Do You Have Chinese Drywall? Here Is How To Tell

With the news from federal investigators last week that imported Chinese drywall has higher levels of home chemicals than domestic versions, here’s how to tell if your home has the imported drywall.

While the Consumer Product Safety Commission isn’t aware of any definitive tests to determine if a home has the drywall, there are still some steps to take and common telltale signs to watch out for before tearing apart your walls, according to the commission and other experts.

First, contact your home’s builder, who may be able to answer the question immediately. If that’s not an option or if your builder isn’t helpful, look for signs of the problem drywall, including a sulfuric (think rotten egg) smell in the home and corrosion (a blackening) of metal items like bathroom fixtures, electric socket copper wires, air-conditioner copper coils and copper pipes. (On its Web site, the Product Safety Commission has images of what such corrosion looks like as well as a Q&A on the subject within its broader drywall information center).

Many consumers in homes with the drywall have also reported health problems like itchiness, breathing difficulty and headaches as well as frequent failures of heating and cooling systems, refrigerators, dishwashers, televisions, microwaves and other appliances. The general belief is that Chinese drywall releases chemicals that corrode wiring.

There also are other unscientific tests. If your home has central air-conditioning, Danny Lipford, a television home improvement expert, recommends hanging a piece of silver jewelry or a silver utensil on a string in front of the return air filter and watching it over a few days to see if it corrodes. It’s a trick he learned about at a recent industry event.According to Mr. Lipford, most of the Chinese drywall tends to be in homes that were built or remodeled in recent years by larger contractors and builders. The Consumer Product Safety Commission said it had received >nearly 2,000 reports from residents in 30 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, most of whom said their homes were built in 2006 and 2007. The most reports have come from Florida.

If you suspect your home has Chinese drywall, Mr. Lipford suggests going into your attic and raking back insulation to see if you can find a made-in-China stamp or the name of a manufacturer, though not all Chinese drywall has such markings. You may also want to hire a building inspector to confirm the presence of the drywall, consult with a lawyer about your options and contact your home builder, who may be able to work something out with you. The Consumer Product Safety Commission also wants all consumers to report complaints here. Eventually, there may be a more scientific or at least agreed upon test for distinguishing Chinese drywall from its American counterparts. The Consumer Product Safety Commission and other agencies, which plan to release the results of a 50-home study and a corrosion study later this month, are working toward developing a testing approach, said Scott Wolfson, an agency spokesman.