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Chinese Drywall 101

March 22, 2010 - Dylan Renz

If you live under a rock in Southwest Florida you probably have never heard the term “Chinese drywall”. For the rest of us, we hear about it almost daily on the television and in the newspapers. While defective drywall has not proven to be a huge issue here on Pine Island, it has been a tremendous issue for our nearest neighbor Cape Coral. Builders and contractors in our area have purchased Chinese drywall and used it and homeowners and homebuyers need to be aware of it. Here are the basics...

What is Chinese drywall?
Defective drywall, often called "Chinese drywall", has become a serious problem throughout Southwest Florida and all along the Gulf Coast. During the height of the building boom materials such as drywall and concrete were in short supply. This problem was exacerbated by Hurricane Katrina causing a severe shortage of materials. Builders began importing drywall from China, as well as a number of other countries. It is believed that much of this drywall was created using unfiltered "fly ash", a by-product or coal-burning power plants. This by-product contains sulfur compounds including sulfur dioxide and hydrogen sulfide, which when mixed with the moisture in the air creates sulfuric acid.
What are the effects of Chinese drywall on a home?
The sulfuric acid created by Chinese drywall will travel through the air in a home and can cause blackening and corrosion of metal such as copper pipers, electrical wiring, air conditioning systems and even jewelry.
What are the health effects of Chinese drywall?
The extent of health problems that could be caused by Chinese drywall is still unknown. Short term health problems that have been reported include headaches and trouble breathing, however many experts believe that long-term exposure to Chinese drywall could cause substantial health problems.
What homes contain Chinese drywall?
Typically, Chinese drywall was used in homes that were being constructed between 2001 and 2008 and was primarily used along the Gulf Coast. However, Chinese drywall may have been used in remodeling or repair work in any home and has been found in homes of all ages and in all areas.
How do I know if a home contains Chinese drywall?
Chinese drywall can give off a sulphuric smell often described as a "rotten egg" smell. If you are living in a home and have experienced unusual headaches, coughing or wheezing, this could also be a sign of Chinese drywall. However, Chinese drywall can be present in a home without any noticeable signs. Hiring a professional inspector is usually the only sure way to determine if Chinese drywall is present in a home.
What happens if a home tests positive for Chinese drywall?
Since the sulphuric acid can travel throughout a home and contaminate the good drywall, new safety recommendations suggest that any home with more than six sheets of defective drywall should be completely gutted, including all drywall, flooring, electrical systems and plumbing systems. After the home is gutted the frame (both wood and metal) as well as the foundation should be sealed before the home is rebuilt.

Once a home has been gutted and rebuilt is it safe to live in?
Unfortunately, since this is a new problem, no one can determine what the long term effects will be. Right now it is believed that a home that has been renovated is safe.
What should you do about it?
If you are looking to purchase a home or suspect that you may be living in a home with Chinese drywall, I strongly urge you to have a professional inspection to determine if defective drywall is present in the home. It will cost you a few hundred dollars, but the peace of mind you will have knowing your home and your family are safe is priceless.


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This image shows two copper slugs. One that in new and one that was exposed to Chinese drywall in a laboratory.


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