By now, everybody has become painfully aware of the Chinese Drywall phenomenon. It is as much a financial crisis as it is a litigious matter, not to mention the logistics quandary for those who have this Chinese made gypsum board in their houses.
Who is going to pay for it's removal? Is a lawsuit the best remedy? Is there a protocol for remedial construction? Will insurance cover any of this? Will the house be an asset or liability for the owners? Will it affect other property values? Is it covered under a builders warranty? Will FEMA or the government offer some relief? Dare I say “bail out?"
As a home inspection company, Pete Sessa & Associates has been retained by a local developer for looking at houses built with this material since the beginning of 2009.
Here is what I have learned so far:
(Please try to remember that as time goes on my knowledge will increase about this gypsum board from China.)
This board, apparently, adheres to the ASTM Standards for conventional drywall.
It has a watermark "Tianjin China" on the backside of the ½" sheets in two fonts and perhaps three. These watermarks are difficult to locate when the board is installed. In Tidewater, there is often, another watermark that says, "Venture Supply." The ends of the drywall were banded with an aquamarine (blue-green) paper. This board was used by a variety of contractors and subcontractors in Hampton Roads.
I have tried to avoid getting too much information about this material from the internet, trade publications, television, newspapers, and the like, choosing instead, to be conservative in my approach as I sift through all the information that is available. It looks like this material started coming into the country in 2004-2005. Some accounts claim that this material arrived here as early as 2001 but that does not seem to be the case in Southeast, Virginia. By 2007, it's effects were being realized in the form of failing evaporator coils and electrical equipment. Rapidly tarnishing silver products and an unusual odor were also noted.
This material, in various quantities, appears to be “stock piled” in warehouses at the moment, both locally and nationally. Apparently, this Chinese Gypsum drywall is off-gassing a variety of sulfides that adversely affected exposed copper and other metals. These gases, so far, have been identified as, but may not be limited to, Carbon Disulfide, Hydrogen Sulfide, Carbonyl Sulfide, Strontium Sulfide, and Sulphur Dioxide. "Thomas Eager, a MIT Professor, believes the combination of cellulose, moisture, and sulfates in the gypsum are reacting to release sulfurous acids that are corroding copper and other metals." (information from www.chinesedrywall.com)
Air samples taken, shipped to, and analyzed by, Columbia Laboratories in California seem to be, the most scientific in their approach. This lab is at the forefront of gas analysis at the moment. However, this is not the only lab that does this kind of testing. I am sure there will a whole host of laboratories that will be coming on-line for sulfide air analysis.
So far, "the jury is out" on, exactly, why this drywall is off-gasing.
Everything from where the gypsum was mined to recycled fly ash from China's coal-fired power plants have been proffered as the source for this problem. Naturally, some of the theories I've seen or heard, are just ridiculous.
No one is sure just yet!
The process by which the copper tubing fails (in the evaporator) is called formicary or "ants nest" corrosion because of the similarity of the way ants build their nests in the ground. The copper develops a pitting and the chemical process develops into a random tunneling through the metal. The fissures and tunnels are microscopic and cannot be seen with the naked eye. This process happens very quickly and may actually affect other metals in this environment. The tubing cannot be repaired, only replaced.
From my perspective the capillary tubes seem to be the worst for this destructive phenomenon. Since we (Pete Sessa & Associates) are not doctors, chemists or industrial hygienists, we are going to stay out of listing, diagnosing or offer cures for any medical symptoms, from any material, including Chinese Drywall. It's just stupid that others in my profession are even, remotely, suggesting that home Inspectors can do such a thing.
Here is what we can do:
We are available to consult with concerned homeowners about this particular problem. If your house was built before 2004 and after 2007 you probably do not need us for this kind of investigation.
You should know that looking for, and reporting on, this material is outside the protocols of the ASHI Standards of Practice (of which we subscribe to in our normal home inspections.) Our E&O insurance would not "cover" us in the eventuality we could not find this drywall but it still may be present in the house.
You should know we would pull the cover plates on the switches and receptacles and look for "tarnished" copper wires. We would pull the evaporator cover off at the air handler looking for the same "flat black tarnish" that is characteristic of off-gasing Chinese Drywall. We can sweep the insulation off the backside of the drywalled ceilings in the attic in attempts to verify our conclusions that Chinese Drywall was installed in those locations.
Here is what we will do:
We will call our service, "A Limited Investigation," in hopes we can find the symptoms that are characteristic of having this drywall in a house or business as mentioned above.
We will charge $150.00 per hour for doing this kind of investigation without promising we can find it. We think it is better if you know, "up front," and for everyone to see than to play cat-and-mouse with our fee schedule. We will do our best to discover, and report on the indicators which suggest the presence of Chinese Drywall.
If we do find this wallboard, you might consider calling your Department of Existing Structures, or something similar, to find out what you will have to do for securing a permit. The reason is, that you will have to remove the drywall, down to the studs. This means the cabinets, doors, trim moldings, bathrooms, etc., will have to taken out and stored. You may have to pull new electrical wiring as the city may require all the copper wiring to be removed. You will probably have to replace the air handler.
You will need a permit for remediation!
We are not sure about the plumbing yet. Depending on how this "shakes out" there may be plumbing updates in your future as well. We do not know about the kitchen appliances yet. So far, local appliance repair companies have refused to even look at the kitchen equipment like refrigerators, ranges, washers, dryers, microwaves and so on from houses built with Chinese Drywall. But being naturally skeptical and knowing appliances components are made with copper, and are often in wet environments, you might consider having them replaced. We will keep updating these kinds of issues as we learn more about it.
Here is what we won't do:
We won't pass out legal advice. We suggest an attorney for that.
We won't pass out medical advice. Make an appointment to see your doctor.
We won't pass out financial advice. Talk to your accountant or banker or lender.
We won't pass out real estate advice. Find an agent.
We won't pass out insurance advice. Read your policy and talk with your carrier.