The Great Drywall of China (Part 2)

iven the current slow housing market, perceptions of reduced home values and our on-going recovery from the beating the insurance companies gave us, it’s understandable that this latest issue over tainted Chinese drywall has gotten our attention. It is important to keep in mind, though, that only a limited amount of material made it to our area.

Companies in Florida have been working to track the material through shipping invoices and Department of Commerce records. Their current information shows that the majority of the material wound up in Florida, however, a portion did make its way to our region. Due to reduced demand, little or no Chinese drywall has been used in last 18 months.

The Florida Department of Health is conducting an on-going study of the drywall and its health effects. Their current data can be found on-line (click here). The most recent test examined the physical makeup of the drywall and gases emitted from the materials. The analysis compared one sample of domestically produced drywall with three samples of potentially contaminated Chinese material. Chinese samples showed higher organic content and emitted a “distinct sulfur odor…when heated during the test.” Chinese materials also contained strontium sulfide in trace amounts. Based on information in the Merck Index, strontium sulfide has the odor of hydrogen sulfide in moist air. Both imported and domestic samples emitted volatile sulfur-containing compounds from the paper and the gypsum, however the samples were unsealed during transport and were sent in the same package, creating the possibility of cross-contamination. (Link to the full study) The US Consumer Product Safety Commission is also conducting its own investigation but has not published any results.

Identifying the Problem

Any problems due to the defective drywall would be noticeable in a short amount of time. The Florida Department of Health has published the following guidelines for determining if a house has drywall related issues:

Homes constructed after 2003 (2004 to present) must meet two or more conditions; and those built between 2000 and 2003 must meet three or more of the conditions specified below.
1. There is presence of sulfur-like or other unusual odors
2. Confirmed presence of Chinese manufactured drywall in the home
3. Observed copper corrosion, indicated by black, sooty coating of un-insulated copper pipe leading to the air handling unit
4. Documented failure of air conditioner evaporator coil (located inside the air handling unit)
5. Confirmation by an outside expert or professional for the presence of premature copper corrosion on un-insulated copper wires and/or air conditioner evaporator coils (inside the air handling unit)

In addition, I recommend checking the copper wiring on electronics, appliances, outlets and switches. Be sure to turn off the breaker to any outlets or switches before removing their covers or handling the wiring. Also take a good look at any exposed copper plumbing – a water heater enclosed in an indoor mechanical closet would be a great candidate.

The pictures below show an evaporator coil, piping and wiring that have been affected by corrosive gases.

If you can confirm that your house has developed drywall related issues, please be sure to get out and talk with your neighbors. After the storm, many contractors worked heavily in specific neighborhoods and other people may be affected as well. Legally, it is a homeowners responsibility to bring any defects to the builder or contractor’s attention.

Our next blog will discuss some measures you can take if your home is experiencing drywall related problems or similar issues.

This blog was written for Paul LaGrange’s BuildWrite website and was originally posted on April 1, 2009.


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