Chinese Drywall

NAHB CPSC Issue Guidelines on Chinese Drywall Abatement

Two days after the release of NAHB guidelines outlining the testing and remediation of contaminated Chinese drywall, the Consumer Product Safety Commission in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development issued its own report, one that differs from the NAHB document regarding electrical wiring. The NAHB’s 80-plus page document, “Imported Problematic Drywall: Identification Strategies and Remediation Guidelines ,” recommends that all wiring in affected homes be replaced, while the CPSC/HUD report, “ Remediation Guidance for Homes with Corrosion from Problem Drywall as of March 18 2011,” does not. Despite these seeming differences of opinion, the NAHB advises its members to follow the CPSC guidelines. The information released by the CPSC had been fervently anticipated by the NAHB for a number of months. The NAHB document even states that the CPSC’s results were not yet available but “recommends that builders pay close attention to these test results when they are announced and take them into account when deciding what steps to take with respect to high-voltage wiring.” The NAHB supports and fully agrees with the findings in the CPSC/HUD document, according to Ray Kothe, chair of the NAHB’s Chinese Drywall Task Force. “We felt for quite a while that the manufacturers had done testing but nobody wanted to come out and make statements,” Kothe says. “We believe that the CPSC’s conclusions are correct and are not surprising to us. [CPSC] did a lot of testing and I’m sure they erred on the safe side because they have to be extremely sure that their results are accurate before they issue their proclamation.” That being said, the two documents differ only in the recommendation regarding wiring. Both propose the total replacement of all problem drywall, fire safety alarm devices, gas service and sprinkler system piping, and electrical distribution components such as switches, receptacles, and circuit breakers. Taken together, both documents would likely be a handy guide for any builder, remodeler, or remediator charged with eradicating a home with contaminated drywall. Since both guidelines were created using very different methodologies yet reaching most of the same basic conclusions, they would be hard to ignore, especially considering the amount of expertise involved from dozens, if not hundreds, of experts. The CPSC/HUD report (it is a breeze to read at only three pages) is based on a study conducted by Sandia National Laboratories that found no evidence of a safety hazard to home electrical systems from tainted Chinese drywall. The Sandia experiments exposed various residential electrical components to harsh corrosive conditions for a number of weeks that would mimic a 40-year exposure in a house constructed with contaminated Chinese drywall. No fire, smoking, or other “safety events” occurred during the course of the Sandia research, but the document notes the experiment’s limited scope which could not take into account all of the variables in every home with contaminated drywall, i.e., weather, shoddy workmanship, various component brands, etc. For the purpose of these studies, all of the components were installed to the manufacturers’ specifications. The NAHB document is the result of more than a year of research, testing, analysis, and evaluation by the NAHB’s Chinese Drywall Task Force, which was charged with identifying a permanent solution to deal with a problem that has been affecting contractors as well as homeowners, mostly in the Southeastern U.S., since 2006. According to Kothe, the NAHB guidelines were created after “we got as much input as we could gather.” Builders and remodelers in the field from every cross-section of the residential construction industry were queried and the guidelines were created based on their myriad recommendations. Experts from the gypsum industry—a major component of drywall—were also included in the conversations along with legal and medical experts. NAHB's guidelines are nothing if not thorough, giving contractors step-by-step instructions on everything from where to place metal probes that detect airborne impurities to details on how to properly air out a home once the drywall has been replaced, and quite literally every step in between. There are even details on how to deal with a house that has its own elevator. “Our document is very hands-on in the way in which it was created,” Kothe says. “The terminology is understandable and self-explanatory about what we recommend and that was our intention. Basically the NAHB has created a user-friendly, working document that someone in the field can easily use.” NAHB emphasizes that its new document is only a guideline for contractors who are undertaking the drywall-abating procedure. No federal, state, or local governments have mandated that the recommendations should be followed to the letter. In fact it is entirely possible—if not probable—that contractors who have been dealing with contaminated Chinese drywall might already have their own methods that could possibly go beyond the NAHB recommendations. The CPSC, meanwhile, is in the final stages of completing its investigation into the problematic Chinese drywall debacle. The findings of the Interagency Drywall Task Force’s investigation can be found at www.drywallresponse.gov ---Mark A. Newman