Spend Visibility in the Home — Taking Responsibility for the Safety of Renovation Material

Concern and vigilance over consumer product safety has steadily grown over the past 40 years. As a 50's kid who played with my uncle's lead toy soldiers, fished alone with sharp hooks, took 22 cal. target practice in the basement and had my own wood carving knives by the ripe old age of 8, I've become concerned with the extent to which we rely upon government agencies to mitigate consumer risk. Of course times have changed and I didn't allow my children and grandchildren to take the risks to which I was exposed. But the logical result of acquiescing personal risk assessment to outside authorities can ultimately create even greater vulnerability if we depend upon those authorities to take care of ourselves and our families.

I'm not suggesting for a second that we reduce funding for product safety -- just that we not solely depend upon outside agencies for protection. When it comes to products we have little or no knowledge about, this responsibility can be daunting indeed. An article titled Chinese Drywall: Pinpointing the Problems in last week's Wall Street Journal hammers the difficulty home. For you construction neophytes, drywall, "also known as wallboard, is a layer of gypsum pressed between two sheets of paper and is used to construct walls and ceilings in houses". It's a cheap modern day replacement for putting up plaster walls, ceilings, enclosures, etc.

The Journal suggests that while "Most drywall used by American home builders is U.S.-made … shortages at the peak of the housing boom in recent years spurred imports from China". The China imports have resulted in "The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission … [receiving] more than 550 reports from people in 19 states and the District of Columbia involving odors, health symptoms and corrosion problems they blame on imported Chinese drywall." Among other concerns, "The complaints involve 'rotten egg' smells and corrosion of wiring and other metals in the homes".

To the extent that contaminated building materials enter the supply chain for new non-custom housing construction, it would seem that buyers of new homes will need to rely upon more detailed contracts for recourse. But in the case of home rehabilitation and renovation, our responsibility begins with interviewing and choosing contractors who have extensive experience and high integrity -- both of which can be affirmed through exhaustive reference checking. Having personally "hung" miles of, "sheetrock"(aka drywall) -- as its called in the trades -- I can attest to the fact that the alleged high sulfur content should be detected by the 1st tier supplier: your contractor. Not only are our olfactory senses reliable (i.e., the nose knows), when one works with a product day in and day out, the slightest variances become pronounced.

Discussing second, third and even fourth tier supplier visibility with your general contractor as well as declaring up front that you require special vigilance in the long term safety of material selection is the best hedge against throwing good labor dollars after poor or defective building materials. In other words, take responsibility for quality and safety yourself by managing your suppliers versus waiting for the regulators to come in with their own ideas.

William Busch

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