this work? Why don’t they have the right masks? Why don’t they say something?
You can walk right over next to the doors to their replacement window section – that’s why.
But that doesn’t mean the little people can’t rise up and take over what we have every right to take over.
We have to breed window restorers like rabbits.
I need your help and I will help you by sharing with you what I have learned and continue learning.
Read my other posts.
You’ll see that there’s more to my passion than just making money.
I can tell you this, I’d much rather get paid for my passion than to not get paid for my passion.