The Chinese Drywall Problem
It is estimated that between 2003 and 2008 nearly 100,000 homes in the United States were constructed using Chinese drywall. According to some insurance estimates, replacing the drywall and repairing the resulting damages could eventually cost over $20 billion. The cost to replace drywall and repair damage to the plumbing and electrical systems in individual homes, let alone the potential health risks, is enough for individual homeowners to abandon their property with no way of recovering the loss. Consequently, if you suspect Chinese drywall was installed in your home, condominium, or commercial property, contact an attorney.
In the United States, drywall (also known as wallboard, sheetrock, or plasterboard) is typically made from gypsum which is composed of, among other things, calcium sulfate and is usually manufactured from gypsum obtained from domestic mines and quarries. However, due to the housing boom and the resulting drywall shortage between 2003 and 2008, domestic suppliers imported drywall from China. While the exact source of the Chinese gypsum is unknown, many speculate that the material imported from China was manufactured using a variety of filler materials such as fly ash. Fly ash is a byproduct of the industrial burning of high content sulfur coal (i.e. coal generated power plants) and volatile sulfur compounds can be retained in the fly ash. The sulfur compounds retained in the fly ash become part of the drywall and when exposed to heat, moisture and/or humidity, the drywall can emit sulfur-based gases such as hydrogen sulfide, carbon disulfide, and carbonyl sulfide.
This “off-gassing" of Chinese drywall has been linked to a sulfur, rotten egg or spent firecracker smell. More damaging, however, is the impact on metal objects in the home. Metal wiring, piping, and fixtures rust or corrode, air conditioner coils, smoke detectors, and television sets stop working due to the corrosive effects on solder joints and wiring, and kitchen utensils and other stainless steel items become rusted or blacken in appearance. Additionally, some homeowners complain of headaches, sore throats, or respiratory problems due to the alleged Chinese drywall emissions.
The scope of the problem is immense and the cost of repair staggering. Since late 2008, the Consumer Product Safety Commission has received nearly 4,000 reports of defective Chinese drywall from numerous states, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, and Puerto Rico. Particularly heavy hit by the crisis were Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, and Virginia where heat and moisture levels are higher and use of Chinese drywall appears to have been more prevalent.
Chinese drywall, however, is not absent from the west coast. It has been found in California.
How To Investigate
Step One: Was your home, condominium, or office constructed or remodeled between 2001 and 2008?
Step Two: Does your home, condominium, or office have a persistent rotten egg, ammonia, or acidic smell?
Some owners even describe the smell as sweet or a “new home smell."
Step Three: Have you inspected your drywall to identify the manufacturer? This is best done by examining the drywall in the attic. Remove / lift the insulation and look for markings indicating “Made in China," “Manufactured in P.R.C.," or the like.
A more thorough exam may be done later using a borescope, fiberscope, or videoscope to check behind walls.
Step Four: Have you noticed corrosion, pitting, and/or rusting of metallic objects in your home, condominium, or office? Check the copper piping behind the refrigerator or leading to the air conditioner for evidence of a black sooty / dusty deposit. Other places to look include the copper wiring in electrical outlets.
Chinese drywall affects various types of metallic objects in various locations of the home. Because your home may contain both Chinese drywall as well as non-Chinese drywall, be sure to inspect various rooms and various metals for the corrosive impact.
Homeowners note appliances and electronics such as stereos, televisions, air conditioners, microwaves, stoves, lights, hairdryers, etc. breakdown or stop working within 8-16 months of purchase or installation.
Things to Remember
Unlike the more wet and humid southeastern parts of the country impacted by Chinese drywall, western states like California, Arizona, and Nevada are dryer and the effects of Chinese drywall harder to detect. Unfortunately, the discovery of Chinese drywall often coincides with leaking windows or doors, roof leaks, damaged plumbing, or other water intrusion which may trigger or intensify the smell and/or corrosive impact.
This material is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or an attorney-client relationship. Please be mindful the law changes over time. You should always consult a licensed attorney based on the specific facts of your situation.