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Defective Building Materials (Part 4): Lessons from Chinese drywall

Construction defects can take many forms. One common type of defect involves shortcomings with the materials themselves. These problems can be costly, and when they impact numerous homes, the economic fallout is sometimes catastrophic.

Chinese drywall is an example of one such defective product that had an unimaginably far-reaching impact, not just in Florida but across the nation.

How it all started

The early 2000s brought a massive building boom to Florida. Homes and developments were cropping up left and right. And with the growing housing bubble, building was becoming a more appealing (and economical) option.

However, domestic drywall suppliers couldn't keep up with the massive spike in demand. So builders started importing it from China. Chinese drywall was installed in an estimated 100,000 homes across the country - including tens of thousands of new homes in Florida.

Not long after, though, the problems began. Air conditioners began to fail long before their anticipated lifespan. Copper wires and pipes turned black and deteriorated. Owners noticed a sulfur-like smell permeating their homes, and they started to develop health issues.

The source of all problems

Defective Chinese drywall, it turned out, was the source of the issue. Manufactured with different components than domestic drywall, Chinese drywall off-gassed toxic chemicals. These gases corroded copper pipes, wires and AC coils, resulting in costly damage to plumbing, electrical, air conditioning and fire alarm systems.

What's more, the gases caused chronic health problems, including:

  • Respiratory issues
  • Asthma-like symptoms
  • Headaches
  • Sinus issues
  • Nosebleeds
  • Itchy eyes and skin

By 2006, developers were aware of the issue. Yet Chinese drywall was still used in new homes until around 2009.

The fallout

Over the years, scammers have tried to capitalize on the whole mess. People posing as inspectors went knocking on doors to make a quick buck. Others sold bogus test kits and fake products to "cure" the problem. Homeowners who had already been victims of essential practices fell victim again.

By the time the Chinese drywall saga came to a close, home values had plummeted, and owners were left facing thousands of dollars in repair costs. Fortunately, many were able to secure compensation through class action claims.

What we can learn from it

Although the Chinese drywall chapter is largely behind us, it's an essential lesson in just how extensive -- and costly -- construction defects can become. During building booms, it becomes more affordable and more appealing to build rather than buy. However, increased demand often means shortages in qualified labor and quality materials. It's a major downside of the cyclical nature of construction work.

Choosing a reputable builder -- and keeping close tabs on construction -- are even more important during these times. Consider enlisting an attorney to look out for your interests. And if you do encounter a potential construction defect, seek legal help immediately.

By taking some proactive steps, you can avoid becoming a victim of the next Chinese drywall (or its equivalent).

Read more in this series about defective construction materials:

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