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Does Your Home Have Chinese Drywall?

What you need to look for
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Your home could have Chinese drywall if:

--It was built between 2001 and 2008

--It has a strong smell like sulfur or rotten eggs

--You have breathing irritation or headaches while inside the home

--You have a problem with corroded copper components in your air conditioner

--Your electrical wires are discolored or black

--If the drywall has the name Knuaf or ASTM C36 or China written on the back (some will not say this because the stamp is on the side that was painted )
What is the problem with Chinese drywall?

There are differing opinions.  Some have said that it was because a material called fly ash (a by product of burning coal in power plants) was used in the manufacture of the drywall.   Some more recent testing has revealed that the drywall contains between 5% and 15% organic compounds that are not present in domestically produced drywall.  Regardless of the source, the drywall gives off gases that have elevated levels of Hydrogen sulfide, Carbonyl sulfide and Carbon disulfide.  (Hydrogen sulfide smells like rotten eggs)
What Homes are at Risk?

Basically any home built between about 2001 and 2008 could have Chinese drywall.  The most commonly affect homes were built from 2004 to 2006 during the building boom when supplies of domestic building materials could not keep up with the demand.  However there have been reports of Chinese drywall showing up in homes built as early as 2001.  According to a report from the Sarasota Hearld Tribune, records obtained from the Port Import-Export Reporting Service indicate enough Chinese drywall was imported in 2006 to build approximately 60,000 homes in Florida alone!

Is there an easy way to tell for sure?

Unfortunately no.  The sulfur level varies considerably from one sample to another so you may not be able to tell from the smell.  Since the concentration of the compounds varies, the corrosive effect may not be obvious until more time goes by.  To make it even more difficult, the labels stamped on most drywall is located on the front side which is painted.  This can make it a stroke of luck to find a label in the attic to tell you for certain.

Do not fall for the scam artists out there.  Some are selling "Chinese Drywall Test kits" (I found one for $29.95 on a website).  According to the information I have found, they do not work.  Others are selling Ozone generators.  Ironically it seems from reports that the ozone actually reacts with the compounds and make the problem worse.  There are also other scams such as expensive inspections by so called experts and sprays.  Some have even gone to the point of posting phony notices on the front of some foreclosed homes saying that the home has been tested by the health department and has Chinese drywall.  Seems some people are always trying to take advantage of your fears.
So What do you do?

First of all, don't panic.  The percentage of homes actually affected is small and it appears thus far as though there are very few in the Orlando area.  See Here.

If you are buying a home built in or near to the reported dates and you seem to notice a sulfur or rotten egg smell, you may want to consider requesting information from the buyer or builder to help determine if Chinese drywall was installed.  Remember that the only tests that can tell for sure are very expensive (each test can cost from $900.00 to over $1200.00). 

I recommend that you make certain that the home inspector you choose is aware of the problem and will take a little extra time to check for the signs that have been reported.  That will not guarantee that the home does not have Chinese drywall but will give you a better chance of discovering it if it is there.

If you happen to live in a home and you are concerned, you may wish to have the home inspected.  (Again, the tell tale signs  are a label on the drywall indicating that it was manufactured by Knauf, ASTM C36, or the word China printed on the back of the drywall;  black or discolored copper wiring and black or corroded air conditioning coils.)  You may also wish to contact the home's builder.  Many of them are also researching the problem to see if they received the affected drywall.  You may also wish to check out this website for more information.

What am I doing?

As a concerned Home Inspector, if I inspect a home built in that time frame, I am taking a little extra time to look at the drywall in the attic or anywhere else I might be able to see the unpainted areas.  I am checking the air conditioner coil, if I can get to it, to look for corrosion.  I am also removing a few electrical plates to look at the copper wiring (in addition to looking inside the electrical panel) to see if it is discolored.

I wish I could tell you that I can promise to give you a complete answer, unfortunately I am not good at telling lies.  I do promise to do my best to try to identify it if it is there and to keep looking for better ways to help you.
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